It was nearing dusk when I arrived at the stunning Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort in Belize. Approaching the stairs to a grand wraparound porch outside the reception, I was greeted with an “Allie-safe” citrus drink, and introduced to the welcoming resort staff. Before being shown my accommodations, I was whisked upstairs to a sitting area of the Great House to meet Kim, the dining supervisor. She came prepared with a copy of my chef card and a menu based on my food allergies that she’d collaborated on with the chef and food and beverage manager.
I was impressed to see the initiative being put into making sure that my stay would be safe and enjoyable. With lifelong multiple severe food allergies, including four of the Top 9 (peanuts, tree nuts, fish, most shellfish) and several others, it was reassuring to know my food needs were being taken seriously.
Despite my long list of allergies, I love to travel and experience other cultures. As pandemic travel restrictions began to ease for vaccinated travelers, I was eager to explore again, and enjoy both beach time and adventure.
As I researched, Belize quickly became my top contender. This was for a few significant reasons: Belize is in Central America, which I’d never explored, and while there are several languages spoken, English is the country’s official language. My biggest attraction to this small country, however, was that it has so much to offer.
While only the geographical size of Massachusetts, Belize is physically breathtaking and known for abundant wildlife. Sixty percent of the country is forest, and it’s home to 500 species of birds, howler monkeys and tapirs, and there’s even a jaguar preserve. Located south of Mexico, with Guatemala to the west, the eastern side of Belize faces the Caribbean Sea, offering abundant coastline. The Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest barrier reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, is hugely popular for those who enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving.
This country of approximately 400,000 residents is rich in cultural diversity and steeped in history. There are significant Maya ruins to visit, since the Maya Civilization spread throughout Belize beginning in 350 BC.
Planning for Food Allergies
Although I tend to be an Airbnb traveler, with Belize I realized that resorts were going to be the best option with food allergies and as a solo female traveler. There are no well-known grocery store chains, and I’d read up on inconsistencies with food expiration dates in the local stores. So I didn’t want to chance relying on groceries for my meals. Also, as a woman traveling on her own, I wanted reliable guidance with transportation and day trips.
I contacted resorts I was hoping to stay at about my food allergies – and fortunately found them willing to work with food allergy guests. After choosing the most promising three resorts, I provided the food and beverage manager and chef of each with my allergy chef’s card. Then, still ahead of my stay, we considered menu options. The initiative taken in advance was exceptional; each of the three resorts prepared proactively for me.
During my stays, I found the communication clear through each resort, with strong attention to detail, planning, and an openness to accommodating allergies. All three resorts have unique qualities that made my trip special and worry-free, and contributed to my newfound love for Belize.
First Resort Stay: Turtle Inn, Placencia
With its idyllic setting overlooking the Caribbean Sea, Turtle Inn on the Placencia peninsula was a sensational place to start for my first trip to Belize. It is truly an unspoiled haven for seaside relaxation and a blissful retreat to return to after a busy day of Belizean adventures. Turtle Inn is one of the Family Coppola Hideaways – properties developed by famed American film director Francis Ford Coppola.
The sleeping accommodations at the 25-room resort are spectacular. I stayed in one of the seafront thatched roof cottages that feature hand-carved Balinese decor, and open onto white-sand beach. I had a private porch to enjoy coffee in the morning, lots of space inside, and a back garden with an outdoor shower. It’s truly an impressive fusion of charm and leisure.
Food Accommodations: Turtle Inn pays special attention to guests’ personalized needs. They were happy to work with me and accommodate. Upon my arrival, I was taken to Mare Restaurant to meet Chef Julian and Elmer, the food and beverage manager. It turned out that Chef Julian had even purchased new pans to use for my food preparation – just to be extra safe!
He went above and beyond to prepare safe and delicious meals for me. One day I thanked him for checking on the ingredients of the local cheeses that would accompany the wine at a tasting that evening. “I love to research,” the chef said. He has the attitude I wish all restaurant professionals would adopt. He sees accommodating food allergies as a way to learn and grow, and to make the food experience safe and delicious for his guest with special needs.
Chef Julian gave me a tour of the inn’s organic garden, where the dining team grows all manner of beautiful, fresh ingredients. He pointed out the peppers that had been in my pasta dish earlier that day. As we left the garden, he brought me over to the outdoor bar, asked the bartenders to prepare one of the coconuts. Then he handed it to me to enjoy the fruity water in a hammock overlooking the sea.
With open air dwellings throughout the property, Turtle Inn was great for my environmental allergies, since everything is airy and carpet-free. The resort also offers accommodations such as Sofia’s Beach House, a full house with a kitchen where a chef can prepare food for you, or can get food requests from one of the four supermarkets in the nearby Placencia village, including some gluten-free food selections.
Activities: At Turtle Inn, there are plenty of activities to choose from, especially given the proximity to the sea. I began with kayaking, and exploring the peninsula. But the best was yet to come. A day of snorkeling at the Belize Barrier Reef was one of the most impressive snorkeling experiences I’ve had. The colors of coral and schools of tropical fish in the crystal clear water conditions were striking, but the ultimate experience for me was swimming with sea turtles, stingrays, and nurse sharks.
A last point on food allergies: I did ask if they have accommodated major allergies that I don’t have, such as milk and wheat. Turtle Inn’s general manager Martin Krediet and Chef Julian assured me they have accommodated all types of food allergies, as well as other dietary needs. The general manager made sure my stay at Turtle Inn was safe and enjoyable. I cannot wait to return to this seaside paradise!
Learn more about Turtle Inn here.
2nd Stay: Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort, Stann Creek
Imagine waking up in a beautiful four-poster bed made of Belizean hardwood inside your own large treehouse, while surrounded outside by the treetop canopy. It feels luxurious, serene – and as if there is no one for miles. In the mornings, you go outside to rock gently in a treehouse hammock on your own wraparound porch, listening to the melodic tropical birds. My experience at Hamanasi Resort was exactly like this, and it felt magical.
Located on a slice of jungle beach paradise about an hour north of Placencia, outside Hopkins Village, it was the perfect next stop on my Belizean tour. I stayed in one of the deluxe treehouses, which included a jacuzzi surrounded by the privacy of the jungle canopy. There are smaller treehouses and beachfront rooms available, too. Rooms have air conditioning, ceiling fans and no carpeting, which works well for environmental allergies. There are also mini-fridges in the room for anything you need to keep cold.
Walking around the resort, I was mesmerized by the flora and fauna of the forest paths. I saw iguanas, tons of birds and even an agouti (large rodent). It was like a Swiss Family Robinson adventure meets the serene spa, a perfect vacation combination.
Food Accommodations: At the start of the article, I mentioned Kim, Hamanasi’s dining supervisor, who went over the “Allie safe” menu, designed for me. Kim had a great system for server awareness. She explained that I would have the same servers for each meal – Monique would be with me for breakfast and Danisha for lunch and dinner. These ladies were wonderful and ready for me at each meal. It was comforting to know that they were already aware of my food allergies, which meant I didn’t have to explain myself or take out my chef card. I did double-check if I was unsure of an ingredient, but they were more than willing to investigate with the chef.
Hamanasi also has its own organic garden that produces a tasty farm-to-table style dining experience. Every meal was delicious, beginning with the blueberry pancakes and fresh fruit plate for breakfast to pulled pork tacos for lunch, and a Belkin beef kebab with garden salad for dinner. The rest of the staff also knew about my allergies, including the bartender Ector. He looked up ingredients in the local drinks he was making, and had a safe list ready for me.
When researching this trip, I was impressed to see a statement on Hamanasi’s website specifying they could cater to special dietary requests. That visibility made the resort an obvious one to contact.
Activities: Hamanasi has its own Adventure Center to help guests select how to experience the incredible biodiversity this country has to offer. It was difficult to decide how to spend my time, but with the help of Robert who runs the center, I spent my first morning snorkeling around the Belize Barrier Reef. My awesome snorkel guide Johnny spotted everything from a six-foot long camouflaged stingray to nurse sharks, and the brightest schools of fish I’ve ever seen. I also went canoeing on the Sittee River where Emms, the guide, serenaded us in Belizean songs and told stories about the history, flora and fauna of the area.
Another great adventure was hiking in Mayflower National Park to the Antelope Waterfall. The guide Victor had a wealth of knowledge and was clearly passionate about his country’s rich culture. It was fascinating to explore the jungle with him.
The forethought and consistent communication at Hamanasi were incredibly impressive. Launce and Kirsty Roberts, the resort’s general managers, understand how to make their guests feel special and well taken care of. The night before I left, I saw a beautiful, romantic dinner table set up on the beach, and decided that Hamanasi would have to be a honeymoon stop for me someday!
Learn more about Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort here.
Final Resort: Ka’ana, Cayo District, Belize
My last stop on this trip was in the western interior of Belize. The Resort at Ka’ana is a stunning boutique resort located in the tropical jungles of the Cayo District. Inspired by the proximity to the ancient Maya city of Xunantunich, Ka’ana means “Heavenly Place.” There are definitely spa vibes at this resort, with its tranquil surroundings, calming color palette and tasteful decor.
The suite I stayed in had a beautiful outdoor garden space with a large soaking tub and outdoor shower. Ka’ana manages to integrate the natural beauty of the jungle with the refinement of luxury and relaxation. After a busy day of exploring, taking a refreshing outdoor shower, while serenaded by jungle melodies, was the perfect transition to a delicious dinner at La Ceiba Restaurant.
The coordination at Ka’ana was again impressive. General manager Wolfgang Brandl and his wife Anoushka, who’s the director of sales and marketing, were most welcoming – and not the least deterred by my food allergies. Anoushka and I shared a most enjoyable breakfast, where we discussed our shared love of travel and I learned more about the resort.
Food Accommodations: When I arrived at the resort, I was greeted by Chef Carlos and Fiona, the food and beverage manager at Ka’ana. They were great to work with, and were ready with a copy of my chef card and a menu in hand. We went over all the possible meal options, plus what could be packed safely for lunch on my day trips. I felt at ease that they truly understood my food allergies and would keep me safe.
Later, Wolfgang showed me the two-acre organic garden at Ka’ana, with large plots of the freshest vegetables and herbs, and even a section with chicken coops. The general manager says this wealth of homegrown ingredients both supplies and inspires the chefs.
Activities: On the first day, I chose to go ziplining through the jungle canopies and cave tubing. My tour guide Eddy was fun and full of interesting stories and information. We even did some cave exploring, and saw pottery pieces dating back to the Maya. On the second day Eddy took me to the famous Xunantunich Mayan site. He explained the Maya history and what each building was used for when it was a thriving civilization.
In our jungle tour, Eddy even made sure we found all the animals I was hoping to see in Belize, like toucans and howler monkeys. It was an adventurous few days of touring and definitely a highlight. Returning to the relaxing Ka’ana in the evening was the perfect end to the day.
One evening, Fiona helped arrange a Maya cooking class. She alerted the women teaching the class ahead to make sure they would use only ingredients safe for my food allergies. Before I arrived at the traditional Maya kitchen, located at Ka’ana, they knew that staple ingredients like beans had to be avoided because of my allergy to legumes. But I was still able to eat everything from tamales to corn tortillas and caldo. The women were lovely and taught me about the Maya culture and the traditions they still keep at home.
Ka’ana was a wonderful cap off my Belize adventure, and I treasure all of the experiences I had while I was there.
Learn more about Ka’ana here.
Overall Belize Experience
Belize is a magical country, and I could not have enjoyed this trip more. A lesson from this adventure was just how important it was to be transparent and thorough about my food allergy needs, while receiving thorough responses on the ability to feed me safely and well.
Each resort did everything possible to accommodate my needs and made me feel safe dining with food allergies. Resorts’ staff were warm and friendly, and the tour guides made each experience exciting and informative.
I felt completely spoiled by natural beauty and adventure, with some of the most memorable excursions I’ve experienced. Highlights included swimming with giant sea turtles, spotting toucans and hiking through the jungle to waterfalls. It was truly a seamless trip – and one I won’t forget.
Frequently Asked Belize Travel Questions
Did you research the emergency number and hospitals prior to your trip?
There are health clinics in each main village, however the biggest hospital is in Belize City, which isn’t considered a tourist destination. Belize may not be for the novice food allergy traveler though, due to the country having few sizeable hospitals. Flying Placencia to Belize City takes about 35 minutes. As well, there are numerous plane landing strips in the country, and I bought top-rated travel insurance just in case I might need to be airlifted back to the U.S. in an emergency. It’s something you need to weigh your own comfort with.
What did you eat on day trips?
The resorts would pack me a safe meal to take, which I discussed with them prior to each excursion. I also took along my own safe snacks, in case I felt uncomfortable with eating the packed lunch. However, it turned out that I wasn’t worried about any of the packed lunches.
Did you try eating outside the resorts?
I did not on this trip. One of the goals for me was to be able to focus on enjoying everything and not thinking too much about what food I would eat each day. I also wanted to experience the natural beauty and adventures in Belize, so I was not focused on finding restaurants to dine at outside of the resorts for this trip.
For more of Allie Bahn’s travel advice and her “How to Dine Out with Allergies” course, visit Missallergicreactor.com
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