A weekend in Belize

Clara Bosonetto is a retired travel consultant.

Weekend in Belize one of three ways: on a budget, spending a bit more, or when the getaway calls for a splurge.

Trip tips: Central Belize (Belize and Cayo districts) is the tourist epicenter with Mayan ruins, great beaches, jungles, waterfalls and caves. It's home to rare bird species and howler monkeys. Inland from the Southeast Coast (and Placencia) are the Maya Mountains with many national parks such as Blue Hole National Park (not to be confused with the "Blue Hole" atoll in the Barrier Reef), Chiquibul National Park, Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Reserve (96,000 acres), and the Five Blues Lake National Park (4,060 acres). Road trip highlight: Drive Hummingbird Highway from inland Belmopan to Dangriga, a seaside community on the east coast. This winding 56-mile drive is ranked as one of the top 10 scenic drives in Central America. The Southern Highway takes up where the Hummingbird Highway ends and runs to Punta Gorda. Plan trips at www.travelbelize.org.

Getting there: Delta's 50-day advance purchase fares are $767 round-trip. From the Belize City International Airport, connect to a 20-minute flight to lively Ambergris Caye (caye = island) located off the northeast coast. Both Tropic Air (www.tropicair.com) and Maya Island Air (www.mayaislandair.com) offer one flight per hour; about $47 each.

BUDGET

Stay: Maya Beach Hotel is 3 miles from Seine Bight Village and 8 from the Creole village of Placencia at the end of the peninsula (www.placencia.com). On site is a popular bistro. Accommodations range from basic ($316 for four nights) to a two-level apartment with a small kitchen ($556 for four nights). Mile marker 15, 501-533-8040, www.mayabeachhotel.com.

Eat: Take a free five-minute shuttle ride to Tranquilo on Placencia Caye for a sunset and the freshest fish; $5-$20. Try an ancestral Garifuna dish, rich with seafood and coconut milk. 501-620-7763, www.facebook.com/TranquiloPlacenciaCaye.

Experience: Enjoy a full day snorkeling among giant rays, squid and tropical fish at the exquisite Belizean Barrier Reef, the second longest in the world. Destinations include Frigate Caye ($50), Laughing Bird Caye ($75) or Ranguana Caye ($80). Prices include island lunch and all gear. Main Road near Wendy's Restaurant in Placencia Village, 501-523-3363, www.oceanmotionplacencia.com/ocean_motion_tours.html.

MODERATE

Stay: Caye Casa is a short walk from the hustle of San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye (http://ambergriscaye.com). Peaceful accommodations range from rooms (from $110) and casitas (from $165) to one- and two-bedroom villas (from $250). All are situated on a private sandy beach. On site is a fresh water plunge pool. The hosts can arrange any type of tour. Beach Front, San Pedro, 1-800-936-3433, www.cayecasa.com.

Eat: The Hidden Treasure Restaurant is set in a residential neighborhood south of San Pedro Town but offers free shuttle service for most island guests. The setting is dreamy under an open-air wood beamed structure with white tablecloths, candles, twinkling lights and fine Latin American cuisine; $14.50-$34. Escalante Subdivision, 501-226-4111, http://hiddentreasurebelize.com.

Experience: The "all-in-one" catamaran tour (noon-7 p.m.) combines snorkeling (two stops), sailing, Caye Caulker (one hour free time), a Belizean buffet lunch, open bar and sunset cruise; $114 includes park entrance and snorkel gear. Barrier Reef Drive at Central Park, San Pedro, 501-621-7245, www.catamaranbelize.com.

SPLURGE

Stay: Francis Ford Coppola purchased the abandoned Blancaneaux Lodge and created a tropical paradise under a rain forest canopy in the Maya Mountains of the Cayo District (85 miles from Belize International). A four-night package includes stays in a riverfront cabana with wraparound walkway, all meals (no beverages), a full-day four-wheel drive excursion to the Mayan citadel of Caracol and Rio Frio Cave, a canoe adventure to Barton Creek Cave, horseback adventure to Big Rock Falls and round-trip airport transfers; $3,454 per couple through Dec. 17. Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, Cayo District, 1-888-861-7336, www.coppolaresorts.com/blancaneaux.

Eat: Cenaida's is a humble local spot serving authentic Belizean dishes from breakfast through the late night. Stop in for an ice-cold Belikin, the national beer; a Pineapple Rum Delight or coconut fish; $5-$16. 16 Bullet Tree Road, San Ignacio, 501-631-2526, www.facebook.com/pages/Cenaidas-Belizean-Food/140073342685533.

Experience: Take a four-hour horse riding adventure to the Mayan site of Xunantunich ("shoo-nahn-too-nitch"), the largest ceremonial center in the Belize River Valley. A hand-cranked ferry carries visitors across the Mopan River, about a mile from the site; $85 (depart/return to San Ignacio; tour code: 9165P1). www.viator.com.