Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jaguar Reef Lodge in Hopkins, Belize - Hotel Review

I've done several restaurant reviews on this blog so far, and while I've wanted to do something similar for hotels that we've stayed at, I've never been in the habit of taking photos of hotel rooms, and I hesitate to do too many reviews without photos.  My opinion, but a review really doesn't have as much meaning without a few photos for you, the reader, to visualize the experience.  In any event, I remembered to take pictures on our recent trip to Belize, and so after the break, I present you with my first hotel review - the Jaguar Reef Lodge in Hopkins, Belize.

About the Hotel

Open:  year-round, but I heard from a couple of restaurant waiters that it shuts down for a week or two in September.  That is apparently on the low end, as most hotels shut down for the entire month of September and the first couple of weeks in October - so check ahead if you're thinking of going to Belize in the early fall.
Rates:  $99-350; rates tend to be lowest during the rainy season, June through November.  All major credit cards accepted; U.S. dollars also accepted for payment (exchange rate is 2 BZD = 1 USD).
Facilities:  restaurant, gift shop, spa, Butterflies Coffeshop, 2 pools, one very small hot tub, beach, kayak rentals
Other:  I didn't realize it at the time, but the Jaguar Reef is a sister property to the Almond Beach Resort, which is right next door.  Both properties share common facilities.

Where Is It

The Jaguar Reef Resort is located in the village of Hopkins (a charming Garifuna village which I will highlight in a separate post), located approximately 20 miles by road from the nearest significant town, Dangriga.  To get here, go south 10 miles on the Southern Highway from the Hummingbird Highway junction, then turn left at the sign for Hopkins.  Once you reach Hopkins, at the end of the road near the police station and Belize Bank ATM, turn right (you will see a sign for several resorts, but not the Jaguar Reef; this road is labeled "Sittee River Road" on Google Maps).  Proceed another 2 miles to the resort, which will be on the left.  ADVISORY:  the road to Hopkins from the Southern Highway is in brutal shape - unpaved, and subject to flooding during rains. The Sittee River Road is even worse.  Also, do not rely on Google Maps to direct you properly; it shows the Jaguar Reef to the north of Hopkins village when it is actually to the south.  Google "Almond Beach Resort" instead, and it will direct you correctly.
Or you could save yourself the trouble by flying to Dangriga and asking the hotel to pick you up.  The flight costs approximately $125 round-trip from the Belize City International Airport (cheaper if you go from the municipal airport).

Besides the obvious (vegetating on the beach), there is plenty of other stuff to do around Hopkins, namely, snorkeling or scuba diving on the barrier reef, or exploring one of the nearby nature reserves and national parks.  I will cover that in more detail in a future post on Hopkins.

The Review

Before I start my review, there is one thing you should really keep in mind - this is Belize, not Beverly Hills.  If you're looking for an American level of opulence and amenities, Belize is not for you.  You'll be better off in South Beach, or maybe Cancun.  Belize is still very much a developing country, so make sure you understand that and adjust your expectations accordingly before coming.

In any event, the hotel is in a typical beach resort setup, with both beachfront rooms and rooms set a little farther back (though even the non-beachfront rooms involve walking a couple of hundred feet to get to the beach).  Here's the entrance to the hotel...

And the beach right behind the entrance...

First impressions were good.  We were greeted with a smile, and checked in within a few minutes.  The clerk offered us a rum punch on the house (delicious, though a bit pricey at $7 a pop if you want extras at the bar afterwards), and then gave us a tour of the facilities.  NOTE:  if you didn't drive yourself, and want to book a tour, there are sign-up sheets at the front desk; we were told that the deadline is 7:30 P.M. for tours running the following day. We were then shown to our room, a "beachfront cabana".

The room was perhaps a bit smaller than I expected, but really had no complaints overall.  You can see the big cat theme throughout the room, fitting with the name.  The hammock out front definitely got a good bit of use when we weren't out doing something else.  My one complaint:  the hammock was set up awfully close to the wall, which resulted in the posts thumping against it when it was windy out - loud enough to hear inside. I discovered this could be controlled by putting one of the chairs directly under the hammock, which seemed to disrupt the wind flow.  In any event, my wife and I are both heavy sleepers so we didn't bother complaining, but watch for this.

As mentioned, there is both a restaurant and coffee shop on-site.  I'll review the restaurant in a future post, but I found the food OK, not great.  We went twice, and the second time was better than the first.  Service was quite slow the first time, to boot.  The coffee shop, on the opposite end of the property at Almond Beach, was much better; they make especially delicious fresh sandwiches for lunch, which are a bargain at $5 each.  Regular coffee also isn't a bad deal, at $1.50 a cup.  Just stay away from the cereal at breakfast; mine was terribly stale.  The lady who works at the shop is also very friendly and helpful. 

I can't swim, and therefore can't comment on the pools, but I did use the hot tub a couple of times.  Beware:  it is a really small hot tub, big enough for only one person realistically.  There weren't many people staying at the hotel when we were there, so it wasn't an issue, but keep that in mind.

Service throughout our stay was good, with warm, friendly welcomes from the front desk, to the housekeeping, to the security staff.  After checking out, it was raining heavily, a staff member even escorted me to the car with an umbrella, which I thought was a nice touch.

The Verdict

Our stay met all of our expectations.  We specifically wanted a beachfront room where we could relax and be close to the things we wanted to see (namely the Jaguar Reserve), and the Jaguar Reef accomplished all of that.  It is an intimate setting that is a good choice for a special occasion, such as a wedding anniversary.  Just don't expect Ritz-level luxury, here or anywhere else in Belize for that matter, except maybe in Placencia or Ambergris Caye.

Rating:  4 stars.

1 comment:

  1. The hotel looks pretty amazing, ambiance is just good to indulge your full summer vacation.

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