We started in the little border town of San Ignacio – with our Swiss friend Martin – after camping in Tikal National Park in Guatemala for two nights (and our first encounter with Howler Monkeys! But that’s for another time…)
I think Sunday in San Ignacio is normally quiet, but this being Victoria Day weekend, most shops and many restaurants were closed on the Sunday and only part day Monday – giving us a very laid back introduction to Belize.
Monday was fun though, as the town was enjoying a River Festival Day so we headed to the river with everyone else and sat in the middle of it (all 8″ deep) – drinking our cold beers, listening to a very loud DJ, watching what seemed like most of the town residents – playing, dancing, eating and generally having a great time – all topped off with some great Mexican style street tacos on the way home.
Our accommodations for the night were very modest – Sam and I shared a double bed and our friend Martin a single – excruciatingly hot all night even with two fans blowing on us all – but I guess you can’t expect much for $6/person!
We bade farewell to Martin here as he completed his “border run” and headed back into Guatemala. Alone again, just the two of us, we fall into a nice rhythm that I miss when there are others with us.
I realized I had forgotten to buy car insurance at the border – a mistake that could cost me plenty in lost time and money if I happened to encounter a check stop somewhere along the way! Definitely not worth the risk so while Sam enjoyed a sleep-in at the hotel, I got up super early and drove the 14 miles back to the border, paid a whopping US$25 for 30 days worth of insurance, and headed back to San Ignacio – feeling VERY smug as I was pulled over at a newly set up police check point!!!!
Then it was on to Belize City. I was quite nervous about getting into the city, finding a place to stay, and getting out without trouble with the van – as apparently it’s quite common to have your car battery stolen in the night!
It was scorching hot on our arrival, but we persevered and checked out three different guest houses before settling on Three Sista’s for US$30. This gave us a tiny room, one double bed and a private bathroom. Again unbelievable hot! Already finding Belize far more expensive than Guatemala and feeling more than a little apprehensive about juggling our pittance of a budget for the next 3 weeks.
For now we’ll enjoy the fact that a friend from Canada is joining us for 10 days and has graciously offered to pick up the hotel bill so we can stay … in hotels…and not hostels. A real luxury for us!
First stop – south 3 hours to Placencia. I know I’ve said this before, but note to self: don’t always trust Garmin or Google Maps! For some reason Garmin took us on the Hummingbird Hwy all the way to Placencia – resulting in 3 hours of spine crushing dirt road! I think I had plugged in “shortest distance” in the navigation settings, so “she” decided that yes, it’s a shorter distance than the main highway, but my oh my – definitely NOT the shortest time.
We stayed at the Manatee Inn for a couple of days and kicked around this quaint little village – with a main ‘street’ that consists of a boardwalk running the length of town – chock full on either side with restaurants, beach bars, guest houses and shops.
Great pizza at Rick’s, top notch smoothies at The Shack, and the best fryjacks and breakfast at JD’s.
We had an absolutely EPIC adventure fishing off shore about 18 miles…non stop reeling for two hours straight! Yellow Jacks, Tuna, Snapper and a 3 ft Barracuda that Sam almost landed, but it eventually snapped the line and got away.
Exhausted, Kevin, our guide, parked us on a beautiful private island for snorkelling and swimming, while he prepared one of our prize snappers for lunch – traditional Belizean coconut rice and fish grilled, then poached in a spicy tomato, garlic and pepper sauce – incredibly un-Belize-able!
From Placencia we retraced our steps north back to Belize City where I put the van in storage for a week and we boarded the water taxi for Caye Caulker.
Island Magic would be our home for the next three days – cute, comfortable seaside hotel. Everything is a short walk to … everything on Caye Caulker.
We had burgers and beers sitting on the top deck at the Split – aptly named due to the fact that at that very spot, a hurricane literally ripped the island in two! Now a hot spot for sunbathers, swimmers and partiers – it was a great place to spend a hot tropical afternoon.
Amazing Italian food at Pelicanos (coincidently not only the same name as ‘our’ hotel in Guatemala, but exactly the same logo!).
Incredible Brazilian Pork and Lionfish dinners at Habanero’s restaurant, and the best fry jacks in town goes to Brenda’s – hands down!
We were disappointed by the lack of good public beaches in Placencia, and Caye Caulker proved to be no better – I guess this is just how it is in Belize.
After three days of lazing in the pool, and eating and drinking our way from one end of the village to the other, it was time to get another water taxi and head further north to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.
Someone called San Pedro “Caye Caulker with the dial cranked up to 10” and they were right! Still mostly golf cart traffic (absolutely no other vehicles in Caye Caulker) but some cars and trucks in San Pedro.
Three main traffic and pedestrian streets – Front Street, Middle Street and Back Street – yes, a lot of thought went into the naming of these!
Tons of restaurants, more beach bars, lots of little hotels and guest houses and a totally ramped up presence of expats, tourists and souvenir shops.
My biggest surprise and disappointment with Belize has to be the cost – of everything! Cocktails at most of the resorts average $12-$18 Belizean which is equal to US$6 – $9!!! Everywhere beer is $5 Belizean – about US$2.50 – not bad – if the beer were half decent! But there’s one main beer in Belize – called Belikin – and I really didn’t like it! Quite disappointing given the uber hot humid days that were of course designed to be weathered with cold beer!
In order to truly appreciate the island we rented a golf cart one day and toured around – played giant Jenga and enjoyed the best Pulled Pork Sandwiches at the Palapa Bar; drank refreshing Cucumber Cooler Cocktails in the seaside infinity pool at Rojos, and relaxed in the shade with One Barrel Rum and Cokes at Captain Morgans.
Best fryjacks in town goes to Estelle’s on the Beach!!! OMG – delicious – served with a side of honey, jam and butter – and really good pulled pork hash for breakfast!!
From here we bid adieu to our Canadian friend, we spend a few more days touring the island with another friend who lives in San Pedro, then it’s back to Belize City and …on to the next adventure!