A family of five enjoys a budget-minded Placencia getaway with plenty of adventure

Snorkeling in Placencia's pristine tropical waters. 

     If you’re traveling with children, “budget” and “travel” should rarely, if ever, be used in the same sentence. But there are always more economical ways to travel as a family, a concept my friend Shantel and her husband, Joe, have perfected.

     Having traveled for years on a budget before becoming parents—backpacking in Machu Picchu and saving for months to enjoy an African safari, among other adventures—I admire their ability to do the same as a family.

     With three children in tow—two sons, ages 12 and 10, and a daughter, age 6—the Longmont, Colo., family ventured to Placencia, Belize, during spring break 2013, following a set budget that still allowed lots of adventure.

Mombassador Q&A

1.     Why did you choose Belize for your kids’ first international trip?

There are so many places we want to take our children. But Belize topped our list because it’s easy to travel there from Colorado, plus English is the country’s official language. (Before Belize became an independent country in 1981, it was known as British Honduras.) It also doesn’t have the water-contamination issues of many other Central American countries, and there’s so much to do. Those were huge considerations for bringing along our children.

Read more on traveling in Belize.

2.    Why did you choose to stay in a VRBO (www.vrbo.com) rental instead of a hotel?

Cost wasn’t our only consideration in staying in a rental home versus a resort/hotel; privacy was just as important to us, as was the ability to cook some of our own meals.

And we loved everything about our lodging, The Maine Stay Cabanas. For starters, the rental included two separate cabanas, connected by a common deck.  And there were security guards, so we felt safe allowing the kids to sleep in one alone. Plus each cabana offered full kitchens, laundry rooms, air conditioning, and both cable and Internet. We also enjoyed a private beach and pier—complete with picnic table to enjoy meals al dente—as well as our own aboveground pool, kayaks, bikes and water toys. (See the complete list of amenities here.)

One of the cabanas’ best amenities, though, was the personal shopping. We emailed a grocery list beforehand, and the staff stocked our kitchen with the requested food items for our arrival. We got there that first night right around dinnertime—exhausted and hungry from a long day of travel—and were able to cook spaghetti that night and breakfast the next morning. They also bought beer, which we sipped happily that first night on the private pier. It was great.

Visit the Maine Stay cabanas here

Family fun at the Maine Stay cabanas:

3.    How did you get around Belize?

We loved having our own car for convenience, and it was very easy to drive the three hours to Placencia, particularly because they drive on the right side of the road. We also felt very safe driving throughout the country, and Placencia, only about a 10-minute drive from The Maine Stay’s location in Seine Bight. Visit their car-rental choice, Hertz.

4.    What were your family’s favorite activities?

  • Cave Tubing—We all loved this activity, although it was about a two-hour drive (to Belmopan). With more than 7 miles of river inside to explore the caves, we hiked; saw bats, spiders and Mayan artifacts; and ate a delicious picnic lunch with light from our headlamps.    

Visit their tour operator, Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Adventure Company and Jungle Lodge.

  • Monkey River cruise—This is where we saw all the wildlife, from howler monkeys to crocodiles, bats, turtles, birds and a baby manatee. And the kids enjoyed wearing the “Velcro leaves,” leaves from the breadfruit tree that stick to your clothes. (Editor’s note: Colin sported one on his shirt for most of the day after our Monkey River adventure.)

Check out some tour operators: Monkey River Eco ToursBelizean Dreams or Calico Jack's Village.

  • Snorkeling—Belize has some of the best snorkeling sites we’ve seen in all our travels. The kids had so much fun swimming with nurse sharks and stingrays. Joe is a diver, but even he enjoyed snorkeling there more because of all the animals he saw in Shark Ray Alley.

See their tour operator, Avadon Divers.

5.     Other favorite family hangouts?

  • Breakfast at Wendy’s Creole Restaurant & Bar was the best; the stuffed Fry Jacks, basically stuffed sopapillas, were our favorite. Visit Wendy's Facebook page.
  • Purple Space Monkey was another good restaurant. Great food and unique cocktails. Visit Purple Space Monkey's Facebook page.