Belize has been on our Central America Radar for years. When Southwest Airlines opened up routes, we packed up our parachutes. After a two and a half hour flight from Florida, we land in Belize.
All international flights arrive in Belize City. From here, you take a taxi to the port (for island hopping,) or the bus terminal. Either way, this taxi leg is BZ$50 or $25 US. That cost would be the rate for up to four passengers. We took Lonely Planet’s advice and got out of Belize City ASAP. Not that it is unsafe or untouristed, just that there is so much to see in Belize in two short weeks. Let’s go explore the jungle, the Mayan ruins, and the beaches.
Belize is the size of Massachusetts, and getting around is pretty simple. Renting a car is as easy as it is in Boston, BUT, roads are just about as crappy as Costa Rica (potholes that swallow an entire VW bug). In addition, Belize car rentals don’t allow their cars crossing into Guatemala. This was something we had to consider, since we really wanted to see an epic Mayan ruin in Guatemala.
Our decision: leave the driving to those who do this every day. So, we travel like the locals ~on the chicken bus express!
Chicken Bus Express
The bus system in Belize is reliable, efficient, and cheap. Carli immediately recognized these buses. They were just like the ones she rode back in grade school. She was right! Belize acquired a fleet of retired US school buses and “converted” them into their main source of transport throughout the country.
We spent a week on the mainland, or interior, then into Guatemala for some jungle and Mayan exploring. You may have seen that we covered San Ignacio and Tikal on earlier posts, so join us as we venture to the islands of Belize. Home of the worlds second largest barrier reef.
There are two water taxi companies from the docks of Belize City, to the Northern Cayes (a caye is a low elevation, sandy island): Ocean Ferry and San Pedro Express. Funny thing is, they run essentially the same schedule, and are about the same cost.
So, we took both. Ultimately, we were happier with San Pedro Express because it was more timely and the boats were more comfortable.
Ambergris Caye is a mile wide at its narrowest point, and twenty-five miles long. Most people rent golf carts AND most people visit Secret Beach. It’s about nine miles from the center of San Pedro.
We’re not like most people
We tend to take the alternative, off-the-beaten-path route. Since we are on a beach and not a golf course, we rent beach cruisers! A golf cart runs about $50 a day + fuel, and takes about 45 minutes to get to Secret Beach.
Bikes are $9 a day, and take about an hour to get to Secret Beach which, by the way, is NOT a secret. Imagine, a Disney-sized parking lot full of golf carts. Hmmm. . . Secret??. . . Shhhhhhhhhh. . .
San Pedro is not a high-rise-hotel island, but rather hosts low-lying-ritzy resorts, which dot the north island. This was once a laid-back tropical destination. Now it’s developed with jet-setter type accommodations, bars and yahoos who jam the streets with golf carts. Regardless of the endless beer buckets and golf carts, it still offers the most valuable asset: the well preserved barrier reef.
Caye Caulker is about a third the size of Ambergris Caye and about half the price. Caye Caulker seemed to attract more backpackers which, of course, means more hostel-type accommodations. We chose a family room off a quiet street with a comfortable courtyard, which we shared with a couple of iguanas.
At $40 a night, the Ocean Pearl Royale was a steal. This tiny island has no cars, more bikes than golf carts, and everything is accessible on foot. The street-food options on the island were affordable and delicious.
Both islands offer plenty of water sports, and shore excursions to the same reef sites. We chose Stressless eco-friendly Tours to take us on a day-long, snorkel trip to four reefs, and a couple of special, near-shore sites. A full day on the boat including lunch, fresh fruit, shark repellent, and reef friendly sunscreen~$65pp.
After reviewing our visit to Belize, I rely on our familiar travel mantra, It’s Impossible To See Everything. I must assume that we’ll be back. With non-stop flights from Florida, my trusted Lonely Planet guidebook, and affordable family travel, I see another Belize adventure in the near future.
When we come back, I’d like to explore the coastal mainland, Hopkins and Placentia. When I took a family poll on which island you’d go back to, it was unanimous: Key Caulk!
Must be the laid-back, go slow, warm glow. At the least, getting around Belize is a breeze.