Southern Coast and Cayes - Moon Belize (Moon Handbooks) - Lebawit Lily Girma

Moon Belize (Moon Handbooks) - Lebawit Lily Girma (2015)

Southern Coast and Cayes


Antelope Falls, Mayflower Bocawina National Park.


Look for S to find recommended sights, activities, dining, and lodging.

S Gulisi Garífuna Museum: Located on the outskirts of Dangriga, this museum offers an interactive history lesson on the fascinating Garinagu and Garífuna culture (click here).

S Garífuna Settlement Day: November 19 celebrates the arrival of the ancestral Garinagu people to Belize’s shores. A colorful reenactment is followed by parades, processions, and a multitude of events from outdoor concerts to all-night drumming (click here).


S South Water Caye Marine Reserve: One of Belize’s most beautiful offshore islands offers excellent snorkeling right off the beach, impressive dive sites within a marine reserve, and a magical landscape (click here).

S Tobacco Caye: Sitting right atop Belize’s barrier reef, Tobacco Caye can be a social hot spot or an isolated island experience, depending on the time of year (click here).

S Glover’s Reef Atoll: Glover’s spectacular snorkeling and diving are a short journey from the southern shore. The waters are ideal for all kinds of water sports (click here).

S Lebeha Drumming Center: In Hopkins, hourly drumming lessons provide a unique opportunity to learn about Garífuna music and dance (click here).

S Mayflower Bocawina National Park: Rappel waterfalls, swim in jade pools, zip across 7,100 acres of forest canopy, and enjoy bird- and wildlife-watching at this unique park (click here).

S Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary: This extensive reserve is rightly famous for its multitude of birds, jaguars, and other rainforest critters (click here).

S Maya Beach and Seine Bight: Maya Beach is peppered with hotels, restaurants, and bars, while Seine Bight offers low-key stretches of sand. They’re a perfect jump-off point to the Southern Cayes (click here and click here).

S Laughingbird Caye National Park: Palms, sand, and excellent snorkeling are found at this national park, part of a 10,000-acre protected marine area (click here).

Just under two hours south of Belize City, the Southern Coast has an Afro-Caribbean soul. It also boasts a beautiful coastline, lush rainforests, waterfalls, the world’s only jaguar preserve, the country’s highest point, and the longest stretch of beach—from unmanicured Dangriga to visitor-friendly Placencia Peninsula. The Stann Creek District is at the heart of the country’s fascinating Garífuna culture, declared endangered by the United Nations in 2001 yet still thriving thanks to a concerted effort to preserve tradition.

The seaside town of Dangriga, Garífuna hub and Belize’s “culture capital,” is home to a third of Stann Creek District’s 36,000 inhabitants, and its economy is as varied as its culture and geography; tourism is as important as the orange, banana, and shrimp industries. Unassuming and untouristed, Dangriga is more than just a pit stop on the way to Placencia or the gateway to the Southern Cayes; independent travelers can get off the beaten path here and explore African-inspired art galleries, make their own drums, and perhaps enjoy a meal at a Garífuna home. That’s when you’re not off trekking in the nearby Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve, waterfall rappelling at nearby Bocawina National Park, or cooling off in Billy Barquedier’s emerald streams. It’s astounding how many activities are within reach.

More traveler-friendly yet still authentic, the nearby fishing village of Hopkins has uncrowded wide-open beaches, a host of lodging options to fit all budgets, drumming lessons, and authentic Garífuna cuisine.

Beachcombers and dive enthusiasts looking to add pulsating nightlife to their trip will be happy to continue on to the Placencia Peninsula, one of the most rapidly developing tourist areas of Belize. With the longest (and nicest) stretch of beach on the mainland, a mixed Garífuna and Creole vibe, and the oft-photographed Silk Cayes and a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a quick boat ride away, Placencia offers plenty to love.



There’s a lot to see and do on the Southern Coast. For a decent glimpse into this area, you’ll need at least five or six days, with time saved for an offshore island hop. Start with Dangriga. Walk along the North Stann Creek Bridge and Commerce Boulevard, and then head to Y-Not Island to watch Austin Rodriguez, a renowned Garífuna drum maker, at his seaside workshop. Squeeze in a visit to the Gulisi Garífuna Museum and Pen Cayetano’s Gallery, where you’ll learn all about this Afro-Caribbean Garífuna culture. With an extra day, you can tour the Marie Sharp Factory, where the most popular hot sauce in Belize is made and bottled.

Hopkins is just an hour away by bus from Dangriga. Stay right in the village at one of several budget beachfront guesthouses, bike around, sample Garífuna dishes, and take drumming lessons at Lebeha Drumming Center. The nearby Sittee River offers birding and wildlife watching.

From Hopkins, trek to a waterfall in Mayflower Bocawina National Park and spend the night in Maya Centre. Shop for crafts, converse with herbal healers, and arrange an expedition within the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Placencia is the “barefoot perfect” beach of Belize, easily reached by bus from Hopkins. Journey along the gorgeous southern reef and dive to your heart’s content. Rent a cheap cabana on Maya Beach and barhop the night away, or make a day-trip to Laughingbird Caye.

If you choose to hop along the South Coast in this way, Hopkins is your best bet for a halfway base from which to explore.


“Mabuiga!” shouts the sign in Garífuna, welcoming you to this cultural hub and district capital. Built on the Caribbean shoreline and straddling North Stann Creek (also called Gumagarugu River), Dangriga’s primary boast is its status as the Garífuna people’s original port of entry into Belize—and their modern-day cultural center. But although the majority of Dangriga’s 12,500 or so inhabitants are Garífuna descendants of that much-celebrated 1823 landing, the remaining few are a typically rich mix of Chinese, Creoles, mestizos, and Maya, all of whom can be seen interacting on the town’s main drag.


Aside from Dangriga’s ideal location for accessing the surrounding mountains and seas—and the limited visitor services available to do so—its chief attraction may just be its total lack of pretense. Dangriga, formerly known as Stann Creek Town, does not outwardly cater to its foreign visitors the way Placencia or San Pedro does—there is simply too much else going on in this commercial center, including fishing, farming, and serving the influx of Stann Creek villagers who come weekly to stock up on supplies. Consequently, this area is still relatively undeveloped for tourism, which is either a shortcoming or an attraction, depending on what kind of traveler you are. It could be intimidating for the novice traveler, but the people here are welcoming. The area is slowly evolving, finding ways to showcase its wonders—from its drumming culture to its nearby national parks. Dangriga, by the way, means something like “sweet still waters” in Garífuna.

If poking around the casually bustling vibe of Dangriga sounds intriguing, you’d do well to stay a couple of nights. And if it’s culture you’re looking for, with the drumming “sheds,” the daily local scenes, and one of the most picturesque seaside areas in Belize, you’ll want to stay a bit longer.

The Best of the Southern Coast

The southern part of Belize is less traveled than the Northern Cayes, but those who venture here will find much bang for their buck: the country’s most beautiful coastline, from golden beaches to offshore islands; national parks home to stunning waterfalls and wildlife; and plenty of culture, from Garifuna to Mayan, along the way. While it does require a few more days to fully take in the south, it’s not impossible. Driving down the scenic Hummingbird Highway will lead you to Dangriga, and from there, on to Hopkins and Placencia. You won’t be able to see it all, but this initial itinerary will give you an appreciation for the unique offerings of the Stann Creek District.

Day 1: Head to Dangriga, where you’ll check in and lunch at Pelican Beach Resort before heading out to the heart of town. Stroll along the North Stann Creek Bridge and Commerce Boulevard, taking in the beautiful river-to-sea views and fishers selling their catch along the river banks. Catch a taxi to Pen Cayetano’s Gallery, where you’ll learn all about the Garífuna culture, followed by a visit to the Gulisi Garifuna Museum. End the day with a dinner at Pelican Beach Resort’s outdoor restaurant or a roadside tamale shack.

Day 2: Hop on the bus or drive to Hopkins. Once there, drop your bags at your hotel—stay right in the village for ease of getting around—and go grab a Garifuna lunch at Tina’s or at Laruni Hati. Find a hammock on the beach and take an afternoon nap to the sound of gentle waves. Treat yourself to a nice dinner in the evening at Chef Rob’s, for a seafood meal alfresco on the beach.

Day 3: Get an early morning ride to Bocawina Rainforest Resort, where you’ll check into your waterfall suite, tucked inside the Mayflower Bocawina National Park. Begin your adventures with an afternoon hike and swim at Antelope Falls.

Day 4: Arrange a morning expedition to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and bathe in one of several waterfalls—Tiger Fern is the most stunning and requires effort—and look for fresh jaguar tracks on the way.

Day 5: It’s beach time again: Hop on the bus or drive down to Placencia Village, where you can rent a cheap cabana and paint the beach red at night, hopping from Barefoot Bar to Tipsy Tuna—with excellent happy-hour deals—and StreetFeet Nightclub.

Day 6: Hop on a day trip to Laughingbird Caye or Silk Cayes with Splash Dive Center and spend the day snorkeling at sea.

Day 7: Fly back to Belize City to catch your flight home.


As you pull into town, three massive ceremonial dügü drums of iron will greet you. This is the Drums of Our Fathers monument, erected in 2003 as a symbol of Garífuna pride—and as a “call to war” against the erosion of Garífuna culture. Turn right to reach the deep dock at Commerce Bight or go left (north) to enter Dangriga Town. Heading north from the drums on St. Vincent Street, the old bus terminal is on your left before the first bridge. Continuing, you’ll find more shops and eateries, culminating in the center of town on either side of the North Stann Creek Bridge; across the bridge, St. Vincent Street turns into Commerce Street and offers an informal market often set up along the north bank of the river. Catch a boat to the cayes from one of several places here. The airstrip is a mile or so north of Stann Creek, where you’ll also find Pelican Beach Resort, Dangriga’s fanciest digs and restaurant.


Dangriga does not offer many traditional sights per se. A better term would be experiences because there is plenty going on—it’s an explosion of culture, scenery, and people for any newcomer to this town. Moreover, Dangriga’s central location—a detail often lost on travelers new to the area—makes it an excellent base for excursions around the region, much more so even than Placencia. You can browse the few crafts and music stores on St. Vincent Street and ask around for the drum-making workshops, one of which is set up at the Y-Not compound by the beach at Stann Creek. You might even walk away with an instrument of your own. Drums are often heard throughout the town to mark celebrations and funerals; sometimes it’s simply a few people practicing the rhythms of their history. There’s an abundance of artistic talent that can’t be missed. Austin Rodriquez is known for his authentic Garífuna drums, which end up in musicians’ hands around the country. Other local artists of national prominence include painter Benjamin Nicholas and craftswoman Mercy Sabal, who makes colorful dolls sold all over the country. Beyond this, however, what makes Dangriga unique is the opportunity to experience authentic culture. Those with a keen eye will also notice how scenic Dangriga is—you will want to take photos of its bridges, rivers, pelicans, and anglers; it’s quite the photographer’s dream.

S Gulisi Garífuna Museum

The Gulisi Garífuna Museum (George Price Dr., tel. 501/669-0639,, 10am-5pm Mon.-Fri., 8am-noon Sat., US$5) is a mile west of town on the south side of the highway; you’ll see it on your right when driving into Dangriga, next to the thrusting Chuluhadiwa Garífuna Monument (taxi from downtown US$2-3). The small two-room display is packed with a wealth of fascinating information on the Garífuna people of Belize and a vast collection of artifacts, quotes, photos, and biographies of prominent Garífuna figures in Belize. The museum is named after the person thought to be the first Garífuna woman to arrive and settle in Dangriga. She had 13 sons, and many of Dangriga’s modern residents believe they are descended from her. In 2008 the “language, dance, and music of the Garífuna” was inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, originally proclaimed in 2001.

Marie Sharp’s Store and Factory

Be sure to save time to stop by Marie Sharp’s store (north of Stann Creek Bridge, tel. 501/522-2370, 8am-5pm Mon.-Fri.) to stock up on the area’s famous hot sauce and other products; you can purchase hot sauce here for a tiny fraction of the normal retail price. Better yet, make the trip to Marie Sharp’s Factory (Melinda Rd., Stann Creek Valley, tel. 501/532-2087,, 9am-4pm Mon.-Fri.), just a short ride from town, where you’ll be offered a free tour of the farm and factory. The factory sits on a 400-acre estate. To reach it, drive west on the Hummingbird Highway from Dangriga about eight miles and turn right after you cross a bridge and see the White Swan on your left.

Austin Rodriguez’s Drum Workshop

There’s little doubt that Austin Rodriguez has a deep-rooted passion for his culture and his drums. He spends all day and evening here, across from the beach at Y-Not Island, carving new drums into existence beside the sea. His purpose for setting up shop was to teach the children this dying Garífuna skill and keep the culture going. You can buy ready-made drums from him in different sizes or, with notice, watch him make one from scratch. There’s no set cost for the latter, simply a donation of your choice. Be generous, because this is an invaluable experience: to witness the making of instruments that will end up being played across the country and even used during the annual Garífuna Settlement Day reenactment events. Rodriguez doesn’t play the drums himself; he simply listens and knows whether they sound right. His daughter is also a drum maker and works with her father at the workshop.

Drums of Our Fathers: From Poem to Monument

“In our culture, songs aren’t composed; they just come from inspiration,” explained Garífuna National Council cofounder, author, and educator Roy Cayetano. Cayetano’s famous poem “Drums of Our Fathers” was turned into a monument erected in 2003. The structure consists of three large, equal-size Garífuna dügü, or ceremonial drums. It stands high at the entrance of Dangriga, greeting every newcomer to the Garífuna hub and cultural capital.


Drums of Our Fathers monument at the entrance of Dangriga

Roy Cayetano wrote “Drums of Our Fathers” in 15 minutes. It was “a call to war” and the need to act to preserve the endangered Garífuna culture, language, and heritage. At the time he dedicated the poem to his grandmother, his wife, and his child to be, symbolizing the past, present, and future.

When Sylvia Flores, then a member of the House of Representatives for the Dangriga area, mentioned her desire to commission the construction of a Garífuna monument in Dangriga, one that represented the spiritual aspect of the culture, Cayetano knew just what to suggest. The placement of three ceremonial Garífuna drums of equal size would be symbolic: the top middle drum resting on the lower two would symbolize the Garinagu present resting on the past and the ancestors and yet looking to the future. The goal was to immortalize the culture’s most significant symbol, the drum, representing a sound of the people that was never quieted by the colonial masters, a sound that must continue to be heard.

Artist Steve Okeke, of Nigerian origin and based in Belize City, completed the monument within two months after it was commissioned. The resulting artwork was so impressive that a more central place was given to Drums of Our Fathers at the entrance to town, a constant reminder that the Garífuna culture was never silenced, the beat of the drums goes on, and its people’s voices will continue to echo.

The Pen Cayetano Mural at Dangriga Town Hall

While in town, drop by the Dangriga Town Hall to view the impressive 2012 mural by Pen Cayetano, one of the country’s foremost painters and musicians and creator of the popular Belizean music genre punta rock. The mural, Hayawadina Wayúnagu (Images of Our Ancestors), depicts the Garífuna culture, including the landing of the Garinagu (plural of Garífuna) in Dangriga, and pays homage to those who have documented and perpetuated the culture. The mural also shows the interaction of other Belizean ethnic groups—the Maya, Kriol, mestizo, Chinese, and Caucasian—with the Garinagu, a glimpse of how multiethnic Belize has become. It’s a “cultural mural,” as he describes it, intended to further educate the young but also resist the potential disappearance of a rich history. His own artist’s studio (3 Aranda Cres., tel. 501/628-6807,, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri.) is worth a stop—if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see some of his stunning masterpiece oil paintings and the story behind each of them.

Marie Sharp: The Spice Lady

She’s a household name. Her bottles of hot sauce—ranging from Mild to Beware—are on almost every restaurant tabletop in the country and in every grocery store. Some Belizeans even carry her in their purses. You can’t consume anything without an extra dash of Marie. It’s the first thing to look for when served at a local eatery. And if it’s not on the table or within immediate view, everyone asks “gat some Marie Sharp?”

You can visit her hot sauce factory—and if you’re extremely fortunate, meet her in person—in Dangriga. It’s a 10-minute ride outside town, down a gravel road and past some citrus orchards, to the 400-acre Marie Sharp farm and factory (Melinda Rd., Stann Creek Valley, tel. 501/532-2087, This humble Belizean entrepreneur, mother, and grandmother is nothing short of a legend in her country, and her story is one of adversity and success.


the spice queen of Belize

Marie started experimenting in her kitchen with a batch of leftover peppers she didn’t want to throw out. Using a carrot base that became a hit with friends, she sold her sauce out of that kitchen for three years under the name Melinda’s. The real kicker? She partnered with a U.S.-based distributor who conned her out of her product’s name and tied her into an exclusivity contract, attempting to force her to give up the recipe. Years of hard work and a legal battle later, Marie decided not to give up. Instead, she started over from scratch using her original recipe, which she never revealed. Marie gave the sauce her name, so no one could steal it, and her name is now known throughout the country and Central America. “I was the chief cook and bottle washer up to five years ago,” she said, smiling and pointing at the small room in her factory where she started over.

Marie’s factory, run with the help of her spouse, sons, and grandson, is on the verge of a major expansion, already producing nine different types of pepper sauce (the most popular is the Fiery Hot) and nine types of jams and jellies (my favorite is the guava). For all her fame, Marie Sharp doesn’t want anyone to recognize her when they visit her factory. But she’s proud of her success, as she should be—her products are a symbol of Belizean cultural pride. Rare is the visitor who leaves without a bottle or two in their suitcase.

Mercy Sabal

Born and raised in Dangriga, with over 20 years of experience in her craft, Mercy Sabal (tel. 501/604-6731, US$25-35) is a well-recognized name in town thanks to her striking, handmade Garífuna folklore dolls, each telling a story through art. Some have reversible outfits, and some hold firewood or other symbolic tools. They make for unique souvenirs; you might also spot Mercy’s dolls on sale at the airport gift shops. And if you’re into learning more about the Garífuna people, Mercy is your woman. You can ask to spend the day with her; she’ll cook a Garífuna dish or two and share tales of Garífuna life.

Sabal Farm

Three miles outside Dangriga, you can visit the country’s sole cassava-producing farm. Sabal Farm (US$20 pp, for groups of 8 US$2.50 pp), not to be confused with Mercy Sabal, has operated for the past 25 years. Those with an interest in African culture and the Garinagu will be fascinated by this family-run operation, producing most of the cassava bread and other cassava-based products sold all around the country. Cyril Sabal and his sister, Clotilda, run the impressive 30 acres, of which six are used for harvesting other crops, including citrus. Learn the process of making cassava, from peeling a cassava root all the way to baking and roasting it the old-fashioned organic way. Beyond the cassava, the farm is a symbol of cultural preservation at its finest.


cassava bread-making at the Sabal Farm

Contact Brother David of CD’s Transfer (1163 3rd St., tel. 501/502-3489 or cell 501/602-3077, to arrange a ride to and from the farm and to figure out the best day to visit.

Billy Barquedier National Park

Established as a protected area in 2001, Billy Barquedier National Park (Mile 16½, Hummingbird Hwy., Steadfast,, 9am-4:30pm daily, US$4) is an often overlooked and little-known attraction. The park is comanaged by the Steadfast Tourism and Conservation Association, a grassroots community organization, and the Forestry Department. The approximately 1,500 acres of untouched rainforest are home to abundant wildlife, including howler monkeys, numerous bird species, and even the elusive tapir. The park has a separate entrance at Mile 17½ for quick access to the Billy Barquedier Waterfall, its principal attraction. A 20-minute hike along a marked (albeit a bit run-down) trail and maneuvering across some tricky rocks will lead you to a beautiful stream with a refreshing emerald pool.

There are no accommodations in the park, but primitive camping (US$10 pp) is available at the Mile 16½ entrance. Accommodations are a 10-minute ride away in Dangriga, easily accessible by bus along the Hummingbird Highway.


Dangriga is ideally placed within a short drive of several of Belize’s most stunning parks and wildlife reserves; it’s just 20 miles from Cockscomb Basin and Maya Centre, 17 miles from both Billy Barquedier and Mayflower Bocawina National Parks, and 40 miles from Blue Hole National Park. This puts an incredible amount of activity at your fingertips, particularly for day trips, from birding to jaguar-track spotting, waterfall swimming or rappelling, and hiking numerous nature trails.

There are no tour operators based in Dangriga, but you can arrange for a simple transfer to and from sites with David Obi, or “Brother David,” of CD’s Transfer (1163 3rd St., tel. 501/502-3489, cell 501/602-3077,, 2-person Cockscomb tour US$140, Hopkins Village US$65 pp, 2-person Xunantunich tour US$190). Obi is an excellent and accommodating local guide who will take good care of getting you to and from your chosen site.

If you’d rather be with a tour guide and sign on for group tours, look into being in Hopkins as your base.


The locals’ favorite beach in Dangriga is at Y-Not Island, along the Y-Not basketball court. Although erosion tends to push the beach back, it’s still a lovely, picturesque stretch to take a dip, and the views of the pelicans and the anglers are reminders of Dangriga’s peacefulness and authenticity. There are often events held here as well as fruit and food vendors throughout the week. Another ideal swimming beach is at Pelican Beach, by the Pelican Beach Resort. If you’re not staying there, treat yourself to lunch or drinks and bring your bathing suit to jump off the dock and enjoy the water.


Y-Not Island’s beach is a local favorite for swimming and relaxing.

Diving and Snorkeling

The most untouched parts of the Belize Barrier Reef, along with some of the most beautiful cayes and one of Belize’s three atolls, are a few miles offshore, along the South Water Caye Marine Reserve and the Port Honduras Marine Reserve off the Punta Gorda coast. The Southern Coast is more than a mere gateway to these idyllic plots of land, and the islands have a lot more to offer than a day trip for those who love to fish, dive, or want a “castaway” experience.



There’s no such thing as a dull evening in Dangriga. You won’t find big shiny nightclubs, but there’s plenty of entertainment, whether it’s watching lively and intense dominoes tournaments at the sheds, dancing to in-club drumming and live punta, or barhopping across neighborhoods. “Griga” isn’t as dead as they’ll have you think. Be sure to have a ride to and from these venues late at night; don’t walk the streets at night unless there’s a festival taking place.

Dangriga is the birthplace and home of several nationally known punta bands: the Warribaggabagga Dancers, the Punta Rebels, the Punta Boys, the Turtle Shell Band, and the Griga Boyz. The music and dancing features syncopated West African-style rhythms and interesting mixtures of various southern Belizean cultures. There is often live music or drumming on weekends; ask around for where the latest event is (taxi drivers are often the best source of information, or even your hosts).

Start with some drinks and people-watching at the local “sheds” or traditional bars in town, where you’ll find men slamming dominoes and throwing back Guinness under a thatched-roof hut. Try the Wadani Recreation Centre (St. Vincent St., 11:30am-midnight daily), known as “Wadani Shed”; Waruguma (Ecumenical Dr. at Teddy Cas St., 6pm-midnight daily); or continue to Illagulei Sports Bar (George Price Dr., near the entrance to Dangriga, tel. 501/666-9184, 9pm-2am Thurs.-Sun.), where there will be lively dominoes tournaments and music. At “club” time, the lights are dimmed and the tables are cleared for when the venue transforms into a full-on nightclub, starting no earlier than midnight.

Popular among the locals for dancing and “rum-ming” is Di Spot (Teachers St.), which is someone’s living room-turned-dance floor. It’s pitch-black save for the lit-up bar and an excellent DJ on a raised platform playing reggae and other house tunes. The crowd is decent, and there’s a large outdoor yard with seating. Be advised that Di Spot occasionally has karaoke nights, especially American country music, which is popular around these parts.

From Di Spot, hop over to Mexicana Club (Lemon St., tel. 501/664-6570, 8:30pm-2am Thurs.-Sat.), a spacious nightclub offering DJ music as well as live music. At last visit, the Punta Boys were playing and the sound of Garífuna drums inside the club had everyone moving.

Festivals and Events

The month of December is a festive time in Dangriga. The days leading up to Christmas are celebrated with jankanu dancing in the streets and dancers performing from house to house. The Institute of Creative Arts, a branch of the National Institute of Culture and Heritage (tel. 501/227-2110,, occasionally sponsors an annual Habinaha Wanaragua Jankanu Dance Contest every December 26 (Boxing Day) at Y-Not Island. It has been sporadic lately, but it’s good to keep an eye out for announcements. The beachfront basketball court turns into a makeshift dance floor where adult dance teams from the various Garífuna communities compete for the best jankanu dance team title. It’s a fun, colorful event attended mostly by locals from around the country, which attests to the town’s authentic vibe. The festivities usually start at 2pm; arrive early for a good seat, and wear a hat to avoid the afternoon sun. Plenty of food and drinks are sold at the venue.

The Garífuna Jankanu Dance

The centuries-old tradition of jankanu, a West African masquerade dance, dates back to the days of slavery. Jankanu was a celebration by the enslaved of their few days of freedom at Christmastime, during which they would dance and mock the European masters by wearing pink flesh-colored masks, white clothes, and suspenders.

In the Garífuna jankanu dance, the performer dictates the beat to the drummer with his movements: feet together, knees bent, arms raised, palms facing the drummers, and hips rocking quickly side to side. There are costumes that include special touches, including cowrie shells strapped above the knee and feathers shooting up from the masks.

In 2010 an annual jankanu dance contest was launched in Dangriga to improve the quality of the dance and pass it on to younger generations. The contest is held every December, usually the day after Christmas, at Y-Not Island in Dangriga, where the basketball court is transformed into a makeshift dance floor.


A jankanu dancer competes at an annual contest in Dangriga.


Easily one of the most popular cultural events in Belize, Garífuna Settlement Day (Nov. 19) celebrates the arrival of the first Garinagu onto Belizean shores, and it’s a national holiday. The biggest celebration in the country takes place in Dangriga, with a complete reenactment of the first arrival of Garinagu on the shores of Belize in dugout canoes filled with cassava, plantains, and other staple foods. The town comes alive the entire week of November 19, with concerts, art exhibits, drumming, and more; a schedule is printed that month, or you can inquire with your guesthouse or host. Almost every night leading up to Settlement Day, there is dancing and drumming under the “sheds” in town, such as Wadani Shed, from 8pm until the wee hours of the morning. On the morning of the 19th, the crowd heads over to the main bridge in town across the North Stann Creek River, lining up along the river starting at 7am, waiting for the boats to arrive and cheer them on. The merriment continues with a colorful, hair-raising procession to the church, and ends with an afternoon parade in town. Settlement Day in Dangriga is one of the best cultural experiences in all of Belize. Hotels book up months in advance, so make sure you make arrangements well ahead.


Mercy Sabal’s Garífuna dolls (tel. 501/604-6731, US$25-35) make for a unique gift; each is meticulously made by hand and depicts an aspect of the culture. Call ahead to view them at her home, which is currently being converted into a ground-floor shop. If you’re lucky, she may treat you to a Garífuna immersion day.

Pen Cayetano Studio Gallery (3 Aranda Cres., tel. 501/628-6807,, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri.) is a must-see. The master painter, musician, artist, and ambassador of the Garífuna culture keeps his oil canvas collection here in his artist studio—if you’re lucky, he’ll be there when you visit so you can get insight on his master pieces—along with the unique textile art of his wife and fellow artist, Ingrid Cayetano. There’s also a museum section to the gallery (entrance US$2.50), including CDs, drums, and souvenirs. The fruit tree-filled backyard—from soursop to bananas—now has a nice stage for live performances as well as displays of Garifuna cooking tools and an outdoor hearth, which Cayetano still uses. The gallery often hosts groups for a day of Garífuna culture, in case you’re interested.


Pen Cayetano outside his art studio and gallery

Along a side street just up from Riverside Café, you’ll find a nice assortment of made-in-Stann Creek drums, turtle shells, paintings, carvings, and more at the Garinagu Crafts & Art Gallery (46 Oak St., tel. 501/522-2596,, 9am-6pm Mon.-Fri.). Don’t miss peeking into the adjoining museum, a room displaying traditional Garífuna tools and instruments. You can get an interpretive tour from passionate owner Francis Swaso, who patiently built and collected items for this gallery for more than a decade.


Under US$25

Dangriga’s main drag has a handful of low-budget options, including the Riverside Hotel (north end of the bridge on Commerce St., tel. 501/660-1041, US$15 pp). Pick one of the basic front guest rooms for a chance of a breeze; all have shared baths, wood floors, a thin sheet, and fans. A better budget bet is D’s Hostel (tel. 501/502-3324,, US$12.50 pp), across from a pleasant park overlooking the ocean. Dana is a cheerful and friendly host who loves meeting her guests from around the world and putting them up in one of her cement bunkrooms; each bed has a fan and a massive locker to stash your gear (even a suitcase). The communal lounge area has a chess table, a book exchange, and a movie library. Amenities include wireless Internet, bikes for rent (US$5 per day), and laundry service. Val can help arrange a fishing trip, a transfer to Tobacco Caye, a night wildlife tour, or language and cultural exchange opportunities.


S Pal’s Guest House (868 Magoon St., tel. 501/522-2095 or cell 501/660-1282,, US$43, US$60 with a/c), around the corner from the bus station, has upgraded its 16 clean, modest cement guest rooms at the corner of North Havana Road and Magoon Street. Guest rooms all have private baths, cable TV, and optional air-conditioning. Seaside guest rooms are better, with linoleum floors, ceiling fans, hot and cold private showers, TVs, and balconies at the ocean’s edge; louvered windows on both ends of the rooms create good cross-ventilation. Wireless Internet is available for extra cost. In the high season, the Raati Grill has breakfast, lunch, and dinner options for guests.

At the towering Chaleanor Hotel (35 Magoon St., tel. 501/522-2587,, US$23-75), friendly owners Chad, Eleanor and their son Chad Jr. offer a homey atmosphere in a residential neighborhood. Economy guest rooms (US$21.50) are equipped with a bed and a fan; the restroom and shower are shared. The well-used standard rooms have private baths with hot water, TVs, and fans (air-conditioning is optional at extra cost). Laundry service is available. There’s a gift counter in the lobby, and you can help yourself to coffee and bananas all day long. Numerous tour operators book their guests in the Chaleanor, sometimes arranging a drumming or dance session on the roof.

If you’d rather hear the waves lapping below your window, try one of the four stilted wooden cabanas at Ruthie’s (tel. 501/502-3184,, US$28), an excellent value if you snag one of the seafront cabins. It’s a 10-minute walk from the bus station; follow the sign from Magoon Street.


Ruthie’s budget beachfront cabanas


The Bonefish Hotel (15 Mahogany St., tel. 501/522-2243,, US$95) is near the water with eight guest rooms, offering well-used private baths, air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, complimentary coffee, and a second-floor lobby and bar. It caters to active travelers who want to fish and dive—most guests continue on to Blue Marlin Lodge on South Water Caye, which is allied with the Bonefish. Guest rooms are clean and carpeted, with private hot- and cold-water baths, cable TV, wireless Internet, and air-conditioning.

Jungle Huts Resort (4 Ecumenical Dr., tel. 501/522-0185,, US$60-90) offers 13 guest rooms and three cabanas at its riverside location. All guest rooms have private baths, hot and cold water, cable TV, fans or air-conditioning, and Internet access. Screened porches allow you to listen to the frogs in the evening without mosquitoes. The on-site Garden of Eatin’ Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner to guests (when it’s open, that is).


Griga’s high end is found at the north end of town at the end of Ecumenical Drive, right next to the airstrip: S Pelican Beach Resort (tel. 501/522-2044,, from US$135 plus taxes, includes breakfast) rests comfortably on the Caribbean. Its 17 guest rooms are open and well lit with wood and tile floors, bathtubs, and porches facing the ocean, with gorgeous views of the beach and dock. Various packages are available that include meal plans, excursions, and time spent at the Pelican’s stunning sister resort on South Water Caye (easily the most beautiful caye in Belize, in this island-lover’s opinion). Pelican is a full-service resort with many amenities and plenty of history behind its owners.


Most of Dangriga’s few eateries are open only during mealtimes, so expect some closed doors in the middle of the afternoon and on Sunday, when only the Chinese restaurants are open. Your best value is probably King Burger (tel. 501/522-2476, 7am-3pm and 6pm-10pm Mon.-Sat., US$2-10), on the left as you cross the North Stann Creek bridge from the south. It offers excellent breakfast, fresh juices, sandwiches, shakes, and simple comfort dinners, from fried chicken to burgers and fresh snapper dinners.

Another standby is the S Riverside Café (tel. 501/661-6390 or 501/669-1473, 6:30am-9pm daily). It’s popular with travelers (boats to the cayes leave from right outside) and is a gathering spot for local fishers. Grab a table or belly up to the bar and order a Guinness with your eggs and beans to fit in with the locals; it’s US$4.50 for stew chicken, US$6 and up for fish and shrimp. For something different, try the cassava fries. Dinner is also available, with plenty of seafood options (US$9-13).

If you want cheaper food, walk back to the main drag and grab a fistful of street tacos for a few coins. There’s also Edith’s by the North Stann Creek bridge, selling burritos, panades (meat pies), fry chicken, and more fast food under a Coca-Cola-branded shack. Street barbecues are another common sight, offering a plate of grilled chicken with flour tortillas, baked beans, and coleslaw for about US$2.50. There are a few other local shacks with solid dishes: try Letty’s Kitchen (62 Commerce Dr., tel. 501/665-7412, 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat., US$3.50-4) serving Creole options, including a good ol’ plate of chicken stew as well as fish.

A local favorite and in the laid-back Dangriga style, Sean’s Barmouth Grill (tel. 501/667-1488, 6pm-midnight Tues.-Sat., US$5-8) is a modest palapa along the river with good vibes. They serve excellent home-cooked fajitas and burgers and, of course, cold beer and plenty of rum.

For Chinese, the best are Starlight (8am-11pm daily, closed in the afternoon, US$3-10), on the north end of Commerce Street, and Sunlight (8am-11pm daily, US$3-10), with good food and poor service on the south end of Commerce Street. There is “fry chicken to take” at any number of Chinese shops.

Dangriga’s only moderately upscale restaurant, the Pelican Beach Resort (tel. 501/522-2044,, 7am-10pm daily, US$5-15) on the north end of town, where delicious food is prepared by Creole cooks and served in the dining room or in an open beachside eating area. There are occasional Garífuna dish specials offered, particularly on Sunday. Happy hour (5pm-9pm Thurs.-Fri.) is very popular, especially on the 15th and 30th of each month because they’re paydays.

You can’t miss the Café Casita de Amor (“Little House of Love,” Mile 16½, Hummingbird Hwy., STACA/Steadfast Community bus stop, tel. 501/660-2879, 7:30am-5pm Tues.-Sun., US$4) on the Hummingbird Highway. This heart-shaped eatery serves both German and local dishes for breakfast and lunch—everything from milk shakes, gourmet coffee, and smoothies to burgers and sandwiches. Campers are welcome to pitch a tent, and the Billy Barquedier waterfall is just down the road.

A Taste of Garífuna

Dangriga is so authentic that you’ll be hard-pressed to find public Garífuna eateries—most residents prepare and eat their traditional dishes at home. If you’re lucky, you might be invited to break bread at a Grigan home. Otherwise, you can sample some of these dishes either at the Pelican Beach Resort or behind the Dangriga Market, at Zalene’s Kitchen. Hopkins has more Garífuna restaurants than any other spot in the country. The following are the specialties to sample when in the land of the Garinagu. All have cassava, fish, banana, and coconut as common ingredients.

Cassava: You’re likely to find a soothing bowl of cassava porridge in Dangriga. On Settlement Day morning, it’s common to see folks warming up with a few spoonfuls of this cassava flour and coconut milk mixture while waiting on the reenactment canoes to come in. Cassava bread has the consistency of a crispy cracker or flatbread and is made in Dangriga at the only cassava-producing farm in the country, then sold in other districts. It’s the Garífuna staple, a snack that symbolizes the ancestors’ survival on long boat journeys in search of freedom and preservation.

Darasa: These banana tamales are a Garífuna snack, with the green banana steamed in coconut milk and wrapped in green banana leaves.

Hudut: Pronounced “HOO-doot,” this is fish—usually snapper—simmered in a coconut milk sauce spiced with garlic, black pepper, and thyme, then served with a mound of mashed plantain all in one bowl. Grab some of the mashed plantain with your fingers, pinch a bit of fish as well, dip it in the coconut sauce, and savor away. It takes almost three hours to prepare this dish from scratch, and it’s the most labor-intensive of all Garífuna dishes, so when you find it, enjoy every bite.


a plate of hudut

Tahara: I first tasted this in Hopkins at Tina’s Kitchen, where I learned that there is such a thing as a Garífuna breakfast. Chunks of mashed green bananas are wrapped inside heated banana leaves, left in the oven, and eventually unwrapped. The final crunchy roasted pieces are served with fried fish, sprinkled with a tomato and onion sauce.


Pick your own liquor or wine from the impressive imported selection at Family City (Ecumenical Dr., 8am-9pm daily); the large supermarket also has a well-stocked perfume and beauty-products counter. Another well-stocked store is Grigalizean Shopping Center (Stann Creek Valley Rd., tel. 501/522-3668) on the highway less than a mile from the Drums of Our Father monument going out of town—the sign was taken down to correct the originally misspelled “Gregalizean,” but hopefully it’s back up by the time you read this.


Belize Bank (8am-3pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-4:30pm Fri.) and Scotiabank (8am-2:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-2:30pm Fri., 9am-11:30am every other Sat.) are on St. Vincent Street near the bridge; both have ATMs.

Southern Regional Hospital (tel. 501/522-3834) is just out of town and serves the entire population of Stann Creek District.

Mail your postcards at the post office (Mahogany Rd., across from D’s Hostel, tel. 501/522-2035, 8am-11am and 1pm-5pm Mon.-Thurs., reduced hours Fri.).

Val’s Laundry and Internet (tel. 501/502-3324, 7:30am-7pm Mon.-Sat., morning Sun., US$1 per pound) is on Sharp Street near the post office. Fast and friendly satellite Internet is available (US$2.50 per hour), as well as FedEx service, local information, and organic fresh-squeezed juices. You can also get online at the air-conditioned DNK Internet Café (15 St. Vincent St., across from Scotiabank, tel. 501/522-0383, U.S. tel. 646/522-7939,, US$2.50 per hour).


Dangriga is on the coast, only 36 miles south of Belize City as the crow (or local airline) flies. However, the land trip is much longer, roughly 75 miles along the Manatee Road or 100 miles via the Hummingbird Highway.


Maya Island Air (tel. 501/223-1140, U.S. tel. 800/225-6732, and Tropic Air (tel. 501/226-2012, U.S. tel. 800/422-3435, have a number of daily 20-minute flights between Belize City and Dangriga. It’s also possible to fly from Dangriga to Placencia and Punta Gorda.


You can arrange boat service from Belize City, but there is no scheduled service; they tried running a regularly scheduled shuttle, but it didn’t make money. Ask around the docks by the gas station, at your hotel, or at the Belize Tourism Board. Expect to pay a fair amount for this trip (probably US$100 each way). Service to and from local cayes or other coastal villages is also dependent on how many people want to go. Only two passengers are required to make the trip to Tobacco Caye (US$35 pp); ask at the Riverside Café for the latest information. You can also check with Pelican Beach Resort as to whether you can catch a ride with them (for an additional fee) when they head to South Water Caye.


Bus service between Belize City and Dangriga takes close to three hours, including a stop in Belmopan, and costs US$5 each way; buses run 5:15am-6:15pm daily. There are a few express buses during the day, but the schedule changes regularly, so be sure to check at the station.

James Bus Line (tel. 501/664-2185 or 501/631-1959, operates several daily southbound buses to Punta Gorda (from 7:30am until the day’s only express at 5:30pm), a three-hour trip. Buses to Punta Gorda stop in Mango Creek; from there you can make a connection to Placencia on the water taxi. As of press time, four buses go directly to Placencia (2.5 hours), thanks to Ritchie’s Bus Service (tel. 501/523-3806): 11am daily, 2pm Mon.-Sat., 4:30pm daily, and 6pm daily. These buses used to stop in Hopkins and Sittee River, but that schedule is in question, so ask around the station. Buses leave from Dangriga to Hopkins at 10am daily; the first pickup is by the riverside, next to Ricky’s Restaurant, where the bus will be parked starting at 9am.


From Belize City, take the Western Highway to either the Coastal (Manatee) Road or Hummingbird Highway, which you follow till it ends. Taking the Coastal Road may shave 20 minutes off the Hummingbird Highway route, but the rutted, red-dirt surface may also destroy your suspension and jar your fillings loose. The unpaved Coastal Road is flat and relatively straight and is occasionally graded into a passable highway, but you’d better have a sturdy ride. Be prepared for lots of dust in the dry season and boggy mud after a rain. Numerous tiny bridges with no railings cross creeks flowing out of the west, and the landscape of pine savanna and forested limestone bluffs has nary a sign of human beings (except for the crappy road, of course). About halfway to the junction with the Hummingbird Highway, you’ll find a pleasant place to stop and take a dip at Soldier Creek; just look for the biggest bridge of your trip and pull over. Watch out for snakes in the bush, and once you reach your destination, try not to spend those hard-earned extra 20 minutes all in one place.

Islands Near Dangriga


Belize’s largest protected marine area, included in the sweeping World Heritage Site designation of the Belize Barrier Reef System, the South Water Caye Marine Reserve (tel. 501/661-9568,, park fee US$5, US$15 per week) covers 117,878 acres and is 15 miles southeast of Dangriga’s coast, the closest jumping-off point. It stretches from the Tobacco Reef all the way south to just above Wippari Caye.


Few will disagree that this marine zone includes some of the healthiest and most abundant marine and coral life along the reef, hence some of the best snorkeling and diving in stunning royal-blue water. Home to sandy or mangrove cayes, in addition to littoral forests and sea grass beds, the reserve is recognized as a vital area for several critically endangered species, including the hawksbill turtle, the loggerhead turtle, and the goliath grouper, in addition to important bird nesting colonies for the magnificent frigate and brown boobies.

With depths going only to 20 feet in some parts, the area is an ideal spot for beginning snorkelers and divers, particularly right off the beach at Pelican Resort on South Water Caye, where the reef is within a swim’s reach. The shallow waters off Carrie Bow Caye, across South Water, are packed with bright corals.

It’s no exaggeration to say that no island trip to southern Belize is complete without a jaunt to the South Water Caye Marine Reserve.

Because of the protected area’s sheer size and reach, some of the islands on the northern end of this protected area are more easily reached (cost and distance-wise) from Dangriga or Hopkins—namely, Tobacco Caye, South Water Caye, and Glover’s Reef Atoll.

Diving Bliss

This reserve, its surrounding islands, and numerous dive spots are also accessible to day-trippers from Placencia or Hopkins, who come here for some of the best wall dives in Belize. While it would require several trips to become familiar with this region alone, a couple of dive spots just off South Water Caye stand out above the rest. Parrot Reef’s 70-foot wall is home to nurse sharks, spotted rays, hawksbill turtles, gray and queen angelfish, lobsters, barracuda, yellowtail snapper, and schools of creole wrasse feeding on plankton, among other incredibly colorful sights of azure vase sponges and corals. You’ll also see the invasive lionfish species, hovering above netted barrel sponges. The Abyss is a 40- to 130-foot wall that drops into an incredible abyss of blues, where turtles, nurse sharks, eagle rays, and colorful reef fish roam at various depths.


If your tropical island dream includes sharing a small, rustic island with a few dozen travelers, snorkelers, divers, backpackers, and adventurous souls from around the world, then Tobacco Caye is your place. This tiny island, located within South Water Caye Marine Reserve, has long been a popular backpacker and Belizean tourism destination, especially for divers. Tobacco Caye is just north of Tobacco Cut (a “cut” is a break in the reef through which boats can navigate).

As part of a resort package, boats will whisk you each day to snorkeling and fishing trips or to Man-O-War Caye and Tobacco Range to look for manatees. Glover’s Reef, Blue Hole, and Turneffe trips are available (US$150-200); whale shark tours are usually running March-July.


Tobacco Caye’s “resorts” offer similar packages but for a range of budgets. All accommodations are Belizean-run family affairs, each a bit different according to the owner’s vision, and are comfortably crowded together on the five acres of sand. Apart from some basic differences in room quality, the more you pay, the better the food you’ll be eating—a pretty important thing when checking into a guest room that also locks you into a meal plan. Some of the accommodation prices are per person per night and include three meals; always ask to be sure.

S Paradise Lodge (tel. 501/532-2101 or 501/621-1953, occupies the northern tip of the island with guest rooms (US$12.50 pp) and six clean, basic cabins with porches built right over the sea (US$40 pp, includes 3 meals) that will make you want to stay forever.

Stepping things up a notch, find the renovated Reef’s End Lodge (tel. 501/542-2419,, various packages include US$756 for 7 days or US$360 for 3 days, includes 3 meals) on the southern shore; seven guest rooms and cabanas have private balconies—with romantic sunset views—fans and hot and cold water with private baths. There is a bar and restaurant built over the water for those prepaid meals. Reef’s End has the caye’s only dive shop, which can be utilized by anyone on the island; this is an excellent location to begin a shore dive or snorkeling adventure. Dive packages are also available, ranging US$477-1,397 according to the number of days and include meals, transfers, and two local dives daily.

Joe Jo’s By The Reef (U.S. tel. 954/249-5863, tel. 501/610-1647,, US$75-95, includes 3 meals) welcomes you to one of its six new seafront cabanas with hardwood floors, hot water, and reef views from private decks.

Tobacco Caye Lodge (tel. 501/532-2033 or 501/223-6247,, US$99 pp, includes 3 meals) occupies a middle strip of the island and offers six guest rooms in four colorful cabins facing the reef. You are summoned to meals by a dinner bell. There’s a small on-site bar and snack shop as well as hammocks on the beach. A few steps away, the Tobacco Marine Station (tel. 501/620-9116, hosts visiting scientists, and you can ask to check out their reference materials on the area’s habitats and species, use the Internet (US$5 per hour), rent snorkel gear (US$7.50 per day), or head out on a night snorkel (US$10 pp) with these experts.

Getting There

Water taxis to Tobacco Caye leave when the captain says there are enough passengers—usually around mid-afternoon from the Riverside Café or the Tackle Stop farther upstream. Captain Buck (tel. 501/669-0869) is one option, or try Fermin, a.k.a. Compa (tel. 501/666-8699). The trip costs US$15 one-way or US$35 round-trip, with a return trip usually made mid-morning. Captain Doggie (tel. 501/627-7443) is another charter option; he will take 1-3 people for US$70; groups of 4-12 can expect to pay US$17.50 per person. Compa has the newest, largest, and most comfortable boats. All the captains usually hang out by Riverside Café, either outside or inside.

By calling ahead to Blue Dolphin, Reef’s End Lodge, or Tobacco Caye Lodge, you can arrange a pickup any time from Dangriga and ensure a boat will still be there if you are arriving after midday. Be advised that if you need a boat after 3pm, you’ll pay a lot more—seas get rough, and a private charter is necessary. Plan accordingly.


Man-O-War Caye (Bird Isle) is a raucously chirping bird-choked plot of protected mangroves that is a crucial nesting site for frigates and brown boobies—one of only 10 in the Caribbean—amid beautiful turquoise waters. It’s quite a sight and sound to be surrounded by the birds, even from the boat, and it makes for great photographs. It’s a frequent stop on snorkel trips to Tobacco and South Water Cayes.


frigates hovering over the protected bird sanctuary on Man-O-War Caye


Coco Plum Island Resort (U.S. tel. 800/763-7360,, 4 nights US$1,120-2,800, includes all water sports equipment) boasts 10 bright cabins on a 16-acre private island; they specialize in exclusive romantic packages and all-inclusive deals, attracting plenty of honeymooners as a result. There’s no swimming pool here, but the surrounding seawater is shallow enough that you don’t need one. The on-site bar and restaurant gets rave reviews for the lively staff and Belizean-inspired menu. You can rent the entire island if you choose.


A recent addition to the southern tip of the Coco Plum Range, just under 10 miles or a 20-minute boat ride from Dangriga, is the small and secluded Fantasy Island Eco Resort (U.S. tel. 855/350-1569, tel. 501/610-4202,, 3 nights US$775 pp all-inclusive). Affiliated with Isla Marisol on Glover’s Reef, the resort offers three colorful wooden cabanas perched over the sea, with double beds, showers—some may only have cold water, so inquire ahead—spacious porches facing the glorious sunrise, and composting toilets. The entire resort is solar powered, so electricity is available all day and night if you need. There’s an on-site restaurant, also over the water, with an all-around deck. This white sand island is dotted with coconut trees and is intimate in size for a friends’ or family getaway. Bring water shoes, however, as entry into the sea is tricky with all the coral near shore, and watch your step for the occasional sea urchin. Various water sports and inland tours can be arranged at additional cost, including courses from the on-site PADI dive shop. Make arrangements ahead of time for your ride to and from Dangriga.


South Water Caye is a privately owned postcard-perfect island 14 miles off the shore of Dangriga and 35 miles southeast of Belize City. The reef crests just a stone’s throw offshore, sitting atop a 1,000-foot coral wall awash in wildlife. The island stretches 0.75 miles from north to south and 0.25 miles at its widest point. This southern caye is what dream getaways are made of—it’s easily one of the most beautiful cayes in southern Belize. And lucky you, overnight stays are possible.

Accommodations and Food

Once a convent for the Sisters of Mercy, the S Pelican Beach Resort (tel. 501/522-2044,, US$325-369, includes 3 meals) is what every dream island resort should look like: charming yet unpretentious. It occupies the entire southern end of the island—the best end, by far—with five second-story guest rooms, three duplex cottages, and two single-unit casitas, all decently spaced from one another, and all surrounded by dozens of coconut trees and fine, powdery white sand. The beach offers some of Belize’s best and rare walk-in snorkeling sites—that’s if you manage to get yourself out of the dozens of hammocks on the beach. Power is from the sun, and private composting toilets help protect the fragile island ecology.

The owners also have a strip of island toward the north end that is home to Pelican’s University, which hosts student research groups throughout the year; there are plans to refurbish it, so inquire ahead. Plenty of unique day trips are available with Pelican’s guides or with one of several area dive shops, and there are kayaks and snorkel gear available; they charge US$62 per person for the boat transfer to the island.

Lesley Cottages is the common name for International Zoological Expeditions (IZE, tel. 501/532-2404, U.S. tel. 508/655-1461,, US$175 pp). Named for an old local fisherman, Dan Lesley, the compound here specializes primarily in student groups and “educational tourism” but also has some nice private cabins in addition to its own dive shop, dormitory, and classroom. Guest rooms are nestled to the back on the shoreline; three meals and transportation are included. It’s a nice spot for couples (but check to see if you’ll be sharing with student groups). There’s an on-site bar and pool table, as well as complimentary glass-bottom kayaks, paddleboats, and other water sports equipment.

Blue Marlin Lodge (tel. 501/532-2104, U.S. tel. 800/798-1558,, from US$495, includes meals), sister resort of the Bonefish Hotel in Dangriga, is on the northern tip of the island, offering 17 guest rooms, air-conditioned “igloos,” and five cabanas just steps away from the sea. There’s not much beach, and the sand is the hard, flat variety. The bar-dining room over the sea serves meals, snacks, and drinks. The Blue Marlin specializes in fishing trips and has a full dive shop, cable TV, and free Internet access. It’s an easy and short walk along a coastal foot trail to the other parts of the island.

Getting There

South Water Caye is a 40-minute boat ride from Dangriga in good weather. You can either arrange for a pickup from Pelican Beach Resort, since it’s the sister resort (US$68 pp, minimum 4 people for nonguests, but pricing varies according to space availability), or inquire with your resort on the island ahead of time.


Just a few minutes’ ride from South Water Caye, this dot of sand and palms, close to both the reef and mangrove systems and named after the original owner’s spouse (Carrie Bowman), is home to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program (, which has produced more than 800 published papers since 1972. The caye houses up to six international scientists at a time.

The public is welcome to stop by, but it’s best to call ahead or arrange a visit through your resort host. Be sure to stop by the library to read and flip through the guestbook, filled with fascinating observations and drawings from visitors over the years, most of whom are scientists and marine illustrators. On your way back, you can snorkel off the caye and admire coral in very shallow waters.


Wee Wee Caye, affiliated with the Possum Point Biological Station on the mainland near Sittee River, hosts a tropical field station, a marine lab, and an educational center, with a neat system of raised catwalks through the mangroves (it’s beautiful, but there are lots of bugs). The caye also hosts a population of boa constrictors; contact Paul and Mary Shave (tel. 501/523-7021, about bringing your students here.


The southernmost of Belize’s three atolls, Glover’s Reef Atoll (named for a pirate, of course—John Glover) is an 80-square-mile, nearly continuous ring of brilliant coral, flanked on its southeastern curve by five tiny islands. A UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the Belize Barrier Reef, the atoll is 18 miles long and 6 miles across at its widest point; to the east the ocean bottom drops sharply and keeps on dropping, eventually to depths of 15,000 feet at the western end of the Caiman Trench, one of the deepest in the world.


The southern section of the atoll around the cayes serves as a protected marine reserve, with the largest no-take zone in Belize. Many travelers miss Glover’s Reef, in favor of the northern atolls, but Glover’s is truly one of Belize’s remaining underwater treasures.

Diving and Snorkeling

Divers and snorkelers will find a fabulous wall surrounding the Glover’s Reef Atoll, plus more than 700 shallow coral patches within the rainbow-colored lagoon. There are wreck dives and an abundance of marinelife, especially turtles, manta rays, and all types of sharks, including reefs, hammerheads, and whale sharks. The names of the dive sites speak for themselves: Shark Point, Grouper Flats, Emerald Forest Reef, Octopus Alley, Manta Reef, Dolphin Dance, and Turtle Tavern. Snorkeling is no less impressive, with amazing visibility and abundant marinelife—spotted stingrays; barracuda; queen, blue, and French angelfish; trunkfish; hogfish; butterflyfish; blue tangs; groupers; sergeant majors; and blue-headed wrasses, among a host of other species.

Anglers will have a chance at bonefish and permits as well as the big trophy species, including sailfish, marlins, wahoos, snappers, and groupers. There is also fantastic paddling, sailing, stand-up paddleboarding, and anything else you can dream up. Glover’s is a special place indeed.



The first bit of land you’ll reach from the mainland is owned by the Usher family, which runs the high-end full-service Isla Marisol Resort (tel. 501/520-2056, U.S. tel. 855/350-1569,, 3-night all-inclusive scuba package US$1,290) for avid divers, snorkelers and sportfishers. There are rustic but comfortable cabanas with air-conditioning and porches, outfitted with composting toilets (no wood chips, thankfully); or stay in one of two reef houses, with spectacular deck views of the reef and ideal for either families or honeymooners. Many all-inclusive packages are available for a three-night minimum. A lively, cozy dockside bar is the center of nighttime activity, where guests get merry, fish, feed nurse sharks, or play board games. If you’re looking for a place to get away from it all, soak up the Belizean island life, go diving or fishing, swing from your hammock as you please and eat delicious home cooked meals every day, this is it.


Isla Marisol Resort on Glovers’ Reef Atoll

Island Expeditions (U.S. tel. 800/667-1630,, 3-day package US$639 pp) is an adventure-travel outfitter with a tent camp on the north tip of Southwest Caye; it’s a well-run professional operation with daily water-sports activities of all kinds—for the novice and expert alike—and a great option if you like meeting other travelers and bonding with them on a group trip. The sturdy tents have single or double beds and kerosene lamps, and they are well sheltered from the elements. This eco-friendly camp provides shared composting toilets, cold-water showers (with outdoor warm-water hoses when the weather cooperates), and evening generator use until 9:30pm. The communal meals are excellent, and guests are welcome to head over to the bar at Isla Marisol at night. I had a great time with this dynamic group, learning a couple of water sports for the first time, including sea kayaking.


There are no accommodations on Middle Caye, unless you’re a Belize Fisheries Department ranger, a marine biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, or a PhD student with special permission. If staying on one of the surrounding cayes, ask your host about arranging a trip to see what’s going on here.


The 13 acres of Long Caye form the gorgeous backdrop to the thatched-roof base camp of Slickrock Adventures (U.S. tel. 800/390-5715,, 5-night package US$1,495 pp); check out the website for a range of active Belizean adventures. Slickrock has a veritable armada of kayaks, windsurfing boards, and other water toys; conditions and equipment will cover beginners and experts alike. Guests stay in very private rustic beach cabins overlooking the reef and equipped with kerosene lamps, foam-pad mattresses, and great views. Outhouse toilets are of the plein air variety, surrounded by palm leaf “walls”—offering possibly the best views from a toilet in the entire country. Book a trip to the island, or link the trip with wild inland adventures as well (call for a catalog).

Off the Wall Dive Center (tel. 501/532-2929,, US$1,395 per week all-inclusive) is a PADI 5-Star Resort. Stay on Long Caye in a rustic oceanfront cabana with access to a top-notch dive shop, gift shop, and yoga deck. The maximum capacity is 10 guests. Package prices include seven days’ lodging, boat transportation, meals, diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Whale shark trips and PADI scuba certification courses are popular; yachties are welcome to come ashore and browse the gift shop.


This island is privately owned and run as Glover’s Atoll Resort and Island Lodge (tel. 501/520-5016 or 501/614-7177,, a primitive island camp run by the Lomont family, which also runs Glover’s Guest House in Sittee River. Their 68-foot catamaran takes you from Sittee River to Glover’s remotest caye, where you can camp or shack up for the cheapest weekly rates on the atoll: US$99 per week of camping, US$149 to stay in the dorm, or US$249-299 for rustic thatched cabins perched over the water. Prices include transportation, a week of primitive lodging, use of the kitchen, and nothing else—not even water. Show up at the guesthouse in Sittee River at 7am Saturday and be prepared for the week. It’s best to bring your own food, drinking water, and a few camping basics, or pay at least US$42 per day to be provided these amenities. A dive shop and kayak rentals are also available, and the snorkeling is out of this world.

Hopkins and Vicinity

Hopkins was built in 1942 after a hurricane washed away Newtown, just up the coast; it’s a scenic coastal fishing village that has steered more and more toward tourism in the past decade. More beachfront condominium developments and luxury private villas are going up on either end of the village’s beautiful long stretch of beach, one of the nicest in Belize, but for now nearly everything in between remains chill, spread out, and reasonably priced. There’s really no place in Belize like Hopkins. Its 1,000 or so inhabitants are mostly Garífuna, making this one of the more exciting places to be to learn about the Garinagu. Traditional village life is ever-present here, and residents are holding on to it to make sure it isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon. This is where you can experience culture on every corner simply by walking around or sitting on an outdoor patio. It’s a much smaller area than Dangriga and is less intimidating for newcomers; those with an open mind and a thirst for cultural immersion, coupled with a love for beaches, the outdoors, and nearby cayes, will leave happy. Hopkins is just as good of a base as Dangriga, a stone’s throw away, for those seeking to island-hop to nearby South Water Caye and Tobacco Caye.


With the advent of new resorts and time-share condos in Sittee, the continual trickle of backpackers that still show up in Hopkins Village, and visitors seeking a mix of beach and culture, there are a few decent craft shops, way more Guatemalan souvenir shacks than usual, and cafés along the main drag. There’s also drumming once or twice a week, and karaoke nights are big at one or two local bars. Other than that, the sights are really just those that make up everyday village life, rarely seen elsewhere in Belize, along with, of course, the beach. On a weeknight, this means drinking beer and bitters, playing drums and dominoes, and laughing away another hot, breezy day from a hammock. Of course, things pick up considerably on festival months or days, particularly Garífuna Settlement Day, Christmas, and Easter Week; expect accommodations to be in high demand during these times.


The road that carries you into Hopkins from Dangriga splits the village into Northside (or “Baila” as the locals call it—pronounced “BAY-la”) and Southside (or “False Sittee”). Northside is a bit denser with local flavor, while Southside hosts most of the shops, restaurants, and accommodations.

S Lebeha Drumming Center

You can’t leave Hopkins without a Garífuna drumming lesson. Drums are a key part of the Garífuna culture, a symbolic connection to their African ancestors and a sound that is considered a metaphor for the collective voice that colonial masters were unable to silence. At the award-winning Lebeha Drumming Center (tel. 501/665-9305,, up on Northside (lebeha means “the end” in Garífuna), Garífuna drum master Jabbar Lambey offers both private (US$15 per hour) and group lessons (2 hours US$12.50 pp). He will ensure that you learn a couple of beats and have a grand time. You might even learn how to punta dance. Call or stop by to schedule a lesson. Once you’re there, ask him about the annual Battle of the Drums in Punta Gorda.


Lebeha Drumming Center

Serpon Sugar Mill

If you’re a history buff, head to Belize’s first protected historical reserve. Sitting on 114 acres of rainforest, the Serpon Sugar Mill (, 8am-5pm daily) houses remnants of Belize’s colonial history—a semi-mechanized sugar mill’s machinery and tools, including a boiler, a locomotive, a steam engine, and more. Once considered a technological breakthrough, these old life-size machines today are nothing short of surreal. The Serpon Sugar Mill was established in 1865 and operated until the early 20th century, when it was finally abandoned after sugar production became more profitable in the north of Belize. At its peak, it produced and shipped an estimated 1,700 pounds of sugar per month.

There’s a small entrance fee (US$5) to this site protected by National Institute of Culture and History, and a museum offers interesting manufacturing details and a historical timeline. The mill is about a mile along the Sittee River Village access road, off the Southern Highway, and can be toured in less than an hour.


There’s plenty of inland exploration to keep you occupied near Hopkins, which is ideally located close to two of southern Belize’s great parks, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Mayflower Bocawina National Park, offering plenty of hiking, rappelling, birding, and zip-lining.

For Mayflower Bocawina National Park, your best bet is to contact Bocawina Adventures & Eco-Tours (tel. 501/670-8019 or U.S. tel. 844/894-2311,, single waterfall US$65 pp, zip-lining and waterfall rappelling expedition US$150 pp, lunch included), the only company to offer waterfall rappelling from the park’s five stunning chutes, including an incredible 1.5-hour hike to the gorgeous 500-foot-high Antelope Falls, as well as birding and zooming across the canopy on the longest zip-line course in Central America, including night zip-lining. Don’t miss hiking across the gorgeous Jesus Beatres Memorial Bridge—a suspension bridge through the rainforest, name after the former staff member who built it and sadly died soon after its completion from unrelated health issues. An even better way to experience the park is to stay overnight on-site at the Bocawina Rainforest Resort, tucked inside the lush park.

Charlton Castillo (cell 501/661-8199, tel. 501/543-7799,, can guide you to the Cockscomb or to Mayflower Bocawina National Park. Charlton conducts night tours (6pm-11pm) in Cockscomb in case you want to try your luck with a jaguar encounter (US$60 pp for 2 people), daytime hiking and tubing on the South Stann Creek River (US$60 pp), and waterfall hikes at Bocawina (US$55 pp).


Hopkins’s beaches, all public, are some of the best in the country—I dare say even better than Placencia Village. Stretching nearly five miles from Northside to Southside, they’re wide, thick, never crowded, and have calmer waters. In the village you can take one very nice, very long beach walk, and you can lay your towel pretty much anywhere you please, except on chairs at private resorts.


Hopkins Village beach

If you’re looking to mingle and eat on the beach, a great spot to hang out right in the village center, a block south from the village entrance and facing the sea, is Luba Laruga Restaurant (1 Hopkins Rd., tel. 501/661-3597, 8am-8pm Mon.-Sun., US$5-10). Get a beer or a plate of fresh grilled snapper or shrimp quesadillas, among other options, and go chill on the beachside picnic tables, or on the dock, steps away.

Up north, find a spot on the wide stretch by Driftwood Pizza Shack (tel. 501/667-4872,, 11am-10pm Thurs.-Tues., US$8-23), where you can use Wi-Fi, eat, and hang out all day; or else you can lay your towel by Laruni Hati Beyabu Diner (Northside, tel. 501/661-5753, 10am-9pm daily), sitting on a gorgeous stretch. On the south end, there’s no shortage of space either, although it tends to be quieter, if that’s what you seek. In False Sittee, Hamanasi Resort (tel. 501/533-7073, has a nice pool and beachfront, both of which you can use while having lunch at the restaurant.

Snorkeling and Diving

For diving or snorkeling, you can hopefully make plans with Splash Dive Center (tel. 501/523-3080 or cell 501/610-0235,, 2-tank dive US$120, snorkeling US$90 pp, lunch included). The popular dive shop from Placencia now has a second center at Jaguar Reef Resort and is fully operational; Splash Dive is one of the best in the country. A longstanding dive center is Hamanasi Adventure and Resort (tel. 501/533-7073, U.S. tel. 877/552-3483,, 3-tank dive at Turneffe US$185, 2-tank dive at Southern Barrier Reef US$115). Hopkins Underwater Adventures (tel. 501/633-3401, also get rave reviews and offers PADI courses.

For snorkeling trips to the nearby cayes or fly-fishing, Noawel Nuñez (tel. 501/523-7219 or cell 501/662-3017, full-day snorkel trip US$175 for 2 people, half-day fishing US$238) is your man, located in his tour shack at the Watering Hole (his wife’s restaurant). You can rent snorkel gear and even goggles with an integrated camera and video camera (US$20 per day) from Motorbike Rentals (main road, Hopkins Village, tel. 501/665-6292,, 8am-5pm daily).

Kayaking and Windsurfing

Most guesthouses in Hopkins rent kayaks and other small craft or provide them for guests to use. Hopkins waters are calmer than the windier Northern Cayes, so kayaking is a safe bet, from the sea to the lagoon at the north end of the village.

Windschief Windsurfing School and Rental (on the beach toward the south, tel. 501/523-7249 or 501/668-6087,, 1pm-close Fri.-Wed., US$10 per hour, private lessons US$30 per hour, group lessons US$20 pp) has a selection of slightly used windsurfing boards of various sizes for rent and offers lessons for mostly beginner levels, as wind conditions aren’t consistently ideal to offer advanced sessions.


Many guesthouses and hotels either provide complimentary bicycles or rent them at a reasonable rate. It’s really the best way to navigate Hopkins’s sandy, rocky roads and explore its nooks and crannies. Bike rental shops in the village include Fred’s (6am-7pm daily, US$2.50 per hour, US$10 per day), just behind Tina’s, on the main drag.


Birding in Hopkins is as easy as walking out your front door. There are over 200 species of birds in the north and south parts of the village alone. You’ll see grackles crossing the street, trotting along the beach, or, especially in November and December, mass-migrating across the village’s trees at sunset. It’s an incredible, intense sound I have yet to hear anywhere else. On the north end, beside Hopkins Bay Resort, you’ll spot pelicans and dozens of other species at sunrise. Most of the tour companies offer birding tours to the nearby national parks, and while you can ask around for the best choice to fit your budget, first try the area’s highly recommended birding expert, Charlton Castillo (cell 501/661-8199, tel. 501/543-7799,,, US$50 pp). Charlton also goes birding along the nearby Sittee River.

North of the village, Fresh Water Creek Lagoon offers plenty of birding; start early to spot beautiful herons and egrets, and navigate along the lagoon’s lush mangroves. You can rent a kayak and explore solo, or take along a guide for better wildlife spotting. Keep an eye out for the 35-foot lookout tower, then climb it and take in the views. The more adventurous could ask about guided night canoeing along Boom Creek, near Sittee River.



Tina’s Kitchen (Main Rd., left at the village entrance fork, tel. 501/668-3268, 7am-9:30pm daily, US$3-7) is always a safe bet for some beers, bites, and live drumming on Friday evening under a thatched roof. You’ll find a nice crowd of locals here any day of the week.

From Friday onward, you may find other music or entertainment around Hopkins. As far as beach bars go, Driftwood Beach Bar and Pizza Shack (tel. 501/667-4872 or 501/664-6611,, 11am-10pm Thurs.-Tues., US$8-23) has a nice little operation going, with daily half-price happy hours and wood-fired pizza, and attracting plenty of travelers, expats, and a few locals. Monday is movie nights on the beach, but the most popular night is Tuesday, with live Garífuna drumming (the crowd picks up close to 9pm, so come earlier if you want to sit inside rather than out by the beachside picnic tables).

The most local bar in town is the lively Newtown Bar (Back St., no phone, 8pm-midnight daily), a cool bamboo structure with sandy floors, drums hanging on the wall, dart boards at the back, and dimly lit Garífuna quotes, but where, to my own dismay, karaoke rules early in the evening Thursday-Saturday, followed by a DJ. The drinks are cheap and the locals do come in droves.

A popular choice among expats is Windschief Bar (on the beach toward the south, tel. 501/523-7249,, 1pm-11pm Fri.-Sat. and Mon.-Wed., 6pm-11pm Sun., US$4-10), particularly on Friday, when the small beachfront bar gets packed with expats playing darts and table football and nibbling on the tasty small menu of the day.

Festivals and Events

Launched in 2011 and sponsored by the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the Mango Festival (May) celebrates all things mango. There are more than 15 varieties of mango in Belize, and villagers—from Garífuna locals to expat residents—offer up all sorts of dishes, including mango ceviche, mango salads, and mango pies.

The last weekend of July celebrates the existence of the Garífuna village of Hopkins with a big annual festival, Hopkins Day, held since 2000. The fun begins on Friday evening with cultural shows and food at the village basketball court. There are games, drumming, and dancing on Saturday lasting late into the night. Sunday is for family beach time. Check local listings for a detailed schedule.

As one of the main Garífuna areas in the country, Hopkins celebrates the arrival of the Garinagu in Belize with Garífuna Settlement Day (Nov. 19). A reenactment of the day the Garinagu arrived in the 19th century starts in the late morning of November 19 and is smaller in scale than Dangriga’s full day of celebrations, but no less intense. There is plenty of drumming, singing, and chanting on the beach, including during the week leading up to the 19th. Plan for accommodations well in advance.


While strolling through the village, you’ll find several small shops, including David’s Woodcarving and Kulcha Gift Shop, with Garífuna drums made in Hopkins and Dangriga, Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, and plenty of local carvings. Both are on the main road in Hopkins Village.

Over the past couple of years, a handful of Guatemalans have set up shop in the village, but be aware that these are not Belizean-made products. A better bet would be to stop at GariMaya Gift Shop (Front St., no phone,, 11am-5pm daily), just south of the village entrance (take a second left after you reach the main entrance intersection). Run by a Garífuna and Maya couple, the shop offers handmade products, including jewelry, hand-painted bottles, woven baskets, and mini Garífuna drums.

Save time for a bike ride just south of the village to pay a visit to Sew Much Hemp (S. Hopkins, tel. 501/668-6550, 11am-4pm Mon.-Sat.), where Barbara, a dreadlocked Oregonian, can teach you everything you need to know about the plant that can save the world. She sells excellent hemp products as well. If the sandflies are out, this is a great place to pick up some natural repellent.


Under US$25

On the Northside, next to Driftwood Pizza Shack, budget travelers love the Lebeha Drumming Center (tel. 501/665-9305,, which has campsites (US$5) and a couple of shared-bath stilted wooden guest rooms (US$25) set within the courtyard area; they are very simple (a ceiling fan, no hot water, a mosquito net, and a teakettle). There is wireless Internet.

Right in the village and hard to miss is the bright, eccentric Funky Dodo (tel. 501/667-0558,, US$8-19), a classic small backpacker hostel with a 14-bunk bed dormitory and shared baths as well as private three-person guest rooms with outdoor baths. Camping is also available (US$4). There’s a sandy courtyard, Wi-Fi, and a thatched-roof bar on-site.


From the main junction, head south on the road (or along the beach) and you’ll find a few decent, affordable clusters of beachside cabins, including Seagull’s Nest (tel. 501/663-5976,,, US$25-93), with private-bath doubles and a nice, albeit a bit rustic, common space with a full kitchen, a dining area, and a TV. There’s also a two-bedroom stand-alone beachfront casita (a great deal at US$88) on a lovely shaded stretch of beach set between local homes. Guests can also rent bikes.

Continuing south along the beach, you’ll come across two rustic, stilted seafront cabanas at Windschief (tel. 501/523-7249,, US$25-40), right next to the Windschief bar and windsurfing school.

Another budget option is Whistling Seas Vacation Inn (tel. 501/669-2548,, US$38), with three small cabana guest rooms with fans and very dated bath facilities—but it’s on the beach side.

A notch up yet still casual, S Tipple Tree Beya (tel. 501/533-7006, is a longtime favorite. This well-maintained spot right on the beach offers basic guest rooms (from US$45 with private bath), en suite two-bedrooms (US$62), or a private cabin with a kitchenette (US$55). There is a shared porch with a hammock and beach chairs, and an outdoor cold-water shower if you stay in the budget room (US$40). Half-day or full-day kayak (US$15-20) and bicycle (US$5-9) rentals are available. Host Tricia is able to direct you for inland tours and snorkeling trips. Directly adjacent to Tipple Tree are three more delightful one- and two-bedroom beachfront options (US$98), managed by Tipple Tree, at AJ Palms.

Lebeha Drumming Center (tel. 501/665-9305,, US$49-80 plus tax) also has three cozy furnished cabanas set directly on a nice stretch of beach with kitchenettes, hot showers, and porches.


The best in the midrange rates is S Hopkins Inn Bed & Breakfast (tel. 501/533-7283,, US$59-109), with four fully furnished spacious cabanas with tiled floors, screened windows, fans, hot and cold water, a kitchenette, and a veranda; a continental breakfast of fruits and local pastries is served, and the owners are friendly. It’s a deal for what you get, and it’s right in the village. You’ll also find good value at the All Seasons Guesthouse (tel. 501/523-7209,, US$55-75, includes tax and coffee). It’s not right on the beach, but it’s just a few steps away, and the guest rooms in the main compound are comfortable and nicely decorated by owner Ingrid, a longtime Hopkins resident who sadly has since died. Just next door are two fully furnished and delightful brand-new, stand-alone, two-bedroom apartments (US$98, US$600 per week), making it a more ideal spot than ever for group stays.

A short distance after the pavement of Hopkins Village runs out, down the long dirt road, look for the left turn to Jungle Jeanie’s by the Sea (tel. 501/533-7047,, US$55-120). This is a nice stretch of beach for guests staying in Jeanie’s eight spacious rustic cabanas, three of which are beachfront. The more secluded ones, along a small network of rainforest trails, have kitchenettes, private baths, hot and cold showers, and verandas with a sea view; the Palmetto cabana, with three beds, is ideal for a family, and the tree house cabana overlooks cocoplum and sea grape trees. Camping (US$15 pp) is available, and in case you either fear or love dogs, there are three dutiful German shepherds on the property. The kitchen serves breakfast and dinner daily (and lunch on request), and there’s a screened “jungle palapa” for thrice-weekly yoga sessions. Ask to see the beautiful marimba.


A welcome option right in the village is the colorful and immaculate S Coconut Row Guest House (tel. 501/670-3000,, US$100-150)—you can’t miss the rainbow-colored beach chairs set on an idyllic stretch amid a garden of coconut trees, red hibiscus flowers, and plants. There are three beachfront single guest rooms on one side, but the highlight is the two-bedroom apartments, fully furnished with a kitchenette, air-conditioning, and outdoor patios. A cute picnic area on the beach is available to guests, and the water is less than 10 steps away. There’s an optional US$6 per person breakfast.

Buttonwood Guest House (Front St., tel. 501/670-3000,, US$120-165) is the ideal self-catering couples’ or family hideaway right in the middle of the village yet down a quiet alley facing the beach. The two-story home offers luxurious ground-floor rooms, a studio, and a top-floor two-bedroom apartment with delightful views of the sea as well as a spacious deck. A full kitchen is available, at extra cost. There are beach chairs and a thatched outdoor palapa for relaxation. Use of bicycles and Wi-Fi are complimentary. Book in advance to ensure you get your preferred travel dates.

Over US$300

On the northern tip of town, beside the lagoon, Hopkins Bay Resort (tel. 501/533-7805, U.S. tel. 305/433-8394,, US$300-750) has 19 one- and two-bedroom luxury villas that can be locked off, depending on your needs. No amenities are lacking in the homes, and there are two pools on-site, as well as a restaurant, daily housekeeping at the hour of your choosing, and complimentary use of kayaks and bikes. The resort also offers unique cultural tours, including a “cook your catch” day and a Garífuna immersion experience, among the other usual dive, snorkel, and inland tour options.

Fit for an episode of MTV’s Cribs, on the south end of the village, Villa Verano (tel. 501/533-7016, U.S. tel. 877/646-2317,, US$300-3,500) will have you gasping at every other step past the front door. Past the stunning open-ceiling Mediterranean courtyard are three floors, the second of which is rented as one unit (US$1,950); the remaining parts of the villa can either be locked off into separate units or rented as a whole. Some include rooms with bunk beds (with the plushest bunk mattresses I’ve seen) for families. With local paintings, wood carvings, granite tiling, French doors with stunning sea views, regally spacious baths with jetted tubs, library rooms fitted with gigantic plasma TVs, a 70-foot infinity pool, and a top-floor terrace “game room,” complete with a pool, lounge seating, and a hot tub overlooking the Maya Mountains at the back, no luxurious detail has been spared. This is an ideal place for weddings, groups of friends looking for a treat, family retreats, or just a decadent getaway. Don’t miss the view of the pool and the beach from the rooftop.


There are enough restaurants in Hopkins; most are very low-key small eateries serving either traditional Garífuna dishes or local Creole options. A couple of Western-style cafés and international or “fine cuisine” choices have popped up in the village in the past couple of years. Keep in mind that eating in Hopkins in itself is a cultural experience unlike any other, and one you will create for yourself as you explore the village.

Cafés and Breakfast

Morning coffee isn’t quite a Garífuna tradition, but there are now more spots where you can get it. Try the beachfront Luba Laruga Cool Spot (1 Hopkins Rd., tel. 501/661-3597, 8am-8pm Mon.-Sun., US$5-10), where you can also order freshly made fry jacks, or head to Thongs Café (tel. 501/662-0110,, 8am-2pm Wed.-Sun., US$8-12), with an outdoor roadside patio and light world music buzzing in the background; it’s nice for people-watching and that first or second cup of morning coffee. The breakfast offerings range from cold sandwiches to cinnamon rolls.

My favorite local breakfast is at the spacious and lively S Tina’s Kitchen (main road, left at the village entrance fork, look for signs, tel. 501/668-3268, 7am-9:30pm daily, US$3-7), where you will taste the tastiest Belizean meals—her fry jacks are to die for, and her stew chicken equally flavorful. From Latin to Creole dishes and weekly Garifuna specialties, there’s nothing Tina, a native of Hopkins, can’t make. You can see her cook—often in a traditional Garifuna dress—in her open kitchen as you wait to be served. There’s weekly drumming on Friday evening.

Down south on the main road is Frog’s Point (Main St., tel. 501/665-7589, 7:30am-10am Fri.-Wed., US$8), run by a German expat couple and offering coffee and breakfast on an outdoor veranda.


Several eateries are run by native Hopkins residents, the best way to experience authentic Garífuna cuisine. Most are casually set, with picnic tables under a thatched roof, but the meals are excellent. They require at least an hour’s notice to have time to prepare, as Garífuna food is anything but the “fast” kind. The planning and wait, however, are well worth it. These dishes are also more likely to be ready on demand closer to the weekend (Fri.-Sat.). Most of these eateries also offer Belizean specialties, including stew chicken with rice and beans, or burritos, quesadillas, and other Central American fast foods.

Right on the village road going south is good but slow food at Innie’s (Main St., tel. 501/503-7333, 7am-9pm daily, US$8-17). Her hudut (fried fish in a coconut broth with mashed plantains) is delicious, although you may wait at your table for over an hour, and there are several other options for dinner, including bundiga (coconut fish soup with green banana dumplings), fish tea, and seafood dishes.

Still one of my favorites is Marva’s S Laruni Hati Beyabu Diner (Northside, tel. 501/661-5753, 10am-9pm daily), a Garífuna-owned eatery and a favorite among locals, serving the best of Belizean and Garífuna fare for just US$4-6 and in the most ideal of settings—under a thatched roof and directly on a long stretch of beach. As long as you visit during high season, you can sample hudut, the traditional Garífuna dish of fried fish in a coconut broth with mashed plantains. Practice eating with your fingers, breeze blowing and toes buried in the sand. Note that to date, this is the only beachfront eatery run and owned by a Garífuna in Hopkins (laru ni hati means “clear blue sky” and beyabu means “seaside”).


Beachfront Laruni Hati Beyabu Diner serves authentic Garífuna dishes.


T&C’s Kitchen (main road, past the football field, no phone, 8am-4pm daily, US$3-6) is your best bet for delicious stews with rice and beans and has so many loyal customers that it sells out quickly. Get there early at meal times, particularly lunch. T&C also bakes delicious desserts and cakes. The screened porch and the outdoor courtyard seating options make it a good spot to sit and eat while watching the village go by.

Don’t be fooled by the tiny kitchen at Luba Laruga Coolspot (1 Hopkins Rd., tel. 501/661-3597, 8am-8pm Mon.-Sun., US$5-10): It whips out some of the most delicious and excellent value seafood dishes, from fresh grilled coconut-crusted snapper to stuffed grouper and shrimp quesadillas. The beachfront picnic tables, dock, and music complete this casual, friendly outdoor spot.


A popular spot is the Driftwood Beach Bar and Pizza Shack (tel. 501/667-4872 or 501/664-6611,, 11am-10pm Thurs.-Tues., US$8-23), where you can have decent tasting wood-fired pizza, play beach volleyball, listen to live drumming, or just hang out at a lively spot. The bar is one of the most social in the village, crowded with expats, travelers, and a few locals. On a similar social wavelength is the bar at Windschief (tel. 501/523-7249 or 501/668-6087,, 1pm-midnight Mon.-Wed. and Fri.-Sat., 1pm-6pm Sun., US$5-7), with a daily casual dinner menu that includes delicious fish-and-chips on Friday and gyros or burgers (that you can burn off while playing darts or table football).

Right in the village, Little Richard’s (Main St. S., tel. 501/670-7985, 10am-10pm daily, US$10-15) serves tasty, thick-crust pizza, much needed for a break from the usual rice and beans. Also served are favorites like wings, nachos and burgers. Service is friendly and indoor seating is ample. Order ahead of time to avoid a long wait.

Fine Dining

A unique experience is at Love on the Rocks Hot Rock Grill Restaurant (at Parrot Cove Lodge, tel. 501/672-7272, 5pm-10pm daily, US$13-25), created by Chef Rob, where you can finish cooking your own entrée on 400-degree hot stones in the old way of the ancient Maya. Dishes include seafood, chicken, or steak entrées with two sides—all of which are delicious. Have fun flipping your food over on the stone to your liking or warming up your sides at will. Those who don’t want to “get stoned” can opt for pastas and other menu choices. The restaurant, consisting of an outdoor beachfront deck and bar, is immediately next door to the original Chef Rob’s restaurant at Parrot Cove Lodge, another one not to miss.

S Chef Rob’s Gourmet Cafe (tel. 501/670-0445, 5pm-9pm Mon.-Sat., 4-course meal US$28) is worth every penny, and should be your top pick if you only have that one night in Hopkins and looking for a special treat. Rob Pronk serves up his delectable, daily-created four-course dining experience with choices like coconut soup, rib-eye steak, Thai-style pork and shrimp, or Lobster Robert. The restaurant has expanded with a beachfront deck for dining alfresco. Reserve ahead.

S Barracuda Bar and Grill (tel. 501/523-7259, 4pm-9pm or 10pm Thurs.-Tues., dinner US$15-25 pp, large lobster pizza US$25, cheese pizza US$12) is another great pick and features chef “Alaska Tony” Marisco’s amazing menu, including jerk smoked pork, aged beef, lots of seafood, and some of the best pizza this side of the Sittee River. Set on a waterfront deck with mood lighting, it’s a romantic dinner spot; reservations are recommended, as the restaurant can fill up quickly. Don’t forget to ask Chef Tony about his “Mediteribean” specials and sample any of the desserts made by his wife, Angie—particularly her coconut flan.


There are five groceries and a produce stand in Hopkins, making it easier to stock up on nibbles and booze without breaking the bank; Dong Lee’s Supermarket (9am-midnight daily) has the largest selection of liquor. The Garífuna women’s group sells johnnycakes, bread, and Creole buns; look out for the kids selling their mothers’ baked goods, too.


The Windschief Internet Café and cocktail bar (on the beach toward the south, tel. 501/523-7249,, 1pm-11pm Fri.-Sat. and Mon.-Wed., 6pm-11pm Sun., US$4-10) is where it’s at, although many midrange hotels in Hopkins also offer computers and wireless service. Bring plenty of cash, as there’s only one ATM in Hopkins (at the village entrance); the nearest ATMs are in Dangriga.


If you have your own transportation, getting to Hopkins is easy: Just follow the Southern Highway until you see the well-signed turnoff on your left; from there it’s a four-mile straight stretch of dirt road (which can be under water during intense rains). Figure 30 to 40 minutes’ total drive time from Dangriga.

Motorbike Rentals (main road, Hopkins Village, tel. 501/665-6292,, 8am-5pm daily, US$59 per day, US$299 per week) offers up a dozen 200-cc dirt- or cruiser-style motorcycles for rent. A rental, good for two, includes helmets, a map, a local cell phone, and help with designing a self-guided course to Cockscomb, Mayflower Bocawina, and other points of interest.

There are a few buses from Hopkins to Dangriga (8am and 5:15pm Mon.-Sat., US$2.50); buses return to Dangriga at 7am, 7:30am, and 2pm daily. Placencia buses used to go through Hopkins, but currently there are no buses taking that route. A popular alternative is to get off the bus at the Hopkins junction and hitch a ride to the village, or call for a taxi (contact Mr. Abraham, tel. 501/668-6166, or Mr. Mac, tel. 501/665-0181). Otherwise it’s an expensive hotel shuttle or local taxi—which can cost up to US$50 from Dangriga. Once in Hopkins, you can rent a dirt motorcycle at Motorbike Rentals; some people do this to get to the Mayflower reserve or other nearby hiking spots. Bicycle rentals are also easy to find and useful for exploring the village.


A few minutes’ bicycle ride south from Hopkins Village will bring you to a small ocean-side strip of upscale resorts, restaurants, and condos. The water off the beach resorts at False Sittee can be muddy at times because of the proximity of emptying rivers and streams, and depending on the time of year, sandflies and mosquitoes can get fierce. Still, this is a popular spot to stay because of the quality of the lodges as well as the location’s direct access to so many inland and offshore attractions and activities.

Accommodations and Food

A laid-back yet boutique-style option amid a stretch of larger resorts along False Sittee Point is S Beaches and Dreams Seafront Inn and Pub (tel. 501/523-7259 or 501/635-3996,, US$139), whose four ample guest rooms have tiled floors, porches, and private baths; ask about the tree house, which is great for families. Next door is a taller three-story building—the Beaches and Dreams Hotel—with spacious six spacious, Belize-themed, tastefully decorated and colorful rooms (US$195)—pool and sea facing or with views of the Maya Mountains at the back. Don’t miss the rooftop terrace; swing from the hammocks and marvel at the view of Victoria Peak ahead. Use of kayaks and bikes is complimentary, and there’s a lovely palapa dock, ideal for relaxing and napping by the sea. On-site is a tour company offering packages, including culinary adventures.

Another pleasant midrange option is next door at S Parrot Cove Lodge (tel. 501/523-7225,, US$150-400), with a handful of standard rooms and suites plus a few homes and villas for rent. It’s a smaller, more intimate resort; take a kayak out to sea or lounge by the pool. On-site are also a full PADI dive shop and two of the country’s better restaurants: Love on the Rocks and the celebrated Chef Rob’s Gourmet Café.

A more affordable option, across the street from the row of beachfront resorts is the boutique Mediterranean-style white-and-blue villa at Cosmopolitan Guest House (tel. 501/673-7373,, US$75-85) offering four small private ground floor rooms with double beds that include air-conditioning, flat screen TVs, mini fridges, and veranda space, along with cozy poolside cabanas that are ideal for couples. Showers are solar heated, and amenities include bikes and Wi-Fi. Upstairs are the owners’ quarters, where famous Chef Rob and his spouse reside.

Awarded Hotel of the Year 2010 by the Belize Tourist Board, Jaguar Reef Resort (tel. 501/822-3851, U.S. tel. 646/503-1735,, US$275-350) is a full-service place with an ever-improving variety of spacious, comfortably furnished guest rooms and cottages. The Jaguar Reef end feels more like a large all-inclusive resort, but connecting next door, if you can afford it, is its charming sister property, Almond Beach (tel. 501/822-3851 or U.S. tel. 866/624-1516,, US$200-325), which offers a selection of more intimate, luxurious stand-alone beachfront casitas and luxury suites that fill up fairly quickly with couples. The cozy tiki swim-up bar is one of the few in Belize and has an infinity view of the sea. The two properties share a large open dining space and several more pools (including one for kiddies) and bars, along with bikes, kayaks, sand volleyball, and many activity-based packages. The ultra-luxe “beachfront vista suite” on the Almond Beach side is an outrageously decadent five-bedroom penthouse (US$870) that includes a private chef. This is a popular spot for fancy weddings, especially with the addition of the Butterflies Spa (8am-7pm daily), offering a full range of treatments and salon care at about the same rates as back home. Butterflies Coffee next to it has grinds from all over Central America, roasted fresh daily, and cute patio seating.

Belizean Dreams (tel. 501/523-7271, U.S. tel. 800/456-7150,, US$285-625) has nine beach villas with one- and two-bedroom suite options, along with a restaurant and spa services. Area tours are available.

Hamanasi Adventure and Resort (tel. 501/533-7073, U.S. tel. 877/522-3483,, US$275-595) sits on 17 acres, including 400 feet of beautiful beachfront, and offers eight beachfront guest rooms, four suites (including a honeymoon option), and five deluxe tree houses tucked away in the littoral forest, all with views and tiled baths, air-conditioning, fans, and porches. Restaurant meals include pasta and, of course, fresh seafood; it’s open to outside visitors as well (bring a towel). It’s ideal if you just want to laze and aren’t into diving or inland adventures. There’s a pool overlooking the beachfront as well as kayaks, bikes, and hammocks to use at your leisure. Hamanasi is popular among locals as much as visitors and has a high occupancy rate; make reservations ahead of time. There’s a dive shop on-site.

Information and Services

Sittee River Marina (tel. 501/670-8525,, 6am-6pm daily) has oil, gas, diesel, snacks, restroom and shower facilities, and cold beer. They also deliver fuel at sea on request.

Getting There

Driving south on the road from Hopkins, you’ll pass through False Sittee, a short drive east of the Southern Highway. There are usually two daily buses that pass through Sittee River and False Sittee Point, but the schedule varies; most accommodations will provide transfers from Dangriga.


Sittee River is a peaceful, riverine corner of the country with not a whole lot happening in it. It qualifies as a village only in the loosest sense, with a few houses and a couple of basic riverside places to stay. Sadly, businesses have become sparse in Sittee, and as of late it appears nearly abandoned, but its wildlife and natural setting remain; if you’re not staying here—frankly, there are way better options in Hopkins Village—it’s good for a drive through and perhaps a stop at the Curve Bar and the Marina to soak in Belize’s deepest and most beautiful river.

Sports and Recreation

On the road to False Sittee, past Jaguar Reef Resort, you’ll find Diversity Café and Tours (tel. 501/661-7444), offering help with tour planning, including snorkeling, fishing, and inland trips, which they outsource to local guides. There are also golf carts for rent (US$20 for 2 hours, US$50 per day).

Accommodations and Food

Glover’s Guest House (tel. 501/532-2916, provides cheap, Spartan lodging for both walk-ins and guests of the Glover’s Atoll Resort. Stay in a bunkhouse on stilts (US$9 pp) or in one of the private, stilted, screened-in riverside cabins (US$19); meals and a cooking area are available. Camping is US$5 (bring your own tent). You can use the guesthouse’s canoes and kayaks to explore the river.

Only a slight notch up is also the only other option in Sittee at publication time, River House Lodge (tel. 501/543-7044,, US$65-75). It offers six cabanas with double beds, screened porches, and kitchenettes, and is set along the Sittee River with a small dock to gaze at the gorgeous view (but not to swim—crocodiles live in the river). There’s an on-site bar and restaurant, complete with an indoor pool.

Have a sunset drink over the Sittee River under the thatched roof at the Curve Bar (Sittee River Marina, tel. 501/670-8525, 6am-9pm daily, US$5-20), where Belizean chef Sean Kuylen helped create the menu—including lobster fritters, flatbread pizza and Belizean snacks like ceviche. Be sure you have a ride arranged to and from the off-the-beaten path restaurant.

Getting There

The Sittee River area is about a 10-minute drive east of the Southern Highway through mostly orange orchards and riverside lots. There are usually two daily buses that run through Sittee River and False Sittee Point, but this schedule is always up in the air; your accommodations will provide some sort of transfer from Dangriga. Driving south on the road from Hopkins, you’ll pass through False Sittee, followed by the village of Sittee River, occupying a few bends of the slow, flat river of the same name.


Located 17 miles from Dangriga and 12 miles from Hopkins, Mayflower Bocawina National Park (entrance US$10 pp) comprises more than 7,100 acres of Maya Mountain wilderness set aside in 2001 to protect and showcase the area’s five waterfalls and green-fringed Mayan ruins. A trail system offers excellent hiking, and it’s an adventurous climb to Antelope Falls. A hike in Mayflower Bocawina can be combined with a day trip to Cockscomb (just to the south), or it can easily fill a whole day or more.


suspension bridge at Mayflower Bocawina National Park

Guides and Tours

Ramon Guzman (tel. 501/533-7136) is a longtime park warden, and he may even greet you at the entrance. Doreen Guzman is an officer in the Friends of Mayflower Bocawina National Park (, an organization that comanages the park with the government.

The licensed guides at Bocawina Adventures & Eco-Tours (tel. 501/670-8019 or U.S. tel. 855/222-0555, will pick you up wherever you stay in the area. A day-long adventure (from US$50 pp, no minimum number of people) hiking to and rappelling from one or all five waterfalls inside the park—Antelope, Bocawina, Tears of the Jaguar, Peck Falls, and Big Drop Falls—is well worth it. When I rappelled the smaller 125-foot-high Bocawina Falls, the drive was just a little over 30 minutes, followed by a short hike of moderate difficulty but with an impressive view. The pool at the summit of Antelope Falls is absolutely breathtaking—that’s if you can manage the grueling, Indiana Jones-like hike of almost two hours uphill to get there, navigating with the use of steps and eventually just ropes! Well worth the adventure, but be sure you are reasonably fit to hike, and wear adequate shoes and clothing. Additional adventures include Belize’s and Central America’s longest single zip line course, at 2,300 feet, and bird-watching.

To explore the park fully, you should overnight at Bocawina Rainforest Resort and Adventures (formerly Mama Noots Eco Resort, tel. 501/670-8019,, US$155-275, continental breakfast included), with duplex cabanas set on beautifully landscaped grounds right in the park, as well as suites with stunning panoramic views of the rainforest and the cascading Antelope Falls, right from your king-size bed. Tours can be booked daily—if you’re up for a real challenge don’t miss this hike—and I can say with confidence that the guides here are some of the best I’ve experienced in Belize—ask for Julio or Tony, in particular. The on-site Wild Fig Restaurant has a full bar and serves excellent dishes, from burgers and quesadillas for lunch to lobster or steak dinners, courtesy of Chef Mo, Belize’s youngest at just 19 years of age, trained under Chef Rob. While staying here, don’t miss saying hello to the resident hickatee turtle, “Stinky”—an endangered species found on the grounds and now being cared for by the staff.

For birding or other inland tours from Hopkins, the best guide is Charlton Castillo (tel. 501/661-8199,, US$50 pp, minimum 2 people).

Getting There

The biggest challenge to enjoying Mayflower Bocawina is simply getting to the trailhead, which lies 4.5 miles west of the Southern Highway with no public transportation of any kind making the trip. (The turnoff is just north of Silk Grass Village.) Sign in at the park office and interpretive center (7am-4pm daily) and pay the US$5 per person entrance fee. There is a campground (US$5) at the park entrance; bring your own gear.


Tucked away on a red dirt road is the small Mayan village of Red Bank. Here, at the edge of the Maya Mountains, rare and impressive scarlet macaws gather to feed on the ripe fruits of pole-wood trees outside the village. This annual phenomenon was unknown to outsiders until 1997, when conservationists learned that 20 of the birds had been hunted for table fare; at that time it was thought Belize had a population of just 30 to 60 scarlet macaws. In response, Programme for Belize worked with the village council to form the Red Bank Scarlet Macaw Conservation Group, led by the village leader, Jeronimo Sho.

The small community-based ecotourism industry offers visitors accommodations, meals, crafts, and guide services. A reserve has been established about a mile from the village, and visitors must pay a small conservation fee; ask around for Mr. Sho. The best time to visit is from mid-January to March, when the annatto fruit are ripe. As many as 100 scarlet macaws have been observed in the morning when the birds are feeding. Contact the Red Bank Bed and Breakfast (tel. 501/660-6320,, US$20) or Mr. Sho’s Hummingbird Paradise Camp Site (tel. 501/668-1724 or 501/662-8340) if you want to stay overnight.

The Cockscomb Basin

The land rises gradually from the coastal plains to the Maya Mountains; driving south on the Southern Highway, you’ll see the highlands to the west and flatlands to the left, mostly covered by orange and banana groves. The highway passes through a few villages and soon delivers you to the area’s prime attraction: Maya Centre village and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Heavy rain along the peaks of the Maya range, as much as 160 inches per year, runs off into lush rainforest thick with trees, orchids, palms, ferns, abundant birds, and exotic animals, including peccaries, anteaters, armadillos, tapirs, and jaguars.


Commonly called the “Jaguar Preserve,” the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the most beautiful natural attractions in the country. A large tract of approximately 155 square miles of forest was declared a forest reserve in 1984, and in 1986 the government of Belize set the region aside as a preserve for the largest cat in the Americas, the jaguar. The area is alive with wildlife, including margays, ocelots, pumas, jaguarundis, tapirs, deer, pacas, iguanas, kinkajous, and armadillos, to name just a few, along with hundreds of bird species and even howler monkeys. The park is also home to the red-eyed tree frog and the critically endangered Morelet’s tree frog. And though you probably won’t spot large cats roaming during the day (they hunt at night), it’s exciting to see their prints and other signs—and to know that even if you don’t see one, you’ll probably be seen by one.

The sanctuary is managed by the Belize Audubon Society (, which also conducts research and community outreach in support of conservation. The park is open 8am-4:30pm daily. Entrance is US$5 for non-Belizeans; pay at the Maya Centre Women’s Group craft shop at the head of the access road, immediately off the Southern Highway. Just past the entrance gate into the park is a gift shop and office, where you’ll be asked to sign in. Visitor facilities include an interpretive center, a picnic area, and an outhouse.

Victoria Peak

The second-highest point in the country is the top of Victoria Peak (3,675 feet). Geologists believe the mountain is four million years old, the oldest geologic formation in Central America. Reportedly, area Mayan populations thought the peak was surrounded by a lake, unapproachable by people and occupied by a powerful spirit. The first people known to have reached the summit, a party led by Roger T. Goldsworth, governor of then-British Honduras, did so in 1888. Today it is a protected natural monument, managed by the Belize Audubon Society.

Summit trips can be arranged in the dry season only (Feb.-May) and must include a permit and a licensed guide. The 30-mile round-trip trek takes three or four days; the up-and-down terrain is steep, and there are no switchbacks. Contact the Belize Audubon Society ( for trail and campsite details; entrance is US$5 pp plus camping fees.

The Belize Audubon Society does not have guides for hire, but they can provide a list of guides with contact information. There are a few reputable mountain guides in the surrounding villages, including Marcos Cucul (tel. 501/670-3116,, who can take you rock climbing or on a backcountry trip to the top of Victoria Peak (US$500 pp).


There are more than 20 miles of maintained hiking trails, which range from an easy hour-long stroll along the river to a four-day Victoria Peak expedition. An early morning hike on the Wari Loop offers the best chance to see wildlife and to admire the large buttress roots of the swamp kaway (Pterocarpus officinalis) trees. At the end of the Tiger Fern Trail, a rigorous hike, you’ll find an impressive double waterfall—the most beautiful waterfall in Belize, according to top Belizean landscape and underwater photographer Tony Rath. There are more waterfalls, including a less difficult fall with a pool, within a 30-minute hike. Check the front of the visitors center building for a detailed map.

If you climb Ben’s Bluff, you’re not just looking out over a park where jaguars live—you’re at the entrance of a forest that goes all the way into the Guatemalan Petén, part of the largest contiguous block of protected forest in Central America. The bluff was named after Ben Nottingham, who monitored radio-collared jaguars with radiotelemetry. From here you can see Outlier Peak, a moderate one-day hike (about 8.5 miles round-trip) and great place to camp.

Bring your swimsuit when visiting, as you’ll find cool natural waterfalls and pools for a refreshing plunge. You can also rent an inner tube and float down South Stann Creek. All visitors are encouraged to bring sturdy shoes, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, insect repellent, sunscreen, and plenty of water. If you would like to hire a guide, there are several renowned wilderness guides who grew up in these forests and who can be found up the road in Maya Centre.

Accommodations and Camping

Bring your own tent to stay at one of three well-maintained campgrounds (US$10 pp). The park’s overnight accommodations (US$20) begin with zinc-topped buildings with bunk space for 32 people. Expect a bed in a shared “rustic cabin” or a bunk in the main dormitory, clean sheets, shared baths with cold showers, and solar power. There are also a few private cabins (6 beds and a kitchen US$54).

Be prepared with food and supplies if you plan to stay a few days; the only food for sale in the visitors center is chips, cookies, candy bars, and soft drinks. There are a couple of small shops in Maya Centre, so feel free to stock up there before catching a taxi into the park. You may also be able to arrange for meals to be cooked in Maya Centre and delivered to you. Otherwise, there is a communal kitchen with a refrigerator, gas stoves, and crockery and cooking utensils for rent. Again, visitors are required to bring their own food and water. A walled-off washing area has buckets, and a separate cooking area has a gas stove and a few pots.

Getting There

Cockscomb Basin is about six miles west of the Southern Highway and the village of Maya Centre; from Dangriga, it’s a total of 20 miles. The road can be rough after it rains. For public transportation, catch any bus traveling between Dangriga and Punta Gorda and hop off at Maya Centre. From there, it’s an extremely long—at least an hour—and hilly walk; I strongly recommend a US$15-20 taxi ride.


This small village is at the turnoff to the famous Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Many of the 400 or so Mopan Maya who live here were relocated when their original home within the Cockscomb Basin was given protected status. Since then, they have had to change their lifestyle; instead of continuing to clear patches of rainforest for short-term agriculture, many men now work as guides and taxi drivers, while the women create and sell artwork. Still, the people of Maya Centre are struggling to support their town with tourism. Ever since they were prohibited from using the now-protected rainforest for subsistence farming and hunting, tourism has been their only hope, aside from working for slave wages at the nearby banana and citrus farms. The village has a few places to stay, eat, and experience village life, literally right down the road from the famous reserve.

At the very least, make sure that you—or the driver of your tour bus—stop at one of the three Maya crafts stores, all on the road into the park. At the turnoff from the Southern Highway, you’ll find the Maya Centre Women’s Group (7:30am-4:30pm daily), which sells local crafts and collects the entrance fee for Cockscomb. The Nu’uk Che’il Gift Shop is 0.25 miles farther toward the park, offering fine jewelry, slate carvings, baskets, herbs, and other crafts.

Julio Saqui runs the store next to the women’s co-op and offers satellite Internet access (US$4 per hour) and taxi service as well as meals to any overnight guests in the area who need it (US$7 pp per meal, including delivery). Julio is a great guide and offers many services and tours, including to Victoria Peak; information is available on his website (

Julio also runs the Maya Centre Maya Museum (tel. 501/660-3903, 7am-6pm daily, US$7.50 pp), opened in 2010 and providing hands-on cultural activities; learn how to make corn tortillas or process coffee beans, and take home Mayan Coffee to share with friends while you tell of your adventures abroad. They also now sell their very own Che’il Mayan Chocolate bars, made from cacao beans farmed in Stann Creek.


There are two guesthouses in Maya Centre, owned by different families that each offer transportation in and out of the preserve, guides, meals, and other services.

S Nu’uk Che’il Cottages and Hmen Herbal Center (tel. 501/670-7043 or 501/665-1313,,, US$20-60) offers tranquil accommodations more removed from the highway than the village’s other guesthouse. Bunks with a shared bath are US$20 per person, and private guest rooms with hot showers available are US$30, tax not included. Camping is US$7 per person, Internet access US$2.50 per hour, and bike rental US$10 per day. The place is very well kept, with beautifully planted grounds; the guesthouse has experience hosting student groups and can arrange seminars on herbal medicine, cultural performances, and the like. Proprietress Aurora Garcia Saqui’s husband, Ernesto, was director of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary until 2005 and is extremely knowledgeable about the area. Her late uncle, Elijio Panti, was a famous healer; she took over his work when he died in 1996. Aurora offers Mayan spiritual blessings, prayer healings, acupuncture, and massage (each for under US$15). Aurora also has a four-acre botanical garden and medicine trail (entrance US$2.50), offers herbs for sale, and can arrange homestays in the village for US$25 per person, which includes a one-night stay with a local family, one dinner, and one breakfast.

Another decent option is right on the highway, about 100 yards north of the entrance to Cockscomb: Tutzil Nah Cottages (tel. 501/533-7045,, US$18-22) is owned and operated by the Chun family (they helped Alan Rabinowitz in his original jaguar studies and appear in his book, Jaguar). There are four screened wooden guest rooms, two with private baths, two with a shared bath and shower; all have queen beds, fans, ample space, nice furniture, and a raised deck. Meals (US$6-12) are available, and camping (US$6-12) is possible on the grounds or in a separate campground about 0.25 miles into the bush. Inventive trips are available as an alternative to the standard fare, including kayak floats and night hikes.

Getting There

Maya Centre is accessed by hopping off any bus passing between Dangriga and Punta Gorda. Taxis will take you from the village to the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary for about US$15-20 per carload.

The Placencia Peninsula

Running parallel to Belize’s Southern Coast, this stretch of beach and mangroves winds 16 miles southward from the coastal wetlands and shrimp farms near the village of Riverside all the way to Placencia Village, on the tip of the peninsula. The Belize Barrier Reef, surrounded by coral and mangrove islands, lies approximately 20 miles east off the coast of Placencia. Traveling to nearby cayes and inland attractions like the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Mayan villages, and ruins of Toledo District is possible from anywhere on the peninsula, although it’s farther than from Dangriga or Hopkins. The area offers the full range of accommodations—whether you prefer to mingle with backpackers in Placencia Village or rub elbows with fellow guests at any of a number of beach resorts, from mid-range to luxurious, each with its own personality. This is also the site of several enormous, ambitious, and controversial development projects, more of which are springing up all over the area every year. They are currently overshadowed, however, by the construction of a new Municipal Pier and Plaza by the marina, likely to be completed in 2013.


There are three main areas on the Placencia Peninsula: Maya Beach, Seine Bight, and Placencia Village, where most of the bars, restaurants, and shops are, along with the general buzz. Maya Beach and Seine Bight share a quiet, secluded vibe, with long stretches of beach, plenty of resorts sprawled along the shore, and a few restaurants. They are a bit distant from Placencia Village, so you’ll have to either bicycle, if you’re up for it, during the day, or catch a taxi to go back and forth, which can be costly, so plan wisely. Staying in the village means being close to all the action, nightlife, and general noise, and also being near the beach, even if it’s not as fine and pretty as in the other areas.


About halfway down the peninsula, Maya Beach is a strip of simple, small, boutique accommodations. They’re actually quite nice, in a relaxed, isolated way, offering more value for your money than nearly anything else in the area. However, the beach here is more beautiful than many places in Belize, including the rest of Placencia. You just have to be content with the relative lack of services in Maya Beach, since getting to and from Placencia Village can be an expensive endeavor, even though it’s only seven miles away.

Art and greenery lovers will like the retreat feel to Spectarte (Maya Beach, tel. 501/533-8019,, 9am-4pm Thurs.-Sun.), a coffee shop and “art and garden gallery” featuring 90 percent Belizean artwork: paintings, including works by Nelson Young, along with carvings and jipijapa baskets. Other items are imported works from neighboring Guatemala and Panama. There’s a delightful screened greenhouse-like seating area where you can enjoy the peaceful surroundings, cookies, pies, and a hot beverage. Locals flock here on the first Sunday of the month for the weekly flea market.

For all-American fun in the tropics, try bowling at Jaguar Lanes and Jungle Bar (tel. 501/601-4434,, 2pm-8pm Mon.-Wed., closes later Sat.-Sun., US$3 per game, shoe rental US$1.25). There are four Brunswick bowling lanes as well as a snack bar (US$1.50-5.50) serves hot dogs, onion rings, nachos, and pizza. Outside the air-conditioned alley there’s cold beer and mixed drinks. The venue holds various theme parties, including a “cosmic” bowling night (bowling with disco lights), and Wednesday is popular among the local women bowlers of Placencia.

You can grab a drink at the Maya Breeze Inn’s casual beachfront bar (tel. 501/666-5238 or cell 501/628-4215,, 11am-midnight daily), offering a full bar with imported liquor, cocktails, and local favorites. Don’t forget your swimsuit, and eat before you come here.


Maya Beach hotels are of the beach cabana variety, with a few furnished apartments, many with kitchenettes for cooking on your own. Most of these hotels also manage full houses and a few condos in the area; ask about weekly and monthly rates.

The first place you’ll come to from the north is S Maya Beach Hotel (tel. 501/533-8040, U.S. tel. 800/503-5124,, US$90-125), with five well-kept guest rooms, a few with waterfront decks, all with wireless Internet, private baths, hot showers, and a great stretch of sand—oh, and one of the best restaurants in Placencia, the Maya Beach Hotel Bistro. It has a small pool and one- and two-bedroom beach houses (US$100-180), all with fully equipped kitchens and amenities such as bicycles. A three-bedroom house (US$400), on a private beachfront parcel, has its own infinity pool.

On the lagoon side, Casa At Last (tel. 501/523-3630,, US$125-200) is a couples-only resort with four nicely furnished thatched cabanas, a pool, and a restaurant. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner for resort guests only.

Green Parrot Beach Houses (tel. 501/533-8188,, US$130-180 plus tax) has cozy thatched-roof A-frame cabanas with decks and loft bedrooms facing the ocean. Each sleeps four people and includes multiple beds, couches, a kitchen, and hammocks on the decks. There’s a restaurant on-site, and continental breakfast is included. It’s on a lovely, quiet stretch of beach, and use of bikes and kayaks is included.

Catering to relaxed couples and honeymooners, Barnacle Bill’s Beach Bungalows (tel. 501/533-8110,, US$115) offers two secluded bungalows on the beach, with full kitchens, fans, and hot and cold water. Each sleeps three adults, and children under 12 are not allowed. Tours, free kayaks, and wireless Internet are available.

Lovers of orchids and boutique luxury will enjoy the small but cozy Singing Sands Inn (tel. 501/533-3022, U.S. tel. 888/201-6425,, US$110-275 plus tax). The six thatched-roof seafront cabanas have front porches and wood floors, and the two standard guest rooms offer sea and garden views. All units have private baths, ceiling fans, and constant ocean breezes. Portable air-conditioning is available if desired. Breakfast is served in the open-air restaurant next to the pool; fresh lunches and dinners are served as well at the Bonefish Grille. Drinks and light fare can be enjoyed at Chez Albert’s bar on the pier, 220 feet out into the Caribbean. Use of bikes and snorkel gear is complimentary, and golf carts, clear-bottomed kayaks, and sailboats are available for rent.


One of two stores in town, the Maya Pointe Market (no phone, Mon.-Sat.), is open most mornings and afternoons.

Mango’s Beach Bar and Restaurant (tel. 501/523-8102 or 501/610-2494, 4pm-midnight Wed.-Fri., noon-midnight Fri.-Sat., US$5-10) has a Belizean-Mexican menu and a breezy view to enjoy with your beer. It’s popular with the handful of locals, offering darts and occasional live bands at night.

The S Maya Beach Hotel Bistro (tel. 501/533-8040, 7am-9pm daily, US$16-28) is a breath of fresh air on the Belize culinary scene. Just reading the appetizer and meal choices will make your mouth water—few restaurants in the country have a menu this savory and creative. Australian chef John prepares dinner entrées like Sassy Shrimp Pot, Cacao Pork, and Mojo Roasted Chicken (with a jerk and honey glaze), not to mention fresh bread, an inspired bar food menu (honey-coconut ribs and roasted pumpkin-coconut green chili soup), a wine cellar, and a lovely assortment of breakfasts (US$6-11), including homemade bagels and imported lox (smoked salmon).

At the Bonefish Grille (at the Singing Sands Inn, tel. 501/533-3022,, 7am-9:30pm daily, US$10-23), everything is made from scratch: homemade pasta, ricotta cheese, breads, and the salad dressings, and there’s no MSG. The menu features Asian and Italian cuisine, prepared with fresh ingredients. This place was Restaurant of the Year runner-up at the 2010 National Tourism Awards.


South of Maya Beach, a few more miles of dirt road will put you in the Garífuna village of Seine Bight. In this tiny town, most of the men are fishermen and the women tend family gardens. Some are attempting to clean up the town, with hopes it will become a low-key tourist destination, as foreign-owned resorts sprout like mushrooms up and down the coast around them. Seine Bight does have the nicest stretches of beach in the area, along with neighboring Maya Beach. There are a few casual eateries and bars. Venturing here on foot or by bicycle is where you’ll get the best sense of local culture on the peninsula.

Lola’s Art Gallery (behind the soccer field, follow the well-marked signs, tel. 501/523-3342 or cell 501/601-1913,, 7am-7pm daily) is a must-see. A renowned Creole artist, her inspired artwork includes paintings on canvas that depict scenes of village life as well as cards and gorgeous gourd masks, all in bright, primary colors. According to her parents, she started painting as a young girl, using her mother’s lipstick on the walls. Lola also has a small on-site bar (10am-midnight daily) serving cold beer and soft drinks; ask her why she named it The Fallen Angel.

The award-winning Goss Chocolate (north end of Seine Bight, tel. 501/523-3544,, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri., 10am-5pm Sat.) is made from 100 percent pure organic cacao and is available only in Belize; it costs US$1.50-2.50 for a bar.


Independent travelers may enjoy the laid-back feel of Miller’s Landing (tel. 501/523-3010,, US$85-150). The Millers like to keep things simple, and not much has changed since the couple opened their resort. The entrance is tucked in from the roadside, and there are three basic sea-view guest rooms and two private cabanas, all with coffeemakers and mini fridges, private baths, hot and cold water, and ceiling fans. This calm and quiet beach location is surrounded by native vegetation; watch birds and butterflies while having your complimentary breakfast. Lounge on the newly updated pool deck, or if you’re feeling more active, take out a complimentary bike, kayak, or windsurfing board. It could be an ideal place to book a whole group of independent, well-traveled, and unfussy friends and family.

The Nautical Inn (tel. 501/523-3595, U.S. tel. 678/528-7065,, US$85-200) offers various old-school but spacious beachfront accommodations surrounding a pool, and all guest rooms have air-conditioning, ceiling fans, and cable TV. Basic guest rooms have kitchenettes, and the two-bedroom suite has a full kitchen and a living room. Ask about special group rates.

One of the well-known resorts on the peninsula, Robert’s Grove Beach Resort (just south of Seine Bight, tel. 501/523-3565, U.S. tel. 800/565-9757,, from US$210) is a classic grand resort. Its various structures are situated close together along a short stretch of decent beach, so it doesn’t appear overwhelming. The various guest rooms, suites, and villas have high ceilings, king beds, and updated amenities. There are three pools, a tennis court, a spa, a gym, a trio of rooftop hot tubs, and an open-air restaurant. Robert’s Grove has its own dive shop on the lagoon side across the street (next to its Mexican restaurant, Habañero) and offers all kinds of underwater, offshore, and inland trips and packages. Bikes, kayaks, and sailboats are available for your own explorations. The inn is popular with couples, families, and groups; ask about trips to their private islands.

If you’re going luxury, you might as well stay right next door: S Laru Beya Resort and Villas (tel. 501/523-3476, U.S. tel. 800/890-8010,, US$170-425) offers beautifully furnished beachfront accommodations and all the amenities (my favorite is the seafront balcony), with a touch of luxury yet unpretentiously. The suites feel more like your own private condo than a resort. Penthouse suites have a ladder to a private rooftop jetted tub with a great view. It’s a stone’s throw from the beach, and you’ll fall asleep to the sound of waves. The Quarter Deck restaurant and bar (7am-10pm daily) serves international cuisine and caters to destination weddings.


Laru Beya Resort and Villas


Vern’s Kitchen (main road, tel. 501/503-3202, 6am-2pm and 4pm-9pm Thurs.-Tues., US$2-5) serves up local dishes and often a Garífuna specialty. Besides Vern’s, you’ll have to wander up to Maya Beach, up the road, to get some cheap local food.

The Seaside Restaurant (just south of Seine Bight, tel. 501/523-3565, 7am-9pm daily, US$12-28) at Robert’s Grove has an international menu: sandwiches, pizza, wings, and quesadillas for lunch; seafood appetizers and entrées, imported steaks, and à la carte options for dinner. The bar is open till midnight. Habanero Mexican Café and Bar (tel. 501/523-3565, noon-10pm daily Dec.-May, US$9-15) is an excellent lagoon-facing Mexican restaurant across the road from Robert’s Grove resort.

If you need groceries, the Peninsula (Placencia-Seine Bight main road, no phone, 9am-10pm daily) has the widest selection.


A fishing village since the time of the Maya and periodically flattened by hurricanes (most recently by Iris in 2001), Placencia continues rebuilding and redefining itself, in large part to accommodate the influx of foreigners. Placencia Village is still worlds away from the condo-dominated landscape of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, and most locals claim it will never go that way, but time will tell. There are plenty of bulldozers, swaths of cut mangroves, golf carts for rent, and a brand-new pier and marina completed in 2013.


It’s everyone’s hope that despite area development, this town will remain the tranquilo ramshackle village it is today for years to come. Find a room, book some day tours, pencil in a massage before happy hour, and relax. Oh, yeah, and feel free to drink the tap water as you explore: Placencia’s agua is piped in from an artesian well across the lagoon in Independence, reportedly the result of an unsuccessful attempt to drill for oil, and it’s clean and pure.


There are few sights per se in this beach village. What you’ll find, however, is plenty of sand, water sports, food, active bars and nightlife, and all the options you can think of to embody a fun beach vacation.

The north-south Placencia Road runs the length of the peninsula, doglegs around the airstrip, continues along the lagoon, and then parallels the famous central sidewalk as it enters town. You’ll see the soccer field on your right before the road curves slightly to the left, terminating at the Shell station and the main docks. If there is a “downtown” Placencia, it’s probably here, in front of the gas station and dock. This is where buses come and go, taxis hang out, and most dive shops are based.

Aside from the beach, the main attraction in Placencia is the world-renowned main-street sidewalk, cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the world’s most narrow street.” It is 24 inches wide in spots and runs north-south through the sand for over a mile. Homes, hotels, Guatemalan goods shops, craft makers, and tour guide offices line both sides. Several side paths connect it to the main road in the village. No bikes are allowed—pedestrians only.

Sports and Recreation

There’s no shortage of guide services in Placencia, where most tour operators offer service to all nearby destinations: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Monkey River, snorkeling and fishing trips with lunch on a beautiful caye, the Mayan ruins of Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit, and a variety of paddling tours. For any of these trips, also refer to the dive shops and fishing guides listed in this chapter.

Many tour operators have their offices in shacks clustered in the village or by the main dock area in town, just past the gas station; most are subcontracted by the hotels that offer tours to their guests. If you’re going it on your own, ask around and know that prices are often based on a minimum number of passengers, usually four. Prices vary little, but it’s definitely worth comparing. Monkey River day trips, for example, range US$60-75 per person, depending on whether lunch is included and the size of the boat. Half-day snorkel trips are about US$35-75 per person, depending on group size. Most tours require that you sign up the day before; reef tours typically leave around 9am, inland tours around 7am.

I highly recommend Splash Dive Center (across from Chabil Mar Resort, tel. 501/523-3080 or cell 501/610-0235, for inland trips, snorkel and dive tours to the cayes, or whale shark experiences. The guides and drivers are professional and very friendly, and no request is ever too much for owner Patty Ramirez, who loves to meet travelers and is absolutely top-notch—she goes above and beyond to make sure you’re taken care of and happy. The good news is, they have opened a second location in Hopkins.

Nite Wind (tel. 501/503-3487 or cell 501/660-6333, is reliable for tours, as is Seahorse Dive Shop (Dock by J-Byrd’s Bar, tel. 501/523-3166, Locally owned Ocean Motion (Sidewalk, near the pier, tel. 501/523-3363, gets great reviews and offers snorkeling and fishing tours to Ranguana and Silk Cayes (US$70 pp, lunch and equipment included; US$325 per boat for fishing 11-19 miles offshore). Hubert and Karen Young’s Joy Tours (Main St., tel. 501/523-3325 or cell 501/601-0273,, Monkey River US$63 pp, Laughingbird Caye snorkel US$75 pp) is across from Tim’s Chinese restaurant. Clint, the son of the proprietress of Lydia’s Guesthouse, operates Pelican Tours (tel. 501/523-3117 or 501/634-8476,; he’ll take you to the reef or Monkey River (US$65 pp).

For unique insight into Belizean culture, sign up for an excursion with the knowledgeable Lyra Spang, a food anthropologist and organic farmer who also owns Taste Belize Food & Culture Tours (tel. 501/664-8699,, US$95-110). Options include chocolate trips to Punta Gorda, food tours to Mayan or Kriol villages, and tours of the famous Marie Sharp Factory outside Dangriga, where the most popular hot sauce in the region is made and bottled.


Placencia Village offers a long uninterrupted stretch of thick golden sand, good for walks, jogs, and dips. The beach is public, so you can feel free to spread your towel anywhere, as long as it’s unoccupied by a resort’s lounge chairs. The water isn’t perfect Caribbean turquoise-clear, but it’s close enough and is clear and refreshing. Popular stretches are just across from Tipsy Tuna, ideal for grabbing lunch, some sun, and even some beach volleyball. Another idyllic, quiet spot is the beach facing Mariposa Restaurant—grab some delicious lunch bites and dip in the pool or the ocean.


Placencia Village beach

The prettiest beaches I have seen on the peninsula are in the Maya Beach area. You can pick any of the restaurants in that area—Robert’s Grove, for instance—for lunch and swim off the beach for the day. A great unpretentious spot to chill for the day with a cocktail is the Maya Breeze Inn’s beach bar; just bring a towel and your own snacks.


Although the beach is usually fine for swimming and lounging, you won’t see much with a mask and snorkel except sand, sea grass, a few fish, and other bathers. A short boat ride, however, will bring you to the barrier reef and the kind of underwater viewing you can write home about. Snorkel gear is available for rent (US$5 per day) everywhere, and trips to the cayes and reefs cost around US$50 per half-day, depending on the distance.

The few dive shops have comparable prices, and you can either let your hotel arrange everything or do it yourself. Splash Dive Center (tel. 501/523-3080 or cell 501/610-0235,, 2-tank dive US$120, snorkeling US$90 pp, lunch included) has two locations in Placencia: an appointment and tour booking desk at Wendy’s Creole Restaurant and a top-notch dive center on the north end, across from Chabil Mar Resort. The dive center is where Splash’s six boats, including a 46-foot Newton, are docked, and from where trips depart. Splash has the most professional operation I’ve seen in Belize, from the way they handle their gear to the attention they pay to their customers, first-timers or experienced. They take care of everything, from pickups to fittings to food. Owner Patty Ramirez—named a Sea Hero in 2012 by Scuba Diving magazine for her dive center’s contributions to community building and marine environmental awareness—left a banking career 13 years ago to pursue her passion. Along with her partner, Ralph, they’re a classic example of a passion turned into a success story. Splash is in the midst of launching a second location in Hopkins, at Jaguar Reef Resort. They also offer inland tours across the Stann Creek District, and can assist in finding suitable accommodations if needed.

Seahorse Dive Shop (near the town dock, tel. 501/523-3166,, whale shark dive US$185 pp, 2-tank local reef dive US$110 pp) is highly recommended. Farther north from the village, you’ll find a couple of other serious dive operations linked to their respective resorts, with professional shops at Robert’s Grove Beach Resort and Turtle Inn.


Placencia has always been a fishing town for its sustenance, but with the advent of tourism, it has gained a worldwide reputation for sportfishing. Deepwater possibilities include wahoo, sailfish, marlin, kingfish, and dolphinfish; fly-fishing can hook you a grand slam—bonefish, tarpon, permit, and snook (all catch-and-release). Fortunately, serious angling means serious local guides, several of whom have been featured on ESPN and in multiple fishing magazines. Look up Trip’N Travel Southern Guides Fly Fishing and Saltwater Adventures (Placencia Office Supply Bldg., off Main St., tel. 501/523-3205, Most tour operators listed in this chapter offer fishing trips. Check for more options.


An unforgettable and underrated way to explore the near-shore cayes, mangroves, creeks, and rivers is by paddle. Plastic open kayaks are available to guests at most resorts, and many tour operators and dive shops have some for rent as well. Located behind the peninsula, the Placencia Lagoon is home to birds, saltwater crocodiles, manatees, and mangroves. While it’s easily explored solo by kayak, I recommend going with a guide if you’re not an experienced kayaker, in case of a surprise croc encounter. Eric Foreman (tel. 501/664-8121) offers guided lagoon kayak trips (half-day US$125 pp, US$160 for 2 people, includes kayaks) as well as sea kayak tours to the nearby inner reef cayes (half-day US$225 pp, lunch not included); rentals are also available for US$40 per day.

Stand-up paddleboarding classes are available with the energetic Tony of BelizeFit Tony’s Gym (tel. 501/631-7427,, hours vary, call ahead, private lessons US$25 per hour, board rental US$12.50 per hour from booth next to Tipsy Tuna). Tony offers morning beach workouts (US$10) and introductory lessons. You can also rent paddleboards and kayaks from BelizeFit’s beach shack, adjacent to Tipsy Tuna Bar.


Opportunities abound for day trips, sunset cruises, snorkel voyages, and sail charters, all ideal for floating around the gorgeous Southern Cayes. A sure bet is Jeff Scott’s Daytripper Catamaran Charters (tel. 501/666-3117,, US$75 pp with lunch), based on the dock at Yoli’s Bar & Grill. Jeff will take you on a fun, leisurely snorkel trip to the nearby cayes, under an hour away—including the Lark Range or Lighthouse Caye—where you’ll spot stunning corals and marinelife. You’ll likely be the only ones in the area.

Another alternative is to go snorkeling on Sea n’ Belize Glass Bottom Boat (Robert’s Grove Marina, tel. 501/610-1012,, half-day US$80 pp)—easily the most upscale glass-bottom boat you might see in the Caribbean, with a spacious and covered all mahogany interior, 24 square feet of crystal glass and a fun fake thatch roof, offering ample seating areas. Seeing Belize’s gorgeous coral and marinelife under your feet is a memorable experience. There was no toilet on board yet as of publication time, but check when booking. The boat can be rented for birthday parties and other special functions.

Expensive, high-end The Moorings (tel. 501/523-3476, U.S. tel. 888/952-8420,, US$500-1,700, minimum 3-day rental) has a dock for multiple catamaran adventures on their beautiful 40- to 46-foot cats, based on the lagoon side, just across from Laru Beya Resort. Bring your own crew or charter one with a crew and all the bells and whistles for a weeklong sail. Belize Sailing Charters (tel. 501/523-3138, has bareboat and crewed yacht charters. Just across from town, Placencia Yacht Club (tel. 501/653-0569, U.S. tel. 970/642-3771) is on Placencia Caye, featuring the Tranquilo Restaurant and Bar. The über-exclusive membership-based Tradewinds Cruise Club has headquarters here, in case you were wondering, at Robert’s Grove Marina. Their 50-feet luxury cats will have you gawking.


Sign up for a massage or other treatment at The Secret Garden Massage and Day Spa (behind Wallen’s, tel. 501/523-3420,, where a one-hour massage costs US$55 and a special four-hands treatment costs a bit more—there’s a booking table where you can leave your name, number, and preferred appointment time. If you need relief from the sun and barefooting on the beach, try the sunburn treatment and foot massage for US$50. Robert’s Grove Beach Resort Spa (just south of Seine Bight, tel. 501/523-3565), north of town, offers a full range of treatments—for premium prices, of course. The Turtle Inn (1 mile north of the village, tel. 501/824-4914, U.S. tel. 877/611-9774, also has pampering services, as does the Siripohn’s Thai Massage (tel. 501/600-0375,, 10am-6pm Mon.-Sat., massage from US$75 per hour), right on the front street in Placencia Village, run by experienced Thais who offer seaweed treatments and papaya body polish.

Also on the main drag, check into the affordable and friendly Serenity Day Spa (tel. 501/523-3513, cell 501/669-7113,, massage US$50 per hour), in a spacious and cool two-massage-bed cabin run by Belizean certified masseuse Zelma. It’s right on the strip, but she gets rave reviews for her “magic hands.” Zelma will also come out to your hotel if needed, for an extra fee. Besides a host of massages, other services include facials, mani-pedi treatments, and waxing.

If you’re up for a workout, check out Tony’s BelizeFit (Main St., tel. 501/631-7427,, hours vary, call ahead), with an indoor gym located in the Re/Max building across from Scotiabank, in Placencia Village. Tony offers Beach Boot Camp, Thai stretch classes, and more.

Entertainment and Events


Placencia’s bars, restaurants, and resorts do a decent job of coordination, so special events like beach barbecues, horseshoe tournaments, karaoke, and live music are offered through the entire week—especially during the high season. Your best bet is to check the Placencia Breeze ( newspaper and look for current schedules, because bars, clubs, and parties come and go with the wind.

The Barefoot Beach Bar (tel. 501/523-3515, 11am-midnight daily) is the only constantly wildly popular venue in the high season. Flip-flop clad revelers choose from hundreds of froufrou cocktails and bar food; there’s live music (Fri.-Sun.) and happy hour (5pm-6pm daily) as well as never-ending theme parties. Another party constant is the beachfront Tipsy Tuna (now directly next door to Barefoot Bar, tel. 501/523-3089,, 11:30am-midnight daily), with Garífuna drumming on Wednesday nights and a general all-day-long party vibe. The happy hour (5pm-7pm daily) is excellent too, with US$0.50 wings and US$1.50 local rum drinks.

Another happening and locally popular bar and restaurant a bit farther down the harbor is Yoli’s, with barbecue and ring toss starting at 3pm Sunday. Stop by the Pickled Parrot (between the sidewalk and the main road, just off the soccer field, tel. 501/636-7068, 11:30am-9:30pm daily), where you can have a Belizean “panty-ripper” via Jell-O shot or a three-rum Parrot Piss cocktail; maybe you’ll have enough of those to graduate to their so-called secret VIP section.

The Street Feet Lounge & Nightclub (Main St., tel. 501/523-3515, 10pm-2am daily), owned by the Barefoot Bar crew, is the only indoor nightclub in Placencia as of publication time, and is conveniently located right in the village. The club hosts live DJs from around Belize, playing your favorite top dance and reggae tunes.


The biggest party of the year happens the third week of June, during Lobsterfest. The whole south end of town closes down for lobster-catching tournaments, costumes, and dances, and there are food booths everywhere. Easter weekend is popular, as Placencia is a destination for many Belizeans as well as foreign visitors; they typically book their rooms months in advance, so be prepared for the crowds. Look for a Halloween celebration, complete with a parade and trick-or-treating for kids and adults alike.

Another annual gig, the Mistletoe Ball, wanders to a different hotel before Christmas every year and doubles as a fund-raiser for the local Belize Tourism Industry Association chapter. New Year’s Eve sometimes consists of one big outdoor party out on the soccer field, with all-inclusive drinks, hats, and more for just US$2.50 pp, or a no-cover beach party at Barefoot Bar and Tipsy Tuna. The local humane society organizes various fund-raising events as well; keep an eye out.


Despite plenty of gift stores featuring Guatemalan crafts and clothes, there are a couple of talented Belizean artists and wood-carvers worth checking out and supporting. Stop by the father-and-son-operated shop A Piece of Belize Wood Carvings (sidewalk shortcut across from Omar’s, tel. 501/621-1595 or 501/628-1279,, 9am-6pm daily, US$15-50). Bob and Tyrone Lockwood make beautiful pieces using rosewood and ziricote wood, found only in Belize, including bowls, bracelets, and home decor pieces, even customized carved doors. Feel free to bargain with them. Just steps away, still on the sidewalk, is Made in Belize (tel. 501/205-5511 or cell 501/627-5125, 9am-5pm daily), where Leo has a shack filled with all sorts of creative carvings, including pieces made out of driftwood, mahogany, and ziricote.

Strike A Pose (main road, Placencia Village, 9am-7pm Tues.-Fri., 10am-6pm Sat., has a random selection of trendy clothes imported from Los Angeles, including plus-size options and evening dresses, in case you need a new outfit for a hot date.


All of Placencia’s budget lodgings are found on or within shouting distance of the sidewalk, and most of the high-end resorts are strung along the beach north of town. Remember, these are high-season double occupancy prices; expect significant discounts and negotiable rates between May and November.


Right on the sidewalk, Omar’s (tel. 501/634-4350, US$13 shared bath, US$22.50 private bath) is a wooden flophouse. If the office is closed, head to Omar’s Creole Grub to inquire. Near the Anglican school, Eloise Travel Lodge (tel. 501/523-3299, US$20-25) has four guest rooms with private or shared baths and a communal kitchen. There is no reception office; ask for Miss Sonia Leslie.

A better budget bet is S Lydia’s Guesthouse (tel. 501/523-3117,, US$25), toward the north end of the sidewalk. Lydia’s is a longtime favorite among backpackers. The eight clean, private guest rooms with a shared tile-floor bath also share a sociable two-story porch, a communal kitchen, fans, hammocks, and a 30-second walk to the beach. Miss Lydia will make you breakfast if you make arrangements the day before; she also makes fresh Creole bread and guava jam.

If you’re out of options, stop by BJ’s Restaurant (the building on the corner of the soccer field, up the stairs, US$20-30) and ask Miss Betty about her two budget guest rooms—they’re basic and nothing more than a place to crash but cheap. One has a double bed, fans, and a shared bath; the second has three single beds and a private bath, ideal for backpacking friends.


As you enter Placencia, there is a gate by the Placencia Bazaar gift shop; S Deb & Dave’s Last Resort (tel. 501/523-3207 or 501/600-6044, US$25) consists of four small, clean guest rooms surrounding a tidy sand courtyard and tropical garden favored by hummingbirds. The common screened-in porch space is excellent for meeting your neighbors and telling war stories from the day’s paddling and snorkeling trips; there are clean shared baths for all, free Wi-Fi, and a coffeemaker.

Claiming to be the “first established hotel on the Placencia Peninsula” (since 1964), the Sea Spray Hotel (Placencia sidewalk, tel. 501/523-3148,, US$25-65) is a decent choice, although staff friendliness can be hit or miss. It’s 30 feet from the ocean and has 20 guest rooms with private baths, fridges, hot and cold water, and coffeepots. There are economy guest rooms and nicer units closer to the water, where guests can relax in hammocks and chairs under palm trees. De Tatch seafood restaurant, on the premises, is popular for breakfast and serves up lunch and dinner.


A good deal right on the beach is Julia’s (tel. 501/503-3478,, US$65-70), with simple stand-alone cabanas complete with double beds, mini fridges, wireless Internet, porches, and hammocks. The decor is a bit of a hodgepodge, but the price is right.

Well located within the village, right off the sidewalk, is Sea View Suites Hotel (beside Purple Space Monkey Village Restaurant, tel. 501/523-3777,, US$75), which gets rave reviews and has nine immaculately clean tile-floor guest rooms with a beach ambience, double or king beds, coffeemakers, microwaves, beach towels, and cable TV.

At the extreme southern end of Placencia Village, look for the brightly painted Tradewinds Hotel (tel. 501/523-3122,, US$75-95), on five acres near the sea, offering nine cabanas with spacious guest rooms, fans, refrigerators, coffeepots, and private yards just feet from the ocean. It’s a bit dated but the interior is clean.

The Cozy Corner Hotel (tel. 501/523-3280 or 501/523-3540,, US$50-70) has 10 decent guest rooms with private baths and basic amenities, right behind the Cozy Corner bar-restaurant on the beach, with a nice breezy second-story porch; some guest rooms have air-conditioning. Next door, the Tipsy Tuna plays loud music at night.

The newly renovated Sea Glass Inn (formerly Dianni’s Guest House, tel. 501/523-3098,, US$79) is a lovely new addition to the village, with six immaculate guest rooms with twin or double beds, air-conditioning, coffeemakers, fridges, ceiling fans, and verandas looking onto a nice quiet stretch of sand with a dock, even if it’s not quite a typical beach. Walk-ins are welcome, and the inn is well located, just a few steps from the sidewalk strip and the action in the village.

S Paradise Vacation Hotel (Placencia sidewalk, tel. 501/523-3179 or U.S. tel. 904/564-9400,, US$89-159) has 12 air-conditioned guest rooms, each beautifully appointed, and an on-site seaside restaurant and bar, a spa, and a gift shop. Ask about room 12 if you want to live it up a little. There is complimentary use of bikes and kayaks as well as a rooftop hot tub with views of the Maya Mountains. Harry’s Cozy Cabanas (Placencia sidewalk, tel. 501/523-3234,, US$30) has three simple cabanas with screened porches.

Westwind Hotel (tel. 501/523-3255,, US$80-150) has 10 guest rooms with views, light tile floors, sunny decks, private baths, and fans (air-conditioning is optional and costs a little extra if you turn it on); there’s also wireless Internet access. The family unit goes for US$150. The hotel has a friendly vibe and a nice beach to relax on, although it’s a little close to the pounding music at Tipsy Tuna. The Ranguana Lodge (tel. 501/523-3112,, US$88-94) has five private cabanas: three air-conditioned beach cabins, and two cabins set back with garden views. All are spacious and have nice wood floors, walls, and ceilings.


Captain Jak’s (Placencia Village, tel. 501/523-3481,, US$90-120) is a quaint lagoon-side resort set in a tropical garden, with cabanas, two-story cottages, and a spacious villa (US$300). Each unit has a full kitchen, hot and cold water, and plenty of space to relax.

Easy Living Apartments (tel. 501/523-3481,, from US$135, US$810 per week) offers four slightly dated, carpeted, fully furnished two- and three-bedroom air-conditioned units; they are ideally located off the sidewalk. S Miramar Apartments (toward the north end of the sidewalk, tel. 501/523-3658,, US$125-235) is a favorite of mine; the hot pink building, opposite Lydia’s Guesthouse and next to De Tatch, has studio (my favorite, on the first floor facing the beach), one-bedroom, and three-bedroom units. Each has a king bed, a full kitchen, air-conditioning, and cable TV. The three-bedroom unit has hardwood flooring, beautiful decorations, original artwork, and a large sea-view balcony. It’s a great place for a family getaway or solo traveler.


Belizean Nirvana (tel. 501/523-3331,, US$150-275) is one of the newer additions to the village and lives up to its boutique-hotel status. It’s right in the heart of the action, with five one- and two-bedroom suites adorned with Belizean artwork, full kitchenettes, bathrobes, balconies with direct views of the beach and the sea, air-conditioning, and continental breakfast delivered to your suite at your chosen hour of the morning. Amenities are plentiful, including use of bicycles, wireless Internet, a rooftop grill (don’t miss the incredible view from up there), with hammocks and a kitchen area, local cell phones you can buy minutes for during your stay, and a magicJack for calls overseas. The hotel can also book Tropic Air flights for you, or pick you up from Belize City at additional cost.


One of the few truly upscale options that’s actually in Placencia Village, Sunset Pointe Apartments (Placencia Lagoon, tel. 501/664-4740, U.S. tel. 904/471-3599,, US$250-275) offers luxury two-bedroom condos for short- or long-term rental, often advertised online. They’re back on the lagoon side, but they all have raised roof decks with a breeze. It’s only a 10-minute walk to the beach from here, and there are many accessible restaurants and shops.


At Chabil Mar (tel. 501/523-3606,, US$375-525), the privately owned luxury villas have richly decorated interiors and are furnished with all the modern conveniences one could ask for. On the beach less than a mile north of Placencia Village, the exclusive Café Mar provides butler service so you can dine where you please: at poolside (there are two), on the pier or a private veranda, or in the comfort of your villa. It’s a popular spot for small weddings.

Turtle Inn (tel. 501/523-3244 or 501/523-3150, is one of the nation’s premier luxe destinations, one of U.S. film producer Francis Ford Coppola’s two Belizean properties. It is about one mile north of Placencia Village. Prices start at US$375 per night for the garden-view cottages and go up to US$1,850 per night for the master two-bedroom pavilion house with a private entrance, a pool, and a dining pavilion. Even if you’re not staying here, swing by to treat yourself to a fine meal with beautifully framed views of the ocean. Turtle Inn has seven luxury villas and 18 cottages on offer. The guest rooms are designed along Indonesian and Belizean lines, with lots of natural materials and airy space. The high thatched ceilings absorb the heat, so there are fans only, no air-conditioning, but there are music players for your iPod as well as fancy shell phones. Amenities include two swimming pools, the über-mellow Laughing Fish Bar on the beach, and one of the peninsula’s premier restaurants, the Mare Restaurant. There’s also an on-site spa, dive shop, and more dining options; Auntie Luba’s Belizean eatery and the Gauguin Grill are open for dinner 6pm-9pm daily.


Placencia has a small number of restaurants, but there’s enough variety to keep you stuffed during your visit: seafood cooked in coconut milk and local herbs, Creole stews and fry chicken, sandwiches, burritos, burgers, French, Italian, and adequate vegetarian options nearly everywhere you go.


John the Bakerman (no phone, 7am-close daily) makes great breads, cinnamon buns, and coffee bread, available all day; he also sells his brother’s meat pies. Look for his sign on the sidewalk and get it fresh out of the oven around 5pm.

You can get your latte or cappuccino fix at Brewed Awakenings (main road, Placencia Village, tel. 501/668-1715, 6:30am-5pm Mon.-Sat.), serving up Belizean coffee freshly roasted daily from a spacious outdoor shack with enough wooden picnic tables and benches, facing the street action. Flavor options to blend in your coffee range from Kahlúa to Nutty Irishman, and options include iced cappuccino and other fancy coffee concoctions, as well as baked treats and fresh fruit smoothies.

In Placencia Village Square, S Tutti Frutti Gelatería (tel. 501/620-9916,, 9am-9pm Thurs.-Tues.) serves up some of the best homemade gelato you’ll have outside of Italy; it’s made fresh daily with local fruits and traditional flavors. The fruit sorbets are dairy-free, and espresso drinks and iced coffees are served.

Up the road, just across from the town dock, look for The Shak Beach Café (tel. 501/622-1686, 7am-7pm daily), which has 21 smoothie flavors, all made with fresh fruit, along with a healthy vegetarian menu, a view of the water from the dockside tables, and good breakfasts of banana pancakes or omelets with coffee or tea (US$5-6).


Omar’s Creole Grub (tel. 501/634-4350, 7am-2:30pm and 6pm-9pm Sun.-Thurs., 6pm-9pm Sat.) will take care of you all day, with a lobster omelet, handmade tortillas, and guava jelly (US$9) to start the day off, then a burrito for lunch (US$4) and Creole-style barracuda steak (from US$7), pork chops, conch steak, or lobster for dinner. Chef Omar Jr. won the 2009 Lobsterfest Cook-Off with his stuffed lobster. Come for the seafood and stay for the conversation with the vivacious Omar and family, whose children all work at the restaurant. No alcohol is served.

Dawn’s Grill n’Go (tel. 501/602-9302,, 7am-3pm and 5:30pm-9pm Mon.-Sat., US$10-15) has finger lickin’ good fried chicken—served on Friday—and a cozy spot on the main road where Miss Dawn loves to serve up her creative specials, whether local favorites or international dishes, including pastas, seafood, fajitas, and lobster burgers. There’s nothing “fast” tasting about the food here. Be sure to sample her decadent banana bread pudding with One Barrel rum sauce—a bit pricey at US$3.50 for a small slice, but yum!

BJ’s Belizean Bellyfull (on the corner of the soccer field, no phone, 7am-7pm Mon.-Sat., 7am-4pm Sun., US$2.50-10), “where good food and God’s people meet,” has an upstairs outdoor porch (sometimes downstairs tables in busy season) and cheap fare: sandwiches from US$2.50, a buffet lunch, seafood and stir-fry dinners for US$10. Next door, S Wendy’s Creole Restaurant and Bar (tel. 501/523-3335, 7am-9:30pm daily, US$3-23) offers varied, consistently tasty Creole and international dishes at reasonable prices, the best outdoor people-watching veranda in the village, plus a glassed-in, air-conditioned seating area and a full bar. This is a great place to come to for Creole and Mexican cooking (they have the best stuffed fry jacks for breakfast, by the way), burgers (US$3-7.50), burritos (US$4.50-8), and fancier steaks and seafood items like Creole fish and curry lobster (US$13-23). There’s no hit or miss at Wendy’s no matter what you order.

The long-standing Galley Restaurant (behind the soccer field, tel. 501/523-3133, 11:30am-2:30pm and 6pm-10pm Mon.-Sat., US$4-30) is popular among the locals not only for offering some of the cheapest local eats but also for the freshly made seaweed punch, which Belizeans say “give yuh strong back”; draw your own conclusions. The thick crust pizzas are also a hit among residents.

The Cozy Corner (Placencia sidewalk, tel. 501/523-3280,, 7am-10pm Tues.-Sun., US$8-13) has a relaxed open-air atmosphere and is one of the nicer beach bars. For breakfast in Belize you can never go wrong with eggs, beans, and fry jacks; it also offers a lobster burger, fish dinners, and good bar food.

Dragonfly Moon (main road, Placencia Village, tel. 501/523-2662,, 6pm-10:30pm daily, US$5-20) is a welcome addition, serving the only authentic Chinese dim sum in Belize, in addition to creative fusion dishes like the sweet and sour chicken with cassava. The dim lighting, lounge atmosphere, and Asian furnishings add to the restaurant’s uniqueness. Don’t leave without trying the dumplings. Look out for a striking centerpiece at the bar involving a snake and a shot—try at your own risk.

If you’re looking for a lunch spot where you can also dip in a swimming pool or beachcomb to your heart’s content, then get a ride over to Mariposa Restaurant (Main St., tel. 501/523-4475,, 9am-9pm daily, call for free pickup, US$5-18), just on the way out of the village, where lunch offerings include meatball subs on baguettes and dinners offer steak, pasta, and seafood options. Ask about the daily lunch special for good deals. The view from the top-floor dining terrace makes it worth a stop for a relaxing day away from everything.

Located in the village, up a set of stairs and with an often-crowded and lively street-facing balcony, Mojo Lounge and Bartique (main road, tel. 501/628-7974, 6pm-10pm, days vary) is the kind of trendy spot you’d find in a North American city. The decor is funky, with the main dining area divided into separate rooms—the blue room or red room—with a combination of wooden tables, colorful chairs and booths. Service can be slow and at times amiss when it gets busy here, so come early. Meals are on the small-portion side, and include a range of fresh seafood, pastas, and traditional snacks like conch ceviche.


The revamped S Secret Garden Restaurant (main road, Placencia Village, tel. 501/634-9789,, 5pm-11pm Mon.-Sat., US$14-17) is a breath of fresh air, offering up tasty Caribbean, Latin, and Asian-fusion dishes, including delicious pasta, seafood gumbo, chicken Maya, and Argentinian steak, among others. There’s a full bar and a wonderful ambience, with a garden patio or indoor seating. Don’t miss the signature stacked ceviche or their Belizean lime tart, when available. The place fills up quickly, so be sure to make reservations.

Rumfish y Vino Wine and Gastro Bar (main road, Placencia Village, tel. 501/523-3293,, 2pm-midnight daily, US$7-15) opened in 2008; the Solomons bought the place while honeymooning. Pamela, a wine specialist, imports Italian and Californian wine, and John works his magic in the kitchen. The menu features a mix of international comfort food, from fish-and-chips to pastas, short ribs, and more.

Most of the resorts north of town have fine restaurants to brag about. Grab a fistful of dollars and a taxi and bon appétit. At the Turtle Inn’s Mare Restaurant (main road, 1 mile north of the village, tel. 501/523-3244 or 501/523-3150,, 9am-10pm daily, US$15-35), the chef prepares meals with greens from his own on-site organic herb garden, as well as those grown in their upland sister resort’s extensive organic vegetable garden. In fact, this is the best place to come for a fresh green salad in Placencia—as well as seafood, pasta, and oven-baked gourmet pizza.

The Seaside Restaurant (tel. 501/523-3565, 7am-9pm daily, US$12-28) at Robert’s Grove Beach Resort serves mouthwatering seafood and imported U.S. steaks. Don’t forget Habanero Mexican Café and Bar (tel. 501/523-3565, 3pm-9pm daily Oct.-May, US$9-15) for excellent Mexican food, just south of Seine Bight and across from Robert’s Grove. A few miles farther north, most Placencians will agree that Maya Beach Hotel Bistro (tel. 501/533-8040, 7am-9pm Tues.-Sun., US$14-28) is well worth the US$20 taxi trip from town (or US$1 on the afternoon bus). The options here are unique—try the four sampler platters—and owner Ellen Lee can help you pair your menu choice with the right wine.

Tiger Beach Club (north of Seine Bight, tel. 501/628-1250, 4pm-10pm Wed.-Sun., US$10-25) is the most exciting newcomer on Placencia’s restaurant scene. You’ll notice the red lighting glowing from the highway on approach, and gasp at the stunning, equally vibrant and colorfully lit interior—with images and symbols of India, from black and white photographs of Indian women and children to jaguar paintings and hanging lanterns. It’s difficult to say what’s more top-notch: the reasonably priced and authentic food with imported ingredients (chef Dajleet Singh moved here from a five-star Mumbai property), the service, the ambience, or the spicy cocktails—try the Tiger Mojito or the Tiger Margarita. A stone’s throw from diners is an open kitchen, and you can watch the chef gracefully kneading and baking naan bread. Don’t miss sampling the samosas. Tiger Beach is one of my best dining experiences in Belize.


Wallen’s Market (8:30am-noon and 1:30pm-5:30pm Mon.-Sat.) is on the main road, close to the soccer field, and sells groceries, dry goods, and sundries. Everyday Supermarket (7am-9pm daily) is in the center of town.

Information and Services


The Placencia Tourism Center website ( is one of the most organized and useful in the country. Upon arrival in town, head straight to the Tourism Office (back of the Scotiabank Bldg., 2nd Fl., tel. 501/523-4045,, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri.) in Placencia Village Square. After reading the various postings on the wall, pick up a copy of the latest Placencia Breeze (, a monthly rag with many helpful schedules and listings, including happy hours and house rentals. The tourism office also sells books, maps, music CDs, and postcards, and it has a mail drop; the office will not recommend one business over another.

The BTL telephone office (8am-5pm Mon.-Fri.) is at the bottom of the big red-and-white antenna.


Belize Bank (8am-3pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-4:30pm Fri.) is by the marina and has a 24-hour ATM. Atlantic Bank (8am-3pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-4:30pm Fri.) has an ATM in town, across the road from Wendy’s Creole Restaurant. Scotiabank (8am-2:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 8am-3:30pm Fri., 9am-11:30am Sat.) has an ATM just north of the BTL office.


The Placencia Medical Center (tel. 501/523-3326, 8:30am-4:30pm Mon.-Fri.) is behind the school. For after-hour emergencies, Dr. Alexis Caballero (tel. 501/523-4038) makes house calls, should you have a severe shellfish reaction. The village of Independence, a short boat ride away, has the nearest 24-hour clinic to Placencia. If a medevac to Belize City is not possible, this is where a patient will be taken in an emergency. There is a private clinic (tel. 501/601-2769) on Water Side Street, a public hospital providing health care to the poor, and a pharmacy (above Wallen’s Market, on the main road, close to the soccer field, tel. 501/523-3346).

For police, contact the Placencia police station (tel. 501/503-3142), the Seine Bight station (tel. 501/503-3148), or the Tourism Police (tel. 501/503-3181).


Placencia Office Supply (tel. 501/523-3205, U.S. fax 888/329-6302,, 8am-5pm Mon.-Sat., closes at lunchtime), tucked off the main road in the town center, has a copy machine and Internet access, and can send faxes; they will let you plug into their Ethernet or use their wireless Internet (US$4 per hour).

Cruise Ship Tourism in Placencia

In 2013 the Government of Belize signed a US$50 million contract with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), authorizing NCL to develop Harvest Caye—a 75-acre untouched island of mangroves and beach, just under three miles off the coast of Placencia Village—into a “eco-friendly” cruise destination. This planned development will bring thousands of cruise ships passengers to the south, an otherwise uncrowded, pristine part of Belize.

The project has met fierce resistance from Belize’s top conservationists, local businesses, and industry stakeholders, who are against mass tourism and are striving to protect the Southern Coast, as well as the country’s reputation as a leading eco-friendly destination in the region. While NCL vows to adhere to Belize’s environmental standards and to provide jobs for locals, the magnitude of the project leaves much to be desired: an island pier, a marina, a hub for mainland tours, a lagoon for water sports, and planned cultural entertainment using the various cultures of Belize. There’s little doubt that dredging and development on this scale will harm the surrounding coral habitat, mangroves, and the Placencia Lagoon—one of three main habitats for the endangered West Indian manatee.

Despite ongoing protests, however, the project is advancing rapidly, with cruise passengers expected sometime in 2015.

Getting There

There are a number of ways to travel the 100-plus miles between Placencia Village and Belize City. The tip of the long peninsula is not as isolated as it used to be, and various options exist for continuing on to points south and west, including Guatemala and Honduras.


At last check, there were more than 20 daily flights in and out of Placencia’s precarious little airstrip, to and from various destinations throughout Belize. Planes generally hop from either of Belize City’s two airports to Dangriga, Placencia, and Punta Gorda (in that order, usually landing at all three), then turn around for the reverse trip north. For current schedules and fares, check directly with the two airlines: Maya Island Air (tel. 501/223-1140, U.S. tel. 800/225-6732, or Tropic Air (tel. 501/226-2012, U.S. tel. 800/422-3435, There is sometimes air service between nearby Savannah Airport (near Independence Village) and San Pedro Sula in Honduras; three flights a week cost about US$160.


The 21-mile excuse for a road from Placencia Village to where the peninsula hits the mainland was a rutted, dusty nightmare for decades. Then, in July 2008, the highest officials in the land gathered at Robert’s Grove Beach Resort and signed the papers to begin the paving project that was completed in 2010. And the people rejoiced. It’s now about a three- or four-hour drive from Belize City. From Belize City, most people drive via the Hummingbird and Southern Highways. About half an hour after turning south before Dangriga, look for a left turn to Riverside, where you’ll begin the peninsula road.

The gas station (6am-7pm daily) is by the M&M hardware store in the center of the village.


Placencia Village is served by three daily bus departures and arrivals (in high season, anyway; service is spotty the rest of the year). Buses come and go from the center of the village, right next to the M&M hardware store, and current schedules are available at the Placencia Tourism Office and inside the Placencia Breeze. Buses to Dangriga (Ritchie’s Bus Service, tel. 501/523-3806) depart at 6:15am, 12:45pm, and 2:30pm Monday-Saturday, and 7am, 12:45pm, and 2:30pm Sunday. There’s also a 6:15am express bus to Belize City (air-conditioned, US$13 pp). Otherwise, you’ll need to change in Dangriga to reach Belize City. The fare is about US$5 or less for each leg of the journey. The more common—and quickest—bus route is via the boat to Mango Creek and Independence Village.


For those traveling to points south, like Punta Gorda or Guatemala, or for those who want to avoid the Placencia Road, a boat-and-bus combo will get you back to the mainland and on your way. Hokey Pokey Water Taxi (tel. 501/523-2376, 501/601-0271, or 501/601-8897) provides regular service between the gas station dock behind M&M Hardware in the center of the village and the dilapidated landing at Mango Creek, charging US$5 one-way for the 15-minute trip through bird-filled mangrove lagoons. Boats leave Placencia at 6:45am, 10am, 12:30pm, 2:30pm, 4pm, and 5pm daily, and 6pm Monday-Saturday; the same boat turns around for the reverse trip: 6:30am, 7:30am, 8am, 10am, 11am, noon, 2:30pm, 4:30pm, and 5:30pm. Hokey Pokey is a reliable family-run operation, proudly steered by captains Pole, Lito, and Caral.

Bus connections to all points are coordinated with the 10am and 4pm boats from Placencia, so the traveler need only worry about stepping onto the correct bus when the boat lands in Independence after the quick taxi shuttle (US$0.50) to the bus depot by Rosa’s Restaurant (5:30am-3pm daily). The last bus to Punta Gorda leaves at 8pm, sometimes later, and the last ride to Dangriga and Belize City is at 5:30pm daily. The earliest northbound bus from Punta Gorda arrives around 7am daily, and the James Bus express arrives at 9am daily.


The ship to Puerto Cortés (tel. 501/202-4506 or 501/603-7787, Honduras tel. 504/665-1200) leaves at 9am every Friday, returning at 2pm Monday afternoon. The trip costs US$60 and takes roughly four hours, stopping in Big Creek, Belize, for immigration purposes, and carrying a maximum of 50 passengers. Buy tickets at the Placencia Tourism Office. Every now and then (sometimes as often as a couple of times a week), a boatload of passengers arrives in Placencia from Livingston, Guatemala, and seeks passengers to take with them back to Livingston (with an immigration stop in Punta Gorda). Inquire at Caribbean Tours and Travels (Main Rd., tel. 501/523-3481,

Getting Around

Placencia Village itself is small enough to walk, and if you’re commuting on the sidewalk, walking is your only option (riding a bike on the sidewalk can earn you a US$50 fine). Speaking of two-wheeled options, there are plenty of bicycle rentals in town. If you’re bicycling north on the road, know that Seine Bight is five miles from Placencia and Maya Beach another 2.5 miles. The cheapest way (besides walking) to get up and down the peninsula is to hop on a bus as it travels to or from Dangriga.


There used to be a free shuttle service up and down the peninsula, but no longer. In the meantime, there are at least a dozen green-plated taxis hanging around the gas stations and the airstrip. Rides from town to the airstrip cost US$6 for one or two people, to the Seine Bight area one-way US$12, to Maya Beach US$15. Ask around the gas station and tourist office, and look for posted rate lists to know what you should be paying. The more trusted and long-standing taxi services include Radiance Ritchie (tel. 501/523-3321) and Traveling Gecko (tel. 501/523-4078). My own preferred driver is Noel of Noel Taxi Service (tel. 501/600-6047 or 501/632-0980); he works late into the night, ideal for solo female travelers.


Rent a car for do-it-yourself land tours to the Jaguar or Mayflower nature reserve, or for trips to the ruins near Punta Gorda. Otherwise you’ll pay US$50-100 per person to join a tour group. Barefoot Rentals (tel. 501/523-3066 or cell 501/629-9602, has a selection of cars (US$65-85 per day), golf carts (US$32-49 per day), and scooters (US$9 per hour). Captain Jak’s (tel. 501/622-7104,, right in the center of the village, rents golf carts.


An easy 35-minute boat ride from Placencia brings you to the mouth of the Monkey River and the village of the same name. Founded in 1891, Monkey River village was once a thriving town of several thousand loggers, chicleros, banana farmers, and anglers; that was then. Now, the very sleepy village of 30 families (about 150 people) makes its way with fishing and, you guessed it, tourism, though the latter has been slow as of late. Many villagers are trained and licensed tour guides who work with hotels in Placencia to provide unique wildlife-viewing experiences.


Monkey River

Ninety percent of the structures you see have been rebuilt since Hurricane Iris destroyed the town in 2001. The village is accessible by boat—most often through the mangroves from Placencia—but there is also an 11-mile road from the Southern Highway that ends across the river from the village.

If you’re on a tour from Placencia, after negotiating the mangrove maze, your guide will take you into the river’s mouth and dock up in town for a restroom break and a chance to place your lunch order for later in the day. Then you’ll be off upstream, all eyes peeled for animals. You’ll beach up at the trailhead to explore a piece of Payne’s Creek National Park, a 31,000-acre reserve that is surrounded by even more protected area. You’ll hike through the dense brush, now a regenerating broadleaf forest that will take decades to reach its pre-Iris glory. Then it’s back down the river for lunch and a stroll through the village. Most head back to their guest rooms in Placencia, but you may wish to consider staying a night or two, either to experience village life or to get some serious fishing time in.

Accommodations and Food

The options in Monkey River are casual inns, best appreciated by those who enjoy isolation and primitive surroundings. Most offer a set menu with a different entrée served each day. Reservations are required for meals, but all of these small cafés will serve drop-ins something, such as a burger or a beer.

Near the breezy part of town by the mini basketball court, Alice’s Restaurant (tel. 501/543-3079, noon-3pm daily, US$6) offers meals served in a large dining room with a view of the sea; renting one of her airy wood guest rooms in a neighboring building costs US$23, with a fan and a shared bath with hot and cold water. Sunset Inn (tel. 501/720-2028,, US$50) is a two-story green structure with eight musty guest rooms with private baths, fans, and hot and cold water. Decent meals can be had for about US$8. Monkey River native and owner Clive Garbutt knows the area inside out, and can easily guide fishing and snorkel tours. The Black Coral Gift Shop, Bar, and Restaurant (US$5-15) is one street back from the riverfront and offers simple fare, local crafts, and Internet access. The family that runs this hotel has an acclaimed guide service too, especially for sportfishing trips.

All hotels and resorts offer sea and land tours and trips. Local guides and fishers are experts. Sorry, there’s no dive shop yet, but bring your snorkeling gear. Overnight caye trips are available, as are river camping trips: You’re dropped off at the Bladen bridge and canoe down the river, stopping at night to camp.

Islands Near Placencia

From inner reef cayes—a stone’s throw from Placencia’s coast—to larger, protected plots and World Heritage Sites such as Laughingbird Caye or Silk Cayes, there’s plenty to keep even the most avid island hopper or diver busy in these parts. If anything, you’ll want to have a separate budget just for these cayes while staying in Placencia. They’re worth every penny and offer gorgeous marine and coral encounters, in addition to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. While some islands are home to romantic resorts, others are ideal for day trips and marine exploration above and under water.


Belize’s famous seasonal whale shark site is the protected Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (tel. 501/523-3377,, 26 miles from the coast of Placencia. Gladden Spit, known as “the elbow” of the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, is where whale sharks congregate once a month March-June to feed on spawning fish. Divers have the unique opportunity to swim alongside these giant creatures. For such a memorable experience, contact Splash Dive Center (tel. 501/523-3080 or cell 501/610-0235,


The Silk Cayes, also known as the Queen Cayes, are part of the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve: three tiny plots of land ranging from 0.5 to 4 acres, located one mile inside the barrier reef. One is a protected birding area. They are easily the most photogenic islands of Belize, and what the Silk Cayes lack in size they make up for in diving bliss, with rich marinelife that includes stingrays, giant barracuda, and lobsters. Snorkeling is decent as well, with coral and reef fish to explore just steps off the islands’ white-sand beaches.

Most dive shops offer full day trips to the Silk Cayes, just under an hour away from Placencia, approximately 22 miles offshore. The main island, with restroom facilities and wooden picnic tables, is straight out of paradise, with frigates soaring above shallow turquoise and jade waters replete with coral. Across from this main island, you’ll spot the second Silk Caye, this one a mere plot of sand and resident pelicans. Several tour company boats anchor here in high season—my advice is to come very early if you want some solo time before the crowds arrive, or pick a weekday for your trip.

Private Island Dreams

Where else in the Caribbean can you rent your own Caribbean island and live out your Lost fantasies? If you’ve got cash to spare or a big group to split the cost, you’ve got exclusive access to a handful of Belize’s most stunning cayes.

French Louie Caye (tel. 501/523-3636,, 3-night package US$1,260): The caye is about eight miles east of Placencia Village, with its own beach, coral reef—ideal for walk-in snorkeling—fishing dock, and a two-bedroom wooden house with verandas. You can even pitch a tent for the kids if you choose, just for kicks. Accommodations are rustic but cozy and eco-friendly. An on-site caretaker cooks “catch and eat” meals and can take you on a night snorkel tour. No other guests will be there when you book—you’ll have the entire island to yourself.

Hatchet Caye (tel. 501/533-4446,, US$250-300): Located 17 miles east of Placencia, the island accommodates 26 guests for weddings, group retreats, and more. Features include a beautiful beach, a swimming pool, and a restaurant on-site, plus a full-service dive shop.

Lime Caye (tel. 501/722-0070 or cell 501/604-3548,, 2-day package US$345, 4-day package US$700, includes cabin, food, snorkeling, transportation, and park fee): This island, off Belize’s deep South Coast, within the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve, is the site of turtle nesting. It offers basic seafront huts at the sea (with outdoor showers and rustic baths), a pretty white-sand beach, and excellent snorkeling, where you’re likely to be the only one exploring the reef. It doesn’t get more distant or authentic than Lime Caye.

Ranguana Caye (U.S. tel. 800/565-9757, tel. 501/523-3565,, 3-night package US$1,035): A private island two acres in size and 18 miles (90 minutes by boat) from the Placencia Peninsula, Ranguana is dreamy. Three rustic cabanas on stilts have private baths, and there’s a housekeeper. The surrounding scenery of turquoise and jade seas is breathtaking.

Robert’s Caye (U.S. tel. 800/565-9757, tel. 501/523-3565,, US$490): This one-acre semiprivate island 10 miles from the Placencia coast has four thatched-roof cabanas and access to a small bar and restaurant.

Cayo Espanto (U.S. tel. 888/666-4282,, US$1,995) is as exclusive as it gets. This five-star, award-winning hideaway for the super-rich is just three miles from Ambergris Caye and provides lodging and service with all the bells and whistles: beachfront villas with private plunge pools, private docks, luxury designer bed sheets, and your very own “personal houseman.”

Coco Plum Island Resort (U.S. tel. 800/763-7360,, 7-night package for 24 guests US$49,216), located on Coco Plum Caye, offers 14 cabanas for rent, for up to 28 people, on a gorgeous 16-acre island. The island rental package is attractive, and includes all meals, unlimited local beer and rum, water-sports gear, and up to five tours, two of which can be to the mainland. What folks rave most about here is the friendly staff.

Snorkeling around these islands consists of colorful coral and small reef fish like sergeant majors and angelfish. The entry is easy and the water shallow, if rocky at first. It’s an ideal spot for beginner snorkelers or divers, or for an all-around nice day of sun, swim, and beach. As compared to Laughingbird Caye, snorkeling at Silk is average—except for a unique snorkeling site now called Shark, Ray, and Turtle Alley, just a couple of minutes from the main island, where, thanks to lobster fishers cleaning their catch from a traditional wooden sailboat, you can see magnificent three-foot-long loggerhead turtles and impressive large southern stingrays as well as lemon and reef sharks. Observe from a healthy distance, as these creatures can all get aggressive even among themselves while vying for the scraps being thrown into the sea. Splash Dive Center includes this snorkel stop on day trips to the Silk Cayes.

Diving at Silk Cayes is excellent, with a couple of walls to explore. The North Wall is one of the top sites in the reserve and in Belize, going down to 80 feet and offering a look at many of the Belize Barrier Reef’s beautiful species in one place: hawksbill turtles, spotted eagle rays, moray eels, manta rays, black groupers, and the occasional reef shark. White Hole is a 30- to 70-foot dive that begins in a sandy area (resembling a white hole from the surface), where you’ll spot yellowtail snappers, groupers, nurse sharks resting, passing spotted eagle rays, four-eyed butterflyfish traveling in pairs, angelfish, gorgonians, and walls of corals. Loggerhead and hawksbill turtles can also be spotted at the Turtle Canyons dive site, which goes to 60 feet, along with smaller species like spotted drums and arrow crabs.


The latest hit among couples and honeymooners, the 7.1-acre private resort Hatchet Caye (18 miles offshore from Placencia Village, tel. 501/523-3337 or 501/533-4446,, US$250-300) offers eight decent casitas with all the amenities, outdoor decks, and an on-site dive shop with complimentary sports gear—from kayaks to Hobie Cats, paddleboards, and fishing gear. There’s also a cute small beachfront swimming pool and an on-site bar and restaurant. The caye has a bit more of an upscale vibe, and it gets rave reviews from vacationing lovebirds. The beach is decent on the island, if flat in some parts. The island’s location is ideal, however, a stone’s throw from excellent snorkeling and diving sites off nearby Laughingbird Caye and off the Silk Cayes, which are visible from shore.


Located close to the Silk Cayes, Laughingbird Caye National Park (entrance US$10) is an important protected area encompassing over 10,000 acres. With swaying palms, small beautiful beaches, an absence of biting bugs, shallow sandy swimming areas, roaming pelicans, and interesting snorkeling and diving, it’s a popular day trip from Placencia, just 11 miles from shore or a mere 45-minute boat ride.


Laughingbird Caye National Park is a great island getaway for the day.

Laughingbird National Park was designated in December 1991 and gained World Heritage Site status along with the Belize Barrier Reef in 1996. It’s managed by the nonprofit Southern Environmental Association (SEA Belize, office near Placencia town dock, tel. 501/523-3377,, also in charge of the Sapodilla Cayes, Placencia Lagoon, and Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, a famous whale shark site.

The reserve is visited regularly, mostly by researchers and travelers brought out by tour operators from Placencia for picnics, snorkeling, and diving. In high season, it’s not unusual to see several tour groups on the island. Private yachts and sea kayaks also use the site regularly, and some mooring buoys have been installed to prevent anchor damage to the surrounding reef. There is one trail through the center of the caye. A park ranger remains on the caye at all times and greets daily visitors to give them a five-minute briefing on the park, including dos and don’ts in this no-take zone.

Named after laughing gulls that once inhabited the island, this particular kind of caye is referred to as a faro; the arms on each end make a kind of enclosure around a lagoon area on the leeward side. In this way, the island acts much like a mini atoll. It’s also a 100 percent no-take zone. All of this is good news for those wishing to dive or snorkel the front or the eastern side of the island.

The snorkeling in particular is spectacular, and ideal for beginners. You’ll find a lot of coral, sponges, and plentiful fish life. Starting in shallow waters, there are three designated snorkel entries. At the front side of the island, you’ll spot sergeant majors, stoplight parrotfish, hogfish, porkfish, giant lobsters, sea cucumbers, and schools of blue-striped grunts hovering over corals. Ask to see the elkhorn coral harvesting station, where healthy elkhorn is planted and eventually used to replace dead coral in other parts of the reserve, which you can also see while you snorkel—proof of Belize’s continued dedication in maintaining its reef’s health. The leeward or back side of the island offers even more dazzling snorkeling—be sure not to forget a waterproof camera to capture large barracuda preying on smaller fish, healthy soft and hard corals, bonefish, blue tang, and even rays and nurse sharks, sergeant majors, trumpetfish, porkfish, schools of black jacks, princess parrotfish, and surrounding silversides.

Shutterbugs should stay at the back of the boat upon leaving the island, around midafternoon, to capture Laughingbird Caye’s gorgeous full-length view.

Both the Silk Cayes and Laughingbird Caye can be enjoyed in a one-day trip (no overnights allowed) if you charter a boat, but a full day on each would be a much better plan.


Located 18 miles away or about an hour from Placencia, Ranguana Caye is yet another paradisiacal plot. Perched atop the Belize Barrier Reef, this privately owned caye, operated by Robert’s Grove Resort (U.S. tel. 800/565-9757, tel. 501/523-3565, 3-night all-inclusive package US$1,035), is a cozy two-acre island with a stunning white-sand beach at the front, swaying palms jutting out of its center, and all around blissful scenery.

There’s a casual restaurant and bar on-site. Four charming blue wooden cabanas on stilts are tucked at the back of the island under the shade of coconut trees. No phones, no Internet, no problem.

Swim and snorkel off the beach in shallow waters or get some sun with a cocktail in hand. Entry starts at the ankle level, and visibility is incredible at lower depths. Divers will find decent sites to explore just a couple of miles off Ranguana Caye, including the Fox Hole, a wall dive going to 100 feet, where hawksbill turtles, angelfish, nurse sharks, barracuda, ocean triggers, and queen triggerfish all roam in deep-blue waters. Splash Dive Center and several other tour operators offer a full-day excursion to Ranguana.

But you don’t have to be a diver or snorkeler to enjoy this island. Rent a cabana, take in the turquoise views to the sound of birds and gentle waves, and walk the edge of the plot to feel as if you’re walking on water. This island’s glorious scenery encapsulates what Belize’s cayes are all about.


It may not sound like it, but even a smaller, one-acre island just 10 miles from Placencia is plenty big enough to live out your castaway fantasies. Robert’s Caye, owned by Robert’s Grove Resort (U.S. tel. 800/565-9757, tel. 501/523-3565, 3-night all inclusive package US$906), offers four red-roofed cabanas partially towering over the sea. It feels much more like a resort and an artificial island, in contrast to Ranguana Caye, but the surrounding waters are no less striking. A boat ride is required to snorkel or dive off the caye. The on-site restaurant’s outdoor deck is a perfect place to shoot the breeze.


Fifteen miles east of Placencia Village or a 45-minute boat ride away, the five-acre plot of Tarpon Caye is easily a fisher’s dream: A tarpon lagoon surrounds the caye’s entrance, while along its edges, permit glide by all day long. That was Charles Leslie Sr.’s goal when he opened Tarpon Caye Lodge (tel. 501/523-3323,, US$150, 3-day fishing package US$1,420) in 1996. Tarpon Caye continues to be family-owned and Belizean-operated and is one of the preferred getaways for avid anglers in search of a local experience.

Right off the three bright cabins on stilts, perched over the sea and equipped with a porch, a hammock, double beds, and solar power, is spectacular snorkeling, thanks to the Leslie family chasing off fishers and turning the surrounding waters into an unofficial marine reserve. The waterfront Pesky Permit restaurant is on-site, serving up excellent home-cooked Belizean meals and fresh catch. While the lodge caters primarily to anglers, it won’t turn away couples seeking a no-frills Belizean island getaway. One thing’s for sure: Evenings on this caye are anything but dull, from the starlit skies to the local jokes shared at the dinner table.


Lime Caye