“Sam loves to play with coconuts,” says Heather Sellors, guest services manager for St. George’s Caye Resort, an exotic getaway on St. George’s Caye, a sunny sandbar of an island eight miles off the Caribbean coast of Belize. It was just over two years ago that Sam, a four-year-old German Shepard, had never seen a coconut. Instead he was doing Canadian dog things like playing with sticks and chew toys at his home in Kelowna, B.C. Now, however, he’s a canine expat living year-round on the island with his owners, Susan and John Spencer, who brought Sam with them when they purchased the St. George’s Caye Resort in the July 2007.

The dog appears to love the place equally as much as his owners, who never planned to own and operate a Belize resort until the fickle finger of fate intervened. After vacationing on the island twice and falling in love with the Central American country surrounded by Guatemala and southern Mexico, the resort came up for sale and the rest is history. They left behind work in B.C.’s oil and gas industry, packed up their belongings (including Sam) and moved to the island paradise where they now live most of the year as hands-on owners of the resort that’s a mere 10 minute boat ride from Belize‘s famous coral reef – second longest reef in the world after Australia‘s Great Barrier Reef. The island is dotted with palm trees hence Sam has a never-ending supply of fallen coconuts and the Spencers are living the dream that materialized suddenly and came to pass just as quickly.

I arrived on St. George’s Caye on an August day so hot it melted my small pot of lip gloss. Sam was running around with a coconut in his mouth seemingly oblivious to the Belize heat. “You get acclimatized to it,” says Sellors. Maybe so, but in the meantime I opted to hit the resort’s pool, followed by a second cooling off in the ocean. I and the other guests who arrived from the mainland via a shuttle boat from Belize City checked into 12 Polynesian-type thatched roof cabanas. Each had its own air conditioner but I soon learned the island’s tropical climate and perpetual sunshine blazing down on thatched roofs makes it impossible for the cooling systems to get anywhere near putting a chill in the air. Nevertheless, the cabanas were comfortable with either lagoon or ocean view porches each fitted out with an inviting hammock.

It took little imagination to picture St. George’s Caye as a duplicate of the tropical paradise once sought by French painter, Paul Gauguin, who ultimately settled on life in Tahiti. This island, of course, is nowhere near Polynesia but its appearance could easily be mistaken for it.

Unlike Gauguin who lived and died in the tropics, my friends and I had a mere four days to cram in everything there was to see and do.

Options included kayaking, windsurfing and sailing, however, one of the resort’s chief attractions is scuba diving. Blessed with one of the world’s top reefs on its doorstep, the property’s location is a diver’s dream. The resort has a fully equipped dive shop and the staff personnel are qualified to teach both basic and advanced skills including dive certification. Snorkelling was my activity of choice even though two weeks before arriving on the island I had watched a five-day series about global shark attacks. In spite of a niggling fear, snorkelling at the reef was fantastic and in addition to an awesome array of small colourful fish and amazing coral formations, the highlights were sightings of two manatees, a barracuda and a stingray. No sharks.

The resort that’s an all-inclusive property except for alcoholic beverages and off-site tours offers a roster of excursions focusing on history, culture and adventure. I opted for a trip to Altun Ha, an ancient Maya ruins about 30 miles north of Belize City where among several stone buildings, there are two central plazas surrounded by towering temples.

One of them is the Temple of the Sun God where several years ago an archaeological dig produced a carved jade head, largest jade artefact ever discovered in the Mayan empire. This is the country’s most popular ruins and the Sun God Temple is even depicted on the labels of Belikin beer, the local brew of Belize.

There’s everything from one-hour sightseeing cruises to champagne dinner cruises.

In all, the resort that has 800 feet of private sand beach offers more than a dozen off-site activities including everything from cave tubing to zip lining, deep sea and reef fishing, a trip to the Belize Zoo and a howler monkey nature walk. However, the island that was once the capital of the country is a peaceful place where some guests simply prefer to stay put and soak up the solitude; although one not to be missed activity is the resort’s offshore BBQ.

I pictured being taken to a tiny island with maybe a single palm tree on it where staff would grill up a great lunch. Instead, our BBQ took place on a submerged sand bar not far from Belize‘s reef. That’s right. All of us, including cook and servers, were up to our knees in water. Chef Danny Tillett and a couple of helpers preceded us to our ocean dining spot with all necessary supplies loaded onto a boat. They set up a grill in two feet of water, put a table and chairs in place (in water) and this was our luncheon site. It was like having a BBQ in a wading pool albeit with a white sand bottom and water the colour of an aquamarine jewel. Following lunch, we simply swam away from the table. The offshore BBQ is a nice touch that is available to resort guests who wish to experience it.

For vacationers who like large all-inclusive properties with non-stop music and swim-up bars, St. George’s Caye Resort is not the place for them. But for those who relish the idea of a serene island where there are no crowds and they can choose to be active or simply veg out, this resort fills the bill. Service is top notch, meals are taken communal-style in a central building and to get each day off to a good start, coffee and fresh squeezed juice are delivered to each cabana around 7:00 a.m. This whole scenario might have suited Gauguin to a tee.

TRAVEL PLANNER

Information: Call 1-800-813-8498, email office@gooddiving.com or go online at www.gooddiving.com.
Climate: July and August are among the hottest months with maximum highs reaching 31 degrees Celsius. Some Belize resorts shut down for this period but St. George’s Caye Resort does not.

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