A Crash Course in Navigating Belize

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from our trip to Belize. This tiny Central American country has about 350,000 residents with about an equal number of tourists who visit each year, many from North America. Tucked under Mexico’s Yucatan and surrounded by Guatemala, I assumed it was somewhere between the two: one part tourist enclave, one part dusty roads and wild jungle.

Luke and I decided not to stay on the popular cayes near Belize City: Ambergris and Caulker. Instead, we set our sights about four hours south to Placencia Village, a place that appeals to slightly more intrepid travelers, yet has drinkable tap water.

We left our home in Minneapolis at 3:45 a.m. and landed in Belize City around 1:30 p.m. We shuffled like zombies through customs and immigration. Then we found our way across a blazing hot parking lot to the car rental office where we were given a battered Renault Duster for the week. The attendant handed us directions and $4 to pay the exit fee, and away we drove – into the great unknown.

We were expecting chaos, but instead, found driving conditions to be rather humane. The roads (we followed) were paved and fairly well maintained. And we quickly caught onto the local customs for sharing small, two-lane highways. Say you’re quickly approaching a slow-moving work truck ahead of you. The truck will slow down, put on its right-hand blinker and pull over as far as possible to let you safely pass. We did the same thing if we noticed someone hauling ass behind us. The system works beautifully and I vote we practice the same behavior in Minneapolis.

The biggest driving issue we encountered was navigating the persistent pedestrian ramps that seemed to appear out of nowhere. These raised mounds spanning the width of the road are known locally as “sleeping police men.” Some are so tall, you’re forced to slow to a crawl to get over them or risk losing your exhaust. On the flip side, locals will sometimes stand near these ramps and sell delicious pineapple, orange juice and coconut water to passers-by.

The best part of our drive from Belize City to Placencia Village was winding through the mountainous jungle along the Hummingbird Highway. The thick air smells like fertile soil and rain. Exotic trees line the tops of the hills, creating a cartoonish silhouette straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. It’s incredibly beautiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

After a few missed turns thanks to rough or non-existent signage, we arrived at the Shell gas station – the landmark indicating our final leg of the journey. Once we passed the station, we made a turn onto Placencia Road – the only road that runs the entire length of the Placencia Peninsula.

The calm Caribbean Sea sits on one side and the glassy lagoon sits on the other. Intermingled patches of dense mangrove and outcroppings of new development line both sides. The first town on the peninsula is Maya Beach, a small tourist enclave. Next is Siene Bight, a very small Garifuna settlement. At the end of the peninsula, just past a small airport, is Placencia Village. We arrived just as the last light of day left the sky.

Our little resort doesn’t have an address, but is located along the Placencia Sidewalk, designated as “The World’s Smallest Main Street” by the Guinness Book of World Records. Shortly after entering the village, we located a sign for the Caribbean Beach Cabanas and turned the now dusty Duster onto a sandy drive that led straight to the backdoor. Sue, the resident manager, welcomed us the moment we stepped out of the car.


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  1. I’ve always wanted to go there..you made it sound delightful!

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