Punta Gorda ’s seedier hotels occupy the block of Front Street near the main dock; a good rule of thumb is not to book a room that is accessed via a smoky bar and pool hall (e.g., the Mira Mar). Quieter options are only a few blocks off the waterfront.
St. Charles Inn (tel. 501/722-2149, stcharlespg [at] btl [dot] net, US$25, US$32.50 with a/c) is centrally located, with a dozen rooms and a shady veranda that allows you to observe village life below. Well-kept rooms include springy mattresses, private baths, fans, and small TVs.
You’re apt to run into all sorts of interesting travelers from around the world at Nature’s Way Guest House (65 Front St., tel. 501/702-2119, natureswayguesthouse [at] hotmail [dot] com, US$18–23. Six small wooden rooms are basic and fan-cooled in pleasant surroundings; all share a bathroom. There are three rooms with private baths and showers. Nature’s Way serves a good breakfast, and you’ll have access to all the activities in the area. The place is run by Chet Schmidt and his Belizean wife. Chet is an American expat and Vietnam veteran who has been here for over four decades; he also spent 13 years teaching in the surrounding villages. He can help arrange kayak trips, jungle treks, camping, exploration of uninhabited cayes, visits to archaeology sites, and Maya and Garifuna guesthouse stays with TEA.
A mile and a half outside Punta Gorda, in Cattle Landing, you’ll find a uniquely relaxed experience at Irie Belize (tel. 501/625-5485, milanusher [at] yahoo [dot] com, US$18), which offers a few simple rooms by the sea: thatched roof, sand floor, and friendly folks. There’s a chill bar and grill, and the owner, Marlon Usher, has a boat for tours and provides shuttle service from the airport or town. He also can set you up in a backabush campground on the Barranco Road, in a cabin or your own tent. To get to Irie Belize, take the last left as you depart PG, before you hit the curve (look for the sign). Then follow the road until you see the bar on your right.
As you step off the tarmac at the airport, you’ll see the Frontier Inn (3 Airport St., tel. 501/722-2450, frontierinn [at] btl [dot] net, US$30), a two-story white cement building. Good value, tile-floored rooms have TV, wireless Internet, private bath, and hot water; the place is owned by a local airplane pilot.
Tate’s Guest House (34 Jose Maria Nunez St., tel. 501/722-0147, tatesguesthouse [at] yahoo [dot] com, US$23–35) is a comfortable, friendly lodging with five double rooms in a quiet neighborhood setting. Rooms without air-conditioning are considerably cheaper. Ask for room 4 or 5; they are spacious with ceiling fans, TV, sunrooms, louvered windows, and tile floors, and each has an additional entrance through the backyard. Internet and breakfast are available.
Charlton’s Inn (tel. 501/722-2197, www.charltonsinn.com , US$40) is close to everything in town, and James buses stop across the street. The 27 rooms are well kept with hot and cold water, private baths, TV, air-conditioning, and fans; there are also five furnished apartments available.
Occupying a breezy, ocean-looking rise next to the hospital, Coral House Inn (151 Main St., tel. 501/722-2878, www.coralhouseinn.net , US$83–100) is an excellent oceanfront bed-and-breakfast with a small pool and bar and a quiet yard, and a view of the sea. It was opened after the owners drove to Belize from Idaho in their VW Microbus (which you’ll recognize zipping around town on errands). The four rooms are pleasantly decorated with soft colors, local artwork, and comfortable beds; bicycles and wireless Internet are free for guests. This is where the last prime minister used to stay when in Punta Gorda. Ask about the Seaglass Cottage, a little one-bedroom, one-bathroom, small-kitchen option, pitched on a bluff above the ocean (US$125).
One mile outside Punta Gorda , up Ex-Servicemen Road, Hickatee Cottages (tel. 501/662-4475, www.hickatee.com , US$75–110) is a wonderful option on the edge of the jungle. Your expatriate British hosts are knowledgeable about local flora and fauna, passionate about their “lifestyle business,” and strive to run a green hotel and involve the local community as much as possible.
After you’ve settled into your well-appointed wooden cottage (private bathroom, hardwood furniture, ceiling fans, and veranda) or the garden suite (more space, furnishings, and kitchenette), take a walk through the beautiful grounds and nature trail, followed by a dip in the plunge pool.
Hickatee Cottages is very popular with birders and naturalists; guests wander on a jungle trail, participate in howler monkey research, watch orchid bees at work while having a cup of Toledo organic coffee, and observe the wild creatures of the night on the bug board. Bicycles are available to get to and from town.
Ask about visiting the on-site farm, fruit trees, nursery, and orchid collection (40 native species at last count!); rate also includes a free visit to Fallen Stones Butterfly Farm (Wednesday afternoons, advance reservations required, maximum four people—incredible opportunity!). Also on-site, Charlie’s Bar offers home-cooked, healthy meals (about US$8 for breakfast and lunch, US$17.50 for dinner). Hickatee sometimes offers cultural nights, including drumming lessons with Ray McDonald, a renowned local musician.
BlueBelize Guest House (tel. 501/722-0063 or 501/722-2678, www.bluebelize.com , US$75–135 plus tax) is owned and operated by marine biologist Rachel Graham. The six furnished apartments are large and tastefully decorated, with one or two bedrooms, en suite bathrooms, kitchenettes or full kitchens, hot and cold water, ceiling fans, and wireless Internet. The rooms open onto verandas or patios—literally a stone’s throw from the water’s edge. BlueBelize is very popular with visiting doctors, scientists, and volunteers, as well as folks wanting to escape dark cold winters up north.
The Sea Front Inn (4 Front St., tel. 501/722-2300, www.seafrontinn.com , US$65–80, continental breakfast) is impossible to miss as you enter town: two towering stone buildings across the street from the sea. The 14 rooms and three apartments are also available for monthly rentals. Guests find comfortable, spacious rooms, no two alike, with TV, fans, air-conditioning, private baths, and handmade furniture built with hardwoods. The third floor is the kitchen/dining room/common area, overlooking the ocean.
Also on the waterfront, Beya Suites looks like a giant pink-and-white wedding cake (tel. 501/722-2188, www.beyasuites.com , US$75–87.50). Inside you’ll find cheery staff to show you to one of the comfortable, air-conditioned, tile-floored rooms with large bathrooms and a sinus-clearing floral scent. There’s a great rooftop, a restaurant (breakfast only), a bar, a conference area, and fast Internet. Ask about apartments and weekly rates.