Belize is a tiny Central American country on the Caribbean side, so that usually means amazing turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and Spanish-speaking people. Because I have wanted to go to Belize for about 10 years, I could hardly wait, but to be honest, it was a tremendous disappointment.
Belize does not have those beautiful white sand beaches and turquoise water. Most of the beaches are walled in with wild water banging against rock or cement walls. As an English-speaking country, it definitely was easier to communicate in English, rather than Spanish, but the only place we found the turquoise waters was on Caye Caulker, an island off the coast of Belize, not far out into the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s not that Belize is without charm. It certainly holds many reasons one would want to visit, but if you’re looking for the amazing blue-green waters associated with most Caribbean countries, you won’t find much of it.
From Chetumal, Mexico, we crossed the border into Belize. We had made the necessary pre-arrangements with the rental car agency to take the car into Belize. We had also been warned repeatedly about the hassles and scams getting over the border: demands for a $20 Exit Fee or beer or pop, confiscation of your passport until you pay, expensive gas so fill up in Chetumal, Mexico. Much to our surprise it was easy-peasy. Yes, we had to pay a $10 fee to a guy who politely guided us from building to building through the whole process, and a $5 fee to a Porter to lug around our suitcases, both of which were well worth every penny. It was smooth as it could be and only took 20-30 minutes. We would never have managed on our own – there were specific steps to follow, going back and forth between buildings, and our Guide stayed by our side through it all. Keep in mind this is including taking a rental car over the border, so there was paperwork regarding that as well.
In 1782, Britain and Spain obtained rights to log the mahogany that grew abundantly in Belize.
We saw many logging trucks as we travelled through Belize.
The Mayan people were opposed and many were dislocated from their settlements. When Belize became British Honduras (a colony of Britain 1862), the large landowners were given firm titles to their vast estates, but did not allow the Maya to own land. As in many British colonies, the indigenous people, in this case the Maya, could only rent land or live on reservations.
The Maya Indians had an incredibly advanced civilization. They had their own writing (glyphs) and their own calendar. The Mayas were skilled mathematicians and great architects. They built massive temples, cities, and palaces. They were also skilled astronomers who studied the stars and could predict the rainy season. Belize sought and finally achieved independence in 1981, only less than 40 years ago.
Even as recently as 2012, millions of dollars of mahogany and cedar have been illegally logged and sold in the U. S. from the Chiquibul National Forest (Breaking News Belize). Shameful, really.
Our first stop was Corozol, a small city of 10,000 on a nice bay.
We stayed at a Mayan Hotel right on the water, Hok Ol K’in (Hok Ol K’in), which had the whitest sheets, towells and walls we have ever seen. Very clean, $60 US a night, and it had it’s own restaurant and bar. Lucy and Erin were excellent hosts as well.
But soon you see that the whole town has a rock wall around the malecon, and there is no beach. For me, in particular, this was a major disappointment. It’s not that the town isn’t pretty, or the water nice to look at, but I melt at the sight of white sand and turquoise water.
Next, we back-tracked up North up the coast about 7 miles to look at the quiet community of Consejo Shores, with 1/4 acres lots, a popular spot on the Bay of Chetumal for Belizean retirees and a few expats, but one look at the water, and we knew this was not the place for us.
We attempted to head out to Orchid Bay as well, but a very rough pot-holed road was discouraging, and we turned back.
We trekked – well drove – up and down Belize and went inland too.
In Hopkins, which only got modern conveniences in 1990, there were the black Garifuna people which are descendants of West and Central African, Island Caribbean, and South American Arawak Indians. The Garifuna are famous for their drumming.
As we drove into Hopkins, it looked quite nice. At first.
We stayed at the Hopkins Inn that had a gorgeous white sand beach and nice little beach houses.
But the blue water was rough, and the Hopkins Inn was a bit isolated. They also charged a hefty price for meals, only available at very specific times.
It was there that we were both eaten alive with No-Seeums, those tiny black flies that bite and itch for days. You have no idea when there biting you; they are too tiny to see and you don’t feel any bites. Our legs were covered with red welts. The bites drove us crazy, itching constantly, and keeping us awake all night. Days later we found a pharmacy that sold Cortizone Cream, the only thing that eased, not stopped, that infernal itching. That was pretty much the final straw for Belize.
Belize is not a well-developed country. As we drove further and further South, there were more and more unpaved rough roads in town and country.
And there were many shacks interspersed with the occasional nicer home.
I absolutely love this photo… what do you think?
Hopkins is as far South as we went, so we cannot comment on Placentia or Punta Gorda further South towards the Guatamala border.
The foliage in Belize is rich and tropical, and it is a country in a beautiful natural state. Instead of beaches, you have sugar cane fields; instead of big cities, you have villages and farms; instead of luxury resorts, you have tropical forests, mahogany trees, sugarcane fields and fruit orchards.
As we often say, we like to travel to off-the-beaten-path, little known places, but we are neither back-packers nor touristy resort-seekers. Unique places, beautiful scenery, gorgeous beaches, warm friendly people with no tourist buses, no No-Seeums (smile), small towns, and clean, small inns – that’s our style.
Things did improve as we travelled inland and to the islands. There were two places that were the absolute highlights of our trip to Belize, and we would highly recommend them. Stay tuned to hear the scoop on our Lamanai River Boat adventure in Orange Walk and charming Caye Caulker, in the next few posts.