Tag Archives: Belize

Dubai Marina in the United Arab Emirates

5 Unusual Spring Break Ideas for College Students (and Their Parents)

Hi everyone, it’s Wendy’s son Doug here.  A reader asked where to take her 21-year-old for college spring break:

“Hi. This question is for Doug:  I’m thinking about a trip with my 21-year-old son for college spring break in March. Like you, he and I (I’m the Mom) have traveled together all his life. We are looking for your best ideas/suggestions. We’ve traveled to most of Europe. I’m primarily concerned that we only have a week. Can we see Dubai during that short time?  I enjoyed your trip reports and would appreciate your suggestions. Thanks, Rosalind”

I’m happy to help, and Dubai (pictured above) is a fantastic idea for spring break!  In fact, it’s one of my top five suggestions, based on my own experiences.  As a college sophomore, I can tell you that these suggestions are well suited to college students—and kids of all ages. These are destinations where you can get the combination of relaxation and adventure that you want for spring break, plus cultural exploration too.


Abu Dhabi Qasr al Sarab dune bashing

This was us dune bashing in Abu Dhabi’s Empty Quarter.  Photo: Timothy Baker

You can easily experience both Dubai and Abu Dhabi in one week!  You can go dune bashing (above is our thrilling 4×4 ride in Abu Dhabi), sandboarding, snowboarding (there’s an indoor ski slope), and still have enough time for the beach. You can drive a test Ferrari, take a hot lap in a Formula 1 car, or ride the world’s fastest roller coaster. Dubai is so technologically advanced that it lets you see and experience what the future will be like, which any college student wants to do. It’s also a big airline hub, so there are nonstop flights from many U.S. cities.


Two people scuba diving

That’s me earning my scuba-diving certification in Belize. Photo: Timothy Baker

One week is more than enough time to get your scuba diving license in Belize. (That’s me above, following the instructor, during my certification course there.)  On the barrier reef, you can snorkel with stingrays, dive with sharks, adventure into a cave filled top to bottom with lobsters, and explore the Blue Hole. On Ambergris Caye, you can bike or drive a golf cart around the island, and at night you can go to beach bars and sip your favorite drink while sitting in a pool or eat in restaurants with your toes in the sand. You can read about our family trip to Belize here.


Two kids on a boat in Panama.

That’s me and my older brother, Charlie, on a boat in the Panama Canal. Photo: Timothy Baker

Panama is known for its biodiversity. You can hike and zipline through the jungle, see the incredible wildlife by boating down the Panama Canal, one of the world’s most impressive engineering feats (my brother and I are doing that above), visit the Biomuseo designed by Frank Gehry, explore the Old Town, or hit the beach. It’s on East Coast time, so there’s no jet lag to cope with when classes start again, and there are nonstop flights from many U.S. cities.


Doug watching Charlie riding Olympics bobsled in Whistler, Canada.

When I was in Whistler, I was too small to ride the Olympics bobsled, but I watched Charlie do it. He says it went so fast it felt like a blur. Photo: Timothy Baker

Whistler is a place for thrill seekers and extreme sports lovers. Some of the best skiing and snowboarding to be had are in these world-class mountains less than a two-hour drive from Vancouver. You can also go snowmobiling, ziplining, and bungee jumping in winter. My older brother, Charlie, got to zoom down the 2010 Whistler Winter Olympics bobsled course (I was too small), and he says it happened so fast that it felt like a blur—which is how the world’s fastest roller coaster in Abu Dhabi felt too—but it was still amazing.


family picture at dades gorges Morocco

Here, I’m with Mom and Charlie in Morocco’s Dadès Gorges during spring break when I was 12.

You can go sandboarding and ride camels in the Sahara, hike in the mountains, and still have time to go surfing in Essouaira and enjoy a hammam. With its incredible architecture, markets, and cities, Morocco provides many experiences that are Instagram worthy, especially the rainbow of spices they put on their food. And it’s just across the Atlantic Ocean. You can read more about our spring break in Morocco here.

The reviews below from other travelers attest to how well these places work for everyone in the family. Happy spring break!


Dubai and Abu Dhabi: “We visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise…”

Diane Thormodsgard

Diane Thormodsgard with her husband and grandsons on a private sunset cruise in Dubai.

“My husband and I took our grandsons (ages 14 and 13) to the U.A.E. for 10 days. Nicholas designed an itinerary that suited all of us perfectly. We started in Dubai with a stay at Atlantis the Palm, including exclusive Imperial Club access, after being met with VIP service at the airport. The boys enjoyed Aquaventure and the pool. We also had a Dubai historical tour, visited Museum of the Future, went to the ‘top of the Burj Khalifa,’ had a helicopter ride, and went on a private sunset palm cruise with a crew of four that provided excellent service.

After leaving Dubai, we ventured to Al Maha, a luxury desert resort. What a great experience in the desert with private pools at each suite (boys had their own Bedouin suite), a desert jeep ride, camel rides, beautiful sunset, early morning falconry presentation for the grandparents, and excellent food. Our only regret is we wished we would have spent more than one night there so we could have enjoyed other activities like archery, more time in the pool and watching the many gazelles and rare Arabian Oryx on the property. As the boys said, ‘this is really cool!’

The next stop was Abu Dhabi, where we stayed at the WB Hotel by Hilton, which is conveniently located near many of the theme parks. After touring Abu Dhabi, which included a tour of the Grand Mosque, we finished our trip with visits to Warner Bros. World, Ferrari World and the recently opened Sea World. The new Sea World is absolutely incredible. Ferrari World was the highlight, however, with an individual Ferrari car ride on nearby roads with a professional driver for each grandson. The trip was a nice mix of history, amazing architecture, and entertainment. We were definitely able to experience a ‘trip of our lifetime’ for our grandsons and us!” —Diane Thormodsgard

Read more reviews of Dubai and Abu Dhabi trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Belize: “Relaxing on, and snorkeling off of, idyllic islands…”

empty white sand beach with a few green trees and light turquoise water in Belize

A white sand beach in Belize. Photo: Shutterstock

“In a matter of days, Patricia organized a world-class 12-day trip for our family to Belize, with features that kept our three kids (ages 17, 17 and 20) engaged and happy, including climbing Mayan ruins, riding horses, lounging at the pool, and snorkeling. Lots of snorkeling. Christmas Day was spent relaxing on, and snorkeling off of, idyllic islands near the village of Placencia.

New Year’s Eve was spent on a ‘catch and cook’ adventure off the coast of Ambergris Caye with dive master and boat captain extraordinaire Carlos Cordova. We fished for bait, dove for conch and lobster, and went fishing. Then we cooked our catches on the beach. The highlight was ceviche made with fresh conch, lobster and fish. We particularly enjoyed the accommodations at Hidden Valley Wilderness Ranch and Naia Resort & Spa in Placencia. We couldn’t have asked for a better family trip.” —Robyn Smyers

Read more reviews of Belize trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.


Panama: “It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde…”

Old hanging bridge in a rainforest.

Old hanging bridge in the jungle of Panama. Photo: Shutterstock

“My husband, 21-year old son, and I had a fabulous time in Panama, organized by Pierre. We stayed in the old part of Panama City—very charming and beautifully decorated for the holidays. Seeing the Panama Canal was the highlight of the trip for us—an absolute must-do for anyone visiting. We also visited Monkey Island (taking a boat next to big ships in the Canal was awesome) and the sloth sanctuary.

We visited Boquete in the mountains for three nights and absolutely loved it. It still retains the charm of cloud forests without the commercialization of Costa Rica’s Monteverde. Highlights there included an adventurous 4×4 jeep ride to the top of Baru Volcano for sunrise and to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, a fun cooking experience with the chef of Ngädri restaurant, hanging bridges, and a tour of a coffee plantation.

We celebrated New Year’s in Panama City at one of the rooftop restaurants with great music and an excellent multi-course dinner and Champagne. Very memorable. All three of us really enjoyed Panama and look forward to going back again.” —Tina Hunt

Read more reviews of Panama trips. To get your own WOW trip, start with our trip questionnaire, reached via the black button below.



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Gaia Riverlodge Belize

Dispatch from Belize: Private Sailing and Outdoor Adventures Right Now

Gaia Riverlodge Belize
Gaia Riverlodge
Rio on Pools 1 Belize
Rio on Pools
On top of High Temple - Lamanai Belize
On top of High Temple - Lamanai Belize
Flying over Glover's Atoll Belize
Flying over Glover's Atoll
Gaia Riverlodge Belize
Gaia Riverlodge
Gaia Riverlodge Beliz
Gaia Riverlodge
Gaia Riverlodge Beliz
Gaia Riverlodge
Blancaneaux Lodge
Chaa Creek Staff Belize
Chaa Creek Staff Belize
Chaa Creek's Butterfly Farm Belize
Chaa Creek's Butterfly Farm Belize
Chaa Creek Sanitization Station Belize
Chaa Creek Sanitization Station
RTV Safari Tour Belize
RTV Safari Tour
Site inspection at Ka'ana Resort Belize
Site inspection at Ka'ana Resort


With a Caribbean coastline that is home to the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, yet is only a 2.5-hour flight from Miami or Houston, Belize is both beautiful (think open blue sea, lush green jungle) and convenient. But how Covid-safe is it? So far, so good. The country reopened to international flights on October 1 (with the requirement that travelers are either fully vaccinated or have a negative Covid test), and since then a few of our readers have ventured there and been rewarded with trips that were both memorable and safety-conscious.

To get a better understanding of what Belize is doing to minimize risk, we called Rachael Wilson and Patricia Johnson, who’ve earned a spot on Wendy’s WOW List for their customized trips, both on land and water, and who orchestrated the experiences that led to those happy travelers’ reviews. Rachael and Patricia live in Belize year-round, and over the past several months, they’ve traveled the country, checking out Ambergris Caye (Belize’s largest island and gateway to many other islands), the Cayo District (an area known for its parks, natural reserves, and Mayan ruins), the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest, and more. Their goal was to see how pandemic protocols are being instituted and followed, and to judge for themselves where travelers should and shouldn’t go. Here’s what they’ve learned.

*This article is part of a series in which we are following the pioneers on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts as they road-test their reopened destinations anew. Remember, these are the trip planners with the highest standards in the world—they’ve earned these stellar reviews—so we’ll ask them how local safety protocols measure up; the savviest ways to sightsee and explore; and the safest places to stay, eat, and get health care if necessary. In other words, we’ll follow them as they do all the in-country legwork so that you don’t have to.

You live in Belize and have been road-testing travelers’ favorite spots anew. What have you observed?

Rachael: Ambergris Caye, which is normally the most touristed island in Belize, is a mixed bag: 60% of the properties have it together, but 40% are still ironing out maintenance after this very difficult time. So it’s important we are out there seeing things for ourselves, so we can guide people to the properties that are doing well. The travelers coming to Ambergris are predominantly Americans, and returning expats and homeowners, which is really good for the economy because they’re living their lives: eating, going to the hardware store, and diving.

Patricia: I live in the Cayo District, in San Ignacio. I spent an overnight at Chaa Creek Resort recently, which was one of the first hotels that were Gold Standard Certified. It was good to get a feel for what they’re doing to make sure guests are safe. The check-in is now contactless, and as soon as you arrive there’s a sanitization station. Then the health and safety concierge does a temperature check and takes you to your room, and you have access to the concierge via WhatsApp.

A lot of properties have taken this time to upgrade, and I stopped by Ka’ana Resort to see their renovations. Ka’ana added private outdoor gardens and plunge pools, and expanded their decks so they could have outdoor dining and improve the private experience.

What activities are open for travelers, and how are they different from pre-Covid?

Patricia: Most of the activities are open because most are socially distanced anyway. Like if you’re going to the Mayan ruins—I’ve been there several times during the pandemic—there’s no one there. We had guests over Thanksgiving, and they were the only ones there. It was an amazing experience.

Rachael: Scuba diving, snorkeling, cave tubing, hiking, mountain biking—all of those things are socially distanced anyway, so they’re the same.

Patricia: The experiences we are steering people away from are the very interactive ones, like ceramics, tortilla making, and cooking classes. But the hotels are providing a taste of the culture anyway, in terms of nights with Mayan cuisine or Garifuna nights with drumming and dancing with social distancing.

Before, we would pick and choose activities based on guests’ interests. But because of the Gold Standard, we have to reign in who we send where, and with who, so that the protocols are adhered to. For example, we had a guest who did a private catch-and-cook: They went out with a captain and caught lobster and conch, and then they went to a remote place on the beach and made ceviche and cooked it over coconut husks. They said it was amazing, and the best day ever. They didn’t see anybody else. So the classic Belize experiences are not really impacted.

What about restaurants?

Patricia: Most restaurants here in Belize are open-air. And right now they are open at 50% capacity. I went to a restaurant on Sunday night here, and it was sanitized, we wore masks when we entered, the servers wore their masks, and it felt normal.

Rachael: Places have adapted too. Red Ginger at the Phoenix in San Pedro was indoor with air-conditioning, but they’ve built a patio and put tables on the roof, so everyone can be outside. I saw friends there I haven’t seen in a long time, and there were seats between us outside. They’re discouraging people from just going to the bar and standing there.

How do you work safely on private boat charters, where the space is confined?

Rachael: The guests are coming into the country with a required negative test, and we’re able to test the crew. If everyone’s negative, it’s completely relaxed. The guests don’t have to wear masks if they’re on deck, but the crew will wear masks. We’re asking guests to keep a mask on if they’re inside. The crew is two people: the captain and the chef, and they wear many hats. So if the chef is serving the food, the chef will keep the mask on and then step away to tell them what they’re eating. And then when the chef cleans the cabins, they’ll have all the PPE on. It’s tricky because they want the guests to see their smiles, and that’s hard. So we ask that they stand away.

How many people are on a boat?

Rachael: We have two boats that can take up to eight people each. But typically there are only up to six people per boat, and we don’t mix the groups—they’re private charters. Honeymooners, couples, groups of friends and families. We can do tandem bookings as well. We booked four families over Thanksgiving, so they could go out together, and we can kind of wrap the boats so that we can have appetizers on one boat, for example.

What are travelers’ biggest concerns now, and how are you addressing those?

Patricia: They are really looking at the Covid numbers. Everybody is fearful of getting on the plane. Once we tell them about what safety measures are in place on the ground here, they feel more at ease. Primarily it is the thought of getting on the plane.

Rachael: But when you get off the plane in Belize, you can be onto the catamaran in ten minutes. If you’re headed from the airport to another part of the country, you may get into a little 14-seat puddle-jumper plane—however, it is difficult to be socially distant. For this reason, many of our clients have chosen the land transfer or water taxi instead. I took a puddle jumper back from the islands, and I recommend that you keep your mask and face shield on for the duration of the flight especially since the flights are short (15 minutes from Ambergris Caye to the airport). You can also book a private charter on a puddle jumper (planes are disinfected by fogging or spraying before and after each flight) ora private helicopter transfer that has Plexiglas surrounding the captain.

Tell us about the government’s Gold Standard safety certification. All hotels and yacht charters must earn it before opening?

Rachael: Yes, I had to get the certification for our catamarans in order to operate them. It’s a lot about monitoring and reporting and recording and tracing, as well as enhanced protocols for sanitizing, mask wearing, and hand washing. It’s complicated for us with the catamarans, because the guests go out with the crew on board, and we have to keep everyone safe, but it’s mostly about training everyone and using the right cleaning products. We have an electrostatic fogger for the boats, it makes our turn-arounds much quicker. And for our vehicles, if anyone’s been in it, we fog the vehicle right away.

Patricia: Some properties do have inspections at random times. All resorts must receive their Gold Standard Certification in order to welcome tourists. It is a strict requirement and once you download the Belize Health App you will need to indicate where you are staying by selecting from the list of Gold Standard Hotels. Majority of the resorts here have standalone accommodations and are serious about guests’ and employee safety, so the protocols are stringently followed.

What has the pandemic, surprisingly, made easier or better?

Rachael: It’s easier to see the Mayan ruins. There are normally 20 to 50 or maybe more people there, depending on the time of year, but we’ve had guests who’ve had the ruins all to themselves. The same with the yachts. People are going out and not seeing another boat. And in the marine reserves, while the fish are all there regardless, there seems to be more of an abundance of nature now.

Patricia: At the Mayan ruins, we also know which times of day are quieter, so even when things get busy again, we will know when to take people there. Like most everywhere else, the pandemic halted all incoming travel, and this sparked some creativity for many, including our local guides. Some of them have formed a Belize Hiking Group, focused on showcasing and protecting natural resources, and I recently joined their first hike for this year: a three-hour trek along little-known trails that ended with a swim at Vaca Falls. All the guides are Gold Standard Certified, so social distancing and other protocols were followed.

Is there anything that’s harder?

Rachael: It’s a huge part of the culture of coming here that Belizean people are warm and welcoming and fun and laid-back, so having half the face covered up is hard.


We’re Here to Help

Right now is a remarkable opportunity for global travelers who are vaccinated. When your friends say that travel is problematic as a result of the pandemic—rental cars aren’t available, service even at 5-star hotels is shoddy—the problem is they’re not planning their trips right! Travel can be spectacular now if you choose the right destination, know the savviest local fixers, and approach them the optimal way. Check out these recent trip reviews to see the difference that Wendy’s WOW approach to trip planning makes. And if you’re looking for a similarly carefree travel experience, contact us at Ask Wendy.

Sailing the Caribbean Sea in a Private Yacht. This Could Be You.

aerial shot of Belize ocean with sailboat

If you think a private yacht trip is not attainable, you’re wrong—and you’re missing out. Photo: Belize Sailing Vacations

When you hear the phrase “private yacht charter,” what does it conjure up in your mind? Probably a dash of opulence, a sense of exclusivity, maybe a skipper with boat shoes. That’s what I pictured, at least. So I wasn’t surprised when my recent foray into the world of private yachting started with the pop of a Prosecco cork. What did surprise me was how versatile the experience could be, molded to fit the preferences of just about any kind of traveler. That’s how I—a lover of mountains more than beaches, and certainly not someone prone to taking selfies on the bow in a bikini à la Beyonce—fell in love with a private yacht over four days off the coast of Belize.

Why we chose Belize

Some say the British Virgin Islands are the crème de la crème for yachting in the Caribbean—but that archipelago is so chock-a-block with boats in high season that you may have to anchor by midday just to get the spot you want. In Belize, by contrast, I could count on two hands the number of boats we passed.

Tucked under Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and just a hair larger than New Jersey, Belize has all the elements sailors love—turquoise waters, steady breezes, palm-shaded beaches, a healthy barrier reef—plus the freedom to wander at will among islands strung like pearls along the country’s Caribbean coast. In fact, the underwater ecosystem was the most impressive I’ve seen anywhere (besting Fiji, the Galapagos, even the Great Barrier Reef).

My captain and first mate were both Belizean—many of the crews elsewhere in the Caribbean hail from the U.S. and Europe—and the country’s official language is English, so I managed to learn a fair bit about Belize even when all I could see of the mainland was a distant line of green on the horizon.

And without the caché of a name-brand island, the value of the all-inclusive experience was impressive: Four ensuite cabins; delicious meals and snacks; an open bar; round-the-clock services of a captain and chef/first mate; and use of snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing equipment comes to less than $400 per person per night when the boat is filled to its eight-guest capacity.

How we spent our days on the water

We hopscotched among Belize’s southern cayes, known for their solitude and swaying palms. We didn’t even bother to put shoes on when we stepped onto Tobacco Caye for a piña colada; home to forty-some residents, it’s one of the busier islands in the neighborhood. I watched the sun sink below the horizon one evening from the seat of a kayak, the water lapping at the shores of tiny palm-fringed islets; the only sign of civilization in sight was the catamaran where the chef/first mate was preparing my dinner, the aroma of garlic and coconut oil gently carried to me by the breeze.

And what a dinner it was. When I planned this trip with Trusted Travel Expert Patricia Johnson, she sent me a questionnaire with clever prompts aimed to suss out exactly the experience I would most enjoy. I checked a box indicating that I “love fresh, healthy and clean cuisine with an emphasis on health and wellness” and mentioned the handful of foods my family disliked. From the very first meal onboard to the last, our chef served the kinds of delicious, produce-forward dishes that I wish I had the skill and time to prepare at home—plus the occasional pizza or hot dog to keep my eight-year-old son happy. Not only that, each course was presented beautifully, but without the fussiness that can make all the back-to-back restaurant meals tiresome while traveling.

What made this the epitome of custom-tailored travel

Had I been in the mood for a bit of shopping and nightlife, our captain would have set us on a course for the busier northern cayes: Ambergris and Caulker. And that was the plan—until I tore up our itinerary on Day 2, deciding to take advantage of the spontaneity a yacht charter affords and save Ambergris’ “Little Miami” for another trip. My new mantra was: Why sail to a place that you can get to on a commercial flight? Instead, I opted to have the views all to myself for just a little longer.

This was the epitome of custom-tailored travel: When the captain saw that my son, Zeke, was uncomfortable snorkeling in shallow water, he pulled up anchor and motored less than a mile away to a coral wall off which the seabed plunged 40 feet. It was a magical spot, teeming with peacock flounder and parrotfish and sergeant majors flashing bright yellows and iridescent blues in the tropical sunlight, and coral shaped like pincushions, cabbage leaves, and intricate mazes. (I’m holding Captain Ruben to his promise that he’ll forever refer to this place as “Zeke’s Reef.”)

For others, the ultimate luxury may be an ornate hotel suite with Louis XIV decor, exclusivity a trendy bar with a bouncer holding a guest list. For me, it was the Tranquilo, a 47-foot catamaran with no dress code (indeed, shoes were discouraged, lest they mar the shiny white deck). We had these picture-postcard vistas all to ourselves not because of a velvet rope, but because few travelers have been clued in to this gorgeous gem of a coastline, with its mesmerizing aquamarine water and its Vantablack night skies. That’s my kind of luxury. When dolphins started arcing out of the water, racing alongside our pontoons on our last morning, and our captain spotted a pair of rare manatees, I nearly pinched myself to see if it was a dream. It wasn’t—just a WOW-worthy trip.


Belize Sailing Tips From A Yachting Newbie

* Although it’s a “sailing vacation,” expect some motor noise.

Relying only on sails greatly reduces the distances you can cover so, for much of our daytime itinerary, we were actually under motor power, and at night we didn’t want to do without the generator’s air conditioning and flush toilets. When choosing cabins, I didn’t pay proper attention to the captain’s mention of which was the loudest. After the noise and vibration coming from the generator under my bed kept me up much of the first night, I moved into my son’s cabin. I slept soundly from then on—and the noise in my original cabin didn’t bother my insomniac husband a bit—but the voyage won’t always be as quiet as you might imagine.

* Be forthright and liberal with your food preferences.

Restocking the galley isn’t easy, especially for a vegetarian like me. So be honest when detailing your food likes and dislikes, as the chef is cooking only for you, and there is no menu.

*Don’t worry about motion sickness inside the reef.

My husband, prone to motion sickness, donned Sea-Bands the minute we stepped on board. But he needn’t have done so: Inside the reef, our catamaran was so stable that I could leave a toothbrush beside the sink in the morning and find it in exactly the same place that evening. Only once did we venture into open ocean outside the reef. My husband kept his eyes firmly on the horizon, but my son joyfully rode the tip of the starboard hull like a bucking bronco, yelling “This…is…AWE-SOME”!


Full Disclosure: Belize Sailing Vacations provided this reporter with a complimentary yacht charter. WendyPerrin.com did not promise any editorial coverage, and there was no quid pro quo. Our policy when accepting discounted or complimentary trips is to use the opportunity to test out experiences; if they meet our standards and we feel there is value for our readers, we will cover them. For further input about Belize trips arranged by local expert Patricia Johnson, read these reviews of Patricia’s trips written by WOW List travelers.


Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Ideal Islands for Each Month of the Year

Figuring out the optimal time to travel to an island can be tricky. “Peak season” often does not mean the best time to go; it just means the most expensive time, based on when school’s out in the countries that send the most vacationers to that island. “Low season” might mean peaceful and lovely, with a brief and pleasantly cooling shower each afternoon, or it might mean that every restaurant and famous site shuts down entirely. In addition to seasonal changes in weather, most islands have limited lodging—which can drive rates to extortionate levels—and some island can get crowds that will overtax the small tourism infrastructure, especially when cruise ships stop there.

We’re here to help—by suggesting a few islands for each month of the year. These are the opportune moments when the destination is at its best yet, in most instances, offers shoulder-season pricing. Craving an island not listed below? Punch its name into the “Destinations” search box at top left; if we’ve got an Insider’s Guide for that island, you can read the best and worst times to go.

Seeking the right island or island-trip-planning specialist for your specific needs? You may ask us here.

January: Madeira, Portugal

This sub-tropical Portuguese island may be small, but it puts on a New Year’s Eve celebration and fireworks show that rivals the ones in Sydney, London, and Rio. (Book early!) Later in the month, the world-class hotels will be far more affordable, yet you can still enjoy virgin laurel forest, panoramic hiking, and great local gastronomy, including the island’s namesake wine.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Portugal, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

January: Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

With a private yacht at your disposal, the Mergui archipelago is a veritable playground of diving and snorkeling sites full of rare underwater species, mangroves with crystal-clear water, and beaches where the only human footprints will be the ones you leave. In January, the weather is warm and sunny, and the seas are calm.

Ask Wendy who is the best Myanmar or yacht-charter specialist to plan your specific trip.

January: Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Located where the Pacific currents meet the Indian Ocean, this archipelago is a marine Eden with more than 1,300 species of fish and three-quarters of all the hard corals found in the world. Above the water line, the forested karst islands are home to fantastical creatures such as birds of paradise and tree kangaroos. October through April is Raja Ampat’s dry season; just after the holidays, prices drop considerably.

Ask Wendy who is the best Indonesia or cruise specialist to plan your specific trip.

February: Isla Palenque, Panama

Isla Palenque is an eco-friendly private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama.

Isla Palenque is an eco-friendly private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama.

A private-island resort off the Pacific coast of Panama, Isla Palenque offers both environmental sustainability and barefoot luxury. Just a 15-minute boat ride from the mainland, it’s easily combined with other parts of Panama or even Costa Rica, and you get seven different beaches, the surrounding Chiriqui National Marine Park, and a jungle full of monkeys and birds. February sees gorgeous weather—and with just eight thatch-roofed casitas and one villa on the 400-acre island, you’ll never encounter crowds.

Ask Wendy who is the best Panama specialist to plan your specific trip.

February: Venice, Italy

All that is sumptuous and extravagant about Venice is kicked up several notches in February, thanks to Carnevale. A month’s worth of elaborate celebrations—marked by Baroque costumes, masked balls, sinful sweets, and general bacchanalian overindulgence—reach a fever pitch in the “Fat Days” preceding Martedì Grasso (Shrove Tuesday). Carnevale dates vary from year to year but always include at least part of February.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Venice, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

March: Crete, Greece

The island of Spinalonga, Crete, Greece. Photo: Blue Palace Resort and Spa

The island of Spinalonga, Crete, Greece. Photo: Blue Palace Resort and Spa

While many Greek islands go into hibernation in the winter, with resorts and restaurants shuttering for the season, Crete is large enough that it stays vibrant year-round. It’s also Greece’s most southern—and thus warmest—island. Not everything will be open in March, but it’s a great time to get a dose of local culture, and hotel rates are lower than you’ll find later in spring.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

March: Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda

The Reefs, Southampton, Bermuda.

April is when the cruise ships start to arrive for the summer season, letting off up to 4,000 passengers at a time. A month earlier, hotel rates are half their summer peak, temps are in the low 70s (great for golf and tennis, if not bikinis), and there are free tours, lectures, and arts demonstrations all over the island.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Bermuda, and ask Wendy who is the best Bermuda specialist to plan your specific trip.

March: Malta and Gozo

gozo island green hills scenery in Maltese archipelago

Gozo is smaller and more rural than its neighbor Malta.

March sees few of the cruise-ship visitors who arrive daily in Malta come summer. With highs in the mid-60s and a lush green coating on the hills brought out by winter rains, this is a particularly great time of year for countryside walks and cycling on neighboring Gozo, which is smaller and more rural than Malta.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Malta, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: The Azores

green fields on Flores island The Azores Portugal

The Azores are known for breathtaking natural beauty. Photo: Visit the Azores

You won’t find ultra-luxe resorts and 24-hour concierge service in the Azores, but you will find whale- and dolphin-watching (sightings of migrating cetaceans peak in April), breathtaking natural beauty, and locals who are genuinely happy to see tourists at this time of year. For a slower-paced trip, stay just on the main island of São Miguel; if you prefer to see a bit more, base yourself on Faial and take day trips by ferry to Pico and São Jorge.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Portugal, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: The Maldives

person swimming in clear blue water at Cheval Blanc Randheli resort in the Maldives

The Maldives. Photo: Cheval Blanc Randheli.

April (after Easter) is when you’ll find a sweet spot of lower hotel rates and ideal weather: Temperatures are consistently in the high 80s year-round, but in April there is almost no rain or wind, so the water is calm for snorkeling and diving.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to The Maldives, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

April: Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia is a little-known hiker’s paradise, with trails that bestow views of white-sand beaches and crystalline water on one side, and craggy mountain peaks on the other. But if you go there to walk in summer, you’ll melt. Visit in April instead, when it’s not too crowded, the temperature is pleasant, and the wildflowers are in bloom.

Ask Wendy who is the best specialist to plan your specific trip.

May: Santorini, Greece

Oia town on Santorini island, Greece. Traditional and famous houses and churches with blue domes over the Caldera, Aegean sea

Oia town, on Santorini. Photo: Shutterstock

May weather is warm but not hot, and hotel rates are lower than from mid-June through September. The crowds are less too, which has the added benefit of ensuring the service will be better. During the hectic summer months, when hordes of cruise-ship passengers invade the island, service suffers; you can barely even find an available taxi.

 Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

May: Capri, Italy

Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Capri, Amalfi Coast, Italy. Photo: IC Bellagio

Mild spring temperatures make it pleasant to explore this legendary island, which is still in a state of tranquility before the mad crush invades in June. The orange and jasmine flowers in bloom lend wonderful scents and colors; it’s also the time of year for many sailing events, as well as the annual celebration of the island’s Patron Saint San Costanzo.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Amalfi Coast, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

May: Corsica, France

aerial view of Corsica island France

Corsica is great for hiking in May. Photo: Philip Haslett

While summer is high season, May and June are hard to beat: The temperatures are a bit lower, the crowds fewer, and the hotels don’t impose minimum-stay requirements. It’s a great time for the hiking, cycling, and canyoning that Corsica is known for—but if you want to spend a lot of time in the water, you’re better off waiting until September.

Ask Wendy who is the best Corsica specialist to plan your specific trip.

May: Oahu, Hawaii

View from the Makapuu Point Lookout, Oahu Hawaii

View from the Makapuu Point Lookout, Oahu. Photo: Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) / Mark Kushimi

Oahu’s temps are consistently pleasant year-round (usually between 78 and 82 degrees). The reason May is ideal—except for the Japanese holiday of Golden Week, at the start of the month— is that airfare is less expensive and crowds are fewer.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Oahu, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Bali

Green rice fields on Bali island Indonesia

Green rice fields on Bali island. Photo: Shutterstock

June has the most reliably pleasant weather in Bali—daytime temps in the 80s and gentle breezes to keep the sun from feeling too hot—and better prices: High-season hotel rates don’t kick in until July.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Bali, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Sri Lanka

eautiful Tropical Beach In Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka. These boats used to take people to watch dolphins

Kalpitiya beach, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

Sri Lanka’s east coast, stretching from the quiet beaches of Trincomalee to the surf paradise of Arugam Bay, bursts with life this month. Compared to the better-known beaches in the south, those along this coast are more secluded, with a calmer and shallower sea—perfect for whale watching, snorkeling, diving, and fishing. After Easter and before summer vacation, visitors are fewer and the prices are easier on the wallet.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sri Lanka, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Spitsbergen, Norway

Spitsbergen, the largest island in the Svalbard Archipelago, is one of the world’s best places to see polar bears. While Arctic voyages set sail throughout the summer, going early in the season maximizes your chances of seeing these magnificent animals before the sea ice recedes.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Arctic, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

June: Mallorca and Menorca, Spain

Beautiful traditional boathouses, apartments and beach at Playa Santanyi, located in the south east of Mallorca.

Find beautiful traditional boathouses, apartments and beaches at Playa Santanyi, located in the south east of Mallorca.Photo: Bespoke Travel Spain and Portugal

Early in the month, you’ll find great weather without the crowds of beachgoers who invade in summertime. Mallorca is a golfer’s dream, with a wide range of hotels, while Menorca is off the typical tourist circuit and ideal for those who want to relax by the sea and enjoy life as the locals do.

Ask Wendy who is the best Spain specialist to plan your specific trip.

June: Yakushima, Japan

This sub-tropical island, located in the waters just south of Kyushu, is ideal for intrepid travelers: Its mountains and vast forest of ancient cedar trees are crisscrossed by a network of hiking trails, from easy walks to challenging ascents. June signals the end of the rainy season, so you’ll find stunning waterfalls along the trails; it’s also when endangered loggerhead sea turtles return to Yakushima’s beaches to nest.

Ask Wendy who is the best Japan specialist to plan your specific trip.

July: Vanuatu

This Melanesian chain of roughly 80 islands that stretch across 800 miles is a remote and undeveloped paradise. You won’t find five-star resorts, but you will find crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, gorgeous beaches, active volcanoes, and warm and hospitable locals. July and August are a drier, cooler time of year in this tropical island nation.

Ask Wendy who is the best South Pacific or boat-charter specialist to plan your specific trip.

July: Aeolian Islands, Italy

Italy in July, you say? Isn’t it jam-packed? Not in this chain of islands—some of the most pristine left in Europe—that are just a short sail from Sicily and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in their entirety. While the mainland is mobbed, charter a yacht with a captain who was born on the islands and who can show you beautiful and lush Salina; the jet-setters’ getaway of Panarea; and magnificent Stromboli, where volcanic eruptions frequently light up the night sky.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

July: Tahiti

Heiva group dancing contest in Tahiti

Heiva group dancing contest. Photo: Tahiti Tourism

French Polynesia’s “Heiva” festival falls during July, with the culmination of ceremonies in Papeete, Tahiti, around the 20th. Heiva is a celebration of life and all things Polynesian. The outer islands hold local contests—in everything from outrigger racing to stone carrying and spear throwing, traditional dancing and singing to tifaifai (quilt) making—and the best go to Tahiti for the main festival. It’s a great time weather-wise as well; the trade winds keep temps in the low 80s and the humidity low.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Tahiti and French Polynesia, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

July: Zanzibar

July is a perfect time to cap off a safari with a few days on Zanzibar’s gorgeous white-sand beaches. It’s one of the island’s driest and sunniest months, with daytime temperatures in the low 80s and not much humidity. Plus, the Great Migration is usually in Tanzania’s northern Serengeti in early July, with the enormous herds of wildebeest and zebra crossing the Mara River into Kenya’s Masai Mara by mid-month.

Ask Wendy who is the best Zanzibar specialist to plan your specific trip.

August: Faroe Islands, Denmark

Gásadalur on Vagar Island, Faroe Islands. Photo: Tina Thorman

There is great hiking on the Faroe Islands, and more sheep than humans. Photo: Tina Thorman

The weather in the Faroe Islands is notoriously dramatic and unpredictable—but your surest chance of warm and sunny days comes in the summer. There is great hiking on the islands, more sheep than there are humans, and a rustic charm and sense of welcome that could have you sharing a home-cooked meal with a local family. Luxury here is not in the bathroom fixtures or the thread count of the sheets, but in the time and space to clear your mind and recenter your soul.

Ask Wendy who is the best Faroe Islands specialist to plan your specific trip.

August: Great Barrier Reef Islands, Australia

Great Barrier Reef aerial view

Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photo: Shutterstock

August brings warm weather, good visibility for divers and snorkelers, and calm seas (the wind dies down at the end of July). It’s also the best time to view whales—dwarf minke whales visiting the northern reefs and humpbacks on their annual migration to Antarctica. Every August, Hamilton Island also hosts Race Week, a sailing regatta with festivities on and off the water.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Great Barrier Reef, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

August: Madagascar

Ring-tailed lemur looks directly at the camera in Madagascar

Ring-tailed lemur, Madagascar

August is deep enough into the dry season that the wildlife viewing is very good (the lush foliage of rainy season makes it hard to see the animals) yet it also precedes the peak season of September and October, when the parks are more crowded (and the weather hotter).

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Madagascar, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

August: Ionian Islands, Greece

If August is your only time to travel to Greece and you don’t love crowds, charter a yacht in the Ionians. Many of the smaller islands in this group are accessible only by boat, so you’ll be free of the swarms that plague Santorini and Mykonos this month. Instead, you’ll find a temperate climate, spectacular beaches, lush vegetation, beautiful mountains, and the true flavor of Greece when you disembark from your boat and head into a tiny town for a meal at a local taverna.

 Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Ibiza

Bay with sailboats in Cala d Hort IBIZA Spain

In September, it’s not nearly as crowded at Ibiza’s beach clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs

Come September, it’s not nearly as crowded at the beach clubs, restaurants, and nightclubs (or on the roads). Rates for hotels and private boating excursions drop, but the weather is still lovely, and it’s warm enough to swim (with ideal air temperatures for hiking and biking as well) right up until the hot spots’ closing parties in early October.

Use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Hvar, Croatia

aerial view of Hvar island and surrounding sea Croatia

On Hvar in September, it’s still swimsuit season but the party crowds have gone. Photo: Exeter International

It’s still swimsuit season, but the atmosphere is much more laid-back than in July and August, and the travelers are more sophisticated than the summer party crowds. Croatia is known for its excellent wine, and September also coincides with the grape harvest. Later in the month, hotel rates drop.

Ask Wendy who is the best Croatia specialist to plan your specific trip.

September: San Juan Islands

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, Haro Straight, San Juan Islands, Washington

Lime Kiln Point Lighthouse, Haro Straight, San Juan Islands, Washington. Photo: Shutterstock

The weather in the San Juans (and the Olympic Peninsula) is usually still very nice in September, and there are fewer tourists than you’ll find in July and August. (The best time to see the resident orca whales, though, is June.)

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the San Juan Islands, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

September: Lofoten Islands, Norway

Reine, Lofoten, Norway. The village of Reine under a sunny, blue sky, with the typical rorbu houses. View from the top

The village of Reine in Lofoten, Norway. Photo: Shutterstock

In September and October, the crowds are gone, the weather is still pleasant, and the days are long enough to enjoy hiking, kayaking, fishing, and other activities—but with enough darkness that you stand a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

Ask Wendy who is the best Norway specialist to plan your specific trip.

October: Sicily

coast of Cefalu, Palermo Sicily Italy

The coast of Cefalu, Palermo, in Sicily. Photo: Shutterstock

October is one of the most colorful and flavorful months in Sicily. It is the season of the harvest, which means fresh olives, almonds, chestnuts, wild mushrooms, prickly pears, and carob complement the usual variety of culinary offerings. Air and sea temperatures are still warm and inviting, the ancient cultural sites are bathed in a crisp autumn light, and flights and hotels are less expensive than during the summer..

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Sicily, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: The Seychelles

Anse Louis, Seychelles

Anse Louis, Seychelles. Photo: Maia Luxury Resort.

October brings calm winds and beautiful temperatures, but it’s not a popular time for Europeans to travel—so rates are lower than usual. It’s also the best month for spotting whale sharks.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to The Seychelles, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: Hawaii’s Big Island

Wai'pio Valley Lookout, Hawaii

Wai’pio Valley Lookout, Big Island, Hawaii.

October is one of the Big Island’s driest months, with daytime temps hovering around 85 degrees.  It’s also a month for deals, given that so few families are traveling.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Big Island, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

October: Newfoundland

berry picking on Fogo Island Newfoundland Canada

Berry picking on Fogo Island, Newfoundland.

This month brings out the island’s culinary delights: You’ll find locals foraging for wild berries, delicious food festivals, and restaurants blessed with abundant harvests and the freshest seafood.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Newfoundland, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: Ambergris Caye, Belize

sunset in Belize at Ambergris Caye

Ambergris Caye. Photo: Absolute Belize

Before Thanksgiving, hotel rates are at their lowest. The days are hot, but the humidity is dropping, and the evenings are cool and breezy. November 19 is Garifuna Settlement Day and is best spent on mainland Belize in either Dangriga or Hopkins, where the Garifuna people celebrate—with drumming, dancing, and parades—the arrival of their Afro-indigenous ancestors more than 200 years ago.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Belize, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: The Galapagos Islands

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands.

Blue-footed booby, Galapagos Islands. Photo: Pixabay/Peter Stuart Miller

The Galapagos is a magnet for families with kids during summer and other school vacations; if you’re looking for a quieter time, think November (except Thanksgiving). Blue whales, humpback whales, and whale sharks—the largest fish in the sea, growing up to 40 feet in length and weighing as much as 40,000 pounds—are most likely to be spotted in the Galapagos from June through November.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to the Galapagos, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: Papua New Guinea

Milne Bay is home to the most varied scuba diving in Papua New Guinea: Here you’ll find coral structures, exotic creatures hiding in the sandy bottom, and WWII wrecks to explore. The diving in Milne Bay is at its best from November through January, which is the dry season for this part of the country.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Papua New Guinea, and ask Wendy who is the best Papua New Guinea specialist to plan your specific trip.

November: South Georgia Island

King penguins, South Georgia Island. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

King penguins, South Georgia Island. Photo: ExpeditionTrips

A jewel in the Southern Ocean, South Georgia Island will appeal to anyone interested in wildlife, wild places, or the history of Antarctic exploration. The season here runs roughly from late October through early March, but what makes November special—in addition to the king penguins stretching as far as the eye can see—is the plethora of elephant seals and fur seals on shore.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Antarctica Cruises, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

November: St. Barts

Hotel Christopher, St. Barts

Hotel Christopher, St. Barts. Photo: Hotel Christopher

Come November, many resorts, boutiques, and restaurants that closed during the height of hurricane season have reopened, and everything feels fresh and new. The Saint Barth Gourmet Festival also takes place this month, attracting star chefs from France and elsewhere. Plus, hotel and villa rates don’t jump up until mid-December.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guides to St. Barts Beach Vacations and St. Barts Villa Vacations, and use our questionnaire to be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

December: The Caribbean

Idyllic tropical beach with white sand, turquoise ocean water and blue sky at Antigua island in Caribbean

Antigua island in the Caribbean. Photo: Shutterstock

From just after Thanksgiving until just before Christmas, you have lovely weather and can enjoy savings of up to 40% off peak-season rates. (Peak season starts just before Christmas and lasts till just after Easter).

Ask Wendy who is the best Caribbean specialist to plan your specific trip.

December: Fiji

Villa at the Taveuni Palms Resort, Fiji

A villa overlooking the ocean at the Taveuni Palms Resort in Fiji. Photo: Taveuni Palms

At the start of cyclone season, you’ll find tropical afternoon showers but also great resort deals: free nights, free massages, even free domestic airfares. The Yasawa and Mamanuca islands are your best bet for dry days at this time of year.

Learn more in our Insider’s Guide to Fiji, and ask Wendy who is the best Fiji specialist to plan your specific trip.

Be a safer, smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. And read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip.

aerial shot of Belize ocean with sailboat

Belize: Plan Your Trip!

Your Belize Trip Begins Here

Belize may be small in size (just a tad larger than New Jersey), but it possesses a mighty wide range of enviable attributes: the second-longest barrier reef in the world, dozens of significant Mayan ruins, an extensive cave network available for exploration, thousands of acres of pristine rainforest, and a surprisingly wide array of luxury resorts (several owned by Francis Ford Coppola). Belize is serious about preservation, too: Fully one quarter of the country is designated as a marine or nature reserve. Part of the British Commonwealth, Belize’s official language is English, so communication is simple. But getting around on your own is not: Many of the roads are unpaved, and signage is seriously lacking. It takes a savvy local expert to weave the right mix of scheduled and charter puddle-jumper flights, private drivers, and water taxis or private catamarans to make the most of your time, and to suss out which lodges and resorts will be right for you (even some high-end properties lack in-room Wi-Fi or air conditioning).

We can point you to a Belize specialist who delivers private, custom, WOW trips that keep you away from the tourist crowds and take you to the most thrilling places you could never find or access on your own. But be prepared to spend a minimum of $700 per day for two travelers. If that’s doable, click below and complete the questionnaire. Your information is kept private.

Pricing tip: For a WOW Belize trip, expect to spend at least $700 per day for two travelers, which includes accommodations, private transportation, and some meals and activities.


Start your Belize trip here

tim holding trophy fish in Belize

Tim’s Tips for Fishing in Belize

On Wendy’s recent family trip to Belize, while she was road-testing Belize trip-planning specialists and her 14-year-old was learning to scuba dive, her husband, Tim, went fishing. Here’s his story:

“There they are, Mr. Tim!” Richard whispered with excitement. “Do you see them?”


“Just cast hard as you can to one o’clock.”

I reared back with the spinning rod and let my bait fly.  My bait was a small, live crab—with a total weight of about 40 cents’ worth of dimes—that was quickly rejected by the light breeze, as if I were taking a set shot against LeBron.

“Try again, Mr. Tim. Three o’clock this time!”

A Belize fishing guide, on the lookout for western Atlantic game fish.

Richard Quillan, Belize fishing guide, on the lookout for western Atlantic game fish.

This time I cast just barely better.  A blink later, I felt titch, titch, TUG!  Wham!  I set the hook!  I set it so hard I’m surprised I didn’t jerk the fish clean out of the water.  The fish pulled hard. Really hard.  It pulled in an arc, first to one side and then a quick turn to the other.  Like a metronome.  Click, click, click.

On its fourth arc, Richard reached in and loosened the drag on the reel.  Zizzzzzzzzzz!  The fish took off on a dead run in front of the boat, taking the line with it as it raced off.

“Mr Tim, tell me if you think it could spool out!”

“Okay, I’m telling you right now!”

I had about a dozen winds left on the reel.  More than 200 yards of 12-pound test line was gone in a flash.  Richard quickly started the 50 HP outboard, and the chase was on.  As we gained on the speeding fish, I was able to quickly recover a sizable amount of line back to the safety of the reel. If the line had come to a halt too abruptly, the fish could have snapped it.  Not only would I not have caught the fish, but I would have left a fish with a hook in its mouth, and—much, much worse—yards and yards of monofilament fishing line floating forever in the shallow flat.  And I would have felt awful about that.

Now that half the line was back on the reel, the give-and-take with the fish began in earnest.  The contest had been all fish, but now I was winning the pull-hard-reel-in-quickly battle.  The tiring fish even got close enough that I could see it.  It looked like a chrome hubcap from a 1960s Cadillac, flashing in the bright sun.  Just when I was ready to take the final pull to the boat, it took off again in full sprint.  Go ahead, I thought.  I have plenty of line restocked, and the boat is paid for until 4 p.m., and I know you are getting tired.

It took a full 20 minutes to get the line close enough to the boat, where Richard could land the fish.  One thing about a permit fish: The tail has a great place to grip.  Think of grabbing an hourglass in the middle.  Once you’ve got it, you’ve really got it!  I gave Richard a two-second lesson in how to use my camera, and he took two photos of me with my trophy.

Then, since fishing in Belize is catch-and-release (which I do anyway), Richard thanked the fish, gave it a kiss, and eased my catch of a lifetime back into the water.  Despite its ordeal, it was off, in a flick of a tail.

Belize fishing guide kissing fish before putting it back in the water

Richard thanks the fish, kisses it, and releases it back into the water.

Richard Quillan, my fishing guide, seemed genuinely as thrilled as I was.  High-fives all around.  Any professional guide wants the customer to be happy.  Which I sure was.  And this was Richard’s 26th birthday.

We reloaded a new crab and went in search of more.

Belize fishing guide looking for crabs for bait on the beach

Catching crabs for fish bait

Belize is world-renowned for its flats fishing.  Square mile after square mile of flats surround much of the country’s coastline and islands.  The water is only a couple of feet deep.

The Permit is one-third of the Grand Slam of Belize fishing: Permit, Bonefish, and Tarpon.  (Unlike baseball, golf, tennis, and breakfasts, it takes only three to make up a Belizean Grand Slam.  Maybe the fourth thing to catch is a sunburn.  And that’s guaranteed.)

The day before, I had hired Richard for a half-day bonefishing trip as a kind of warm-up.  We had caught a couple of small bonefish, but I wasn’t thrilled by their fight.  (I’ve had better battles with bigmouth bass in the lake I go to each summer.)  Initially, for my full-day trip, I wanted to go for 100-plus-pound tarpon—considered by many one of the ultimate sports-fishing trophies—but Richard suggested, based on conditions, that we would have better luck going for permit.

While I enjoy fishing, the sight-casting approach didn’t really appeal to me.  The hardest part was finding the fish.  That’s where a fishing guide earns his value: In addition to a decade of experience, Richard had top-quality sunglasses—made for anglers—that helped him see into the water.  With my regular glasses that darken in the sunlight, I felt like Mr. Magoo.  Only late on the second day could I manage to start seeing the fish that Richard was pointing out to me.

If you want to see into the water, you need a bright, sunny, cloudless day, with not too much breeze chopping up the water surface.  While a sunny day without a breeze is perfect for finding fish, be warned that under those conditions the sun is relentless.  Even with temps in the mid 80s, you are just baking.  These types of fishing boats have zero shade.

a fishing guide in Belize poles the boat into position to intercept a school of fish that would have been scared off by the engine.

Poling the boat through the flats to intercept a school of fish that would have been scared off by the engine.

When Richard found the fish, we cut the outboard, and he poled us into position to intercept the school.  Schools range from a handful to more than 50 fish.  The fish are extremely shy, and that’s their defense in the shallow water of the flats: shyness, and sheer speed.  Even our movements and voices on deck had to be muted.  A misplaced cast (and there were many!), and the fish would scatter, and we’d need to look again in a new spot.  In five hours of fishing, I landed three permits.  Each was smaller than the last, but I was grateful for them all.

Belize fishing guide with small permit fish

A small permit is jokingly called a “learner permit.”

Back at the dock, word got out, and I was hailed as the man who caught three permits in one day!  Others have gone out and come up empty.  But that’s fishing!

Next trip, bring on the tarpon!

Tim’s Tips for Fishing in Belize

Fishing in Belize is year-round, though some months are better than others.  (July, August, and September are best for tarpon, for example.)  My seven-hour day with guide, gear, and boat cost $500; the four-hour half-day cost $375.  I also bought a one-week fishing license online for 50 Belize dollars (US $25).  No one asked to see it, but I always support local fishing management programs.

I wish I had practiced casting at home before paying considerable money to scare away fish.  Besides practicing pre-trip, here’s my hard-earned advice:

• If your main goal in Belize is to fish, choose a hotel close to the flats. T wo hours of my day were taken up just getting from our beachfront hotel to the flats and back again.

• Book a fishing guide in advance to guarantee that one is available on the day(s) you’ll be there.  We arranged for Richard Quillan through our hotel.

• Check the weather report.  Cloudy days make it hard for even the guides to find the fish.  See how flexible the guide’s schedule is.

• Buy or borrow the best sunglasses for fishing you can find.  When sight casting, it helps greatly if you can see into the water to spot the fish.

• On a boat made for casting, there is no shade.  So cover up every part of your body with SPF protective clothing, and slather on the sunscreen.  Even the guides get sunburned.

• Last but not least, always use fill flash for your photos.

tourist fishing in Belize on a casting boat on the turquoise water

Covering up with protective SPF clothing is a must.

Be a smarter traveler: Read real travelers’ reviews of Wendy’s WOW List and use it to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

Wendy Perrin snorkeling in Belize underwater with a smiling fish

Wendy’s Family Trip to Belize: Photos from the Beach and Sea

The best vacations are those where you try something new you’ve never done before. When you learn a new skill or master a challenge or achieve a long-held goal during a trip, it leaves you with intense memories of that trip and a sense of accomplishment that can linger forever.

That’s one reason why I chose Belize for my family vacation: I wanted my younger son, Doug (14), to learn how to dive. Doug is starting high school next month and is fascinated by marine biology, so it seemed like a good moment to get him his scuba certification.

The diving and snorkeling in Belize is world-class, thanks to the country’s position alongside the world’s second largest barrier reef. Belize also has the typical advantages afforded by a location on the Caribbean Sea, yet it’s easier to fly to, more affordable than, and less built-up than, many Caribbean islands.

Doug wasn’t the only one with a goal to achieve. The other reason I chose Belize was so I could road-test Belize trip-planning specialists. Belize has been catching on in popularity among sophisticated travelers. For the past year I’ve received a steadily increasing number of Belize trip requests. So, of course, I wanted to investigate and find a Belize travel specialist worthy of The WOW List.

Here’s a sneak peek at our adventures. Stay tuned for more on the best things to do and see in Belize, where to stay, where to eat… and how to learn to scuba dive in just three days (that’s how long it took Doug). And if you’re looking for the best Belize trip-planning specialist, here’s who I recommend.