I just returned from my first solo trip to Belize last week. It was a whole new experience for me in so many ways. I am in the process of writing a few blog posts about it, but with the holidays and working in dental for the next few weeks, I’m sure I won’t get it out until the New Year. In the meantime however, I came up with a post about 15 things you may not know about Belize.
I sure didn’t have any clue about most of these fun facts until I visited myself. How I discovered this information was by means of; accidentally on my own, by locals, by research, by expats, and by other tourists. If you are ever planning on visiting Belize, specifically the islands of Belize, as I did ( Ambergris Caye to be exact) then these facts may be useful to you.
1.Belize’s barrier reef is amazingly gorgeous with vast amounts of marine life and the second largest in the world. The largest being the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I went kayaking and snorkeling to it. The magnificent coral formations and tropical fish appeared so eye-popping and brilliant with color, through the crystal clear, 84 degree Caribbean sea, it almost didn’t look real! It is definitely worth seeing.
Please note: (something that our kayak rental place didn’t warn us about, but locals and frequent divers of the area told us, after-the-fact) If you go out to the reef, you must not bring your boat into the reef for the purpose of protecting it. Also, be extremely careful while swimming and snorkeling in it. You can easily get cut or reef rash from the tall spiny coral. I did. It was very shallow and the waves made it hard to avoid large areas of coral. Also, and MOST IMPORTANT, by all means, don’t try to swim past it. The drop in depth creates an undertow that can sweep you out to sea. Many tourists have gone missing that way.
Finding this out after totally freaked me out! I really wish we were told this before going out there. My kayak mate wanted me to swim out past it with him. Thank goodness my gut told me not to. He ended up turning back too. It was so choppy and difficult to maneuver around it. Yikes!
2.Belizeans love their hot sauce made by the famous Marie Sharp. They put this shit on everything! Seriously!(my favorite version is the “smokin” Habanero. It’s so hot, but so good!) I even brought some back with me.
3.The Great Blue Hole is here, a giant sink hole that is circular in shape, over 984 feet across and 407 feet deep. This may be a super cool natural wonder, but according to the divers I met, they said it was overrated. They claim the marine life is so much better closer to the surface and by the reef, not to mention the Great Blue Hole is so deep, that once you get to the depth you are allowed to dive to, you only have a total of eight minutes to explore, which they feel is a waste of a dive and it’s super expensive. Something to consider if you are a diver. I only snorkel and I can say first hand that it was beautiful at the surface!
4.Bug bites are on a whole new level in Belize. I’ll say it again. Bug bites are on a whole new level in Belize. Yes, it’s really that bad! If you forget bug spray, I encourage you to get it as soon as possible (like at the airport!!). I didn’t bring any and I was bitten alive by the, well-known to Belizeans, no see-ums (aka sand flies). They are exactly what they are called, you can’t see them, so you don’t even realize you are getting bit. Then all of a sudden you are bit from head to toe, with swelling and itching you have never experienced before. I felt like I had chicken pox. I’m actually still extremely itchy today and my legs are a mess. Be prepared!
PS If your lodging has a mosquito net covering your bed-absolutely use it!
6.Here is another good one: Leo DiCaprio bought a private island in Belize, called Blackadore Caye. He plans on building an eco-lodge for the rich and famous and is adding a private airport right on the island. Man I wish I could see that place. Or maybe it’s just him that I want to see? In any case, how awesome!
7.Taking a yoga class with Kirsten at Akbol Yoga Retreat and Eco Resort will literally rock your chakras. Kirsten and her husband, Milio (expats from Chicago, USA), own and built this resort themselves.
She is an experienced yogi who teaches B K S Iyengar inspired yoga, that emphasizes on detail, precision, alignment and pranayama (breath control), as well as including the eight limbs of the yoga sutras in her class. People from all over come to join her world-renowned yoga retreat. With her classes being taught on a papala atop the ocean, accompanied by the waves beneath, and the the tropical breezes kissing your skin above, its no wonder that the students all feel a sense of surrealism. You really can’t get much more zen than that.
Her classes are open to the public and is well worth the $15.00 USD (almost 2 hours in length). Many students like to stay and eat breakfast at their restaurant after practice. I not only stayed here for most of my visit in Ambergris Caye, but I took her classes and was downright blissed out!
8. Did you know that John McAfee, millionaire and the inventor of the computer anti-virus software, lived in a mansion in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize with seven, much younger girlfriends? Well, he used to anyway. This eccentric and paranoid man had an ongoing feud with his neighbor about his barking dogs, and is thought to be the one responsible for the shooting murder of him in November of 2012, in revenge for thinking the neighbor poisoned his dogs. While the investigation was underway by the Belize authorities, McAfee fled to Guatemala, to later be deported back to America. He is a free man today, living in Lexington, Tennessee and is still considered a “person of interest” by Belize officials in regards to the murder of 52-year-old, Gregory Faull. (I included a Dateline episode of this twisted story for your enjoyment)
9.Taking the San Pedro Express water taxi is an experience in itself. You either can take the water taxi or a small airplane with Tropic Airlines, to get to the islands of Belize (Ambergris Caye and Caulker Caye). For $35.00 US each way, you can be packed in like sardines for the 90 minute ferry ride. However, locals and experienced Belize island travelers (mainly the divers), usually prefer the much less crowded, and quicker, 20 minute ride, by air, on Tropic Air, for around $80.00 per way. It may be a little more expensive, but from my experience on the ferry, I think it may be worth it?
In April last year, over Easter weekend, they overloaded the water taxi with far too many passengers, that the pier collapsed from the weight of all the people. I took the water taxi, not knowing all of this and already bought a round trip ticket. You live and learn.
10.Belize gained independence from Great Britain in 1981, but is still a protectorate. Also, making this the only English-speaking country in Central America.
11.Forgot to exchange currency at the airport? No worries. The US dollar is accepted everywhere in Belize. It’s also very easy to figure out the exchange. USD is double the Belize dollar. This tip is a very convenient one I’d say.
12.Every Thursday night at 7:00 pm, the Wahoo Lounge in San Pedro, hosts the chicken drop. Sort of like bingo, you pick a square with a number from 1-100 for $1.00 and if the chicken poops on your number, you win $100.00! It seems pretty silly, but the locals and tourists for some reason, love it!
14.Flushing toilet paper or anything else in the toilet in Belize is frowned upon. Belize is a very eco-friendly place, so be mindful of this when visiting. It seemed pretty gross, but when in Belize, be like the Belizeans.
15.When in Belize (mainly the islands), don’t rent a car. The roads are very narrow and crowded and many are only dirt roads. What you should do is rent a golf cart. It’s easier to access cramped streets and parking and it is kind of fun. Renting a bicycle is also a great way to get around the island. It will cost you around $60-80 USD/day to rent a golf cart and around $8.00 USD/day to rent a bicycle (depending on the company and if you rent it for a longer period).
Belize is a beautiful country with friendly people, but may have a few challenges for some travelers. I enjoyed my time in the warm and tropical island of Ambergris Caye, in San Pedro, (otherwise known as La Isla Bonita from the popular Madonna song). I was especially fond of spending time on the ocean, with kayaking, snorkeling, and stand-up paddle boarding, the yoga, the food; fry jacks, salbutes, pupusas, panades, rice and beans, and of course Marie Sharp’s hot sauce, and I can’t forget to mention the kind locals that I met.
I do plan on visiting again someday, probably spending some time on the less built up island, Caulker Caye. If I do, I will be sure to:
- book a flight on Tropic Air
- bring bug spray (tons of it!)
- be more cautious around the reef
- buy a square for the chicken drop
- keep my eyes peeled for Leo (you never know?)