Moon Belize (Moon Handbooks) - Lebawit Lily Girma (2015)
Downtown Belize City.
Look for S to find recommended sights, activities, dining, and lodging.
S Fort George: Take a stroll through this breezy seaside neighborhood with its ramshackle colonial homes, old hotels, restaurants, and cafés (click here).
S Museum of Belize: Housed in the old prison, this museum has rotating exhibitions, an incredible stamp collection, and displays of Mayan history that make it worth a visit (click here).
S Carnival: Belize City is at its most festive in September, when Belizeans celebrate their independence at Carnival with a full-on Caribbean float parade (click here).
S Altun Ha: Head north to this ancient Mayan trading center, the most extensively excavated—and the most visited—ruins in Belize (click here).
S The Community Baboon Sanctuary: This community-managed ecotourism sanctuary offers an adventurous menu of wildlife hikes, nighttime canoe trips, and Creole culture (click here).
S Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary: One hour north of Belize City is this wondrous habitat for hundreds of resident and migratory birds (click here).
S The Belize Zoo: See animals native to Belize housed in natural environments and learn about efforts to preserve Belize’s jaguars (click here).
The nation’s most populated district packs a lot in its punch: the hustle and bustle of Belize City, the bird-watching paradise of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, the black howler monkeys of Burrell Boom, the Mayan archeological site of Altun Ha, and the cashew wines of Kriol villages.
Although it hasn’t been the capital since 1961, Belize City remains central to the life of Belizeans. At the heart of the country’s British colonial past, it’s the center of Creole culture and commerce, offering museums, art, markets, and authentic eateries. It’s the rice-and-beans shacks, boisterous fish markets, men playing dominoes in the park, roadside drink stalls, and slow-paced surrounding villages that give this district a distinctly Caribbean feel.
Thanks to the city’s central coastal location, nowhere is too far, making Belize City a hub for exploring the country. In addition to Creole cultural experiences, a visit here means proximity to inland hiking and wildlife-watching—from crocs to howler monkeys or maybe even a jaguar—or escaping to nearby Burrell Boom, just 45 minutes outside the city, for a calm and picturesque river lodge. Activities abound on the nearby cayes for those who want to escape for the day. Transportation options are plentiful—from water taxis to the cayes to buses and flights within the country.
While it may lack beaches and the pretty ocean views of the cayes, Belize City has plenty to offer—not to mention its recent downtown facelift—and offers a more complete view of Belize’s historical background.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
Some may be tempted to skip this area to save time, but Belize City deserves a minimum half day’s exploration. A self-guided daytime walking tour of Belize City is a must for anyone interested in a bigger picture of the country—even if you have only a few hours between bus and boat connections. You can see all the sights in one rushed day (or two relaxed ones) and get a sense of the true Caribbean, or “Kriol,” spirit of this town. It’s fairly easy to get to and from the main city sights on foot, but you could also sign up for a day tour with a tour operator. Favorite stops include the Belize Museum, the House of Culture, the busy Swing Bridge area leading to downtown Albert Street (with its gorgeous views of sailboats), and the seaside BTL Park, with its gorgeous lawn and food kiosks. Although Belize City lacks the evolved dining scene of more touristed parts of the country, there are enough decent restaurants and authentic local eateries to get by, including the country’s best Creole cuisine. Most of the sights, including guesthouses, are located between Regent and Albert Streets or along the Northern Highway, and upscale hotels can be found in the historic Fort George neighborhood, near the city center. Avoid walking or going anywhere outside of these areas.
If you have a couple of days, spend one morning exploring Belize City on foot and the rest of the time exploring sights just outside the city that are well worthwhile, including the Belize Zoo, the Community Baboon Sanctuary, the Mayan site of Altun Ha, or Crooked Tree Village, a birding hotspot.
The old Swing Bridge spans Haulover Creek, connecting Belize City’s Northside to its Southside, and it is the most distinct landmark in the city. North of the creek, Queen Street and Front Street are the crucial thoroughfares. On this side of the bridge, you’ll find the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Terminal, an important transportation and information hub. On Front Street, across from the water taxi, are the post office and the library, with a quiet sitting room and Internet access. Walking east on Front Street, toward the sea, you’ll find several art galleries and shops before you come to the second water taxi terminal to the north cayes, the San Pedro Belize Express, and to the Tourism Village, the hopeful, Disneyesque name for the cruise-ship passenger arrival area. The mini malls and decorations that garnish this area of docks and shops are contrived and overpriced, and they are owned in part by the cruise-ship companies. The rest of the adjoining Fort George historic area is, in contrast, genuine and interesting to see. Some of the higher-end restaurants and best cafés are also here. Over 100 streets have been repaved in and around downtown Belize City, and it shows.
On the Swing Bridge’s south end, Regent Street and Albert Street make a V-shaped split and are the core of the city’s banking and shopping activity. There are a few old government buildings here too, as well as the renovated Battlefield (Central) Park—where you’ll see a clean park and a couple of snack kiosks—and a handful of guesthouses. Southside has a seedier reputation than Northside (aside from downtown, don’t go south), which is monitored more closely by the police. For a walking map of the city, stop by the Belize Tourism Board office (tel. 501/227-2420, www.travelbelize.org) on Regent Street; the map includes a great walking tour of the city’s main sights.
An early morning stroll through the weathered buildings of Belize City, starting in the Fort George Lighthouse area and walking toward the Swing Bridge, gives you a feel for this seaside population center. This is when people are rushing off to work, kids are spiffed up on their way to school, and folks are out doing their daily shopping. The streets are crammed with small shops, a stream of pedestrians, and lots of traffic. One thing Belize City isn’t is boring.
S FORT GEORGE
The Fort George area, a peninsula ringed by Marine Parade Boulevard and Fort Street, is one of the most pleasant in Belize City. Meander in the neighborhood and you’ll pass some impressive homes and buildings, including a few charming old guesthouses. The Baron Bliss Memorial and Fort George Lighthouse stand guard over it all.
The sea breeze can be pleasant here, and you can glimpse cayes and ships offshore. Once you round the point, the road becomes Marine Parade and runs past the modern Radisson Fort George Hotel and Memorial Park, a grassy salute to the 40 Belizeans who lost their lives in World War I.
From the Radisson Fort George marina, you’ll get a good view of the harbor. Originally this was Fort George Island; the strait separating the island from the mainland (the site of today’s Memorial Park) was filled in during the early 1920s. The entire area is undergoing a road facelift but remains easy to navigate on foot.
Baron Bliss Memorial
Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss, also known as the “Fourth Baron Bliss of the Former Kingdom of Portugal,” was born in the county of Buckingham in England. He first sailed into the harbor of Belize in 1926, although he was too ill to go ashore because of food poisoning he had contracted while visiting Trinidad. Bliss spent several months aboard his yacht, the Sea King, in the harbor, fishing in Belizean waters. Although he never got well enough to go ashore, Bliss learned to love the country from the sea, and its habitués—people on fishing boats and officials in the harbor—all treated him with great respect and friendliness. On the days that he was only able to languish on deck, he made every effort to learn about the small country. He was apparently so impressed with what he learned and the people he met that before his death, he drew up a will that established a trust of nearly US$2 million for projects to benefit the people of Belize.
More than US$1 million in interest from the trust has been used for the erection of the Bliss Institute, the Bliss School of Nursing, and Bliss Promenade as well as contributions to the Belize City water supply, the Corozal Town Board and Health Clinic, and land purchase for the building of Belmopan.
An avid yachtsman, Bliss stipulated that money be set aside for a regatta to be held in Belizean waters, now a focal point of the National Heroes and Benefactors’ Day (formerly Baron Bliss Day) celebrations each March, an important holiday that is now called National Heroes and Benefactors Day. The baron’s white granite tomb is at the point of Fort George in Belize City, guarded by the Fort George Lighthouse and the occasional pair of late-night Belizean lovers.
Fort George Lighthouse
Towering over the coastline and facing the Belize Harbor, the Fort George Lighthouse was built as part of the memorial for Baron Bliss, Belize’s greatest benefactor. In fulfillment of his dying wish and financed with the generous proceeds he left the country, the tall structure was erected next to his tomb and memorial. While the public cannot enter the lighthouse, it remains an important historic landmark in Belize City and is easy to spot while touring the Fort George area. The views from here also make for a nice photo op.
S MUSEUM OF BELIZE
Housed in the old city jail (Her Majesty’s Prison was built in 1857 and served as the nation’s only prison until the 1990s), the small but worthwhile Museum of Belize (8 Gabourel Lane, tel. 501/223-4524, www.museumofbelize.org, 9am-4:30pm Tues.-Fri., 9am-4pm Sat., US$5) includes historical artifacts, indigenous relics, and rotating displays on topics such as Insects of Belize, Maya Jade, and Pirates of Belize. Philatelists and bottle collectors will love the 150 years of stamps and bottles on display.
A few doors up from the Swing Bridge, the Image Factory Art Foundation (91 N. Front St., tel. 501/223-4093, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.imagefactorybelize.com, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri., 9am-noon Sat.) is the official pulse of the Belizean art and literary scene. In addition to offering the best book selection in the country (both local authors and some foreign titles), there is gallery space for semi-regular art events, usually held on Friday evenings at happy hour. There’s also a separate arts and crafts shop at the back filled with gorgeous Belizean paintings, sculptures, and other unique creations.
The Best Day in Belize City
Even if you only stay one night, there’s plenty to see and do in downtown Belize City for the day—including an introduction to the country’s past colonial history, its Creole culture, and some of the tastiest Creole dishes in Belize. Just go with an open mind and take in this truly unique Central American city.
✵ Hop in a taxi and start your morning at the Belize Museum (9am-4:30pm Tues.-Fri., 9am-4pm Sat., US$5)—with fascinating collections of Mayan artifacts, in addition to rotating exhibits. Head to the Belize House of Culture (tel. 501/227-3050, www.nichbelize.org, 8:30am-5pm Mon.-Thurs., 8:30am-4:30pm Fri., US$5). This colonial building turned museum houses an interesting selection of period items, including silverware, glassware, and ancient utensils. Don’t miss taking a stroll on the sprawling sea-facing lawn at the back of the building, where functions are often held. Cross the street and marvel at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral, the oldest Anglican church in Central America.
✵ From there, walk back up Regent Street toward the city center, and head to Deep Sea Blue Marlin’s (by Swing Bridge, Regent St. W., tel. 501/227-6995, 7am-9pm Mon.-Sat.), for a Creole lunch of stew with rice and beans, river views, and local tunes.
✵ After your meal, walk toward the Swing Bridge, stop for coffee at Spoonaz Photo Cafe (89 N. Front St., tel. 501/223-1043, email@example.com, 6:30am-6:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 6:30am-8pm Fri.-Sat., 6:30am-3:30pm Sun., US$1-6) or a beer on their outdoor riverside deck, if you need it, then continue walking to the nearby historic Fort George area, where you can quickly view the Baron Bliss Lighthouse, facing the Caribbean Sea.
✵ Just outside Belize City you’ll find plenty of nature and wildlife to explore. Head to the Belize Zoo (Mile 29, George Price Hwy., tel. 501/822-8000, www.belizezoo.org, 8:30am-4:30pm daily, US$15 adults, US$5 children)—an educational treat for all ages, where Belize’s species are on display, including the tapir and all five wild cats. Continue on to the village of Burrell Boom for a hike at the Community Baboon Sanctuary (tel. 501/660-3345, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.howlermonkeys.org/lodging, 8am-5pm daily, US$7), where you’ll spend an hour hiking the rainforest and spotting birds and howler monkeys. Or arrange for a drive farther north to explore the picturesque and birding hotspot Crooked Tree Village, one of Belize’s authentic Creole villages.
✵ Back in the city, head for a seaside dinner at Bird’s Isle Restaurant (90 Albert St., past the House of Culture, tel. 501/207-2179), for more local fare, or end up at the Radisson Hotel’s Baymen’s Tavern bar for happy hour treats and live DJ on Fridays.
✵ Up for a late night? Shake your buns at the city’s only real nightclub, Club Elite (Ramada Belize City Princess Hotel, Newton Barracks, tel. 501/223-2670, 10pm-4am Thurs.-Sat.), where Belizean superstar DJ Linda Blease spins the latest international tunes.
EXTEND YOUR STAY
Got more time? Arrange for a stay at one of the surrounding riverside lodges, including Belize River Lodge (U.S. tel. 888/275-4843, tel. 501/225-2002, www.belizeriverlodge.com, 3-night package US$1,400) and Black Orchid Resort (U.S. tel. 866/437-1301, www.blackorchidresort.com, US$150-295). Get your host to arrange a boat ride down the Olde Belize River and its spectacular giant mangrove cathedrals, and spend the day wildlife spotting—from crocodiles to birds.
Crime and the City
Like many Central American countries, Belize has its share of problems with drugs, gangs, and violent street crime. However, due to its extremely small population—70,000 inhabitants, compared to millions in most Central American capitals—Belize City’s problems are nowhere near as severe as those of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala’s cities. Still, violent crime has increased in Belize City, mostly in the form of petty theft and shootings. Much of this violent gang culture is imported from the United States by deported Belizean youths.
Most—but not all—violent crime occurs in the Southside part of Belize City, many blocks away from the traditional walking paths of visitors, but occasional incidents have occurred throughout the city and in broad daylight. The government has taken steps to battle crime, including stiffer enforcement of the law and deployment of a force of tourist police, recognizable by their khaki shirts and green pants.
For the most part, you’ll be fine sticking to the sights and general city center, where there’s lots of pedestrian traffic and daytime activity. Most locals are friendly and helpful with directions or other questions. To be safe, use the same common sense you would in any city in the world:
✵ Before you venture out, have a clear idea of how to get where you’re going and ask a local Belizean, like your hotel desk clerk or a restaurant waiter, whether your plan is reasonable.
✵ Don’t walk around at night if you are at all unsure of where you’re going or if the neighborhood is safe.
✵ Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive—use them. Generally, only those with green license plates should be considered. But most Belizeans have a personal taxi driver whom they know and trust; ask if they would be willing to call one for you at the local price.
✵ Don’t flash money, jewelry, or other temptations; if threatened with robbery, hand them over. Report all crimes to the local police and to your country’s embassy.
ST. JOHN’S ANGLICAN CATHEDRAL
The lovely old St. John’s Anglican Cathedral (S. Albert St. at Regent St., 7am-6pm daily), across from the House of Culture, is one of the few typically British structures in the city. It is also the oldest Anglican church in Central America. In 1812, slaves helped erect this graceful piece of architecture, using bricks brought as ballast on sailing ships from Europe. Several Mosquito Coast kings from Nicaragua and Honduras were crowned in this cathedral with ultimate pomp and grandeur; the last was in 1815. The church is surrounded by well-kept green lawns and sits next to a lively schoolyard. It’s usually OK to walk right in and quietly admire the impressive interior with its stained-glass windows, mahogany pews, and the antique organ. You can leave a little something in the donation box on your way out.
One block from the cathedral is the Yarborough Cemetery, the city’s first burial ground, with the graves of Belizean citizens dating back to the 18th century, some of whom died during World War II.
GOVERNMENT HOUSE AND HOUSE OF CULTURE
Opposite St. John’s Cathedral, at the southern end of Regent Street and facing the Southern Foreshore, is the House of Culture museum in the old Government House (tel. 501/227-3050, www.nichbelize.org, 8:30am-5pm Mon.-Thurs., 8:30am-4:30pm Fri., US$5), which, before 1961’s Hurricane Hattie and the ensuing construction of Belmopan, was the home and office of the governor-general, the official representative of Queen Elizabeth. (Today’s governor-general can be found in Belmopan, at Belize House.) For a long time these grounds were used as a guesthouse for visiting VIPs and a venue for social functions. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip stayed here in 1994. The elegant wooden buildings (built 1812-1814) are said to be based on designs by acclaimed English architect Christopher Wren. Sprawling lawns and wind-brushed palms facing the sea surround Government House, making it ideal for the year-round outdoor functions, art events, and concerts that are still held here.
Wander through the wooden structure and enjoy the period furniture, silverware, and glassware collections—plus a selection of paintings and sculptures by modern Belizean artists. Stroll the grounds, on the water’s edge, and enjoy the solitude. Also on-site is the headquarters of the National Kriol Council, with some Kriol language phrasebooks for sale, although its doors have remained closed in the months before press time.
LUBA GARÍFUNA MUSEUM
Founded in 1999, even before the Museum of Belize, the Luba Garífuna Museum (4202 Fern Lane, tel. 501/202-4331, Luba_Garifuna@yahoo.com, 8am-5pm daily and by appointment, US$5) is the first Garífuna museum in the country. Tucked off the beaten path in a residential area, the museum showcases Garífuna culture and history. You’ll be surprised at the collection of arts and crafts, cooking utensils, photographs, and traditional clothing. Items have been gathered over a period of 30 years and are clearly displayed, showcasing key rituals and ceremonies. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet Sebastian Cayetano, founder of the museum and cofounder of the National Garífuna Council, a well-respected teacher and resource on the Garinagu people of Belize.
The museum is located off Jasmine Street, which is off Mahogany Street in the St. Martin’s area. A guided tour (US$10) is also available, and the museum offers a cultural package (on request, US$200 for 10 people) for large groups, which includes a tour of the museum, food sampling, and a dance and drumming show.
In addition to Cucumber Beach, a swimming lagoon, a zip line, a waterslide, and other water sports, Old Belize (Mile 5, George Price Hwy., tel. 501/222-4129, www.oldbelize.com, museum tour US$2.50, zip line US$20) also features the Cultural and Historical Center (10am-8:30pm daily), a 45-minute tour through 1,000 years of Belizean history—probably the only thing even slightly worth seeing if you venture here. It’s kind of like a walk-through museum, but with various relics and simulations. Some of the displays from the former Maritime Museum are now housed here and include models of boats used in Belize as well as photos and bios of local anglers and boat builders. On cruise-ship days (usually Tues. and Thurs.), a Belizean cabaret showcases the dances and songs of Belize’s cultural groups. There’s also a boat marina, a helipad, and an average restaurant (tel. 501/222-5588, 11am-10pm daily) that is mysteriously popular with well-off locals, perhaps due to the waterfront setting. It’s five miles out of the city and, to be honest, not worth the trip if you’re pressed for time.
Sports and Recreation
Belize City is the hub of the country. Thanks to its eastern coastal location coupled with more transportation options from here than most of the country, many sites and key activities are easily reached in a short time.
A simple, enjoyable way to spend an afternoon or watch the sun go down in Belize City is to hang out “seaside” (as the locals call it) in one of the city parks. BTL Park, within walking distance of the Ramada Princess Hotel, is a favorite and was renovated extensively in 2014; grab a drink and a bite from a delightful international variety of food booths. There’s Jamaican, Mexican, Honduran, vegan, and even Filipino, among others. Sit back on the benches while the breeze blows all along the seaside or take a stroll. There are also swings and a playground for kids. You’re likely to spot lovers as well as families, who come here in the early evenings to stroll, wind down, jog, or just chat. Going seaside is popular on Sunday, with lots of families taking a breather from their long week. Another popular seaside spot is across from Memorial Park and along the Marine Parade promenade.
Located on the south side and the city’s central Albert Street, the historic Battlefield Central Park—once a meeting place for labor activists in the 1600s—sits at the mouth of the city’s main shopping area and downtown businesses along Albert and Regent Streets. This tiny yet bustling square was cleaned up and received a facelift in 2014, with a central fountain and a bust of Antonio Soberanis Gomez, one of the country’s first labor activists. There are a couple of ice cream and snack kiosks. It still attracts card-playing locals and food vendors, though no one loiters around anymore. There are a few benches and it’s safe to enjoy during the day. Across from the park, on the Regent Street side, is the Supreme Court building, decorated with a long veranda overlooking the park and square. An antiquated town clock is perched atop the white clapboard building.
Battlefield Central Park
DIVING AND SNORKELING
The Belize Barrier Reef is less than 30 minutes away and offers excellent wall dives and idyllic snorkeling. Turneffe Islands Atoll and Lighthouse Atoll are one and two hours away, respectively, by boat. These sites are perfect for anyone in the city on business or for travelers staying in Belize City. There are also manatee-encounter trips available as well as outings to Swallow Caye Marine Reserve.
Belize City has two dive shops: Sea Sports Belize (83 N. Front St., tel. 501/223-5505, www.seasportsbelize.com, US$160 for a 2-tank dive, US$95 for a snorkel tour, lunch included) is across from the post office, two buildings east of the Swing Bridge. Sea Sports has been in business 15 years and is a PADI 5-Star Instructor Development Center, offering equipment sales, scuba instruction, daily dives and snorkeling at Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley, fishing, and manatee-encounter trips. They use small boats and take groups of no more than eight people per guide. They can also arrange overnight packages with lodging at St. George’s Caye, Belize’s first capital.
Exploring the Old Belize River via airboat is a great way to see the area’s rich flora and fauna.
Hugh Parkey’s Dive Connection (tel. 501/223-4526 or cell 501/670-6025, www.belizediving.com, www.belizeadventurelodge.com, barrier reef dive US$105 pp, minimum 4 people; US$150 pp 2-tank dive at Turneffe, minimum 4 people, lunch and equipment included) is based at the Radisson Fort George Marina and offers all manner of trips and certification courses. Hugh Parkey’s has the biggest day-trip boat fleet around and provides diving services for the cruise ships that call on Belize; they can arrange accommodations at nearby Spanish Lookout Caye.
BOATING AND SAILING
Explore the waterways, marshlands, and mangroves of the Almond Hill Lagoon and Indian Creek from a 450-hp airboat via Chukka Caribbean Adventures (Mile 9, George Price Hwy., tel. 501/635-1318, U.S. tel. 877/424-8552, www.chukka.com, US$55 pp). This is a great way to glimpse some of Belize’s birds and wildlife in just an hour; if you’re lucky, you’ll spot 15-foot crocs. Chukka’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides make it a fun experience with a few speedy twists and turns. Chukka also offers adventure tours out of Jaguar Paw that get rave reviews, with cave tubing, rappelling, and more.
Ask at any of the tour companies, marinas, or dive shops to see what’s available; there should be a decent range of charter opportunities, plus day trips and sunset cruises. Sailing and snorkeling trips to Caye Caulker (US$65) are offered, as well as sunset cruises to Ambergris Caye (US$35).
Fantastic river, reef, flats, and deep-sea fishing is available from Belize City. You can fish for tarpon in the morning and bonefish in the afternoon. Deep-sea opportunities include mackerel, wahoo, kingfish, and billfish. Most lodges in the area can set up fishing trips; contact the Belize River Lodge (U.S. tel. 888/275-4843, tel. 501/225-2002, www.belizeriverlodge.com, US$1,400 for a 3-night package) to start. You can also try Sea Sports Belize (83 N. Front St., tel. 501/223-5505, www.seasportsbelize.com, river fishing US$500 per stop, reef fishing US$600 per stop for up to 4 people), which runs professional custom sportfishing trips on rivers and to stunning sights offshore; prices include equipment, a guide, and lunch.
The basketball court on Bird Isle used to be packed to the gills during local championship games. Ask around to see if any games are coming up. Catch a soccer game (called “football” here) at the stadium at 3:30pm Sundays. There’s loud, booming pregame music and lots of security. The stadium is across the street from the Ramada Princess Hotel on Barrack Road.
MASSAGE AND BODYWORK
The Radisson Fort George Hotel offers spa services at the Nim Li Punit Spa (2 Marine Parade, tel. 501/223-3333, email@example.com). Or put yourself in the hands of Harold Zuniga (85 Amara Ave., tel. 501/604-5679, firstname.lastname@example.org), a U.S.-trained physical therapist, masseur, and acupuncturist. If you’re up for relaxation coupled with a day trip, tucked in the village of Maskall just 1.5 hours’ drive from the city is the unique Maruba Resort Jungle Spa (U.S. tel. 815/312-1237, tel. 501/225-5555, Mile 40½, Old Northern Hwy., www.maruba-spa.com, US$50-100). The offerings are numerous, but don’t miss getting the Mood Mud Massage; you’ll not only leave with baby-soft skin but also a memorable photo of your body covered in nothing but mud and … a hibiscus flower. You can also get manicures, pedicures, and facials.
Entertainment and Shopping
Belize City is even more alive during the September Celebrations, a month packed with events, music, dancing, and a full-blown carnival parade along Central American Boulevard. It’s quite possibly one of the most interesting towns in the Caribbean, one you must dig into to appreciate. Just don’t listen when they tell you to skip it.
Bliss Promenade skirts the waterfront and brings you to the towering Bliss Center for Performing Arts (Southern Foreshore, tel. 501/227-2110, www.nichbelize.org), which hosts social functions, seminars, arts festivals, and drama series throughout the year. It is also the location of a theater, a museum, and a library as well as the Institute of Creative Arts. Step in to grab a calendar of events.
Thursday is the biggest night for dancing in Belize City, followed by Friday, especially those that fall on a payday. Nightclubs come and go like hurricanes; keep your wits about you and ask where the latest safe place to party is. At the moment, the best and only decent nightspot for dancing is the swank Club Elite (Ramada Belize City Princess Hotel, Newton Barracks, tel. 501/223-2670, 10pm-4am Thurs.-Sat.), offering bottle service and international DJs. Serious dancing usually doesn’t get started until after 11pm, and the well-heeled crowd is of a wide age range.
Ask around to find out where the best happy hours are held—they often feature live music and free bocas (deep-fried something, probably). The bars at the Radisson Fort George Hotel (2 Marine Parade, tel. 501/223-3333), the Biltmore (Mile 3, Phillip Goldson Hwy., tel. 501/223-2302), and Ramada Princess Hotel (Barrack Rd., tel. 501/223-2670) are popular and provide safe, contained venues—and some of the highest drink prices in the city. Bird’s Isle (90 Albert St., past the House of Culture, tel. 501/207-2179), or “Island” as locals call it, is popular for karaoke on Thursday (5pm-1am). Riverside Tavern (2 Mapp St., tel. 501/223-5640), or just “Tavern,” has plenty of bar fare and cocktails on Friday as well as other weekday happy hours.
FESTIVALS AND EVENTS
September is Belize’s golden month. For three weeks—from September 1 all the way through September 21 (Independence Day)—the city hops on one long party train to celebrate the country’s freedom from Great Britain in 1981. Along the highways, you’ll spot massive billboards listing events in districts countrywide leading up to Independence Day. The streets, lights, and bridges in Belize City are decked in the national colors—red, blue, and white—and everyone is on a celebration high. It’s quite the time to visit Belize City, particularly if you’re a culture and history buff (not to mention the prices in low season are oh-so-right).
St. George’s Caye Day (Sept. 10) commemorates the 1798 Battle of St. George’s, when British forces repelled a Spanish invasion of Belize. The day begins around 10am with a ceremony full of pomp and circumstance at Memorial Park on Marine Parade Boulevard, just a few steps from the Radisson, where you’ll glimpse the prime minister along with other important figures. A colorful citizens’ parade follows around noon, with plenty of music and dancing, from the park all the way to Albert Street.
Sir Barry’s Belikin Bash (Sept.) is held at Memorial Park with live performances from the country’s top artists. Launched in 2011, this free two-day outdoor concert commemorates the life of Sir Barry Bowen, the popular Belizean business magnate who created Belize’s beer brewing empire and passed away tragically in 2010. There’s plenty of dancing, food tents, and beer keg contests from 9pm until the wee hours of the morning. This is where you’ll get acquainted with Belizean music and party spirit; watching the men and women competing in exaggerated “hip shaking” just to win free beer is highly entertaining.
Catch the Independence Day Parade (Sept. 21) celebrating Belize’s Independence from Great Britain. Similar to the St. George’s Caye Day, Belize City holds its own with uniform parades, marching bands, floats, and children and adults all wearing the blue-red-white national colors and waving flags. The celebrations usually begin at Memorial Park around late morning and continue on throughout the afternoon and evening. Check with your hotel or the local newspapers for accurate timing.
The Benefactors’ Day Parade and Annual Boat Regatta (Mar. 9) is a national holiday that both celebrates and commemorates the nation’s largest benefactor, Sir Baron Bliss. Festivities are centered around an annual boat regatta and are usually followed by parties. The events and times can vary; consult your host or local papers for details on location and times.
The National Arts Festival (usually in Feb.), organized by the National Institute of Culture and Heritage, was launched in 2012 to showcase local artistic talent in Belize—from painters to sculptors, tattoo artists, jewelers, and more. Booths and displays are located downtown along Albert Street, and there is a parade and live music stages at Central Park. It’s one big celebration of creativity. Contact the Institute of Creative Arts at the Bliss Center for Performing Arts (Southern Foreshore, tel. 501/227-2110, www.nichbelize.org) for a schedule of events.
Belize’s Caribbean spirit is on full display during a Caribbean-flavored Carnival (mid-Sept.). You’ll see colorful floats, men and women in sexy, extravagant costumes, trucks and massive speakers blasting either punta or soca music as the crowd and revelers hop and dance all along Central American Boulevard. The parade often starts on the south side of town around 2pm; be sure to arrange a taxi ride to and from the event and arrive about an hour early if you want to save a spot. After Carnival, the celebrations continue at the BTL Park with an all-night outdoor concert, food and drink vendors, and plenty of seaside dancing.
Gift shops, craft stalls, and street vendors line Front Street near Tourism Village as well as just south of the Swing Bridge. In the Fort George area, check out the Belize Handicraft Market Place (Memorial Park, 8am-5pm Mon.-Fri., 8am-4pm Sat.), near the Radisson.
Wine is increasingly in vogue in Belize. Once difficult to find, it’s now fairly well stocked at the super-size Brodie’s (Mile 2½, Phillip Goldson Hwy., email@example.com, tel. 501/223-5587, 8am-9pm Mon.-Sat., 8am-2pm Sun.) and at the Belize City retail location of Wine de Vine (Phillip Goldson Hwy., tel. 501/223-2444, www.winedevine.com), where you can even find Dom Pérignon.
At the Traveller’s Liquors Heritage Center (Mile 2½, Phillip Goldson Hwy., tel. 501/223-2855, www.onebarrelrum.com, 10am-6pm Mon.-Fri., bar until midnight Fri.-Sat.), Belize’s premier rum producer offers a fun stop on your way in or out of town. The Heritage Center consists of a historical display, a selection of their many products at bargain prices, an open-air bar and restaurant, and most importantly, a tasting bar where you can sample all 27 varieties of Traveller’s Liquors rum. Ask about the “vintage edition rum” to bring home some premium spirits.
A few stores have small but pertinent book selections featuring several shelves of Belizean and about-Belize books. The Image Factory (91 N. Front St., tel. 501/223-4093, www.imagefactorybelize.com, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri., 9am-noon Sat.) has the best collection. Angelus Press (10 Queen St., tel. 501/223-5777, 7:30am-5:30pm Mon.-Fri., reduced hours Sat.-Sun.), right around the corner from the Image Factory on Queen Street, has a complete corner of books and maps behind all the office supplies and services.
All room rates are for double occupancy in the high season and may or may not include the 9 percent hotel tax. If you’re traveling alone or from May to November, expect discounts at some, but not all, of the following hotels.
The Seaside Guest House (3 Prince St., tel. 501/227-8339, www.seasideguesthouse.org, US$20-55) is popular among backpackers. The guesthouse is down a narrow, quiet alley off Regent Street, near the Belize Tourism Board. The couple of guest rooms are tiny, barely bigger than the beds, but the common spaces both upstairs and downstairs are good for meeting travelers from all over the world. Choose from shared bunk space or private guest rooms. There is hot water in the community bathroom, a breeze on the ocean-facing porch, and a friendly family-run atmosphere in this former Quaker house. Three cheap meals a day (US$3-5 each) are available, though there are plenty of outside eateries in this central area. If you know you’re coming to town, make a reservation—the Seaside can sometimes fill up fast.
On North Front Street, a short walk from the Swing Bridge, is the quiet family-run S Smokin’ Balam Guest House (59 N. Front St., tel. 501/628-2003, firstname.lastname@example.org, US$15 s, US$30 d) with four cozy and clean rooms, all airy with fans, two with private baths; all have access to a caged balcony over Haulover Creek at the back (with a small dock for sunning, if you choose) and a nice upper-floor balcony with street views as well as a nice downstairs café (meals from US$2). There’s a gift shop, a pay phone, and Internet access on the ground floor. The guesthouse also offers weekly and monthly rates, bag storage (US$2 per bag per day), and a friendly atmosphere.
Smokin’ Balam Guest House
The S Belcove Hotel (9 Regent St. W., tel. 501/227-3054, www.belcove.com, US$33-52), centrally located on the south bank of Haulover Creek, just west of the Swing Bridge, is well taken care of, clean and bright, and easy to recommend. There are 13 guest rooms on three floors; options include shared or private baths with fan or the works (a/c and TV). The porch over the creek is fun to watch boats from, and cheap lively eats are right next door at Deep Sea Marlin’s Restaurant & Bar. It’s a great base for a walking tour of the city, and tour packages can keep you busy on the reef or at inland sights. The only downside is the slightly seedy two blocks on Regent Street between the hotel and the Swing Bridge; take a cab to and from the hotel door at night.
Three Sisters Guest House (36 Queen St., tel. 501/203-5729, US$32) has three big, clean guest rooms with private baths and fans plus a massive cavernous common space, all on the second floor of an old building on Queen Street. There’s even one guest room with three or four beds. It’s good for groups looking simply for a place to rest, and it’s friendly, clean, and has a small secure front gate. Ask about the additional guest rooms for rent at the Isabel Guest House on Albert Street, by the Swing Bridge.
On the Northside, a short walk away from the Belize Museum, Sea Breeze Guest House (18 Gabourel Lane, tel. 501/636-5276, http://seabreeze-belize.com, US$30-40) has nine small guest rooms with stained sheets, fans, and TV; some have shared baths, others have private baths and air-conditioning, and all are in a rickety building with a common space and wireless Internet access.
On the same street as the Belize Tourism Board, Coningsby Inn (76 Regent St., tel. 501/227-1566, www.coningsbyinn.com, US$50-60) has 10 rooms with TV, private baths, air-conditioning, wireless Internet, and minibars. There’s a second-story bar and restaurant with a front balcony; breakfast is US$6. Common-area carpets are run down, but guest rooms are clean and the staff is friendly. Both Hotel Mopan and Coningsby Inn are in Southside, steps from the House of Culture and the Tourism Board.
Next to the Fort George Radisson, the Chateau Caribbean (6 Marine Parade, tel. 501/223-0800, www.chateaucaribbean.com, US$99) resides in an 84-year-old wooden building with wide porches, ocean breezes, and plenty of character, although overall it is in need of some serious TLC. The 19 guest rooms are a bit worn but have clean beds and private baths, cable TV, fridges, wireless Internet, and air-conditioning. The lounge areas, restaurant, and bar have big east-facing bay windows; definitely ask for an upstairs room or one with wood floors. The restaurant, serving a range that includes Chinese, international, and Belizean dishes, is popular with locals, and the food is actually quite good.
On the Northside, toward “the Flags” traffic circle, the Bakadeer Inn (74 Cleghorn St., tel. 501/223-0659, www.bakadeerinn.com, US$55, includes breakfast) has 12 clean, well-kept guest rooms with comfy beds, private baths, ceiling fans, TVs, and optional air-conditioning in any of the rooms (singles, doubles, triples, and quads available), as well as laundry service, a dining area, high-speed Internet access, and a cozy common space.
Just a few minutes farther north, located in Buttonwood Bay, an upscale residential area just three miles north of downtown and seven miles south of the international airport, S Villa Boscardi Bed & Breakfast (6043 Manatee Dr., tel. 501/223-1691, www.villaboscardi.com, US$75 plus tax, includes breakfast) is an excellent value and wonderful retreat from city noise. It’s just a block away from the sea and from the prime minister’s home, and a 10-minute drive into the city. Owner Françoise, an interior decorator by training, takes pride in her villa, ensuring the spotless guest rooms convey the cozy at-home atmosphere of a bed-and-breakfast but with a notch up. Guest rooms and suites are located inside the house or at the back of the property with garden views. A honeymoon suite is also available. Hot breakfast is included and served fresh daily, courtesy of the friendly housekeeper, Anna. There’s free Internet access and a common desktop and kitchen, and taxis are easy to come by as the guesthouse keeps a list of drivers handy. It’s an ideal place to return to after a long day of activities. Shopping and several restaurants are within walking distance, including the delicious Saffron Bay Restaurant just a street behind on Seashore Drive.
In the same area as Villa Boscardi, but a few blocks on the other side of the highway in the Belama neighborhood, D’Nest Inn (475 Cedar St., tel. 501/223-5416, www.dnestinn.com, US$82-92) is a two-story Caribbean-style bed-and-breakfast surrounded by an English garden. Gaby and Oty offer five comfortable guest rooms decorated with Belizean antiques, all equipped with private baths, air-conditioning, TV, and wireless Internet. Multicourse breakfasts feature lots of fresh fruit and conversation with your hosts.
The six-floor Ramada Belize City Princess Hotel and Casino (Barrack Rd., tel. 501/223-2670, U.S. tel. 888/790-5264, www.princessbelize.com, US$120) has 170 concrete guest rooms, with slightly worn baths, and all with the same air-conditioning, cable TV, and breakfast. Overall, you’ll find much better value elsewhere, particularly at the B&Bs mentioned above. But if you’re looking for lots of on-site entertainment, the Princess houses Belize City’s only cinema and bowling alley; there’s also a pretty but shallow pool, a gift shop, a beauty salon, a conference room, bars, restaurants (the one over the dock has lovely views), and a tour desk. The on-site marina has docking facilities and water sports, and the popular casinos (one across the street) and Club Next disco are open midnight-4am daily.
After World War II, visiting dignitaries from England came to Belize with plans for various agricultural projects, but they couldn’t find a place to stay. As a result, the Radisson Fort George Hotel (2 Marine Parade Blvd., tel. 501/223-3333, U.S. tel. 800/333-3333, www.radisson.com/belizecitybz, US$139-174 plus tax) was built, and it remains the premier lodging in town. The Radisson’s 102 nicely appointed full-service guest rooms sport all the amenities you’d expect, including outrageously priced minibars. This resort-style hotel has two swimming pools (for guests only), a poolside bar, the Stone Grill (with delicious burgers), the lively indoor bar and deck at the Baymen’s Tavern, and fine dining and a massive breakfast buffet in St. George’s Dining Room. All the restaurants host special events and happy hours. Full catering facilities and banquet rooms are available. All kinds of tours, such as diving, caving, and golfing, are organized right out of the hotel. The Villa Wing across the street includes restrooms, a new business center, a gym, and an expansion of Le Petit Café, connecting it to the Villa Lobby with expanded seating and wireless Internet (for guests only).
The Belize Biltmore Plaza (Mile 3, Phillip Goldson Hwy., tel. 501/223-2302, U.S. tel. 800/528-1234, www.belizebiltmore.com, US$140) is the local Best Western branch, three miles north of the city center (seven miles south of the international airport) on the Phillip Goldson Highway. The Biltmore is popular with business travelers; its 75 midsize guest rooms surround a garden, a pool, and a bar and have cable TV, phones, and modern baths. There’s also Internet service, an excellent gift shop, an overpriced dining room (US$12-20) with mediocre international food, and a lounge. The hotel may be convenient for flights, but the Biltmore is walking distance to nothing, so you may feel a bit trapped.
S The Great House (13 Cork St., tel. 501/223-3400, www.greathousebelize.com, US$183) is a charming colonial-style boutique hotel, built in 1927 and recently renovated to show off its 16 unique, spacious, and colorful guest rooms (there are no elevators, just stairs). Both tiled and hardwood floors offset the pastel walls and modern furniture; the guest rooms in back have more charm than the rest. Internet access is included in the room rates, as is a light continental breakfast at the best café in town, Le Petit, next door. Downstairs, you’ll find a high-end real estate company, a business service center, a delightful wine bar, and the Smoky Mermaid restaurant, with a sushi bar extension.
Belize City’s upscale restaurant scene has yet to explode, but in its place you’ll find a host of tasty, reasonably priced, and authentic Belizean food. Residents often grab a boxed meal on the way to work, home, or the next errand. Lunch is big, often consisting of stewed meat and rice and beans, seafood, soup, and other Creole and Latin specialties. Pastries and desserts are popular as well, and you’ll find plenty of street vendors selling fast foods, snacks, fresh fruit juices, and more.
European in flavor is Le Petit Café (2 Marine Parade, tel. 501/223-3333, ext. 750, 6am-8pm daily), attached to the Radisson Hotel in the Fort George area. It offers delicious baked-twice-daily Belizean and European pastries and cakes, ham-and-cheese croissants, and possibly the best cup of freshly brewed coffee in town. They also make excellent johnnycakes, plain or stuffed. The café now has Wi-Fi.
Spoonaz Photo Cafe (89 N. Front St., tel. 501/223-1043, email@example.com, 6:30am-6:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 6:30am-8pm Fri.-Sat., 6:30am-3:30pm Sun., US$1-6) is conveniently located a stone’s throw from the swing bridge, the water taxi terminals, and the city center. It’s a tad pricey compared to local bakeries, but a much needed trendy hangout spot downtown to cool off from a hot afternoon in the city, with Belizean coffee, pastries, johnnycakes, lunch specials—including local dishes or quiche. There’s also an outdoor patio, away from street noise, and a waterfront bar with views of the swing bridge.
The Smokin’ Balam (59 N. Front St., tel. 501/601-4510, 7am-5pm daily) is a casual local café, gift shop, guesthouse, and Internet hub. They have a comfortable little space with a back porch and dock over Haulover Creek, ideal for sunning or people-watching. There are also local dishes available for lunch. There’s an espresso bar in the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Terminal while you wait for your boat, and at San Pedro Belize Express, you don’t want to miss Anna’s Lunch Box (tel. 501/203-7444), with regular coffee and delicious johnnycakes and other local and sandwich menu items.
The Taiwanese-owned Milky Way Café (29 Baymen Ave., tel. 501/223-5185, 10:30am-9pm daily) is a favorite with locals, from adults to schoolchildren. They offer frozen cappuccinos, mochas, bubble milk tea (originally a Taiwanese specialty), and other coffee concoctions as well as delicious smoothies and Chinese food.
Dessert and ice cream junkies can find their joy at Zero Degrees (18 St. Thomas Place, tel. 501/223-5132, firstname.lastname@example.org, 9am-8pm Mon.-Thurs., 10am-9pm Fri.-Sat., 2pm-9pm Sun.), also serving ice cream cakes. Another option is The Ice Cream Shoppe (17 Eve St., next to Mama Chen’s, tel. 501/223-1965, email@example.com, 11am-7pm daily, closes later on weekends, US$5), an ice cream parlor with diner-type booths just a few steps away from the Belize Museum. Try their Craboo flavor, made from the eponymous Belizean fruit. A bit off the beaten path, Sugar Fix Bakery (8 Heusner Cres., tel. 501/223-7640, firstname.lastname@example.org, 6:45am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 6:45am-3pm Sat., from US$2.50), a small and colorful shop tucked behind the Puma gas station, serves up fresh-baked croissants and johnnycakes to go along with your coffee in the morning and Creole bun in the afternoons, along with delicious cheesecake—the best in the city—and other sweet treats. Their calzones are also excellent. There are three tables for those who aren’t in a rush.
The city is packed with traditional Creole eateries. An excellent long-standing local option is Dit’s (50 King St., tel. 501/227-3330, 8am-6pm Mon.-Sat., 8am-3pm Sun., US$4-6), a fifth-generation family-run Creole institution, serving amazing freshly baked pastries—you must try the jam rolls—as well as pies and other traditional Creole desserts along with the wide menu of local specialties. It’s always packed with Belizeans—a good sign. Nerie’s (Queen St. and Daly St., tel. 501/223-4028, www.neries.bz, 7:30am-10pm daily, US$5-9) was featured on the Travel Channel in a program about traditional Belizean fare; order stew chicken, fish fillets, soups, and daily specials, including oxtail, jerk, and Garífuna serre.
Wah Belly Full: Kriol Eats
The most authentic Belizean Kriol food you’ll find is right here in Belize City and area, the heart of the Kriol or Caribbean culture. There’s no way you could starve here, between the coconut-based dishes, the meats, the multitude of baked treats, and the very affordable meals. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss.
✵ Boil-up: This isn’t served as frequently, but when available, you should jump at the chance to taste this uniquely Caribbean stew mix of pig tail, fish, hard-boiled eggs, yams, plantains, sweet potato, cassava and yam—all biled up in a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and peppers.
✵ Meat pies are serious business—so much so that there’s a constant debate on who makes the best: Dario’s (33 Hyde’s Lane) or Pou’s Meat Pies (New Rd.)? Join the club and be the judge.
✵ Pastries and sweets are a part of Kriol life. You’ll find children selling their mothers’ Creole bread, buns, and johnnycakes, often baked with coconut oil. Stop by Dit’s (50 King St., tel. 501/227-3330, 8am-6pm Mon.-Sat., closes earlier Sun.) to sample traditional jam rolls, hot off the oven by noon, bread pudding, coconut pie, or some “plastic” pudding, made with cassava. Another option is SugarFix Bakery (8 Heusner Cres., tel. 501/223-7640, 6:45am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 6:45am-3pm Sat.).
✵ Soup: Of the more than a dozen Kriol soups you could sample, the best-known is beef soup (head to Bird’s Isle on Tuesday for the best) and cow-foot soup.
✵ Stew chicken is the unofficial national dish of Belize. Often served family-style on Sunday, it’s also sold throughout the week at various eateries. Along those same lines, you’ll find stew beef on the menu and some sort of fry fish or fry chicken. These dishes are almost always served with a heap of coconut rice and beans (not to be confused with beans and rice, which is white rice and stewed beans served separately) or plantains and coleslaw. For some of the best, head to Deep Sea Marlin’s (Regent St. W., tel. 501/227-6995, 7am-9pm Mon.-Sat.), by the Swing Bridge, or Nerie’s (Queen St. and Daly St., tel. 501/223-4028, 7:30am-10pm daily).
Stew beef or stew chicken served with coconut rice and beans are typical Kriol dishes.
✵ Wine: Fermenting fruits, plants, and herbs is a tradition in the Belize River Valley. Locally made and potent (6-12 percent alcohol) but delicious wines are worth sampling, particularly the blackberry, cashew, or rice wines. These can be found in villages across the district, including Burrell Boom, on the roads to Altun Ha and Maskall Village, and in Crooked Tree.
A couple of streets from the swing bridge are the infamous meat pies at Dario’s (33 Hyde’s Lane, US$0.75), delicious hot, flaky pastries filled with meat or chicken. Go early if you want them fresh. Pou’s Meat Pies (New Rd.) is also nearby; try both and decide who rules the city’s meat pie district.
Over on Regent Street, close to the Belize Tourism Board, is the tiny shack and window service of Caribbean Palm Fast Food (11:30am-2pm Mon.-Fri., US$3-5), where Shawna and her mother dish out savory, super cheap Creole lunches every day. Get here early—it’s popular.
S Deep Sea Marlin’s Restaurant & Bar (Regent St. W., tel. 501/227-6995, 7am-9pm Mon.-Sat., US$4) is on Haulover Creek, next to the Belcove Hotel. It’s a cheap and sometimes raucous fishing joint, with tasty Belizean and American staples and simple seating with breezy waterside views. The breakfast fry jacks are said to be out of this world. Tropicolada Cocktail Hut (7 Fort St., tel. 501/223-1066, 11am-10pm Tues.-Sat., US$6-10), near Tourism Village, serves some of the best ceviche in Belize City as well as a wide range of Belizean and Central American dishes and pretty cocktails. Tropicolada closes earlier on Tuesday and later on karaoke Friday.
S Bird’s Isle Restaurant (tel. 501/207-2179, 10am-midnight Mon.-Sat., US$5-13), or Island as the locals call it, has a long-standing reputation and an excellent waterfront location on a small islet to the south of downtown Belize City. Any taxi driver will know it, or just walk south past the Anglican Church on Albert Street until you can’t walk any more. This is a casual affair in a gorgeous outdoor setting, with a spacious yard as well as indoor seating and a waterfront deck where you can watch the fish and birds glide by. Expect large portions of local comfort dishes, including stew beans, hamburgers, and sandwiches.
Bird’s Isle Restaurant’s setting and food make it a popular stop for lunch or dinner.
A nice neighborhood experience is a trip to the D’Ceviche Hut (5672 Vasquez Ave., tel. 501/223-6426, 11:30am-10pm Thurs.-Sat., US$11). The proprietor, Don Enrique, works for the fishing cooperative, and he doesn’t mess around about freshness. There’s no menu, just ceviche. As you take your seat, shout out “shrimp,” “conch,” or “mixed” (also lobster in season) and you’ll get a large plate that feeds 3-4 people. It’s fun, friendly, and very popular with locals. Arrange a taxi there and back so you don’t have to negotiate the confusing streets in this neighborhood.
A couple of blocks past the Princess Hotel, Thirsty Thursdays (164 New Town Barracks, tel. 501/223-1677, email@example.com, 3pm-10pm Tues., closes later Wed.-Sun., US$8-15) is a popular pre-party joint with a savory menu and breezy patio overlooking the ocean.
There are more authentic Chinese restaurants in Belize City than you can imagine. They all make decent greasy dishes, but a few stand out, such as Chon Saan Palace (1 Kelly St., tel. 501/223-3008, 11am-11:30pm Mon.-Sat., 11am-2:30pm and 5pm-11:30pm Sun., US$4-7). In addition to Chinese standards, there are many seafood and steak options.
Mama Chen’s (7 Eve St., tel. 501/223-4568 or 501/620-4257, 10am-6pm Mon.-Sat., US$4-6), on the corner of Eve and Queen Streets and close to the Belize Museum, is a good choice for vegetarians. Choose from veggie chow mein, spicy beef dumplings, crispy spring rolls, sushi, and bubble tea (the “bubbles” are sweet seaweed balls that are slurped up through a thick straw).
Pepper’s Pizza (4 St. Thomas St., tel. 501/223-5000, 10am-10pm daily, US$17) offers free delivery within city limits.
Across from the BTL Park, S Chap’s Bar and Grill (160 Newtown Barracks Rd., tel. 501/223-1299, 11am-3pm Mon., 11am-10pm Tues.-Sat., US$7-11) is a welcome addition. This Mexican restaurant specializes in savory arrachera as well as many other Central American dishes, sandwiches, and bar eats. There’s a nice outdoor poolside terrace with partial views of the seaside park. The pool is run by a membership club along with the tennis courts next door, but you’re welcome to bring your bathing suit and cool off for US$7.50 pp.
MIDDLE EASTERN AND INDIAN
Belize City’s small Lebanese community ensures that there are a few authentic Lebanese restaurants in town. You can’t go wrong with Sahara Grill (Mile 3½, Phillip Goldson Hwy., Vista Plaza, tel. 501/203-3031 or 501/605-3785, 10am-3pm Mon.-Sun., US$4-15), right across from the Best Western Biltmore Hotel. They have a long menu of kebabs, hummus, and falafel, plus addictive shawarma wraps and gyros as well as sheesha water pipes. There’s also Manatee Landing (tel. 501/225-3461 or 501/205-2391, noon-midnight Tues.-Sat., closes earlier Sun.-Mon., US$6), near the entrance to the international airport and about 15 minutes north of the city. Watch dolphins swim by in the Belize River while you enjoy your hummus, kebabs, burgers, or wings.
For East Indian curries and dal, S Sumathi (19 Baymen Ave., tel. 501/223-1172, 11am-11pm daily) is a solid choice, with both outdoor and indoor seating. They’ve got a great weekly lunch buffet (US$5), plus air-conditioning and a large Indian menu with plenty of vegetarian options. They also offer takeout and delivery anywhere in the city. The food is so good that expats from as far away as San Pedro or Punta Gorda order takeout via plane.
Belize’s Belikin brewing family runs the S Riverside Tavern (2 Mapp St., tel. 501/223-5640, 11am-10pm Mon.-Thurs., closes later Fri.-Sat., US$15-35), an upscale sports bar whose massive “gourmet burger” (10-ounce patty US$9, super-size 16-ounce patty US$12.50), made of Belizean beef from the Bowens’ Gallon Jug Estate, is one of the best in the country. The Cuban burger is also delicious, but the King Kong just sounds scary. Or try the coconut-crusted shrimp, other rich bar foods, pastas, and seafood options. There’s beer on tap, and the very convivial atmosphere is popular at happy hour or for Thursday karaoke; it’s a meeting place for Belize’s who’s who crowd. There’s just one downside to this place: Table service can be very slow.
Celebrity Restaurant and Bar (Volta Bldg., Marine Parade Blvd., tel. 501/223-2826 or 501/223-7272, www.celebritybelize.com, 11am-10pm daily, US$9-20) is near the water, next to the national bank and museum. You enter through a dark, swanky lounge emerging into a bright restaurant with a huge variety of seafood, pasta, steaks, and salads. The best deal is Celebrity’s takeout menu (US$5) and the giant plate of fish and chips. They’re also open for hearty breakfasts 8am-3pm Saturday and Sunday. Folks rightfully rave about their quesadillas and Budapest Chicken.
The Smoky Mermaid (13 Cork St., opposite the Radisson, tel. 501/672-4759, www.smokymermaid.com, 8am-10pm Mon.-Sat., 4pm-10pm Sun., US$12-20) specializes in smoked fish, meats, and assorted fresh breads. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner feature Belizean cuisine and freshly baked Creole bread served on a lovely dining patio under thatched roofs surrounding a porcelain mermaid. Inside the Smoky Mermaid, but also with a separate street-side entrance, is a delightful sushi bar. The Nautical Fusion (tel. 501/672-4759, 11am-2pm and 5pm-10pm daily, US$7-10) serves classic and tasty sushi offerings as well as noodle bowls, teriyaki dishes, a dessert or two, and wines (even local cashew wine) by the glass or bottle. It’s a great date night choice, with soothing music and colorful seating.
The St. George’s Restaurant (Radisson Fort George Hotel, 2 Marine Parade, tel. 501/223-3333, 6:30am-10am, 11:30am-2pm, and 6:30pm-10pm daily, US$20) serves a grand buffet and has a standard menu of international fare and seafood. Outside around the bar, the Stonegrill Restaurant (10am-10pm daily, US$ 15-20) offers a fun, meat-sizzlin’ meal inside or on the heavily vegetated outdoor patio. The burgers are surprisingly good.
Brodie’s (Albert St. and Regent St., tel. 501/227-7070, 8am-6pm Mon.-Fri., closes earlier Sat.-Sun.) is a department store, supermarket, deli, drugstore, and more—a Belizean institution. You can also stock up on your way into or out of the north edge of town at Save-U Supermarket (San Cas Plaza, tel. 501/223-1291, 8am-9pm Mon.-Sat., 8am-2pm Sun.). This modern air-conditioned market sells everything any supermarket in the United States would carry, and it’s reasonably priced, though not necessarily less than Brodie’s. There’s also a gorgeous massive Brodie’s on the Phillip Goldson Highway, just before you reach the Biltmore Hotel and next to a Scotiabank branch.
Information and Services
The central office of the Belize Tourism Board (BTB, 64 Regent St., tel. 501/227-2420, U.S. tel. 800/624-0686, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.travelbelize.org) is in the Southside, near the House of Culture. They have an excellent free first-timer’s map with a suggested walking tour of the city. The Belize Tourism Industry Association (10 N. Park St., tel. 501/227-1144, 8am-5pm Mon.-Thurs., shorter hours Fri., www.btia.org) can also answer many of your questions and provide lodging suggestions. The Belize Hotel Association (BHA, 13 Cork St., tel. 501/223-0669, www.belizehotels.org) is a nonprofit industry group representing some of the country’s most respected resorts and lodges; they can help you decide where to stay.
Most of the city’s banking is clustered in one strip along Albert Street, just south of the Swing Bridge. This includes Atlantic Bank (tel. 501/227-1225), Scotiabank (tel. 501/227-7027), First Caribbean International Bank (tel. 501/227-7211), and Belize Bank (tel. 501/227-7132). Most banks have ATMs and keep the same hours (8am-1pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-1pm and 3pm-6pm Fri.).
HEALTH AND EMERGENCIES
For police, fire, or ambulance, dial 90 or 911. Another ambulance service is B.E.R.T. (tel. 501/223-3292). Belize Medical Associates (5791 St. Thomas St., tel. 501/223-0302, email@example.com, www.belizemedical.com) is the main private hospital in Belize City. The fairly modern 25-bed facility provides 24-hour assistance and a wide range of specialties. Or try Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (Princess Margaret Dr., tel. 501/223-1548, www.khmh.bz).
MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS
The main post office (150 N. Front St., tel. 501/227-2201, www.belizepostalservice.gov.bz, 8am-noon and 1pm-5pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-4:30pm Fri.) is across from the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Terminal. A second post office (corner of Dolphin St. and Raccoon St., tel. 501/227-1155, 8am-5pm Mon.-Fri.) is at Queens Square on the Southside.
As elsewhere in the country, an increasing number of hotels and guesthouses offer at least a single computer for guests or even wireless Internet access for your laptop. There are a few broadband Internet cafés in Belize City, though not as many as in San Ignacio or San Pedro.
The Turton Library’s Computer Center (N. Front St., tel. 501/227-3401, www.kgsbelize.com, 9am-7pm Mon.-Fri., 9am-1pm Sat.), tucked away in a narrow air-conditioned room above the library, has five speedy computers; they are the cheapest in town at US$1.25 per hour. On the Southside, try KGS Internet (29 King St., tel. 501/207-7130, 8am-7pm Mon.-Fri., shorter hours Sat., US$1.50 per hour), a few steps from Dit’s Restaurant. It’s a clean, organized space with quite a few desktops and fast cable connections. Angelus Press (10 Queen St., tel. 501/223-5777, 7:30am-5:30pm Mon.-Fri., shorter hours Sat.-Sun.) has a few machines available for US$1.75 per hour. More expensive options are available in Tourism Village and in the business centers of fancier hotels.
Most sights are relatively close together in Belize City, and you can walk from the Southside’s House of Culture to the National Museum in about 30 leisurely minutes. This route is generally safe during the day, even more so if you are traveling in a group; I have walked it solo several times.
Check with the travel agencies in the main Caye Caulker Water Taxi Terminal; they may be able to hold your backpacks for the day or arrange for longer storage (US$1 per hour, US$5 per day). The nearby Smokin’ Balam Guest House (N. Front St., US$2 per bag) offers storage for the day if you’re passing through. Ask your guesthouse if you can leave a bag there as well.
The Municipal Airport (TZA), called “Muni,” is on the waterfront behind the Marion Jones Sports Complex, one mile from the city center. Belizean commuter planes provide steady service in and out of Belize City to outlying airports all over the country. It’s cheaper to fly to local destinations from here.
From Phillip Goldson International Airport (BZE, 10 miles west of town, tel. 501/225-2045, www.pgiabelize.com), it’s a 20-minute taxi ride to downtown Belize City (US$25), less in the opposite direction. There are no other transportation alternatives unless a friend is picking you up.
Domestic bus service is handled almost entirely out of Novelo’s Terminal, on West Canal Street at the western terminus of King Street. If you arrive by bus, it’s about 10 blocks to walk downtown to the Swing Bridge. From Novelo’s, cross the canal and stay on King Street until you reach Albert Street, then make a left. Continue three blocks to the Swing Bridge and Water Taxi Terminal. You can also cross the street and take a right on Orange Street just one block up, then stay on Orange Street all the way to town; it’s always busy with foot traffic. This walk is usually safe during the day, but should not be attempted at night. When in doubt, take a taxi, and have one referred if possible; a good rule of thumb is not to walk any streets that appear deserted. International bus service to Guatemala and Mexico and ferry service to Honduras are offered by a handful of companies with offices in the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Terminal (north end of the Swing Bridge).
It’s a crime to stay in Belize City and not hop over to one of Belize’s beautiful Northern Cayes for the day, even for lunch. The country’s two water taxi companies have their terminals here, with an all-day schedule of departures and returns. The islands are very close; Caye Caulker is a mere 45-minute ride, and St. George’s Caye is about 25 minutes away. Travelers passing through will find it well worth the time.
Two water taxi companies offer regular service to San Pedro and Caye Caulker. San Pedro Belize Express (tel. 501/223-2225, www.belizewatertaxi.com) is the more regular and reliable pick, at the north end of the Swing Bridge, with boats leaving between 8am and 5pm. Some boats are now equipped with free Wi-Fi.
The Caye Caulker Water Taxi Terminal (San Pedro tel. 501/226-4646, Caye Caulker tel. 501/226-0992, Belize City tel. 501/223-5752, www.cayecaulkerwatertaxi.com) is another, located right by the swing bridge. Verify first and last departures, as those tend to change seasonally. Boat transit to Caye Caulker takes about 45 minutes, or 1.5 hours to Ambergris Caye.
The trip to Caulker costs about US$15 one-way; to San Pedro costs US$20 one-way. The trip is pleasant on calm sunny days when the boat isn’t full, but otherwise be prepared to squeeze on, and it can be a cold and wet ride if the sky to the east is dark. A few of the boats are covered; others will pass out plastic tarps if it’s really raining hard.
To hail a taxi, look for the green license plates, but better yet, ask your hotel or guesthouse to call you one, and keep the numbers or make arrangements with the driver for the duration of your stay. From the international airport to Belize City, the flat fare is US$25; from the municipal airstrip, expect to pay US$5 or less. The fare for one passenger carried between any two points within Belize City or any other district town is US$3-5. If you plan to make several stops, tell the cabbie in advance and ask what the total will be; this eliminates lots of misunderstandings, as taxis often charge by the stop. They can also be hired by the hour (about US$16-25). For long trips out of town, try Kenneth Bennett of KB Taxi Service (tel. 501/634-2865).
If you prefer to delegate the logistics of your trip, local travel agencies can book local and international transportation, tours, and accommodations across the country. S & L Travel and Tours (91 N. Front St., tel. 501/227-7593 or 501/227-5145, 8am-5pm Mon.-Fri., www.sltravelbelize.com) is easy to find, next door to the Image Factory. Belizean owners Sarita and Lascelle Tillet run a first-class and very personable operation; they’ve been in business for more than 30 years. They can get as creative as you like, whether you want a custom vacation, a photo safari, a bird-watching adventure, or anything else you can imagine.
Got extra cash? Splurge on a helicopter tour over the Belize Barrier Reef and the magnificent Blue Hole with Astrum Helicopters (Mile 3½, George Price Hwy., tel. 501/222-5100, U.S. tel. 888/278-7864, www.astrumhelicopters.com, US$1,200 for 4 people). Astrum also offers airport helicopter transfers to 22 of Belize’s five-star resorts.
Along the Phillip Goldson Highway
After escaping Belize City’s traffic and passing the international airport, you’ll cruise up the Phillip Goldson Highway (formerly known as the Northern Highway) to Mayan sites, monkeys, and Creole villages.
S ALTUN HA
Altun Ha (9am-5pm daily, US$5), a Mayan trading center as well as a religious ceremonial site, is believed to have accommodated about 10,000 people. Archaeologists, working amid a Mayan community that has been living here for several centuries, have dated construction to about 1,500-2,000 years ago. It wasn’t until the archaeologists arrived in 1964 that the old name, Rockstone Pond, was translated into the Mayan words “Altun Ha.”
A team led by Dr. David Pendergast of the Royal Ontario Museum began work in 1965 on the central part of the ancient city, where upward of 250 structures have been found in an area of about 1,000 square yards. So far, this is the most extensively excavated of all the Mayan sites in Belize. For a trading center, Altun Ha was strategically located—a few miles from Little Rocky Point on the Caribbean and a few miles from Moho Caye at the mouth of the Belize River, both believed to have been major centers for the large trading canoes that worked up and down the coasts of Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Mexico’s Yucatán, and all the way to Panama.
Altun Ha spans an area of about 25 square miles, most of which is covered by trees, vines, and rainforest. It was rebuilt several times during the Pre-Classic, Classic, and Post-Classic Periods. The desecration of the structures leads scientists to believe that the site may have been abandoned because of violence.
Altun Ha is located 34 miles north of Belize City and has become one of the more popular day trips for groups and individuals venturing from Belize City, Ambergris Caye, and Caye Caulker; it is the most visited archeological site in Belize. A gift shop and restroom facilities are at the entrance. Local tour guides (US$10 per group per half hour) are available at the entrance. If you’re coming to Altun Ha as part of a package, consider insisting that your tour provider use a local guide; this ensures that local communities benefit from the site.
Located near Plaza B, the Reservoir, also known as Rockstone Pond, is fed by springs and rain runoff. It demonstrates the advanced knowledge of the Maya in just one of their many fields of expertise: engineering. Archaeologists say that an insignificant little stream ran through the rainforest for centuries. No doubt it had been a source of fresh water for the Maya—but maybe not enough. They diverted the creek and then began a major engineering project, digging and enlarging a deep, round hole that was then plastered with limestone cement. Once the cement dried and hardened, the stream was rerouted to its original course, and the newly built reservoir filled and overflowed at the east end, allowing the stream to continue on its age-old track. This made the area livable. Was all of this done before or after the temple structures were built? Is the completion of this reservoir what made the Mayan elite choose to locate themselves in this area? We may never know for sure.
Today, Rockstone Pond is surrounded by thick brush, and the pond is alive with rainforest creatures, including tarpon, small fish, turtles, and other reptiles.
Sun God Temple
The concentration of structures includes palaces and temples surrounding two main plazas. The tallest building is the Sun God Temple, rising 59 feet above the plaza floor. At Altun Ha, the bases of the structures are oval and terraced. The small temples on top have typical small rooms built with the Mayan trademark—the corbel arch.
Temple of the Green Tomb
Pendergast’s team uncovered many valuable finds, such as unusual green obsidian blades, pearls, and more than 300 jade pieces—beads, earrings, and rings. Seven funeral chambers were discovered, including the Temple of the Green Tomb, rich with human remains and traditional funerary treasures. Mayan scholars believe the first man buried was someone of great importance; he was draped with jade beads, pearls, and shells.
Next to his right hand, the most exciting find was located—a solid jade head now referred to as Kinich Ahau (“The Sun God”). Kinich Ahau is, to date, the largest jade carving found at any Mayan site. The head weighs nine pounds and measures nearly six inches from base to crown. It is reportedly now housed far away in a museum in Canada. The two men who discovered the jade head some 40 years ago, Winston Herbert and William Leslie, still reside in Rockstone Pond and Lucky Strike villages. On November 29, 2006, they were honored by the National Institute of Culture and History for their discovery.
To reach Altun Ha from the Phillip Goldson Highway, continue past the Burrell Boom turnoff (to the Baboon Sanctuary) and continue to about Mile 19, where the road forks; the right fork is the Old Northern Highway, which leads to Altun Ha and Maskall Village. The entrance is 10.5 miles from the intersection. The road is in horrible condition and is not getting any better with the increased traffic. There are also no restaurants nearby, so bring some snacks.
Altun Ha is close enough to Belize City that a taxi ride is your best bet (US$100 round-trip). Kenneth Bennett of KB Taxi Service (tel. 501/634-2865) is an excellent driver who will wait for up to 2.5 hours while you tour the site. You can also opt for a tour operator that specializes in these trips, such as Mr. Lascelle of S & L Travel and Tours (91 N. Front St., tel. 501/227-7593 or 501/227-5145, www.sltravelbelize.com).
Note that Altun Ha is a popular destination for cruise-ship passengers (usually Tues. and Thurs.)—if you don’t want to share your experience with busloads of tourists, check with the park before coming. In general, it’s easy to avoid the crowds if you get here when the park first opens.
MARUBA RESORT JUNGLE SPA
By any standard, Maruba Resort Jungle Spa (Mile 40½, Old Northern Hwy., Maskall Village, U.S. tel. 713/799-2031 or 800/627-8227, www.maruba-spa.com, US$200-700) is an interesting sight in the middle of the forest, located about a mile out of Maskall Village. Many visitors come just for the day; it’s a popular stopover for Altun Ha explorers who decide to enjoy lunch and a mud mask (pick the Mood Mud Massage if you have time) before heading back to San Pedro, Belize City, or other nearby destinations. The resort’s verdant landscaping is enhanced by intriguing focal points spread around the grounds: a tiny glass-decorated chapel, a palapa-covered stone chess table, and a pool that seems to spring from the rainforest, complete with waterfalls. The uniquely named guest rooms—Moon, Fertility, Mayan Loft, and Bondage, to name a few—continue the eclectic motif with carved masks, mosaic-tile floors, standing candles, concrete fountains, tiled tubs, screened windows, and fresh flowers on the massive feather beds and in the baths.
The restaurant often offers decent international fusion fare, and at the bar you will find viper rum (“for real men only”), an insanely strong shot of liquor infused with snake venom. Instructions on how to properly down a shot will be given by the owner-bartender, Nicky. Massages, mud wraps, manicures, and pedicures are available, as well as a free-weight gym. Packages are available with tours to the reefs, ruins, and inland destinations.
This village of about 1,200 people is named after the Scottish logger who built a boom across the river to catch his logs. Today, Burrell Boom is inhabited by subsistence farmers, anglers, cashew growers, and fruit-wine vintners. It is the gateway to the Community Baboon Sanctuary, but also conveniently close to the international airport and a good way to avoid staying in Belize City if you don’t want to, thanks to a few wonderful river lodges.
S The Community Baboon Sanctuary
The Community Baboon Sanctuary (CBS, tel. 501/245-2009 or 501/622-9624, 8am-5pm daily, US$7) is a nonprofit organization consisting of 220 members in seven local communities who have voluntarily agreed to manage their land in ways that will preserve their beloved “baboon” (the local term for the black howler monkey). Because of community-based efforts to preserve the creature, there are now 3,000 individual monkeys living freely in the forests and buffer zones between people’s farms. Since 1998 the CBS Women’s Conservation Group has overseen the organization and its members, with a female representative from each of the seven villages. More recently, the CBS member landowners received US$15,000 in microgrants to improve their small businesses and communities. CBS feels remote but is less than an hour’s drive from Belize City, making it both a popular day trip and a destination for anyone who’d rather wake up to the throaty roars of Belizean howler monkeys than the bustle of Belize City.
howler monkey at the Community Baboon Sanctuary
History of the Community Baboon Sanctuary
One of the six species of howler monkeys in the world, the black howlers, Alouatta caraya, are the largest monkeys in the Americas. Robert Horwich of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee was the first zoologist to spend extended time in the howler’s range, which covered southern Mexico, northeast Guatemala, and Belize. The results of his study were disturbing. In Mexico the monkeys were being hunted for food, and their habitat was fast disappearing. Conditions in Guatemala were only slightly better. Here, too, the monkeys were hunted by locals in the forests around Tikal, and as the forest habitat shrank, so too did the number of howler monkeys.
In the Belizean village of Bermudian Landing, however, the communities of monkeys were strong and healthy, the forest was intact, and the locals seemed genuinely fond of the noisy creatures. This was definitely the place to start talking about a wildlife reserve. Horwich, with the help of Jon Lyon, a botanist from the State University of New York, began a survey of the village in 1984. After many meetings with the town leaders, excitement grew about the idea of saving the “baboon.” Homeowners agreed to leave the monkey’s food trees—hog plums and sapodillas—and small strips of forest between cleared fields as aerial pathways for the primates, as well as 60 feet of forest along both sides of waterways.
An application was made to World Wildlife Fund USA in 1985 for funds to set up the reserve. Local landowners signed a voluntary management agreement set forth by Horwich and Lyon—and a sanctuary was born.
According to sanctuary manager Fallett Young, who died in 2009, there have been successful relocations of some of the thriving monkey troops around the country, including to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where howlers hadn’t been heard since they were decimated by yellow fever decades ago.
In the case of the Community Baboon Sanctuary, educating people about conservation and encouraging their fondness for nature was more successful than stringent hunting laws. The managers of the sanctuary are villagers who understand their neighbors; much of their time is spent with schoolchildren and adults in the villages concerned. Part of their education includes basic farming and sustained land use techniques that eliminate the constant need to cut forest for new milpas (cornfields).
Another result is the unhindered growth of 100 species of trees, vines, and epiphytes. The animal life is thriving—anteaters, armadillos, iguanas, hickatee turtles, deer, coatis, amphibians, reptiles, and about 200 species of birds all live here.
A lively debate continues among traditional conservationists about allowing people to live within a wildlife preserve. However, Belize’s grassroots conservation is proving that it can succeed.
There are enough trails, rivers, and guided tours to keep you busy here for a couple of days. All activities are arranged through the CBS Visitors Center (tel. 501/660-3345, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.howlermonkeys.org/lodging, 8am-5pm daily) in Bermudian Landing; group trips and guides from local hotels are also available. A basic nature walk is included with the entrance fee to the visitors center and museum (feel free to tip your guide), which is small but has very informative displays on a range of topics—from the history of CBS to the local Kriol culture and Belize’s wildlife.
There are 1.5-hour and 3-hour canoe tours and a two-hour driving tour of some of the different sanctuary villages. Those staying overnight should definitely take advantage of the nighttime trips, such as the 3.5-hour crocodile canoe trip up Mussell Creek and the two-hour night hike into the surrounding forest. If you’d like to experience the local culture, request a Kriol cultural package (groups of 12 or more, US$15 pp), with food and dance performances.
If you’re lucky, between February and August you might catch a village softball game or cricket match.
Accommodations and Food
A popular choice for adventurous travelers is the CBS’s homestay program—you’ll stay with a local family in primitive conditions, bathing with a bucket and talking with your host family in the evening. The Women’s Bed-and-Breakfast Group (tel. 501/660-3545, www.howlermonkeys.org, US$42 pp, includes breakfast and dinner) has established a network of accommodations throughout the seven sanctuary villages, offering visitors a traditional Creole-style stay. Arrange your stay in one of these “bed-and-breakfasts” at least 24 hours in advance through the CBS Visitors Center (tel. 501/245-2009 or cell 501/622-9624, www.howlermonkeys.org, 8am-5pm daily) at Bermudian Landing.
The Black Orchid Resort (U.S. tel. 866/437-1301, www.blackorchidresort.com, US$150-295) is a relaxed riverside resort within striking distance of a number of area attractions. Locals and guests rave about this place, which is a mere 11 miles from the international airport, but feels as remote as other upcountry rainforest lodges. Black Orchid’s owner, Doug Thompson, is a native Belizean who lived in the United States for 36 years and is currently the president of the Belize Hotel Association. He also runs a tour company to whisk you around the region (and a free airport shuttle); or stay on the grounds and enjoy the swimming pool, popular among locals on the weekends, or the shaded picnic tables, kayaks, and canoes. Sixteen spacious guest rooms are comfortable and have all the basic amenities, and there is an on-site restaurant and bar. Ask about the Jaguar Eco-house and three-bedroom villa for longer-term rental or for families.
Another excellent choice for anglers or ecotour seekers is the S Belize River Lodge (tel. 501/225-2002, U.S. tel. 888/275-4843, www.belizeriverlodge.com, 3-night package US$1,400), offering package stays only. A fishing lodge par excellence, it’s run by a welcoming couple, Mike Heusner and Marguerite Miles, both of whom know their country inside out and have plenty of tales to share. There are eight cozy guest rooms with screened porches and gorgeous river views. Meals are shared family-style and often consist of delicious Belizean specialties. Mike sits on the board of the Audubon Society and is a great source of information on the country’s wildlife and conservation efforts. You really don’t have to be an angler to stay here, and the lodge is accessed via a short two-minute boat ride from Burrell Boom’s banks. The lodge now also operates a sister resort on Long Caye, near Caye Chapel.
Campers can pitch a tent (US$5 pp) on the visitors center grounds or arrange for a meal (US$5) with a local family. There are privies and cold showers available. Next door, the Howler Monkey Resort (tel. 501/607-1571, www.howlermonkeyresort.bz, US$99-138) has a selection of cabins, a screened restaurant, and a path to the river.
Bermudian Landing is only 26 miles from Belize City, or about a 45-minute drive, and 22 miles from the Orange Walk District. From Belize City, drive north on the Phillip Goldson Highway for 13 miles, then turn left toward Burrell Boom (notice a sign to turn left for the Black Orchid Resort). Follow signs to the Community Baboon Sanctuary Museum and Visitors Center, located across a soccer field. Try not to get confused by the distracting private tour guide signs posted en masse just prior to the museum, and ignore any gestures for you to stop. This is not the official CBS site, and you won’t be supporting the community by skipping CBS, who have very competent guides, know the history of the sanctuary, and work with the villages. Look for the CBS logo.
Two bus companies travel between Bermuda Landing and Belize City. In Belize City, McFadzean buses depart from the corner of Cemetery Road and Amara Avenue, and Russell buses leave from Euphrates Street and Cairo Street. Seven buses depart Belize City between noon and 9pm Monday-Friday; there’s a shorter schedule on Saturday. There are no buses in either direction on Sunday. The bus takes about an hour. Four early-morning buses leave Bermudian Landing 5:30am-7am, and there are two in the afternoon at 3:30pm and 4pm Monday-Saturday.
Annual Crooked Tree Cashew Festival
The namesake of this relaxed inland island village is the cashew tree, which grows prolifically throughout the area. The unique nut has always contributed to the community’s economy, especially for its women, who have been able to secure additional income for their households by selling cashew products. The situation is even better today, as the products are more often sold directly to local consumers and travelers than to distributors in Belize City, as they were in the past.
To celebrate the bent branches and their heavy fruit, the people of Crooked Tree Village throw a big cashew harvest festival the second weekend in May. It’s a fun hometown fair with regional arts, music, folklore, dance, and crafts. And, of course, it’s a chance to sample delicious cashew wine, cashew jellies, stewed cashews—you get the picture.
Seek out the demonstrations showing how the cashew nut is processed; it’s interesting stuff. The fruit, or the cashew “apple,” is either red or yellow, with the seed hanging from the bottom of the apple. The meat of the apple can be stewed or made into jam or wine, while the seedpod is roasted in an open fire on the ground. Roasting the cashew stabilizes the highly acidic oil and at the same time makes the pod brittle enough to crack. The nut is partially cooked during this step in the processing. The seeds are then raked so they cool evenly and quickly.
The cashews are then cracked by hand, one at a time. Those who handle the nuts wear gloves, as the shell contains a highly irritating poison that for most people causes blisters and inflammation. Processing removes all the poison.
The sanctuary is close enough to the city or the international airport that you can consider a taxi or an escorted tour for a day trip. Negotiate taxi prices ahead of time. The Community Baboon Sanctuary can arrange airport transfers for reasonable prices.
SPANISH CREEK WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Spanish Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is a 2,000-acre protected area rich in wildlife but short on infrastructure. It’s located near Rancho Dolores, due west along the Burrell Boom Road, beyond the Community Baboon Sanctuary, and it is accessible by bus from Belize City. For more information and to visit, contact the Rancho Dolores Environmental and Development Group (tel. 501/625-2837, www.belizeability.com).
Crooked Tree is only a 33-mile drive from Belize City, or a little over an hour by bus. The island village and the wildlife sanctuary are primary destinations for serious bird-watchers. Other visitors will enjoy paddling in the water, hiking numerous trails, or reveling at the annual cashew festival. Most visitors to the area can also enjoy the simple pleasure of mingling with the islanders, the majority of whom are of Kriol descent and were born and raised here. Walking through the village will reveal the simple farming and fishing community lifestyle they lead. Most villagers are related by blood or marriage, making it “one big family” in every sense of the phrase.
The Crooked Tree area itself is a network of inland lagoons, swamps, and waterways. The sanctuary also encompasses the freshwater lagoon that surrounds the area. The Crooked Tree Lagoon is up to a mile wide and more than 20 miles long. Along its banks lies the village of Crooked Tree, settled in the 1750s during the early days of the logwood era. This island, surrounded by fresh water, was once accessible only by boats traveling up the Belize River and Black Creek; the waterways were used to float the logs out to the sea. It wasn’t until 1981 that the three-mile-long causeway leading into the village was built, bringing cars, buses, and other modern conveniences to the village.
Crooked Tree Village
The village is divided into three neighborhoods: Crooked Tree, Pine Ridge, and Stain, with a total population of about 1,000. Villagers operate farms, raise livestock, and have a small fishery. Visitors will find the village spread out on the island, with more cattle trails, half roads, and fence line than roads. There are a few well-grazed athletic fields, five churches, a couple of eateries, a nurse-staffed clinic, and scores of stilted wooden houses, each with its own tank to catch rainwater. It’s a tranquil community with children playing football and softball, biking around, racing horses, or whacking a ball around the cricket pitch.
S Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
At the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, 16,400 acres of waterways, logwood swamps, and lagoon provide habitat for a diverse array of hundreds of resident and migratory birds all year long.
The sanctuary was established by the Belize Audubon Society to protect its most famous inhabitant, the jabiru stork—the largest flying bird in the western hemisphere, with a wingspan of up to eight feet. Multitudes of other birds (285 species, at last count) find the sanctuary a safe resting spot during the dry season, with enormous food resources along the shorelines and in the trees. (During my visit, I saw beautiful vermillion flycatchers and a white ibis, among many others.) After a rain, thousands of minuscule frogs, no more than an inch long, seem to drop from the sky; they’re fair game for the agami heron, snowy egret, and great egret, quick hunters with long beaks. A fairly large bird, the snail kite uses its particular beak to hook meat out of the apple snails.
Two varieties of ducks—the black-bellied whistling duck and the Muscovy—nest in trees along the swamp. All five species of kingfishers live in the sanctuary, and you can see ospreys and black-collared hawks diving for their morning catch.
Black Creek, with its forests of large trees, provides homes to monkeys, Morelet’s crocodiles, coatimundis, turtles, and iguanas. A profusion of wild ocher pokes up from the water, covered with millions of pale pink snail eggs. Grazing Brahma cattle wade into the shallows of the lagoon to munch on the tum tum (water lilies), a delicacy that keeps them fat and fit when the grasses turn brown in the dry season.
Although several organizations had a financial hand in founding the park, the Belize Audubon Society (tel. 501/223-5004, www.belizeaudubon.org) runs the show, with the continued help of devoted volunteers. Sign in at the small visitors center (a green building on the right just as you enter the village, 8am-4:30pm daily, US$5 pp) at the end of the causeway. You will always find a knowledgeable curator willing to answer questions about the flora and fauna of the sanctuary. It’s possible to explore the area in a rented canoe or kayak, motor through on a guided tour, or hike the system of boardwalks through lowland savanna and logwood forests; observation towers provide wide views across the lagoons.
Hunting and fishing are not permitted.
Crooked Tree Lagoon
The best way to experience Crooked Tree Lagoon is by boat, and there are all kinds available at each hotel. The Belize Audubon Society (tel. 501/223-5004, www.belizeaudubon.org) will be happy to have a guide and boat waiting for you when you arrive at Crooked Tree; the best days to find a full staff are Wednesday to Friday. All accommodations in the village can arrange birding and village tours. Birding is possible year-round, but peak times are February to April.
Chau Hiix Ruins
The Chau Hiix archaeological site is being studied nearby. Archaeologists have made some startling discoveries, including a ball court and ball-court marker, along with small artifacts. Preliminary studies indicate the site was occupied from 400 BC to AD 200. Chau Hiix is located south of Crooked Tree on Western Lagoon and is accessible by canoe.
Accommodations and Food
There are several options in low-key Crooked Tree as the area continues to gain popularity, starting with Tillet’s Village Lodge (tel. 501/607-3871, www.tilletvillage.com, US$40-80). The famous Sam Tillet—renowned as one of the premier Belizean naturalists—died in 2007, but his family is carrying on the tradition. The lodge is located in the middle of the village, not on the water, and the guest rooms are small and plain but clean and with private baths and tiled floors. Nature walks are US$15, and you can also go horseback riding or do a “jungle survival” trip.
As you approach the island on the causeway (on the shoreline off to the left), you’ll see Crooked Tree’s most upscale property: Bird’s Eye View Lodge (tel. 501/225-7027 or 501/203-2040, www.birdseyeviewbelize.com, US$100-120). This hotel stands above the rest in modernity and service, and that is reflected in its higher rates. The 20 guest rooms all have private baths and various comforts, including air-conditioning. Camping (US$10) is also available. The rooftop bar and patio is a nice spot to take in the breeze and bird-watch, even after your four-hour daybreak bird-watching boat cruise on the lagoon. Meals are US$12 for breakfast and lunch; dinner is US$15. Boat rentals, tours, and airport pickups can be arranged. Boat tours for up to three people cost about US$125; ask about village tours and cashew-making tours in season (Mar.-June).
On the shore of the lagoon north of the causeway, Crooked Tree Lodge (tel. 501/626-3820, www.crookedtreelodgebelize.com, US$40-60) is a small, well-landscaped, and quiet retreat of 11.5 acres with six stilted wooden cabanas with en suite baths, including a bigger one for families (sleeps up to 7, US$120). Camping (US$10) is possible, and pets and children are welcome. Three daily meals are available at additional cost. Wide-ranging boat and birding tours are available with local guides. There is wireless Internet, a restaurant, and a small bar, all on the lagoon’s edge.
The lagoon-front Jacana Inn (tel. 501/604-8025 or 501/620-9472, email@example.com, US$50 d) has 13 ground-floor guest rooms with queen beds, mini fridges, private baths with cold showers, fans, and Internet access. The building isn’t much to look at, thanks to a second-floor extension left under construction, but being steps from the lagoon at this price is a highlight. There are bikes and canoes for rent as well as in-room meals on request.
In the village, dine at Triple J’s or Carrie’s Kitchen (10am-9pm Mon.-Thurs., 10am-11pm Fri.-Sat., US$4-5), a cute little spot with plenty of seating and local Kriol dishes. Both restaurants are found by walking into Crooked Tree Village, although the latter may require a drive or bike ride.
To reach Crooked Tree by car, drive north on the Phillip Goldson Highway to Mile 33 and turn left. Continue until the dirt road turns into the three-mile-long earthen causeway that leads into Crooked Tree. You can also catch the Jex Bus (34 Regent St. W., tel. 501/663-3301 or 501/663-2740, US$5) in downtown Belize City to Crooked Tree. The bus leaves promptly at 10:55am Monday-Friday, arriving in Crooked Tree at 12:30pm; it is parked an hour prior to departure. You can also hop on any of the buses heading north from the main Novelo bus station to Corozal; starting early in the morning, request a stop at the Crooked Tree junction and then get a ride from there into the village.
From Crooked Tree back into Belize City, the Jex buses depart mornings only at 5am, 6am, and 6:45am Monday-Friday, and 6:45am only on Saturday; verify the times before departure. Other options include catching an hourly bus back toward Belize City from the Crooked Tree junction on the highway, which is an easy option, or hire a taxi or local tour operator. Check with the Belize Audubon Society (tel. 501/223-5004, www.belizeaudubon.org) for additional transportation information, rates, and an updated schedule.
Along the George Price Highway
Driving west from Belize City, the George Price Highway (formerly the Western Highway) passes from wetlands to pine savanna, with the Maya Mountains draped across the horizon through your windshield. Most of this region is drained by the Sibun and Caves Branch Rivers, which empty out into a large lowland wetland before arriving at the sea. This central chunk of Belize is mostly wild, dotted by a handful of small villages, rainforest lodges, natural attractions, and parks. The most popular of these is the Belize Zoo.
The milepost markers between Belize City and San Ignacio will help you find your way around the countryside. If you’re driving, you can match the markers as you go by setting your odometer to zero as you turn onto Cemetery Road at the western edge of Belize City.
The George Price Highway eventually leads to Belmopan, the smallest and most unassuming national capital in Central America.
Three miles south of Hattieville, as you make a left turn by the Hattieville Police Station (a yellow building), this small village (community tel. 501/209-6006) has a population of less than 100, if that. People who had escaped enslavement founded the village back in the day, and its population used to peak around 2,000 during big logging runs. Today, you can find campsites, canoe rentals, and hiking trails. Taxis to the village are plentiful from the traffic circle in Hattieville.
S THE BELIZE ZOO
Established in 1983, The Belize Zoo (Mile 29, George Price Hwy., tel. 501/822-8000, www.belizezoo.org, 8:30am-4:30pm daily, US$15 adults, US$5 children) is set on 29 acres of tropical savanna and exhibits more than 125 animals, all native to Belize.
Zoo director Sharon Matola’s accidental career began when, as a former lion tamer, she agreed to manage a backyard collection of local animals for a nature-film company next door. After only five months’ work on the project, funds were severely reduced, and it became evident that the group of animal “film stars” would have to be disbanded. Sharon says that not only had these wild cats, birds, anteaters, and snakes become her friends and companions but that semi-tame animals, dependent on people for care, could not just be released back into the wild. As an alternative, she thought, “This country has never had a zoo. Perhaps if I offered the chance for Belizeans to see these unique animals, their existence here could be permanently established.”
A zoo was born. From the very beginning, the amount of local interest in the zoo was incredible. The majority of the people in Belize live in urban areas, and their knowledge of the local fauna is minimal. The Belize Zoo offers Belizeans and visitors alike the opportunity to see the country’s native animals. Today, the Belize Zoo receives over 10,000 Belizean schoolchildren every year as part of its progressive education programs.
The zoo keeps only orphaned animals, those injured and rehabilitated, those born in the zoo, and those received as gifts from other zoos. The environment is as natural as possible, with thick native vegetation, and each animal lives in its own wildlife compound. Displays include Tapir Town; ask about Lucky Boy, a beautiful black jaguar the zoo helped rescue and rehabilitate.
In collaboration with the Panthera organization, the government of Belize, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Belize Zoo also runs the only problem jaguar rehabilitation program and in situ jaguar research program in the world. Problem jaguars, which prey on livestock and domestic animals, are trapped and brought to the zoo for behavior modification training—instead of a bullet. In difficult cases, the animals are transferred to zoos in the United States; the Milwaukee and Philadelphia zoos have received problem cats from Belize.
In 2010, Hurricane Richard tore through the zoo, destroying many of the cages and structures. With superhuman efforts, the zoo staff and an army of volunteers participated in immediate reconstruction. And it was literally an army—in addition to Belizean volunteers, tour operators, students, ambassadors, and Belize Zoo fans from abroad, U.S. Special Forces and British Forces Belize took part. The zoo was up and running again in only six weeks, but it still has a lot of work to do. The zoo continues to do amazing work with Belizean wildlife, but needs all the help—and visitors—it can get.
The Belize Tropical Education Center
The Belize Tropical Education Center (tel. 501/832-2004, firstname.lastname@example.org), located across the street from the zoo, was created to promote environmental education and scientific research. Meetings are held here for zoological news, reports, and educational seminars attended and given by people involved in zoology from around the world. The center is equipped with a classroom, a library, a kitchen and dining area, and dormitories that can accommodate as many as 30 people (US$30 pp, includes breakfast and dinner). Great nature trails weave through the 84-acre site, and bird-watchers can avail themselves of a bird-viewing deck. Also available are canoe trips, nocturnal zoo tours (a real treat), and natural history lectures. Cafeteria-style meals cooked for the zoo staff are available for purchase.
The zoo is at Mile 29 on the George Price Highway. It is included in many day tours from Belize City and often as a stop during airport transfer to or from your lodge in the western or southern parts of Belize. Independent travelers can easily jump off the bus from Belize City or Cayo; bus fare from Belize City is US$1-2.
Driving west, note the junction with Manatee Road to the left at about Mile 29. Look for a service station and motel of sorts on the southeast corner of the junction; its Petrofuel sign makes an especially good landmark at night, when the sign glows with bright colors. This improved dirt road or “Coastal Highway” is the shortcut to Gales Point, Dangriga, and the Southern Highway. It’s always a good idea to top off your tank, stock up on cold drinks, and ask for current road conditions here. Heavy rains can cause washouts on a lot of these “highways.” This is a drive best done in daylight because of the picturesque views of rainforest, Mayan villages, and the Maya Mountains in the distance. Your best bet, however, is to drive the Hummingbird Highway to Dangriga and the south to avoid roughing up your car.
This tiny, unique Creole settlement occupies a thin two-mile-long peninsula jutting north into the Southern Lagoon. Gales Point is 15 miles north of Dangriga or 25 miles southwest of Belize City, but getting here makes it feel farther. Depending on which accounts you read, the 400 or so modern inhabitants are descended from either logwood cutters or people who had escaped enslavement, known as “maroons,” who settled here in the 1700s. Gales Point is a traditional Creole cultural stronghold. If you’re lucky, your visit to Gales Point will coincide with the full moon, when the entire village often participates in a roaming call-and-response drumming and dance circle. In the weeks before Christmas, the frequency of sambai drumming events increases, reaching a crescendo on Christmas Day and December 26 with a unique village-wide celebration called bram. Gales Point is also known for its homemade cashew wine.
The Southern Lagoon, which surrounds Gales Point on three sides, is part of an extensive estuary bordered by thick mangroves. Their tangled roots provide the perfect breeding grounds for sport fish, crabs, shrimp, lobsters, and a host of other marinelife. Rich beds of sea grass line the bottom of the lagoon and support a population of manatees. These gentle mammals are often seen basking on the surface of the water or coming up for air, which they must do about every four minutes. This is a popular spot to observe the manatees, often spotted close to a warm spring-fed hole in the lagoon. Tours to see manatees can be arranged through any of the Gales Point accommodations; trips are also available to see birds and caves in the region and to go fishing.
In July 2008 Gales Point experienced the most devastating floods in its history, as the entire lagoon rose and covered much of the peninsula, a phenomenon that did not occur even during massive Hurricane Hattie in 1961. It has since recovered but remains just as remote and untouristed as ever.
There are some loose homestay programs and places to camp in the village; ask around the village for the latest information. Gentle’s Cool Spot (tel. 501/668-0102 or 501/666-9847) is one local service that provides traditional fiyah haat (fire hearth) cooking plus a few stuffy clapboard guest rooms (US$18-28). Gentle’s veranda is a favorite gathering place for locals, and Gentle also provides tours.
Manatee Lodge (tel. 501/532-2400 or 501/662-2154, U.S. tel. 877/462-6283, www.manateelodge.com, US$85) is at the very northern tip of the peninsula and caters to birders, sportfishers, and independent nature-loving travelers and families. The eight guest rooms have nice wood furnishings, private baths, 24-hour electricity, and a veranda with views of the surrounding lagoon and sunsets behind the Maya Mountains; rooms sleep up to four. The lodge offers access to a wildlife habitat completely different from the rest of Belize, living in the shallow brackish water and mangroves of the Southern Lagoon. The number of shorebirds and waterfowl is impressive, and to encourage guests to see local wildlife, the lodge provides each room with a canoe. Binoculars and bug repellent are a must. Children under age six stay free, and children ages 6-12 are half price. Moderately priced and delicious home-cooked Creole and continental meals are available; so are transfers and multiday packages.
To get to Gales Point by car, either choose the Manatee Highway, also called the Coastal Road, and expect rough muddy roads if it’s raining; or take the Hummingbird Highway, which is about 25 miles longer but smoother (for most of the way, anyway). The most enjoyable—and expensive—way to reach Gales Point is the 90-minute boat ride from Belize City, which winds through bird-filled canals, rivers, and lagoons, and you may spot crocodiles, manatees, or dolphins. Manatee Lodge can arrange a boat transfer, but it is very expensive; it’s worth it if you have a group. There used to be several weekly buses from Belize City, but they were not running regularly at last check; call Manatee Lodge for current schedules or possible rides. You could also reach out to Dangriga-based and Gales Point native Brother David of CD’s Transfer (1163 3rd St., tel. 501/502-3489 or cell 501/602-3077, email@example.com) to negotiate a simple ride to and from Gales Point.
MONKEY BAY WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (tel. 501/822-8032, www.belizestudyabroad.net) comprises tropical forest and riparian and savanna habitats stretching from the George Price Highway down to the Sibun River, which flows from the Maya Mountains through the coastal savanna on its path to the Caribbean Sea. The 3,300-acre wildlands of Monkey Bay include the natural habitat of nearly all the animals represented at the Belize Zoo, just east on the George Price Highway.
This is a fantastic retreat—for student groups, families, naturalists, and paddlers alike (though most of the sanctuary’s business is with study-abroad and service groups). The sanctuary maintains field stations in the Mountain Pine Ridge and Tobacco Caye. The main campus is home to exotic mammal species, including tapirs, pumas, and jaguars, as well as Morelet’s crocodiles. More than 250 species of birds have been recorded. The sanctuary borders the Sibun River biological corridor and contains documented remains of ancient Mayan settlements and ceremonial caves. A trail system carries you through it all; you can hike, rent a canoe, or hire a caving guide—this is serious spelunking country as well. One option is a three-night camping expedition, where you’ll hike to Five Blues Lake National Park. Another is a canoe trip on the Sibun River (US$35 pp), which you can combine with a caving expedition (US$50 pp).
You’ll find two miles of trails and good swimming at nearby Sibun River. With the government’s 1992 declaration of the 2,250-acre Monkey Bay Nature Reserve across the river, there now exists a wildlands corridor between the sanctuary and the Manatee Forest Reserve to the south.
Some travelers find themselves intrigued enough by the goings-on at this environmental education center and tropical watershed research station that they opt to stay in one of Monkey Bay’s primitively rustic guest rooms longer than they had planned. The accommodations share the grounds with a screened-in dining area and a shared barnlike library and study space (more than 500 titles are available for reference, with lots of local information).
Choose from a campground in a grove of pine trees with sturdy wooden tent platforms (US$8 pp) or dormitories (US$19 pp); they all share common composting toilets and solar showers. You can also stay in one of the primitive wooden field station rooms in the central building (US$27). Including all the bunks in the dormitory, there are 50 beds here. Freshly prepared meals are available, as are a range of learning and adventure activities throughout Belize. There’s a lovely backyard peppered with hammocks and a path leading to the river.
Monkey Bay offers various cultural learning programs that include homestays with Mayan and Creole communities at Maya Centre or Crooked Tree Village; it also has a curriculum of tropical watershed ecology field courses. Groups and individuals are welcome for internships and volunteer programs as well.
There are a few notable restaurants clustered around Mile 31, right around where you first see the sleeping Mayan giant in the hills to the south (the hill formations in this area look like a person laying on their back). You’ll first come to the popular Cheers (Mile 31.25, George Price Hwy., tel. 501/822-8014, www.cheersrestaurant.bz, 6am-8:30pm Mon.-Sat., 7am-7:15pm Sun., US$5-15), with its interesting collection of orchids, license plates, and T-shirts. Oh, and the food is excellent. Ask about their cabana accommodations.
A bit farther, just past the turnoff for Monkey Bay, is Amigo’s (Mile 31.7, George Price Hwy., tel. 501/802-8000, firstname.lastname@example.org, 8am-9pm daily, US$5-9), another friendly, screened-in bar and restaurant with Belizean and continental food, from salads to burgers and more.
Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is located at Mile 31 on the George Price Highway; look for the entrance sign on the left side of the highway. The entrance is a stone’s throw from Cheers Restaurant.
beach at Ramon’s Village, San Pedro