BELIZE (PART 1) – EXPLORING EXOTIC ISLANDS IN THE CARIBBEAN SEA
When people think of booking a last minute vacation, Belize is not usually the first place that springs to mind – especially if you are travelling from Europe, planning your first solo trip and only have two weeks to play with.
This is the situation I found myself in earlier this year but even still, you’re probably wondering why I opted for Belize.
Well I’ll tell you why. Home to the second largest Barrier Reef in the world, Belize is a country of vast contrasts – with a chilled back Caribbean vibe on its islands on the East coast and ancient Mayan ruins, caves and jungles to explore inland on the West.
To me Belize offered the perfect mix of adventure, activities and relaxation so it was an ideal destination.
Below is a detailed two week itinerary for Belize with recommendations for food, accommodation, tour companies and everything in between. I have split the itinerary into three posts each covering different aspects of the trip so make sure you check them all out.
*(All prices are in BZD unless stated. At the time of this post the rate was $1 USD = $2 BZD).
After nearly 30 hours of travel from Ireland with transits through New York and Atlanta I finally landed in Belize City. Once I arrived in Philip S W Goldson Airport in Belize City, I cleared customs, picked up my bag and got a taxi to the water taxi port which is roughly a 20-30 minute journey. There isn’t any public transport available from the airport to the water taxi depot so a taxi is your best bet. The taxis will charge you $50 BZD ($25USD) so if you are looking to keep costs down then try make some friends on the plane or in the baggage hall so you can carpool and split the charge.
There are two water taxi companies in Belize, San Pedro Belize Expressand Ocean Ferry Belize. I chose to go with San Pedro Belize Express water taxi as they have a better reputation, according to a number of online reviews, and offer more daily trips. Tickets to the popular island of Caye Caulker cost $15USD for one-way and $25USD for return tickets and this was to be my first destination.
The trip over to Caye Caulker took less than 45 minutes and the crossing was pretty smooth. Caye Caulker is pretty small and everything is in walking distance, you can walk the entire length of the island in about 30 minutes. However, you can always jump on the taxi golf carts to your hotel/hostel as well. This is the only form of transport on the island.
For my first night I stayed at the newly opened Caye Caulker Beach Hotel. It’s very modern with spacious rooms, air conditioning, hot showers and it’s really reasonably priced. I paid €49/night for a standard double room. *Please note that there is actually lots of hotels and accommodation on Caye Caulker but it’s not very well publicised online. You can get very decent places once you arrive in Caye Caulker.
Once I’d freshened up, I decided to explore a little and ended up at the Lazy Lizard bar by the ‘Split’. It’s a great place to chill in the sun, go swimming, have a few drinks and listen to some music.
As I left the Lazy Lizard, I stopped by Chef Kareems for some food. It’s casual dining with a couple of benches and plastic seats around a BBQ. Kareems offers chicken, pork ribs, snapper, lobster and shrimp. As the sign says, It’s UNBELIZEABLE and so are the prices. They start at $12 and the max is $25. All dishes are served with rice, coleslaw and salad. It’s an epic lunch filler not to be missed. It’s located beside Frenchie’s diving services on the way to the Split, you won’t miss it. It’s street food at its finest.
After a quick shower I was out again to check out the Caye Caulker nightlife, where I ended up in Bambooze on the beachfront. They had $5 beers, rope swings for seats and had chilled music on. I didn’t last too long though as the tiredness and jet lag finally kicked in.
After having an early night, I was up early the next morning for some breakfast, where I ended up in Brisas Del Mar. It’s located on the beach on the way to the water taxi port, you won’t miss it. For my first breakfast in Belize I thought I would check out the traditional Belizean breakfast. It consisted of scrambled eggs, salsa, refried beans and fresh homemade fry jacks. It’s something you definitely need to try at least once while you’re in Belize.
I had booked a place on the Raggamuffin Tours snorkelling trip, so after breakfast I packed my bag and headed to their office to check-in and to get my fins and mask sorted.
The tour leaves at 10.00am and arrives back around 4.30/5.00pm. It’s an amazing day with spectacular snorkelling, a filling lunch and unlimited rum punch for the journey back served with tortillas and freshly made ceviche, what more could you ask for! The tour costs $70USD but it’s well worth it, as you visit three stops on the Belizean Barrier Reef. It’s worth noting that snorkel trips to the Great Barrier Reef are double this price, so to me this seemed like an absolute steal.
The three stops you visit on the tour are Shark and Ray Alley, Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Coral Gardens. Each stop is very different and you get to see some amazing species such as nurse sharks, sting rays, barracudas, moray eels, turtles and more.
The crew were very informative and were able to point out the different coral formations and explain the different species of fish at each stop. Now what I’m about to say next might seem controversial to diving fans out there but I genuinely think that the snorkelling experience was probably the best I’ve ever done. The water was crystal clear and the variety of fish and marine life we were able to see were, in my opinion, better than the Great Barrier Reef, so make sure you check it out.
As we arrived back to Caye Caulker my newly made friends and I went to the Lazy Lizard for some sundowners. It was a no-brainer really, $5 beers plus a happy hour on cocktails, it was hard to beat.
After an amazing sunset and a few beers it was starting to get late so we all decided to stop by Frans Grill for some dinner. You won’t miss her place, it’s right on the beach next to the E-Z Boys tour company. You choose your meat; chicken or shrimp, and then all dishes come with mash potato and garlic bread followed by unlimited rum punch and a coconut/rum cake. All for only $25. It’s incredible value for really great food. As I look back on my trip now this was definitely one of the best meals I had. Not only do you get an incredible feed you can also sit here for hours drinking rum punch so it makes for a very inexpensive night.
After food we decided to check out the Barrier Reef Sports Bar & Grillfor some more drinks and live music. The Sports Bar stays open till 12.00am and shuts down very quickly then.
If you want to continue the night then make sure you head to, I&I Reggae Bar like we did. It stays open till 1.00am and it’s the latest bar on the island. Again once closing time comes around the place is cleared very quickly and people start to make their way home.
After a late night and still being a little jet lagged I let myself sleep in a bit before grabbing another Belizean breakfast. This time I tried out Bambooze on the beach front and it didn’t disappoint. In their dish they also included pulled chicken and fresh fruit. It was epic and all for only $12.
After breakfast I decided to explore Caye Caulker a little bit more so I took a stroll and continued down the beach for a while before cutting back into the Main Street. Caye Caulker isn’t that big and there are only 3 roads so you shouldn’t get lost. Along the way you can find small local bakeries, restaurants and even hidden gems for relaxing by yourself.
After my walk I decided to stop by Ice ‘n’ Beans beachfront cafe, which does great iced lattes. I sat here for a while enjoying the scenery and got chatting to a few people about other places they’d been in Belize and got some good tips and recommendations for the rest of my trip.
After a while I made my way back to the hotel and went to the rooftop where they had hammocks and sun loungers. I chilled there for most of the day reading, taking photos of the amazing views and just relaxing, it was just what I needed.
I was so chilled out that time really got away from me. I ended up taking a late lunch and decided to check out Chef Kareem’s again before he closed. It didn’t disappoint. This time I decided to go for the BBQ shrimp, which was just as good as the jerk chicken I had the day before.
After filling up I headed back to the hammocks for sunset and got ready before meeting friends for dinner.
I had heard good reviews about Wish Willy’s Grill so we decided to head there for dinner. Again like most places on the island it was $20 for your meal and $5 for beers. All dishes here were served with rice and grilled veggies. For me, it was only an average experience compared to other BBQ places on the island. Other places worth mentioning are Maggie’s Sunset Kitchen and Chef Juan’s Kitchen, both of which came highly recommended.
After dinner we stopped by Margarita Mike’s for some drinks and then made our way to the Sports Bar where they had live music on. This is where the night ended.
Today was a travel day so I got up early and went for breakfast in the Happy Lobster. I decided to change it up a bit so I got huevos rancheros with fry jacks. It was unusual and not what I was used to having back home, but it was nice all the same and only cost $13.
Before I caught my ferry to my next destination, San Pedro, I made one last stop at Ice ‘n’ Beans beachfront cafe for an epic iced latte. It’s worth noting that they are actually pretty pricey so make sure you don’t get in a habit of drinking them!
For my trip to San Pedro I used the same water taxi company, San Pedro Belize Express. The cost of a return trip to San Pedro from Caye Caulker is $25USD and takes roughly 30-45 minutes.
Once I arrived in San Pedro it was a short 5 minute walk along the beach to the Sandbar Hostel where I was staying for the next two nights. Located right on the beach, only minutes from the town centre, and with big clean dorm rooms for only $15USD a night it was hard to beat.
As I was dropping my bags off in the hostel I met a group of Aussies who were heading for lunch so I decided to join them. We went to a more local type of restaurant called Pupuseria Salvadoreno and had a traditional Belizean/Salvadoran lunch. We tried a mix of the pupusas (filled corn tortillas) and had some fruit shakes and the bill worked out at less than $12 each.
The remainder of the day was pretty chilled. It consisted of drinking beers and chilling in the sun, followed quickly by beers inside while we took cover from the tropical rain storm. We also discovered that the Aussies and I actually had two different mutual friends, which goes to show that we live in such a small world!
Once the rain passed we made our way to Robins Kitchen for dinner. It’s a good distance from the hostel and takes about 30-40 minutes to walk there. Trust me the walk is worth it though. Robin is known for his amazing Jamaican-style cooking. His place is literally just a shack on the side of the road with plastic chairs and tables so it doesn’t seem very enticing, but it’s simply immense.
The menu for us consisted of Jamaican jerk chicken ($14) or barbecued fillet of fish ($16). Needless to say we all ended up going for a combination of both ($25). The dishes included rice with beans, homemade coleslaw and best of all, Robins famous jerk/BBQ sauce. My mouth waters every time I think about it. The meal was unbelievable and definitely the best one I had over my two week trip. We were all so incredibly full after the meal that we actually enjoyed the long walk home. By the time we got back to the hostel everyone was pretty tired so we just flaked for a bit and then went to bed.
Since I hadn’t seen much of San Pedro I got up early, had a quick breakfast in the hostel (it’s reasonably priced) and went for a stroll down the beach.
By the time I got back to the hostel I decided that I was going to take another snorkelling trip as my first snorkelling trip was just fantastic and I wanted to experience it again. This time I went to a different reef, Mexico Rocks, and took a stop at the Secret Beach. This is not a normal route but it was pre-organised by the group I joined so I just went with it.
The boat left at 12.00pm from the hostel and returned back shortly after 5.00pm costing roughly $55USD. Our skipper, Alfonso, took us to the Mexico Rocks Reef which is much less visited and just as populated with sea life as the other more popular stops, which I visited already. This meant the seven of us could get up close and personal with the fish and marine life without having several other groups around us.
We stopped at three different parts of the reef, each one being full of life. The last stop however was the best. A massive green turtle swam towards me and stayed by me for about 20 minutes, eating the grass on the seafloor and it continued to follow me as I made my way back to the boat, it was amazing experience.
Once we all climbed aboard we made our way to Secret Beach. As I mentioned already this is not a normal stop and it can usually be reached by land. It roughly takes 60 minutes in a golf cart, which can be costly to rent or take a taxi there. At the beach there are two bars, sun loungers, trampolines in the water and more. Because of its location and difficulty to get to it’s still relatively quiet so well worth a visit.
Since there was no food included in the tour I was starving by the time I got back. I quickly showered and headed across to Palapa Grill, which is opposite the hostel on the water. I ordered the quesadillas and the portion size was absolutely massive and was worth the $18 I spent on them. There are cheaper food options closeby including Jambel’s Jerk Pitwhich came highly recommended to me but I was too hungry so went to the first restaurant I found.
Thursday nights in San Pedro are special occasions and if you happen to be here for one make sure you attend the “Chicken Drop”. In San Pedro forget about betting on horse racing or sports, you can make your money by betting on where you think a chicken is going to drop its next load. Yes you heard me right, it’s a San Pedro tradition called the “Chicken Drop” and you can catch the game every Thursday evening starting at 7:00pm at Wahoo’s Lounge. You pay $1 per ticket and bet on a number, 1 through 100, with the hopes that the chicken gods will be in your favour. After a few rituals, a chicken is released onto a numbered-tiled mat and everyone cheers on the chicken, trying to lure it to their square. After it’s all said and done, the winner walks away with $100, but not before they assume the duty of cleaning up the drops.It’s an enjoyable evening and good to have a few beers whilst having a few laughs.
As the night progresses people will usually head to some of the nightclubs around the main square. I personally never went but people I spoke to said they stay open till after 3am and were a good laugh, however most places have a cover charge to enter.
Today saw me return to Caye Caulker as I was going on an overnight sailing trip with Raggamuffin Tours the following day and needed to be back for the tour briefing.
To sum it up, Raggamuffin Tours offer a unique three day, two night trip where you sail down the Belizean Coast staying at two exclusive uninhabited private islands. There’s plenty of snorkelling, rum punch and fun along the way. The cost of the trip is $400USD and it includes all food, unlimited drinks, snacks, accommodation, reserve fees and transfers over the three days. The trip is pricey but I can assure you it’s worth every cent. It was hands down the best thing I did on my trip in Belize and if you have any doubts about going, don’t, JUST DO IT, you won’t regret it.
At 4.00pm I met my fellow passengers and crew, where they briefed us on the next three days, what we’d be doing, eating and what we’d need to pack etc.
Once the briefing ended I made my way back to the rooftop of the Caye Caulker Beach Hotel and enjoyed some beers with some other hotel guests and Caye Caulker resident, Dillion. As the sun disappeared in the horizon we decided to head to Fran’s Grill for dinner, Dillion even gave it his seal of approval and agreed it was one of his favourite spots to eat on Caye Caulker. After an enjoyable dinner, Dillion brought us to his uncle’s bar, I&I Reggae Bar, for a few drinks where we chilled on the seat swings and found out more about life on Caye Caulker.
…..Make sure you check out Part 2. I’ll be talking about sailing down the amazing coast of Belize with Raggamuffin Tours. It’s not to be missed.