Kevin Hiestand, a 36-year-old attorney from Sacramento, California, has seen the Caribbean. He's turned himself into a bronzed god on the sugar-white beaches of Jamaica. Learned to dive in the Virgin Islands. Climbed the majestic Piton Mountains of St. Lucia. Danced in the mud-encrusted Carnival ritual of J'Ouvert in Trinidad. Now he's ready to declare Laughing Bird Caye as the most beautiful spot in the entire sea.
The surprise for Hiestand is that, until recently, he'd never heard of Laughing Bird Caye, a tiny island sanctuary a few miles off the coast of Belize near the mainland town of Placencia. Now he's seeing what other travelers are discovering. That there's another Caribbean out there - one beyond the traditional leeward and windward islands southeast of Florida - a paradise of up-and-coming beaches, islands, and countries that make up the Central American border along the sea's western edge.
And while on your visit you probably won't brave snarling crocodiles or level three river rapids, these outings are absent four-star restaurants and a place to plug in your modem, which for some of you, is adventure enough.
Located on the Yucatán peninsula, just south of Mexico, Belize is a Caribbean country of about 250,000 people, which makes it a little mellower and a lot slower than the city you probably live in. Belize is close to the U.S. (a couple hours from Miami), the official language is English, and vacationers' favorite pastime is eating the catch of the day and downing Belikin beer after a day of snorkeling on the fertile reefs protecting the coast.