Non-Stop Fort Benning: Atlanta to Belize
So you've got another long weekend coming up and thought you'd lay around the house in your Sponge Bob 'jammies watching Narcos for 4 days straight. I'm not here to tell you that this is not perfectly acceptable as a full-grown adult, but what I would like to say is that a year from now, your Instagram bio is still gonna reflect that age-old lie "Go big or go home"...or "YOLO"...or "Be spontaneous." That's cute. You're probably the same person who complains about there being "nothing to do around here." You're the one giving the side-eye to that guy you work with who always returns from a long weekend with story upon story of a life well-lived in cities across the globe.
If you're at Fort Benning and I just described you in the paragraph above, or if you're the obnoxious guy who lives life to the fullest and lets everybody know it, then consider this for your next 4-day weekend: BELIZE! Put on your big boy pants and drive the hour and a half (if that) to the Atlanta airport. 3 hours later and voila! You're in Belize. Sorry, maybe you thought you skipped a line or two in there. Let me repeat...there is a non-stop flight from Atlanta to Belize City and it's less than 3 hours long. You could be sipping a piña colada on the beach in Central America within 6 hours of leaving your couch!!! This trip is totally do-able for a 4-day weekend, but the longer you have in Belize, the better. What follows is a quick run-down of your options...
When to Travel
If you're on a tight budget, consider traveling to Belize during its off-season, which is roughly May to November. Though it's warm and tropical year-round, these months tend to yield more rain and therefore less tourists travel here during this time. My husband and I went in mid-June and didn't experience much rain; there were minimal tourists and our flights were less than $500 each. To travel internationally and non-stop for that price is a pretty good deal.
Travelling to Belize doesn't require months of prep to brush up on the local language or customs. Not only is English the national language, but they predominately use the U.S. dollar as their currency. Seriously, just grab your backpack and passport and go.
Right and Up Tip: When searching for flights, it is essential that you use a Private Browser. In a nutshell, this will prevent search engines and travel websites from noticing that you're looking for flights and they won't jack up the prices to pressure you into buying immediately. You will likely find the best deals when searching for flights in private browsing.
Where to Stay
Depending on how long you're able to stay, you might have to make a decision between beach or jungle. If you're going for a 4-day weekend, you won't be able to adequately enjoy both because of the distance you'll have to travel. Then there's always the question of whether to stay in the North, Central, South or on one of the cayes (pronounced "keys" for your knuckle-dragging infantrymen out there) which is totally up to you, but also depends a lot on why you traveled there in the first place.
A trip to the North is about a 2 hour drive from the airport, but is conveniently located close enough to the Mexican border to warrant a day trip (if you're military, you'll have to get advanced authorization however). Though not as popular as the other regions, there are great beach resorts and you can experience a little bit of everything. Take a trip across the border to Mexico for some amazing shopping, visit the country's Jaguar reserve, see the Santa Rita Maya ruins and traipse through the jungle to your heart's content.
The central has most of the jungle adventuring within a relatively close distance and is also great for wildlife and Maya ruins. Additionally, staying central by flying into Belize City is the likely the best option for a non-stop destination from Atlanta. Continued travel to the North, South or a caye would incur an extra leg of the trip by either boat or puddle-jumper. And yes, while you can drive to the North and South from Belize City, it's roughly 2-4 hours depending on your end point. My husband and I stayed in Central Belize and found that most of our adventures were 30-45 minutes from our resort.
The South is where you want to be for beautiful beaches and scuba diving. Placencia peninsula is a very popular destination in Southern Belize and is home to the country's best beaches and beach resorts.
Your other option is to travel to a caye, which differs from an island in that it is perched atop a reef instead of sediment (can you say SNORKELING??!!!). The cayes, specifically Ambergis Caye and Caye Caulker, are popular tourist spots and are only accessible by boat or plane, but from Belize City it's really not that far. I wouldn't recommend spending more than 2 days on a caye because you may quickly find yourself running out of things to do. On my return flight to Atlanta, I encountered several tourists who spent a whole week on a caye and were drooling with jealousy at my stories of adventure in the jungle.
Realistically, if you have 4-5 full days in Belize then you'll be able to adequately experience both regions. Additionally, almost every resort offers vacation packages that involve a few days at their jungle resort followed by a few days on their ocean-side or caye resort, or visa versa.
Right and Up Tip: If you're going to stay at a resort, splurge on an all-inclusive package. At the end of the day, you'll be spending roughly the same amount as paying for everything separately. You can get a lot for your money!
What to Do
If you're going for a 4-day weekend then realistically you have 2 days that you can explore the area. If you've decided on the jungle, then you've got lots of options! For the adventurous few, repel down the Black Hole Drop; a 350 foot sink hole in the middle of the jungle! Climb through cave systems and repel down waterfalls! Belize is famous for it's cave tubing, so this is an absolute must. For those of you who just thought ummm...but I'm on vacation, then don't worry, there's plenty of other low-key options in the jungle. Go horseback riding through Teak tree forests or visit Belize's famous Maya ruins, Xunantunich (affectionately called "Tuna Sandwich" by tourists who can't pronounce it).
Since my husband and I were in Belize for 8 days, we decided on the following adventures: Black Hole Drop, ATM cave (our favorite adventure and home to actual sacrificial remains of the Maya!), snorkeling, Tikal Maya ruins in Guatemala (loooong day but totally worth it) and horseback riding. Absolutely loved each of these adventures and don't regret any of them. We weren't able to go cave tubing because the lack of recent rain meant the river was too low. Next time though!
If you've decided on Southern Belize or a caye, then you have to go snorkeling! If you can swing a trip to the Blue Hole, this will be an experience that you'll never forget. Enjoy fishing, kayaking, scuba diving (if you're certified) and of course...sun bathing!
Right and Up Tip: Belize boasts the world's longest zip line, but if you want my advice....skip it. Sounds great, but you get about 30-45 minutes of instruction followed by only a few minutes of thrill. I talked to several groups who said it wasn't worth it and would've rather spent the day doing something else. Plus you can zip line in Columbus, GA! Also, bring the kiddos! Belize is very kid friendly!
Well folks, that about sums it up. And yes, it really is that easy. Might I also mention that the customer service in Belize is almost beyond compare! I've never developed such a tight bond with the staff as I did in Belize. Truly an unforgettable experience that I can guarantee I'll return to again and again while stationed at Fort Benning. Because, why the hell not?
about the author
Riley is an active duty US Army Captain and the Founder of Right and Up. She’s currently stationed in Washington, DC, with previous assignments at Fort Huachuca, Fort Bliss, Fort Riley and Fort Benning. You can typically find her eating embarrassingly large amounts of food in local restaurants, or exploring her military town with her husband, Sean and her dog, Gus. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!