Millan Lives Large

We have never spoken of our competition. Yet, when I am on island it is always a race to see who reaches the kitchen first. Making the morning coffee is an honor that goes to the earliest of early birds. I know my friend Millan takes great pride in beating me there. 

Sometimes I let him win.  

Like this morning. It is 5:30am and I am sitting on the steps of the palapa watching the beginnings of the day in the east. Millan hands me a cup of black coffee, strong and hot. Back in his village, he grew this coffee. Planted and tended the bushes. Picked and dried the berries. Milled them, roasted the beans, brought them here on the bus, ground them, and made this cup just for me. This cup of coffee represents his way of life. 

It is a part of him.

Millan lives large. He came to me with the island in a package deal and turned out to be more valuable than the real estate. He built the island and all the structures on it. Millan works hard. Like most Mayans, he believes that life is work and that work is life. He is a man of many talents. He can build things, fix things, farm, fish, cook, and deliver babies. 

He has nine of them. 

His home is a small, dirt-floor thatch structure with a comal in one corner. It is where the family hangs their hammocks each night and where they go when it rains. He keeps improving it, but it is fundamentally no different than what his ancestors lived in 900 years ago – only his has a solar panel to power a lightbulb and charge a cell phone. 

That is my fault. 

Millan’s smile radiates joy. Looking deeper you find strength and peace next to the happiness. He seems to have it all figured out. He is my Belizean Dalai Lama. I am pretty sure he doesn’t care how many friends he has on Facebook or how many likes his latest post received. Millan would be mystified to learn that that is a thing. 

He is a man of substance.

He makes me want to be a better person; to hone character, to find joy in simplicity, to endure in the face of adversity, to value work for its own sake, and to always smile. Our competition will continue. Tomorrow, I will make the coffee and serve it to him. 

He deserves it. 

10 perfect moments on royal belize

There are a thousand amazing ways to spend a day on the island. Here are a few of our favorites, from sunrise to sunset:


Sit next to the Grand Palapa at 6:30 with your coffee and catch the sunrise, followed by a fresh breakfast. A perfect way to start the day. 

Land’s End

Begin your day catching some rays on the dock leading to Land’s End. Just about the time you get warm, you’ll get a delivery of frozen grapes.

Cool off

Take break from the sun and take a mid-morning swim off the east side of the island.


While you’re at it, grab a snorkel and check out the underwater life right off island. Maybe you’ll find a conch you can bring back for fresh ceviche. 

Lunch time

Regroup for lunch under the palm trees and plan the back half of your day over cold Belikins. 

Nap time

But don’t work too hard – no day is complete without a nap while you pretend to read a book. A beach lounger or the outdoor bed outside of the hibiscus house are good options. The hammocks are pretty perfect, too.


SCUBA adventure

The Belize Barrier Reef is just 15 minutes away. Suit up and explore some of the best diving spots the world has to offer. 

Toast the sunset

Celebrate a hard day’s work on the west side of the island with sunset cocktails.


There’s one more thing to do before calling it a day: lay on the sand and take in the night sky, or use our telescope to catch uninhibited views of the stars as waves crash in the distance. 

Beach games and water sport

Work off lunch with some bocce ball, Frisbee or beach volleyball. Then hit the water again with the sea kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, or take the Waverunners out for some tubing.


All Ah We Da Won

Belize is the true melting pot of the Americas. The harmonious diversity of the country is a natural wonder. There are eight main ethnic groups in the country with a range of skin tones that are difficult to categorize. The founding father of Belize, George Price, was fond of saying, “All ah we da won.” That sums up the attitude of Belizeans of different races and ethnicities. All of us are one.

The team of employees, service providers and suppliers at Royal Belize mirrors the diversity of Belize. In addition to the naturalized Hawaiian manager and Vietnamese concierge, there are Q’eqchi Mayans and Garinagu working on the island. The Garinagu (or Garifuna) are descended from renegade African slaves that blended with native Carib Indians. We have Creoles and Mestizos that keep the books, handle legal matters, and service the boats. Mennonites supply us with hardware and produce, while the Chinese market on the mainland is our source for kitchen staples. The caye is a multi-cultural mélange.

Then, of course, there are our British, American and Canadian cousins that work as SCUBA diving guides, import agents, mainland resort partners, and drivers. They are generally pretty easy to spot on the skin tone spectrum. The easy acceptance of people of all colors (or no color at all) is a defining characteristic of this wonderful country.

The national motto of Belize is Sub Umbra Floreo, meaning, “Flourish in the Shade.”

They may have been referring to Mahogany trees back in the day, but in modern Belize all shades flourish together. 

Sunrise, there’s a fire in the sky

For a few moments, it seems like the entire day might turn out to be gray.

Water hangs on to the shadows just a little longer; it still smells dark outside and the pelicans haven’t yet left their roosts.

The Grand Palapa is quiet, there’s coffee waiting for you on the dining table and you’re reading that book you’ve been meaning to start. Maybe you get lost in the words for a moment, look up, and wonder if it’s twilight.

And then at about 6:35am, the sun appears over the eastern waterline like curious little fingers reaching over the kitchen counter.

Before you know it, the frigate birds have found their wind stream above the island. You’ve finished your plate of fresh papaya, traded in coffee for a Bloody Mary and you’re on the search for somebody to get that one spot on your back.

The best thing about sunrise here? It happens every day. 

First Dive – Cutting My Teeth on the Belize Barrier Reef

I’ve just realized that I used the last of my toothpaste to scrub the inside of my new SCUBA mask - something about preventing it from fogging. Now my teeth feel fuzzy.

It all happened pretty fast - a quick question after breakfast: “Do you want to give it a go?”

“Sure,” I say.

We walk across the sand to the edge of the water with a tank, BC and flippers. I sit down on the steps as I get suited up and water laps against my calves; I think it’s the color of a blue Powerade Slush.

My teeth feel fuzzier. But then they meet the regulator; a minty mask goes over my eyes and I hear someone shout, “Remember, just keep breathing!”

I go under and it’s like I just woke up somewhere else.

I’m only three feet from the dock and I see lobsters gathered under a piece of driftwood; a few feet further, I’m holding a red starfish as big as a Frisbee and I’m turning over conch shells the size of footballs. I swim back to shore to drop one off for ceviche, turn, and hug the bottom out a little further.

I get down to about 15 feet and follow a few trumpet fish that are wary of the barracuda who may or may not be wary of me. I don’t like him. But he has nice teeth.

At lunch we eat conch ceviche and talk about the dive we’re going to do tomorrow - it’s only a 15-minute boat ride from the island to a big reef wall. We’re going down to 40 feet. I ask them if it’s anything like what I did today and they tell me I haven’t seen anything yet.

I’m hooked.