Belize it or not…
A new year means new destinations and the adventures that go with them. I usually try to escape the winter for somewhere warm (typically the Caribbean, Mexico or Central/South America) right after Christmas through New Years Eve. This year, I chose Belize.
Everyone is talking about Belize: Americans want to retire there because of the tax benefits; the recent documentary on the Blue Hole has everyone plunging to depths of 140ft to…see nothing. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out on anything.
Unpopular opinion: I don’t think I missed anything…
Granted, I came back with a great tan and the scuba diving along the Belize Barrier Reef was fantastic; but 10 days in a third world country where everything is overpriced (think 10 USD for a crappy rum punch), there’s a shortage of avocados (no avocados = no guacamole), and swarms of mosquitos that gave zero fucks about the the amount of DEET I was covered in (these bugs were SAVAGE – even biting my face)…left much to be desired.
If you do decide to go, below are my highlights and endorsements.
The most popular destinations in Belize are San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) and Placencia; but there are a number of smaller cayes like Caye Caulker that some choose as their home-base. I chose San Pedro and Caye Caulker based on proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef as well as other recommendations.
The main airport is Belize City (BZE), and to get to any of these destinations, you need to travel by some combination of plane, taxi and/or boat.
Tropic Air is a reliable, local airline. I chartered a plane with them to fly from BZE, over the Blue Hole and then to San Pedro – super convenient and efficient although not for the faint of heart (the plane was a 4 seater…). Tropic Air also offers separate flights to see the Blue Hole (the planes might be bigger – but you should definitely confirm ahead of time).
Important to note: getting through immigration into Belize is a bit of a nightmare: one long line turns into a mosh pit of other lines and the officers stamping passports aren’t in ANY rush to process tourists. It will take over an hour to get through this nonsense depending on how many planes have just landed in BZE. Do NOT schedule any connecting flights with less than 2 hours of wiggle room.
San Pedro isn’t terribly large, but it’s big enough where you’ll want a golf cart to get around. There isn’t a swimmable beach here. The beach is a sand strip/road for golf carts with restaurants on one side and then piers with dive shops on the other. As I mentioned, I chose San Pedro for reef proximity to get some scuba diving in.
Where to sleep?
I really hate the typical resort experience, so it was important that I found a place with some charm. Pur Boutique Cabanas was just that! The boutique hotel has 6 cabanas and a taco bar. The beds are comfortable, everything is super clean and the staff goes out of their way to make sure you’re comfortable. We were also able to negotiate an open contract on our golf cart rental which saved us some money.
Where to eat/drink?
- Elvi’s Kitchen – quality food since 1974! Make a reservation if you can, otherwise just walk over and put your name down (usually 30-60 minute wait time). Bonus points for their crab guacamole.
- Sandy Toes Beach Bar & Grill – fresh fish tacos with homemade everything
- The Truck Stop – shipping containers form a food truck-esque park with nightly activities like Family Feud
- Wild Mango’s – more good tacos
What to do?
- Secret Beach – on the other side of Ambergris Caye (40 min drive by golf cart) is the not so secret Secret Beach. Grab a table in the water at Blue Bayou and drink the day away.
- Scuba School And Family Dive Center Belize – scuba and snorkel, they can handle it all!
I’ve been told that people are obsessed with Caye Caulker the way some people are obsessed with Disney. I don’t know who these people are. A 30 minute ferry from San Pedro, this island doesn’t have any cars (golf carts and bikes only) and runs on a generator for power. When I arrived, the island’s generator was broken (read: no electricity) and running water was questionable. These were not challenges I had planned for…but apparently not uncommon.
I only have one recommendation for Caye Caulker: Koko King Beach and We’Yu Boutique Hotel.
Koko King is a beach club on the north side of Caye Caulker (the island was split in 2 by a hurricane in 1961) that offers free water taxis from the main island (as long as you spend some money there and show your receipt on the way back). The club has great music, good food and excellent service. Added bonus: this place operates on solar power. I was worried that We’Yu Boutique Hotel would be too far away from the “action” and chose not to stay here but that was an epic mistake. If I were to return to Caye Caulker, I would 100% stay there. The water taxi takes 5 minutes, the facility is new and offers epic sunset opportunities AND you’re not tied to the unreliable island generator. We’Yu is practically the Four Seasons of Caye Caulker. Every other place is essentially a hostel or an indoor camping facility. Save yourself!
Don’t get me wrong – some of my favorite travel destinations are third world countries (dirty and buggy ones at that), but Belize left me with an odd craving for Mexico (why didn’t I just plop myself in Tulum where the sand is sugary and the tequila is cheap, delicious and free-flowing?).