Highly subjective and personally biased advice for Belize
On the mainland you can get + 3% on money exchange if you pay attention. $100 us = 206 BZE. This will be on the road or in a bar. Ask the bartender as a moneychanger will come by to see them. Of course, be careful. Travelers checks also bring a premium and while tricky to cash, in general are no problem. Of course vendors and sellers of small items will have trouble with big denominations.
Maya Beach on Placencia is isolated and the hotels are de facto all inclusives. I mean that getting to and fro is hard and the places are so nice you will want to stay. Prices were reasonable for meal and beverage.
Mangos is a world class barefoot beach bar: it ranks with Pusser’s on St John and the Soggy Dollar on Jost Van Dyke. Not quite up to Foxy’s—no yachts to daydream about. Say hi to Glenn, but DON’T buy him a drink—He needs no encouragement. The food is the deliciously simple fare you’ll dream about when you’re eating another gd Ramen noodle. There is a picture window there that frames my favorite daydream…10 minutes later, I’m back.
The best snorkeling I did was from the kayak off false key. the weather was prohibitive this trip—a little cold [Dec-Jan.] Any reasonably fit person could do this from Maya Beach or San Pedro.
For you dark beer drinkers, Belikin Stout is 6.5% alcohol and is an excellent choice as [I believe] it is regulated and is usually the same cost as the usual. High buzz factor. My favorite souveneir is a Belikin "condom" for $5Bze; It keeps the beer cold and marks it as mine. The Guinness stout is different from what we get in the states, sticky sweet, although most Garifuna love it.
The jungle is not designed to accommodate "big-boned" people like me. I realized this as my guide disappeared down a rabbit hole the size of dinner plate. Go anyway. Ditto for caves. Go anyway.
If you can get somewhere without driving use alternative means, as the roads are teeth-rattlers. Balance this against the benefits of local insight, color, and cost of busses. Found no reliable busses on Placencia, although I didn’t try real hard.
In this steamy tropical environment, the #1 travel item to bring is … Coolmax hi-tec underwear. One word—wicking. Nuf said. Oddly enough, #2 would be a sweatshirt or rain jacket. In December and January It was cold at night or on the water in general. Plus, don’t forget a good small flashlight. The new hi-tec ones are great* and the kind that can be a lamp is also great for ambient light or reading. A night light to plug in could be real helpful too, as long as the electricity works.
* get a "leash" as mine is now in the bottom of Blue Creek cave. Remember the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy"? I fantasize a doomsday cult of fish worshipping the fading beam.
It’s true that the Maya, the Garifuna, and the Mestizos are among the friendliest locals you will ever meet [The Ex-pats are cool too]. Sadly, the friendliest are often the ones who want to sell you drugs. Cuidado. My limited travel in Bze tells me that this is a safe tri; because of the isolation, even on the mainland it is an island mentality as there is nowhere to hide. Thieves don’t last long. Islanders look out for each other: I had two different people warn me off of a certain fellow who attached himself to me. A different time the police chief in Seine Bight sidled up to me to say, "John, He’s cool." Use normal travel radar and you’ll be fine.
The water taxi from Bze City can be cold, jarring and jam-packed. For two, including taxi from Municipal airport, the cost is $40 US[International is more $—both for taxi and flights]. From Muni to San Pedro, Tropic Air is $104 US for 2. Take the Airplane. Especially after a long day of travel.
Those fancy schmancy pens don’t work: they smear due to humidity and heat. A Plain old bic is best, or a mechanical pencil. If you want your postcards to come quickly, give them to someone you trust at the airport, and have them mail them—remember then, U.S. stamps.
A bicycle is the way to explore the island. The southern area was hit really hard by H Keith, especially where the trees were thinned and the mangroves cut. I felt anxious due to the destruction: palm tree tops gone, whole beach front lots gutted, some houses left askew. Look from the sea and you can see the octagonal house tilted. If you ride down there, don’t be still as mosquitos will bodily carry you away to eat later. The North side fared better and almost looks scrubbed clean—check out the plain just North the ferry. North of the ferry you can take a golf cart. I heard Journey’s End was still closed. I made it as far as the Palapa bar where I met the old Texan couple who own the dredging company. Although she broke her shoulder in the hurricane, it brought them a lot of business. South of the dump you can only take a bike.[Not too much to see south except the awesome destruction].
When possible self propelled is the best way to go. My partner was in a kayak and said, "Watch out for that rock—I mean Manatee!"
The more brown and black faces you see in the restaurant, the better value the food. While Elvi’s was great[I had the shrimp kabobs] and Sweet Basil is a first class place with a world class view, Papi’s near the ferry is a great value and you can keep your ear close to the ground.
Everybody has a hurricane story. It came up fast and went to class IV suddenly. Most [a lot?] of people did not get off the island. The ferry guy said, "I saw death’s face."
Leave the garish tee shirts at home. Especially the WWF smackdown variety. You’ll give us ugly Americans a bad name.
Go native early: Lose the shoes, forget the watch[try this one--it is Pavlovian]buy a local tee shirt, develop a morning routine, learn some names, have street meat for lunch, light a candle at the church…
Get off the beach or dock before the incredibly intense swarm of mosquitoes swoop at about 10 minutes past sundown. Otherwise bathe in DEET and smoke a rope as the smoke will keep them at bay. DEET and Belikin should both be applied as they vote in Chicago:liberally, early, and often. Bug damage is directly proportional to the amount of fragrance you apply. Cleanliness is highly overrated. For morning showers use no soap or shampoo. that way you’re clean but don’t smell like the buffet line at Bloodsuckers Corral. Scrub up at night for your honey if you like, but go au natural during the day. DEET is the only fragrance you should emit.
If you hear a drum, go towards it. Punta rock is infectious and a "Jump up" will follow. Take approximately 1 million tiny steps and dance like your back has no bone. More research is needed to figure out how hips are made to move like that. Please get back to me on that.
Be flexible—be in the moment and paying attention to cues. My inner voice was telling me to get on that empty plane to San Pedro instead of schlepping gear to the water taxi. Four hours and 1,000 jolts in the water later, I realized my mistake. When it started to rain on New Year’s Eve $15 Bze got us into the Lion’s Club for their party—Can’t get more local than that.
You are among the lucky few who have discovered the joy of Belize--Tread lightly, grasshopper.