Belize it or not? Advise on finding paradise and doing some wicked diving…
Many travellers claim to have heard of Belize, a few can even place it on a map. Getting there is another matter altogether. If you are already in Central America it’s not too much of a burden to cross over a border or two but flying in direct is an expensive business. I have a few tips on getting in and out, great places to see on the Northern Cayes and some spectacular scuba diving and snorkelling spots.
Fresh fruit is available almost anywhere
Belize, formerly British Honduras, is a wonderful mix of cultures that will delight and amaze you as you pass through the countryside. In this article I am going to stick to two of the main islands, that is Ambergris Caye with its main village/town of San Pedro and the laid back Caye Caulker a few miles further south (in this region Caye is pronounced “key”).
Quite a few backpackers find themselves in Mexico and a whole bunch of them end up searching for and finding the paradise beaches of the Yucatan; Isla Mujeres, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. After a while and a good look at the map it appears that Belize, an English speaking country and an anomaly in these parts, lies just to the south and sparks some vague recognition in their minds, thoughts of Mayan temples, white sand beaches, a truly Caribbean feel and unspoilt reefs bubble to the surface.
In truth Belize can be an expensive shock to the system when you have been used to the dollar deals of the Mexican resorts or the ever cheap beers of Guatemala but it merits at least a few days and a dip into the budget to see and experience a slice of old school Caribbean.
Pedros Backpackers is a great place just back from the beach
Getting in and out
This month has seen the start of cross border transportation from San Pedro on Ambergris Caye to Chetumal in Mexico cutting hours off the travel time and making it easy for those on the Mayan Riviera to visit. The boat is run by San Pedro Belize Express and they have a once a day service that will whisk you to and from the island in about two hours, at present this service only runs Fridays to Mondays inclusive, (alternatively a boat leaves Corozal in Belize everyday at 3pm).
If you are coming from Cancun or points south you need to arrive at the Chetumal bus station by 2.00pm at the latest, there is a ticket booth in the main hall and the promotion at the moment is a round trip for USD $40. Take a taxi to the port, this should cost about 10-15 pesos and complete the exit formalities there. The boat leaves between 3 and 3.30pm so don’t dally! If you have a smooth ride you should get to San Pedro by 5.30pm and pass swiftly through immigration waiting in their newly constructed hut on the pier in just a few minutes.
If you are heading back to Mexico just reverse the procedure, the boat leaves the dock at 7.15 am with plenty of time to catch the 10.00am buses. For those heading on to Guatemala and Flores/Tikal in particular take a water taxi from either Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker to Belize city, there you will find a bus leaving around 9.30am direct to Flores that will save you lot of hassle, tickets can be bought at the small agency at the quayside in Belize as you get off the water taxi.
Tinas Hostel is another great place to stay
Where to stay
I am a bit of a cheapskate and try to look for the bargains where available and while on the Cayes this can be a little daunting, I have however found a couple of gems that bear looking at.
In San Pedro on Ambergris Caye there are a slew of wonderful places just on the water, unfortunately they are mostly budget busters. If you are prepared for a more basic level of digs then Pedro’s Backpackers fits that bill. It is the only real cheap hostel in San Pedro and offers rooms with two beds and a fan with shared facilities for about USD $10 per person. To offset the pain of not having a private beach and waiter service there is free wi-fi, a lovely swimming pool and a bar on site with copious stocks of Jägermeister! Pedro’s also sports a cheap budget hotel for those on a slightly higher daily spend. Mention this article upon reserving and they may offer you a discount of up to 25%.
Laid back Caye Caulker is a bit better for cheap spots with Tina’s Hostel dominating the guide books. This hostel is well located just next to the water taxi dock and with dorms going for USD $10 they are a steal; they have just opened a new annexe with nicer, more expensive rooms for richer travellers.
Free wi-fi, a kitchen, bbq, hammocks and a private pier make this a pretty cool place to hang out with a beer or two, chat with some new friends and generally chill.
Water Taxi’s – Transport within Beliz is slowly developing…
What to do
Well apart from hanging out with a beer staring at the water breaking on the second largest barrier reef in the world there are a few world class water based opportunities available. For scuba divers the magnificent Blue Hole is a bucket list must do; a journey to Lighthouse reef and a three day dive on some of the most talked about reefs in the world will entertain the most jaded of travellers. Those without a licence to dive or unwilling to pay the rather large wedge to do the Blue Hole can head off to the Hol Chan marine reserve and shark ray alley to dive with two metre long sharks and oversized stingrays, amongst other wonderfully coloured reef fish that abound in these waters.
There are a number of operators on the Island that will fulfil both trips however I prefer a big boat for the long journey to the Blue Hole and took Amigos Del Mar; take your pick though and choose one you are comfortable with.
Eating and drinking can be a dent on the wallet so search out the happy hours with a vengeance; the Tackle Box on the central pier has happy hours every day from 6-8pm with BZ$1 wings and great food. Jamaican spice fiends will find the Jerk Bar above Big Daddy’s a mouth challenging sensation and the “cheap charlies” amongst us will head to Pescador Drive to munch on delicious lobster stuffed papusas at Waraguma’s for only BZ$2.50 a pop.
You can do Belize on the cheap and come away with your wallet intact and some great memories so don’t let the distance and logistics put you off…Belize it or not!