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Belize - getting there and getting organized

Airfare, cell service and data plans, oh my!

sunny 83 °F

This fall I was able to organize a trip to Belize with my son and his girlfriend. I have never visited Central America before, so Belize sounded like a good first foray; it's pretty politically stable, reasonably safe, and the official language is English (although Spanish and Creole are commonly used). I planned the trip in two parts; 5 days on the Caribbean coast and 5 days in the interior highlands. I would be traveling alone in the second part of the trip.

My first pleasant surprise when getting this started was that I was able to grab a really good fare on American. I currently use Google Flights site as my starting point for scouting airfares, although I have found that it can give wildly inaccurate results for travel between overseas destinations (quoting airfares like $130,000!), so use with care For domestic (US) and European travel it works very well and allows you to quickly explore options. I got a round trip from Detroit for $550, which is less than half what Delta, for example, was charging at the same time. I also needed to book a short hop from Belize City to San Pedro (a barrier island off the northern coast). My son and I used the two different airlines servicing this route and both were fine - pretty casual travel in twin prop planes for a 20 minute flight. My son even got to sit in the copilot's seat; does that count as fun or is that scary? I'll let you choose.

As I often travel alone, having connectivity is important to me. I scoured the intertubes to try and understand how phone and data service were handled in Belize. Honestly, I ran across a whole lot of contradictory information. If there was a consensus, it appeared to be that connectivity was hard to come by and quite expensive. Well, my experience was very different. I went to the BTL (Belize Telemedia)office about 5 blocks north of the airport in San Pedro. The provided me with a SIM card, $10 phone credit and 1 gig of data for $26 US (Belize dollars are pegged at $2 Belize = $1 US). I had good connectivity along almost all the main roads and in the cities I visited, with perhaps a few dropout zones in the south of the mainland and off the beaten track (more on that later). That is a pretty good deal to my mind. I don't know if other services are comparable, but this should give you a current baseline for comparison if you are planning to visit.

We booked an apartment in San Pedro located about a half mile south of the airport through Airbnb . We took a taxi there ($5 US - no meters, so ask the fare before you get in!) and settled in. The apartment was clean and comfortable and in a pretty good location. We like to walk, so hoofing it up the main road or along the beach into downtown San Pedro was easy and convenient. Downtown itself is small enough to completely cover on foot; no vehicle needed.

Speaking of vehicles, the predominant modes of travel for tourists are taxis and golf carts. The carts are small, noisy, open gas-powered vehicles that reminded us of Disneyand Autopia cars. We were in San Pedro over the New Year's holiday which is absolute peak visitor time, and the streets reflected that. They were full of golf carts, delivery vehicles, taxis, etc. The relatively low speeds and narrow streets helped mitigate the rather casual attention to stop signs and other traffic 'laws' downtown. Golf carts are expensive - rates seemed to run in the $60 US range per day so you may want to add that as a budget item if you plan on renting one; taxis would probably be a cheaper alternative.

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When we left the island after New Years, it was considerably quieter.

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(photo credits to Robin Deits)

We hit the grocery store for provisions (prices are quite reasonable) and settled in for our visit.

Posted by tdeits 12:11 Archived in Belize Tagged shopping golf san pedro lodging downtown tips carts service airfare cell data Comments (0)

San Pedro outdoors

sunny 86 °F

In between all of the eating and drinking (many beach bars!) we did manage to get outside on San Pedro. We did a lot of walking along the beach and through town, just taking in the sights and drinking Izzy's smoothies. We also signed up for a couple of snorkel trips. The first one was to a place called Mexican Rocks. Wish I could provide some pics, but (for the second time!) my GoPro waterproof case failed - despite extreme care in testing it before use and in inserting the camera on site. That's if for them as far as I am concerned.

Soooo.... well the water is a beautiful blue and the clarity was decent considering that very high winds had stirred up the sands. There is a barrier reef about a half mile offshore from the San Pedro beach which protects the island from swells and waves (but not hurricanes...) and the usual snorkeling/diving trips are on the island side of the reef. A good selection of local sealife was to be had.

On our second trip, we went to Shark Alley and Hol Chan. Hol Chan is a large marine preserve to the south of San Pedro of which Belizeans are understandably proud. Despite its large size as far as I can tell snorkel trips are restricted to one mooring area. It was extremely crowded when we were there, with at least a dozen tour boats moored to the seabed or to each other. The seeing and sealife were very good, but this is a trip that would be much better at a less crowded time of year. Trying to find a trip that went elsewhere in the Reserve (don't know if that is even legal) might be worth the effort as well. We booked this trip through Ecologic Divers

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but due to missing staff (the day after New Years - I wonder why??) we were sent to a different group. The good news is that the folks at Ecologic Divers were very diligent in helping make sure we got our trip, even to the point of bicycling down the beach to find us and direct us to the right destination.

Shark and Ray Alley is another very crowded diving site outside the Marine Reserve. The highlight here is to encounter sharks (nurse sharks) and rays. Unfortunately, some operators (not ours) chum the water to bring in the sharks and rays and clearly they are very well trained; a dozen or so sharks were writhing together to get at the bait. If you wish you can get quite close, even within touching distance. Moments after the bait was exhausted they disappeared again. There is not much else to see at this site so if the chumming frenzy is not your cup of tea, you might look elsewhere.

I have done quite a bit of snorkeling/free diving around the world, so maybe I am getting a bit jaded, but I found both trips to be too rushed and also quite crowded compared to other snorkeling spots (It was the holidays, of course). If I were going back I would seriously consider one of the multi-day snorkeling trips that are on offer. This requires a bit more planning - for example, should you break your hotel reservation into two pieces? We also were told that they couldn't confirm a trip until about 2 weeks before arrival which further complicated our plans.

Another alternative that we were eager to try was on the island of Caye Caulker (more about Caye Caulker in the next post). We ran across signs in San Pedro for a tour that included more exploration of the mangrove swamps near Caye Caulker but were never able to make contact with the proprietor, Captain Richard. He has a Facebook page but we couldn't get to him by phone. Probably the best was to reach him would be to go to Caye Caulker - his office is about 50 feet south of the ferry dock on the beach.

Our other 'outdoor' activity was to rent a golf cart for the afternoon and head out to the northern half of the island. As you head north through San Pedro you come to a small bridge with a pretty large toll ($2.50 US each way) that leads to the north. The road is partly paved and occasionally very rough, but there's no reason to hurry. Most of the way you have mangrove to the west and low bushes/palms to the east. The entire length that is relatively easily accessible by cart is lined with restaurants and resorts, some of which are very large. If you were planning to stay out in this area, you would be well advised to check on what options you might have to get into town.

We saw a few iguanas along the road

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and some shorebirds (egrets and cranes primarily) in the mangroves. It was an enjoyable outing and pretty much satisfied our need to cruise around in golf carts.

As we were jostling down the road we were very surprised to see what looked exactly like a hipster food truck facility, obviously brand new, along the west side of the road. The Truck Stop had some quite tasty food, a nice bar and ice cream place as well as a boardwalk that takes you out over the mangrove swamp where there are picnic tables. It also includes the requisite cornhole game spot. Makes for a very pleasant break in the trip. Here's a picture apparently taken during construction (credit to Ambergriscaye.com for the photo).

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By the way, we ate there non-ironically.

Posted by tdeits 07:46 Archived in Belize Tagged mexico rocks golf san belize snorkeling chan pedro shark carts caye ambergris alley hol Comments (0)

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