Belize has around 900 licensed accommodations for tourist to enjoy while visiting the Jewel. This small, diverse, imaginative country has very few mega-resorts; many properties are well under 20 rooms- boutique hotels. The vast majority of accommodations are vacation home rentals or guesthouses (like ours) with a handful of rooms.
When you think about travel you likely think about booking a hotel or resort—it’s what is familiar. You can count on consistency of a brand, uniformity. How boring! Belize doesn’t have much in the way of chains or big brand hotels and this has opened the door to small, independent hoteliers and subsequently: a charm that is distinctly Belizean.
What makes guesthouses different from (even superior to) hotel chains?
In stark opposition to chain hotel’s uniformity, guesthouses and vacation rentals embrace their individuality and uniqueness. I think these features appeal to travelers that have chosen Belize as a destination. If you’ve chosen Belize you are likely an independent and adventurous spirit. These type of properties vary in size, design, amenities, décor, and price point- there’s the perfect accommodation for each traveler to find. But each accommodation isn’t perfect for every traveler.
From massive luxury villas on white sand beaches to thatch-roofed tree houses in the jungle. No vacation is quite the same, and how exciting is that?! Cashew Cabins is a prime example of a unique vacation rental offering here in Placencia Village. Loosely based off the design of a Shepherd’s Hut, these cute and comfy miniature chalets are eco-conscious and surprisingly affordable.
Feels like home (away from home)
A hotel room almost always feels exactly like that: a hotel room. The experience of being in a hotel room in one location can feel pretty much the same as being in a hotel room in any number of locations but vacation rentals and guesthouses usually give a much different impression; one unique to its region and community. Hotels are more likely to be located away from authentic areas. They’ll be away from neighborhoods, in commercial districts, giving the visitor a narrow experience strictly in a tourism corridor. Guesthouses are more often than not located in residential areas. Visitors get first hand exposure to the locale- a more authentic and enriching experience.
There’re also the perks of being in a home setting as opposed to a hotel room setting. Usually you’ll have more space. Hotel rooms aren’t notorious for extravagant square footage; they focus more on occupant density. In a vacation rental you’ll likely have a well equipped kitchen which gives you the option to self-cater some meals. This can be a budget super saver while on holiday.
My friend and hospitality mentor, Nicole, of Dolce Cabana Waterfront Suites, has perfectly curated the home-away-from-home but still miles-away vacation sensation. Her suites are superb! The ideal balance of homey comforts and practical amenities with a tropical twist for wonderous rest or recreation.
Your hosts are a wealth of local knowledge
At guesthouses and “Air B&B”-type rentals, you are being hosted. Hosted by real people who are part of the community. This is so different to the concierge at a hotel that may or may not live in the community where they work. They may be incentivized to give certain restaurant or tour recommendations over their honest opinions but hosts are much more likely to be straight shooters with recommendations and intel. A concierge will tell you about the drink special in the resort’s lounge but a host will tell you about the chili cookoff fundraiser at the local bar.
Ask your host what the happenings are, where they grocery shop, where they set up their beach chair to catch the sunset, who has the best happy hour, where to procure local delicacies, and what is in season at the moment.
My friends Annelise and Doyle perfectly embody this. (They run Suites at Three Iquanas as well as Doyle’s Smoke Yaad, a cultural kitchen open-air eatery) She’s a certified marine biologist. He’s a born and bred Placencian and top-rated tour guide. They are in the know about everything: village events and specials, history, food, nature! You will learn something from your hosts, whether its local lore and legend, the scientific name for the bird singing outside your window in the morning, or simply what bartender makes the meanest margarita- when you chat with your hosts you will enrich your vacation experience.
Unexpected Extras and Thoughtful Surprises
Chain hotels promise a standard of their level of service across the brand, of conformity that you can count on in different locations. That’s fine. That’s safe. But you are rarely surprised at a chain hotel and personally I quite like a surprise or two. Guesthouses and vacation rentals are personal; typically, property managers are only overseeing a handful or less of these type of accommodations. This gives them a unique opportunity to keenly hone in on their guest’s needs.
Because we communicate directly with our guests, a good host will try to tailor the accommodation experience to each party based on what they anticipate their needs to be. From having the right number of beach towels waiting for you to adding a chest of age specific toys for families traveling with children- a good host knows what makes your travels more comfortable. Some hosts give their guests a local souvenir. Some properties have a cute cat or dog residing on site. Some rentals come with perks like complementary paddle boards or kayaks to use. Maybe there is some locally made chocolate awaiting you in the apartment. It’s a surprise!
When families with young children vacation with us at Driftwood Gardens, I love to hide a little surprise in what I think of as the Harry Potter room. A (almost) secret cupboard under the stairs that stores beach chairs, the small space has often functioned as a hiding place for giggling little people. What wonderous surprises does the covert closet hold? A sand castle construction kit? A new pool float? It’s a surprise!
As many smaller properties are owner-operated, they will typically be more flexible with pricing; allowing you to get more bang for your buck. So once you find the property you like on your favorite booking site, do a little internet sleuthing and locate the property’s website, Facebook page, or phone number. Reach out and book with them directly as your rate will likely be lower than what you would pay on Airbnb or the the other big booking sites. The savings from avoiding that Airbnb service fee or a lower directly booked rate that prevents the owner from having to pay commission to the big booking sites can mean more money in your pocket for tours, souvenirs, and happy hour!