File this under Places Not To Go. However, if you’re going anywhere in Belize, chances are you’re flying in to BZE international airport located in Belize City. If you’re tempted to check out the city, let me save you the trouble ― Don’t!
I got a room at the Ramada Princess Hotel and Casino about 20 minutes from the airport. Upon arriving at the entrance, there is a security guard armed with an automatic weapon and once inside I walked through a metal detector. I don’t know if these security measures made me feel safer or more fearful but it’s justifiable for a casino. I arrived too early to check in and the woman at the front desk told me to come back at 11am. I left my bag and went to explore. I returned at 1:30pm and my room still wasn’t ready. “Check back at 2:00pm.” said another lady. Ultimately I did not get a room until 3:10pm, past the regular check-in time. I wouldn’t have any issues had they told initially to come back at the 3pm check-in time but instead they kept me waiting when I could’ve been out.
The room I finally got was 505. There’s a corridor facing the city side that leads to my room and every room has a ocean view. The room was spacious and included a couch, mini fridge, and two safes in addition to the usual desk, bed, and TV. No coffee maker but much needed bottled waters were supplied. Wi-Fi is available but is slow and unreliable. According to the front desk, I was in a room with better reception but I call bullshit on this. I’d imagine the rooms in the center lower levels, closer to the lobby where the Wi-Fi signal is strong, would be the best bet for the Wi-Fi obsessed.
Inside the hotel, there is a bar and a restaurant with complimentary breakfast buffet including made to order omelettes. Adjacent to the hotel is the Calypso restaurant/bar/lounge. It was pretty deserted there on a Sunday evening. I got a surf and turf and a Beliken beer for a mere $18.66 USD. That being said, the steak was overcooked and underseasoned. For a better meal, head over to the BTL park where I picked up from one of numerous food stands a Jerk Chicken platter with a meat pie and beet juice for only $7 USD. The chicken had a subtle kick and beet juice was surprisingly refreshing after I got used to the gingery aftertaste. BTL park was probably the only safe place within walking distances at night . There was security (without guns) and children playing while Pixar’s Inside Out was being projected on a stage. Fear not grown-ups, there is a bar on the pier for the booze hounds too.
I see no reason to stay in Belize City unless you’re a Dr.Jones-like archeological buff. It’s a little closer to the Mayan Ruins, about 1 hour away from Altun Ha and two hours from the others. Since I was arriving at BZE, I should have asked my cabbie to give me a tour since the airport is almost halfway to Altun Ha. My tour guide was also a cab driver and they all do multiple jobs. I was there early on a Sunday morning and had the place almost entirely to myself. There’s not much to see there that you would not see from a postcard but the privilege of being there allowed me sniff the mintiness of the all spice tree leafs and eat governor plums fallen from the trees. While I’m glad I did it, I could have gotten better value for my money elsewhere. Don’t be fooled by the included city tour packaged with Altun Ha, it’s just the guide talking on the drive up. If I were to do that again, I’d probably rent a car and hit up multiple ruins myself. There’s only a few major highway so directions are not difficult once out of the city but you may have to revert to paper maps in this land before time.
I spent the rest of my days in Caye Caulker and San Pedro, two resort islands 45 and 90 minutes away by water taxi, respectively. Caye Caulker is the smaller of the two. There are guest houses and restaurants along the waterfront, shops are the next block over, and further in is where the local lives and what a drastic difference it is.
While white sand beaches are nice, what’s unique here is the aquatic life. I would have like to dive the famous blue hole, but I needed diving experience first. Instead, I opted for a snorkel tour of the barrier reefs in Hol Chan. A tour boat took me to two spots. The first had a sea turtle, little fish that nibbles on you, and an adorable shark the size of a puppy. The next spot, however, is not so tame. At the second spot, they feed the sharks on one side of the boat while you dive in on the other side. I was in the water until a big shark started looking towards me and that’s when I decided this is too early in my journey to be taking risks. The tour guides fed people too, they provided purified water and a platter of watermelons, pineapples, and bananas. Not a bad way to spend two hours for only about $20 USD.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have went from BZE straight to the water taxi to Caye Caulker or San Pedro. Live and learn, I guess.