Feature

This week’s dream: An unspoiled Belizean paradise revisited

Twenty-six years ago, the Belizean island of Ambergris Caye was a sparsely populated Shangri-la.

“Words can be powerful—even stupid words in a travel magazine,” said David Ewing Duncan in Outside. That’s what I told my teenage son, and it’s what worried me as we flew toward Belize several months ago. Twenty-six years earlier, I had written a piece in Condé Nast Traveler that spilled the secret about Ambergris Caye, a Belizean island that at the time was a sparsely populated Shangri-la where a fly fisherman could haul out a tarpon on the first cast and scuba divers could spend time alone with one of the finest coral reefs in the world. Other writers followed my lead, and before long, hotels popped up on Ambergris Caye, flights to Belize multiplied, and cruise ships began dropping passengers at the reefs. I needed to get back to witness what I’d done.

From the air, most of the small coastal islands looked unchanged—a splattering of dark-green blobs against “a blue so intense it looked radioactive.” Ambergris Caye’s main town had grown significantly, though, and on the beach stood “a nearly unbroken progression of white bungalows and hotels.” One of them was Ramon’s Village Resort, the upgraded version of the place I had stayed at years before. The property’s thatched huts had been replaced by air-conditioned bungalows and a pool shaped like a stream. But when a beauty pageant filled the grounds with local families that night, “I didn’t have to ask if they preferred this life to the ‘paradise’ of palm trees and huts” I’d once written about. Clearly, their new day-to-day greatly pleased them.

The reef’s colors were dazzling when we dove the next day, but tourists had virtually stripped it of conch shells, and the fish population had declined too. Still, we saw a range of species, and Alex caught his first triggerfish the next day on a fly rod. By then, I was beginning to realize that blaming myself for any changes in Belize was as ridiculous as thinking I could capture life as it exists there after just a short visit. “My quick impression was that the wonder remained,” though. “New roads, bars, and hotels hadn’t ruined the place, even if the conchs were gone.”

At Ramon’s Village Resort (ramons.com), rooms start at $165.

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