On a recent run-away to Belize, I spent five glorious days and four interesting nights on the island of San Pedro. An hour and a half away from the mainland (Belize City) by water taxi, San Pedro is the second-largest township in the Belize District and home to the second largest Barrier Reef in the world. A melting pot of people from diverse backgrounds who discover their paths here, San Pedro is an easy-paced and fascinating experience.
This was my first excursion to Belize, and I was hoping to unwind. I wanted to embark upon leisurely activities and take in the sights from the local point of view. My goal was to immerse myself in the culture along with the sun, sand, and rum.
Here are 10 things I tried in San Pedro, Belize that you can't leave without trying.
The best kept secret in Belize is not a mystery at all. As a matter of fact, residents will advise you it's the most popular swimmable beach on the north side of the island. Belizeans are extremely friendly and will offer you advice, directions, or assistance if you ask.
Most of Belize's beaches have been overrun by a brown, foul-smelling seaweed called Sargassum. It is an unpleasant phenomenon that is impacting sea life and the swimmability of some areas. When the Sargassum comes ashore and dies, it emits a pungent odor redolent of rotten eggs. Locals told me this is happening throughout the Caribbean.
Secret Beach has been spared. On the 40-minute bumpy ride there you begin to see the difference in the water on this part of the island. The seas are immaculate, crystal-clear. You'll want to jump in as soon as you arrive and park the golf cart. The beach is lively, with not one but two beach bars, and a plethora of seating and food options. Seating is available for free with the purchase of food and drinks.
The water is warm in temperature and remains waist deep even a good way out. A day spent at Secret Beach is a day worth telling everyone about.
I alluded to golf carts, and that's for good reason. You cannot leave San Pedro without driving a golf cart With a driver's license from any place, you can rent one easily from many merchants, and it's the best way to explore an island. Ambergris Caye, for example, has two distinct flanks -- a Northern and Southern portion. A golf cart is essential for exploration. Almost everybody has one, so it's pretty strange to see a person walking through town. The carts come with a built-in theft protect bar and lock. You haven't fully lived until you've gotten caught in a golf cart traffic jam!
Run by sister and brother duo Filipe and Dora, this tour will present you the finest Belizean cuisine on the island. Food is prepared with traditional recipes and ingredients. Some restaurants on the itinerary have sand floors and grass roofs -- much the way many Belizean homes were built in the past. The outdoor wood stove was also a fixture that could be found in many homes back in the day.
Starting at the center of San Pedro, the tour provides a thorough overview of the town's history as you're guided to your next gastronomic adventure. Filipe takes you through the nooks and crannies of San Pedro as only a native can. After the first stop, you'll submit to being led blindly to the next, walking a little faster than before to reach the next table. You will feast where the locals do, and discover details that connect you with the proprietors. You will end the tour full, satisfied, and in need of a nap.
This is more than just an ice cream bar: it's a popsicle made with fresh fruit. This popular treat is ideal to cool down from the tropical sun of Belize. You can clearly see and taste the ingredients -- coconut, strawberry, pineapple and many more. It's not a guilty pleasure by any means. The only regret you will have is that you didn't buy more than one. You should not leave San Pedro without trying it again and again.
You'll find this hidden gem on the south end of the island, in Mahogany Bay Village.
Once you turn into this hamlet, you can't help but notice the coffee bean statue out front. However, the real surprise is on the other side of the door. When you enter, after savoring the coolness of the air conditioning, you are immediately calmed by the quiet and the smell of coffee. The décor suggests slowing down and taking it all in. From the copper accessories to the large painting of a child enjoying the sea on the wall, everything urges you to slow your breathing and not rush out of the door.
The menu includes fresh-brewed coffee, frosty drinks, delicious baked goods, and special iced island drinks. It's an excellent spot to sit back, read, or even journal after relaxation has cleared your head. The coffee is glorious; the locals will say it's the greatest coffee on the island.
You don't want to leave San Pedro without dropping by the Artisan Market. It hosts over 20 stalls with local art and handmade crafts. A great place to purchase gifts, this open-air market is available every day. The minute you walk in, you'll notice there is no scarcity of goods. The items include artwork, woodwork, jewelry, bags, clothing, hand-made stuffed animals, purses, and so much more. Vendors will even customize items per your request. Sellers are not timid about inviting you to consider what they are selling. However, they are nice when you decline. There is no pressure to buy and browsing is acceptable.
This 30-40 minute class shows you how the Mayans (indigenous people of Mexico and Central America) used to make chocolate. The lesson takes place on the rear deck of the store with sea views, and samples are provided. This is a family-owned business, the only one of its kind on the island. Staff are knowledgeable about the process and products they male, and there are a host of chocolate goodies: bars, coffee, and sweets. Chocolate makes everything better, including vacation.
Ceviche is a dish made of fruit, usually with seafood. You should eat as much of it as you can on San Pedro. No Matter where you order it, it will be scrumptious. Served with tortilla chips, it makes a wonderful meal or snack. Served poolside, beach side, or in a restaurant, ceviche is on everyone's menu. You taste each ingredient, and if you have one with seafood you won't be disappointed. The Belizean cooks are generous with the portions of seafood you receive. Large helpings of shrimp, lobster, or fish is the standard for this dish in Belize.
This may be the best find on the island. Four-wheelers will not be found here, just golf carts belonging to foodies parked on both parts of the road. This is a Food-Truck stop with a full-functioning bar and four cuisine options (Italian, Asian, Latin, ice cream) and a pool in the back.
You'll find it just north of the city. A semi-bumpy golf cart drive will have you viewing the sunset while devouring a fried Korean pork belly taco and sipping the national beer in under 30 minutes. The truck stop is foodie nirvana, with an adult play yard and family-friendly atmosphere. Service is good and there's even outdoor entertainment. If you venture far enough in the back, you will find beach lounge chairs facing toward an outdoor movie screen, plus adirondack chairs and side tables facing the water.
If you were not a fan of food trucks before you arrive, you're sure to be one when you leave.
When strangers ask out of the blue, "Are you going to the chicken drop?" ...you'll most likely want to make your way there.
San Pedro's rendition of the Powerball, the Chicken Drop takes place every Thursday near Central Park. It is well attended by the local community and tourists alike. Here's how it goes. You place your bet and purchase a ticket. A chicken is arranged on a board of numbers after it is shaken, spun around, and someone blows in its rear end. Yes, blows in it's rear end. If the poultry poops (drops) on your number, you win the cash prize.
This is truly and odd experience whether you are playing or just spectating. The event is attended by the local community and tourists alike. Even if you decide not to get a ticket, just watching the festivities is winning.
Belize is an embracing sanctuary full of history and friendliness. I did not expect to experience the cultural diversity that exists among its citizens. I arrived pursuing rest with a side of rum. I left well rested, well rummed, but also in total admiration of this Belizean community.