Black Orchid Resort – Review

Beauty, serenity and hospitality

I stayed at the Black Orchid Resort for three nights in February 2015. Should I return to Belize, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again. I did not go to Belize for a chaotic city vibe, so staying outside the city in a small resort on the river was perfect for me.

I had arranged an airport transfer from the hotel and was warmly welcomed by the driver who took me to the resort. Check in was easy. My room was clean, comfortable and cozy. It had everything we needed and maid service cleaned and tidied up for us daily. Luggage was delivered to my room which was nice as it was on the second level (no elevators).

Black Orchid Resort, Burrell Boom, Belize

Black Orchid Resort, Burrell Boom, Belize

I had the opportunity to see several of the different rooms and each one is unique with a Belizean flavour, but different interiors. Some have been more recently renovated than others, but all of the three or four that I saw were lovely in their own charming way.

Black Orchid Resort Rooms, Burrell Boom, Belize

Black Orchid Resort Rooms, Burrell Boom, Belize

I had hot water and lovely showers while I stayed at the hotel which is always a plus when you’re staying in a country with less infrastructure than Canada.

The staff were extremely helpful, friendly and attentive. I didn’t have any issues, but if I did, I wouldn’t have hesitated to ask them to help me. And I feel confident that they would have gone out of my way to assist as quickly as possible.

The grounds of the Black Orchid are rustic, but charming. Full of nature from the trees and flowers to the monkeys. It was lovely just to take in the peace and quiet of the surroundings while sitting by the pool, overlooking the beautiful river or relaxing in a hammock.

While I was there I took one of their free bicycles and rode around the small community. People were incredibly friendly, as well as curious. They were surprised to see tourists biking around, I guess most visitors take tours, rather than explore the small community.
I stopped for a drink at a local convenience store and chatted with the owner, and I met a man who regularly races in the big Ruta Maya Canoe Challenge, so I heard about the race from a competitor which was interesting.

The Black Orchid is outside of the city, out of the hustle and bustle, completely quite, serene and relaxing. I didn’t spend any time at the bar, but a few of my co-travellers did and enjoyed the evenings chatting away over drinks.

I was particularly impressed with the food. Every day I ordered something different and it was just as good, if not better than the previous day. The soups were full of flavour and ingredients, the fish was fresh and the chicken dishes were all very flavourful as well.

Tacos at the Black Orchid Resort

Tacos at the Black Orchid Resort

Breakfast was sufficient but not luxurious. There was always cereal, juice, coffee, tea, some kind of bread or pastry and a couple of fresh fruit options. I never left the hotel hungry. If you arrived near the end of breakfast, supplies might be slightly limited, but the one morning this happened to me, I just asked for replenishments and a couple of minutes later I had everything I needed.

As for location, there is nothing within walking distance of the resort, but there are a myriad of great adventure activities in the surrounding area. This makes the Black Orchid a great central point to stay for a few days.

You can do canoeing, cycling and bird watching right at the resort. The Baboon sanctuary is only a few kms away. Within an hour or two you have Lamanai Ruins which are fantastic ruins hidden in the jungle, accessible by river. In the other direction you can head to San Ignacio for caving, tubing or many more ruins sites. Most of these would be full day trips from the Black Orchid.

On the flip side, you can also easily reach the Caye’s from Burrell Boom. Arrange your transfer into Belize City, hop the ferry and off you go to Island Paradise. Two to three hours and you’ll go from jungle to beach.

Although I wouldn’t suggest spending your entire Belize vacation in Burrell Boom, it is certainly a lovely, off the beaten track resort that caters to those who appreciate the sights and sounds of nature over the hustle and bustle of the city.

You’ll be sure to be well taken care of by the friendly staff.

Advertisements

Ah Hotel – Santiago, Chile

A couple of weeks before traveling to Santiago, Chile I booked myself a room at the Ah Hotel. It is an aparta-hotel, so it comes with a kitchenette. It is centrally located within only a couple of blocks of the historic city centre, on a main street with a bus stop directly in front of the entrance.

My taxi driver dropped me off and I pushed the buzzer for someone to come unlock the front door for me. They keep this door locked all of the time for security, so no matter what time of day or night you are arriving, you need to buzz in, or you can buzz yourself out. It was nice to know not just anyone could come and go, especially with the bus stop right there and what seemed like an abundance of homeless nearby.

The lady who greeted me did not speak much English, but that was ok as I had proudly just had a full Spanish conversation with my taxi driver. So, I was at least over my jitters about opening my mouth to try and speak Spanish. She found my reservation, checked me in and showed me to my room, up one flight of stairs. She also carried my suitcase up the stairs for me.

The room was plain. In fact I can’t even embellish the sentence as it was that dull. Honestly, it made no difference to me as I was only there for a couple of nights. The walls were white, it was sparsely furnished and only one piece of art crookedly hanging above the double bed.

The lady left me to settle in and I checked behind each of the three closed doors to see what I would find.

Door #1 a kitchen the size of a closet, but equipped with almost everything I would need for two days. There was a mini fridge, a cooktop, some silverware, a couple of pots, glasses and dishes. I checked closely for cockroaches, just waiting to let out a horrible scream, but I found none and the kitchen, although not spotless, was sufficiently clean.

Door #2 opened up to a decent size bathroom that looked like it had possibly been renovated in the last few years (unlike the remainder of the apartment). The paint was peeling a bit, but everything was clean, the toilet was new and it was bright.

Door #3 was a small closet with shelves and hangers for those who were staying longer and wanted to unpack.

Sounds good so far right?

Now, keep in mind that I am not a particularly squeamish person. I’m used to traveling and staying in basic accommodations with a variety of issues. I am far from a neat freak, clean freak or perfectionist which all of my friends and family can vouch for.

After getting past the first glance, I looked around and realized that the apartment was actually quite dirty. The floors were smattered in black patches. There were so many of them that I thought it might be part of the colour in the wood floor, but no … Not unless it has been dirty for so long that it has seeped into the wood. This is a distinct possibility. It looked like the floors had not been mopped for a year … maybe more. This was the kind of place that you don’t walk barefoot unless you want your feet to turn black.

It almost looks like soot or volcanic ash, and maybe it is, but if there is that much on the floor in a closed building, what do people’s lungs look like? Yikes!

Based on the dirt on the floor, I became immediately more aware of the dirt everywhere else. The curtains that were once white, were grey; darker at the bottom from the soot everywhere. The walls were the same with the baseboards collecting more dust than I’ve ever seen.

On further inspection, the kitchen had a few bits and pieces of food left around and the plates and glasses were not all that clean. This could be because they don’t provide dish liquid or cleaning cloths. So, if you plan to stay for awhile, you’ll need to buy your own … along with a mop apparently!

The bathroom was actually still decently clean with surprisingly good quality toilet paper. I know, random thing to notice! However, the towels were another story. Although you could tell they had been washed from the way they felt from being air dried and were folded neatly. Maybe they were washed in the river though? A couple of stains, some ground in dirt and even a couple of rips showed that these had been around for a very long time.

At 11pm on the first night there was a knock on my door with delivery of breakfast on a platter for the next morning. An individual-sized packet of Chilean style frosted flakes, a Quaker Oatmeal cookie, tea, coffee, sugar, milk and orange juice boxes and yogurt. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was just enough to get me going the next morning.

The first night when I went to crawl into bed, it was the first bed that I ever in my life have checked for bed bugs. Luckily, I didn’t find any. I didn’t sleep the greatest that night as I was still thinking about them, but I woke up the next morning un-eaten.

I would definitely give the hotel a great rating on location. It really does not get much better. However, if you like cleanliness, you should look elsewhere, this is not the spot for you. I paid about $50 – $55 per night CAD and I’m very excited to move on to my next hotel, included in my tour which should be a huge improvement. Having said that, it wasn’t so bad that I decided to move elsewhere. I survived it. It was a great location, internet worked perfectly, the bed was reasonably comfortable and the shower wasn’t bad. It just needs some TLC and some strong cleaning solution.

Very surprised to see that it won a trip advisor award in 2013. Did I just have a bad room? Did it just not get cleaned fully before I arrived? Who knows … Or sometimes trip advisor isn’t the be-all-end-all.

Review: Hotel Rialto – Venice, Italy

HOTEL RIALTO

Location – Venice, Italy

Hotel Rialto is centrally located immediately at the bottom of the stairs to the famous Rialto bridge along Canal Grande.

Being centrally located, it is well accessed by vaporettos, gondolas and private water taxis. No matter where you are in Venice, if you ask how to get to Rialto Bridge, people will help you find your way as it is one of the main attractions in Venice.

If you don’t get lost, it is about a 10 – 15 minute walk to San Marco square, or about 15 – 20 minutes via vaporetto depending on the number of stops. Of course, if you have a good sense of direction, I would suggest wandering the narrow, crooked, charm-filled streets rather than riding the crowded vaporettos.

The hotel is urrounded by delicious tourist restaurants located directly overlooking the canal, many tourist shops and pop-up vendors and gelaterias. If you wander a few streets away, you can find quaint restaurants hidden amongst the winding streets, all of your favorite brand names (Gucci / Louis Vatton etc) and unending canals full of gondolas, small bridges and Venitian architecture.

The Annex

The Annex, Hotel Rialto, Venice, Italy

The Annex, Hotel Rialto, Venice, Italy

The main hotel is complimented by a few extra rooms located in the Annex.

The Annex is located about 2 – 3 minutes walk from the main reception area through a couple of narrow back streets. Although I had no difficulties, it is a little bit sketchy entering the hotel through a back door and some people may not be comfortable with this.

You access the Annex through a green, unmarked door in the back alley. In fact, the first night I was there, after venturing out on my own, I came back and couldn’t get my key to work in the green door. I headed around to the front of the building to get assistance at the lobby and then decided to return and give the key one more try. It was on my second attempt that I discovered there are two sets of green doors side by side and I was trying my keys in the wrong door. Common mistake, I’m sure. I’m glad that no one came out yelling at me for trying to break in to their home or shop!

Once inside, The Annex has a flight of stairs to climb and no lift / elevator. So, it is not good for anyone with a lot of luggage or mobility issues.

The hallway smells a bit funky, but not unbearable and a hotel this old and steeped with history shouldn’t smell like aromatherapy anyway, it would take away from it’s authenticity.

The Room

Hotel Rialto, Venice, Italy

Hotel Rialto, Venice, Italy

I had a twin room (two single beds) overlooking the canal (a lovely surprise). The room was larger than a standard bedroom in a house and seemed even larger with extra high ceilings (approx. 14 feet high or more). The walls are green broqued material (yes you read that right) and the furniture is all painted green with a pink flower design delicately placed on each piece. A desk, vanity, two end tables, three chairs and an old style love seat plus a square stand and large stand up closet furnished the room.

Let’s not forget the huge, beautiful Murano glass chandelier lighting the entire room, as well as three lamps and an art light over one of the lovely old-style paintings.

The bathroom was simple and clean with a corner shower (no tub).

There was a flat screen tv and air conditioning. WIFI worked occasionally, but not regularly. However, it was free and worked very well in the lobby area.

Breakfast

Breakfast is included and served from 7 – 10 am near the main lobby. It is a small dining area inside, but during breakfast hours they share the outside terrace of the bar next door.

Self-serve breakfast consisted of a few different pastries, boiled eggs, soft bacon, yogurt, whole fruit and cereal. Additional items were available at extra cost. The food was good and options were better than continental, but I wouldn’t call it a buffet either.

Overall, the hotel was good quality and excellent location. It certainly had charm and history. It was pricey as most hotels in Venice are. I don’t think I would have wanted to stay in anything cheaper though and the view of the canal was a lovely surprise.

Hotel Plaza del Sol Review

Located in the University District of Santo Domingo, Plaza del Sol is reasonable priced and in a reasonably safe area of this massive city. As with any area, being a solo female traveler, I limited my outdoor excursions to day time hours unless I was in a group, but I never felt threatened in this area. I did, however, choose to stay inside or in a group after about 7pm each night.

The hotel itself was one of the best ones that I stayed in ($30-$45 US per night range). It was clean, had a small kitchenette and powerful air conditioning in each room. Make sure to pick up your own matches to light the gas stoves though as they don’t have any available for you. The TVs were large, new and cable worked well. The beds seemed fairly new, firm and were very comfortable! The sheets were clean, fitted and the comforter or top sheet was always white (or cream) and well kept. I was also pleased that the internet worked regularly and with decent speed so I was able to keep up with blogging, work and social media whenever I wanted.

The bathrooms were also fairly good, although each one that I stayed in was different. One had a bathtub and a great shower. If you could figure out the switches, I believe there was warm water, although it only worked once for me. The other had just a shower stall and the warm water was hit or miss. The stall also allowed water to spill onto the bathroom floor, making quite a mess.

I dealt with two staff members – a less than friendly woman and a lovely young man. The man was often there in the evenings and was very patient and helpful when I wanted to arrange my taxi to the airport for 3am.

The main doors into the hotel are locked and you need to get the staff to buzz you in or out which is slightly annoying, but also provides good security, so I’d rather be safe than sorry.

Call ahead to make your booking. If you can get a local friend to call for you, you can likely get a better room rate. They often have tourist rates for people who call or book online, but if a local calls, they can get it for $5-$15 per night cheaper.

The Hotel is located on Jose Contreras Street, which is one-way. Don’t be surprised if your taxi driver drives head on into traffic to get to the hotel (about 4 or 5 blocks from the main intersection). Not sure if they are unaware of how to get to the hotel from the other direction, too lazy to drive around, or if they simply don’t care about it being one way, but I was regularly driven the wrong way down this one way street.

The hotel is centrally located and within walking distance to La Sirena (Dominican’s equivalent to Wal-Mart), several local convenience stores, bars and snack shops, as well as being close to McDonald’s, Domino’s, Burger King and several pizza places. You can pick up groceries and snacks at La Sirena, or El Super Mercato National which is also within 10-15 minutes walk. La Sirena also offers a pharmacy, bank with tellers for money exchange, Claro and Orange kiosks for cell phones and a food court with local and American foods.

The hotel is about a 30-45 minute walk from Zona Colonial or the Malecon (waterfront area), both areas offering lots of restaurants, bars and historical sites to view.

Jose Contreras is also well serviced by local buses as it is a university district. If you know where you are going and what bus to take, I assume you wouldn’t have to wait long to hop on one. There were always plenty going by.

You can also walk 5-10 minutes to main public car routes, or call a taxi to pick you up at the hotel.