Ease With Belize

Hello men, women, and children of all ages. Come one.. come all.. and step right up to learn about the magic that is Belize. For my first trick I am going to turn my fingers into shovels and dig myself into a hole. Alright here we go. IMG_2667

Before I left the jury of my peers, Generation X, and Baby Boomers were split on whether it was safe for me to travel to Belize alone. My official judgment is in and the verdict is yes! And anyone else should feel the same just on one condition, don’t stay in Belize City. On various occasions, the locals in other cities told me, “Belize is a wonderful country full of good people, but don’t go to Belize City.” Apparently Belize City is fine during the day time but it is not a place you want to find yourself after sunset, especially on the side streets. Some of the travelers I met who did spend time in Belize City reiterated this sentiment. Two young gentlemen told me they rented scooters and even as they cruised around in the daytime and gazed down the side streets they got an uneasy feeling about IMG_2552being caught there at night.

 

Alright! Now that my family is retroactively sweating about the idea of me passing through Belize City and riding from the ferry terminal to the airport alone, it is time to prove I am not a one trick pony. For my second trick I am going to convince y’all why Belize should be at the top of your bucket list.

Upon arriving my plan was get from plane door to the town of San Ignacio. My first 45 minutes were smooth like butter slathered on a piping hot cob of corn. I popped through customs, shucked off my jacket and tennis shoes for a tee shirt and sandals, then made my way to the curb. My patch n’ trinket clad backpack must have given me away as a seasoned traveler because like music to my ears I heard, “hey do you want to share a cab?” I whirled around to face the only other backpacker on the block, gave a heck yeah, and we were off. I got dropped off at the bus station and to my a-maize-ment not even 10 seconds later the bus to San Ignacio screeched around the corner. I was told by the traffic guard hop on now and pay later. I found a seat to share with a kind women who told me the ticket price. I misunderstood her and double-paid the bus attendant when he came down the aisle to collect everyone’s fair. I only realized I over-paid when he gave me twice as much change as I expected. Y’all I have been to countries (emphasis on the s) where if I had not understood the conversion rate and overpaid I would not have gotten my due change back.

The ease of getting transportation plus the kindness, open nature, and honesty in this interaction with the locals was an accurate precursor to the following three weeks I spent in Belize. Belize has pretty decent infrastructure and finding transportation was straightforward. IMG_1876felt welcome everywhere I went. The locals were quick to strike up conversation and ask where I was from or how I was enjoying my time in Belize. While waiting for a bus once the woman sitting next to me struck up conversation which we continued for the 20 minutes until my bus arrived. When it was time for me to depart she gave me a hug and genuinely wished me well in all my endeavors. No one was pushy or ever made me feel uncomfortable. Every day as I walked through the street of San Ignacio I was asked if I needed a cab. I would smile and explain with a point, “no I’m just going up the hill.” Instead of being met with opposition or repeated pestering like I’ve experienced elsewhere, the cab drivers would smile and tell me to have a blessed day. (Not in the southern “bless your heart” kind of way.) Even in the Saturday market people didn’t abandon their stalls to follow me 100 yards down the path while trying to convince me to come back and buy something. Add in the fact that English is the predominant language, thus it is possible to ask for directions or help, and Belize is a brilliant country to start your first solo adventure. 

My three weeks felt like two months in the best way possible. In Belize time moves slow, you feel the rays of sunshine warming you to your soul. There is no need to rush, just breath in the good vibes and enjoy the surreal surroundings. Thanks to lush forests, rambling rivers, and the warm hug of the Caribbean Sea, the landscape of Belize puts the capital GB in “Roy G Biv.” Swirl in the factoid; the people who comprise this petite piece of land are among the most tranquillo souls around, then Belize proves that having “the blues” should actually be called “the greys.”

 

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Alright let’s get down to the bullet points:

Airport need to know and Transportation:

  • Belize City airport is about a 20 minute drive outside of the actual city. A cab to or from the airport will cost $25 US dollars
    • I suggest making friends in the customs line and sharing a cab
    • Don’t worry about knowing the address of the bus station or ferry terminal. If you tell your cab driver either of these are your destination, then he or she will know where you need to go
  • Taking the bus
    • The buses in Belize are retired US school busses
      • This might be “Oooo fun” to some people. For me, I was transported back to a weird, alternative, 2007 post-Britney melt down world in which riding the bus was the most loathsome aspect of middle school.. Sorry Kool Aid flashback.
    • The buses have luggage racks above the seats
    • Just hop on and the attendant will walk down the aisle to collect everyone’s fare once the ride has started rolling
    • Avoid the wheel seats like the plague, unless you like hugging your knees to your chest. To each their own, y’all know I don’t judge.
      • Snatching an empty seat is like striking fool’s gold. The bus will fill to standing room only, eventually that will be filled too.
      • Don’t be shy about asking to share a seat with someone because everyone is used to it
    • To the faint of stomach linings; road conditions are rough. Many stretches are unpaved, thus bouncing along the trail is inevitable

 

  •  Ferry tickets
    • San Pedro and Caye Caulker are the two islands that can be reached from Belize City by ferry
      • Mainland to Caye Caulker is about 45 minutes
      • Mainland to San Pedro is about 1.5 hours
    • It is possible to purchase a one way or round trip ticket to either island
      • You do not need to decide ahead of time what date you plan to return. The round trip tickets are valid for up to 3 months after purchase
    • It is also possible to buy a round trip ticket from San Pedro to Caye Caulker and vice versa
      • If you want to spend a few days on each island then I suggest; Buy a round trip ticket to San Pedro. Use the first half to get to San Pedro, then use the return journey to go to Caye Caulker. When you are ready to get back to the mainland, buy a one way ticket from Caye Caulker to Belize City
    • Belize the perfect country to visit if you are on a limited schedule. Its small stature makes it possible to cross the country in less than three hours, thus no need to worry about any of your days being eaten away by travel

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Money Honey

  • The exchange rate (for US dollars) is 2:1
  • In general establishments except duel currencies; Belize dollars (BZ) and US dollars
    • You can pay with mix of the two currencies
    • US coins are not accepted
    • ATM’s are open 24-7 and will give you Belize dollars
  • When people tell you a price in “dollars” they are referring to Belize dollars

San Ignacio

  • San Ignacio is a city of nearly 20,000. It’s located in the Cayo district of Belize situated near the border of Guatemala
    • SI feels more like a conglomeration of small villages rather than one city. The main area of town is a tight knit community that will happily throw its warmth around you
    • I spent nearly two weeks in SI volunteering at a guesthouse. Before my first IMG_2012week was over, my 5 minute trips to the market would take closer to 30. Why? well first I would first stop and talk to the boys at the barber shop, then I’d banter with the traffic guard half a block down the street, after that I would inevitably run into one or two of the locals I got to know and stop to chat.
      • Sure my height separates me from the crowd and my hair would make it easy to pick me out of a police lineup, buuut I believe it is a testament to the welcoming, small-town nature of San Ignacio. People noticed I had been in town for a few days and instantly made me feel as if I was a part of the community
  • Transportation
    • It is $9 BZ (by bus) one way from Belize City to San Ignacio and vice versa. The ride will take roughly 2.5 hours
    • The bus will make one main stop in Belmopan, the capitol. Here you have about 5 minutes to pee or buy some snacks. A lot of people will switch buses, so this is your opportunity to poach a more preferable seat
    • The bus will stop frequently to pick up people waiting along the road
    • It’s possible to hire a private car or get a shuttle bus. These are faster options but also come at a cost…. of which I’m not sure because ya girl is still balling on a budget
  • Things to do:
    • Iguana Sanctuary
      • Costs $9 USD and is located at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. All the money goes towards furthering the effort to rehabilitate these endangered creatures.
      • The tour lasts approximately 45 minutes. The whole time you are standing in an enclosure surrounded by iguanas in the process of rehabilitated. Cool as cucumbers, these scaly dudes will let you pet, hold, or take selfies with them to your phone memory’s content

 

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  • Cahal Pech
    • This is a set of Mayan Ruins about 15-20 minute walk from the city center
    • To get here; find the police station in town, walk up the hill behind it, continue to walk along the road until you reach the traffic circle, take the first left, and when the road fork’s stick to the right side
    • I visited the ruins for over two hours and only saw four other people. Most of the time I had the complex to myself. Talking to other travelers, most had a similar experience. I suggest bringing a book or journal, settle in, and enjoy the awe n’ peace or is that awe in peace… I’ll let y’all be the judge
  •  Cahal Pech Resort
    • While I never visited this establishment I was told this is a great spot to look out over the whole city
    • The resort has a pool that is open to the public for a small fee. There is a restaurant and bar as well which could make for a photo op-portunistic place to hang out with a fancy cocktail during sunset.
    • I believe the resort is further up the path from Cahal Pech
  • There are other sets of Mayan ruins within the area of SI as well as just over the boarder to Guatemala. It is possible to book a day tour to see the ruins over the boarder. Your hotel or hostel should be able to set this up for you.

 

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  • ATM Caves
    • $90 USD and worth all 900 pennies
      • The tour company will transport you to and from, feed you lunch, and the whole experience including the bus ride will be about an 8 hour endeavor to the adventurous maximus
      • Bring socks, towel, dry change of clothes, snacks, and water
    • This is an awe-inspiring, spell-binding, hands-on, feet underwater spelunking adventure. You’ll cross the river three times and hike a mile just to get to the mouth of the cave.
    • Get ready to swim, wade through water anywhere between calf and chest depth, squeeze through crevasses with chiropractor-positioning precision, scramble up and over rocks, and climb ladders. Meanwhile you’ll learn about the cave formation, local flora and fauna, and walk sock-clad through a chamber littered with artifacts and skeletons left over from the Mayan’s. EEEEP!
    • This is NOT a tour for the claustrophobic
    • They will not let you take a camera of any kind into the caves because there were a few instances of people dropping cameras on the artifacts and breaking them in the past. Most companies will email you photos after.
  • Tours
    • It is possible to attend either a; chocolate, rum, or Marie Sharp’s pepper tour
    • These can be booked in town through the local tour agencies or most hotels and hostels
      • I did not attend any tours, but I heard the rum tour will get you properly pissed (in the English sense) and that the chocolate tour was a informative, tasty, hands on experience… and who doesn’t love putting their hands on chocolate?
  • Saturday Market
    • Every Saturday form early morning to evening the main market square will burst into life. Packed with stalls of fresh produce, cheeses, hand-crafted souvenirs, clothing, hot food, and other goodies
  • Soul Project
    • This is a local bar in town that draws in locals, music lovers, and other artsy folks
  • A word about birds… during the winter months hundreds of birds make San Ignacio their home. Like a clock that only works twice a day, the sound of calling birds fill the air at 6am and 6pm. Waking up to the melodious chorus of birds every morning is the closest you’ll get making your dreams of being a Disney princess come true, so relish in it… For those who are not morning people and are rolling their eyes at my rosy-glass half full optimism, I suggest investing in noise cancelling head phones.

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Cristo Ray

  • This is a small village of about 900 people located 15 minutes by local bus from the center of San Ignacio

 

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  • To get here you’ll take the Jasmine Buses
    • They are forest green 15 passenger vans that say “Jasmine” on the front
    • They run every 30 minutes or so from about 7 am – 5 pm Monday-Saturday
    • It will be $2 BZ one way, and you’ll pay when you get out of the van
    • You catch the Jasmine bus around the corner from where the main bus drops you off in San Ignacio
  • Monkey Falls IMG_2417
    • Tell the driver you want to go to Monkey Falls and he or she will drop you off along a dirt road that meets the main road
    • Walk down the dirt road for about 5 minutes and it will lead you to the tranquil waterfall / swim spot. It is possible to walk along the river’s edge for miles.
  • Yoga Studio/ Kombucha
    • Just before you reach Monkey Falls you’ll pass by a yoga studio on your left
    • It is run by a Canadian couple named Evan and Lacey who offer Kundalini yoga classes twice a day at 7 and 11:30 (I think) for $20 BZ
    • The classes are held in an open air studio surrounded by lush flora plus the sounds of the waterfall and birds accompany every class
    • They also make the most delicious kombucha brewed with locally foraged ingredients that they bottle and sell

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  • A word about dogs
    • Nearly everyone has a dog or two (or four) that hang in their respective yard
    • I found the dogs remained mellow as long as I kept walking, when I stopped to take a picture of the scenery the dogs would begin to bark and made it clear they wanted me to keep it moving

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Caye Caulker

  • Caye Caulker is the smaller of the two islands and draws more of the backpacker crowd. On this island the word “urgency” doesn’t exist and shoes are merely a suggestion. It has a real “Peter Pan and the lost boys” feel about the place
  • Yoga
    • Atop the third story of the Om Café free (donation-based) yoga classes are offered every morning
  • Possible fun things to do; rent bikes or kayaks, book a fishing tour, or treat yourself to a message
  • The Split is the bar at the west end of the island and the best place for watching the sunset

 

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San Pedro

  • San Pedro brings in scuba enthusiasts from across the globe. The crowd here is more families and older couples
  • Get your scuba certification(!)
    • To parody “The Incredibles” “WHERE’S MY SCUBA SUIT?”
    • I got my scuba certification through Scuba School and Family Dive Center Belize, let me put my experience this way; if I could jump in a vat of radioactive waste in order to grow more hands so I could give this crew more than two thumbs up I would consider it.
      • This company came highly recommended on Tripadvisor. They keep the class sizes and diving groups small in order to give every student maximum attention. I never felt unsafe or that they would have put me in any situation I couldn’t handle. This crew was friendly, laid back, but also super knowledgeable it was the right combination to make you feel comfortable and confident during this new endeavor.
      • I had such a good experience with this company I am considering going back to Belize and getting my advanced open water certification with them.
      • I signed up for the adventure package which consisted of my two certification dives, two addition fun dives, and snorkeling with sharks

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  • This island is much bigger. Depending on where you book your accommodation you may need to rent a golf cart to get around.
    • I suggest trying to stay somewhere in walking distance of where the ferry drops off. There are plenty of restaurants, markets, and a bank in this area. Otherwise you will have to rent a golf cart for the duration of time you spend here which can get pricey.
  • Warning San Pedro is expensive. The prices here are higher than anywhere else in Belize, buying food from a market is on par with US prices
  • Secret Beach
    • Is not so secret. Located on the west end again the premiere sunset spot. It is about 4 miles from the ferry drop off. A golf cart or bike is necessary. (The road condition lends more toward golf cart just saying.)
    • The ride out to secret beach offers scenes of untouched mangroves
  • Things to do: book a boat or fishing trip, rent bikes or kayaks, snorkel with sharks, book a trip out to the Blue Hole, or scuba dive and explore the massive coral reef

 

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Eats

  • Typical food:
    • Chicken, rice and beans, and salad
    • Fry jacks
    • Burritos
    • Pupusa’s
    • Tacos
    • Creole bread (to my fellow carb fiends and queens this stuff is all of the yums)

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  • In San Ignacio:
    • The carts set up around 5 in the evening and will be your best deal. They offer an assortment of tasty local cuisine and fresh juices
      • The meal you see above cost me the equivalent of $2.25 USD
    • Pop’s is nice spot for breakfast and Local Flavors offers a delicious dinner with a second story balcony view
  • Coffee, for the most part, will be instant
  • On San Pedro
    • The best deal at night is found in the main plaza where the carts set up
    • One is run by two ladies who cook the most banging shrimp burritos (they also offer burgers, burritos, tacos, and hot dogs) for a modest price
  • In Caye Caulker
    • Juan’s kitchen offers Chicken and your choice of two sides for $8 BZ
    • There is a tasty fry jack spot at the far side of the soccer field

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Where to Stay

  • Pretty much any place you visit will offer a range of accommodation from youth hostels to upscale hotels
  • Where I stayed;
    • San Ignacio:
      • Bella’s Backpackers, a mellow backpacker spot that offers mixed dorms or private rooms.
      • The staff is knowledgeable about the area and will make planning your time in the city or your transportation a breeze.
      • This place is one of the more social hostels I’ve ever stay in. Thanks to the hammocks and open air set up it’s absolutely conducive to relaxing and getting to know other travelers. (Mixed dorms were $25 BZ a night.)
    • Cristo Ray:
      • Bella’s Jungle Camp. This spot is associated with the other Bella’s. They are run by a family who I volunteered for, for two weeks.
      • Here there is no wifi, but with that brings along no worries. You can walk down to the river that runs along the back of the property, rent a kayak, or walk to Monkey Falls. (Here is $50 BZ per night.)
      • Both Bella’s have a kitchen open for guest use.

 

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  • Caye Caulker:
    • Bella’s Backpackers, the third in the Bella’s family. This was a gregarious hostel that will sure fire (no really sometimes they have fire shows at night) offer a memorable night out and take all your worries away.
    • It’s a super social spot, but unlike the other Bella’s I wouldn’t recommend staying here if you want the possibility for a quite night in.
    • They also offer free Kayak use

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  • San Pedro:
    • Sandbar Beach front hotel. I booked though booking.com and got a stellar deal for the 7 nights I stayed. No kitchen but there is a bar and restaurant below that offers 10% off to hotel guests.
    • There are mixed dorms as well as private rooms. Warm showers and AC rooms. This place was top notch, and I met gaggle of travelers that I was able to fall into great conversation with
    • The photo below was taken from the private dock reserved for Sand Bar guests. The blue and green two story building is Sand Bar

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The People

  • There are 6 different cultural groups that comprise Belize. Belizeans are down to earth, welcoming, and chilled out to the max. Seriously great people.
  • English is main language of the country, you’ll hear some Spanish and Creole, but virtually everyone speaks English fluently
  • The county has a strong Christian influence. You’ll pass an ample amount of churches, Christian-based schools, and billboards sporting bible quotes on the way from Belize City to San Ignacio. However, the people are welcoming to all
    • A testament to the “day of rest” everything gets quiet on Sundays, many businesses will be closed
    • I went for a mystic, meditative Sunday morning walk along the streets of SI and nearly had the whole town to myself. Quite the stark contrast from the bustling Saturday scenes, but refreshing to the soul

 

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Alright that’s all I have! There is undoubtedly much more to see and do / cities to visit in Belize. However, I can only speak from experience (or the weird recesses of my mind that thinks in long tangents and puns) but I’m trying to be Gouda, so instead I will leave you with a few more bytes to tantalize your senses.

 

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One thought on “Ease With Belize

  1. I was blessed to have Rita’s advice since this blog came online to the grand ole’ Universe as I was planning my own Belize trip this April. In fact, I just got back from that beautiful place so aptly described above: my tan is still golden and I have my braids in too. Rita’s guideposts were impeccable! Loved the chicken bus – I’m not sure if I enjoyed the speed, the smiling faces of every day Belizeans, or waving down the driver as he careened down the road. The bus stop freaked me out at first, but then as you wait, you can feel the fear of uknown slip away under the caress of the Cairbbean breezes. I’d also suggest spoiling yourself with a stay at Hopkins Bay Resort. Relative to Placencia, its not as expensive nor posh in the boring sense – this beachside resort is sustainable, eco-friendly, lush, kinda posh. And while in Caye Caulker take a yoga class from Namaste Cafe and take a swim in the Blue Hole on Hummingbird Highway. I’d seriously listen to all this woman has to share about her treks. Waiting for the tips on Barcelona to go live. Rita Rocks! Come on, say it with me. Rita Rocks!

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