If you’re looking for a tropical beach vacation in Belize head south to Placencia Village or Hopkins. Here the sand is fine, the water is warm and a gentle ocean breeze keeps you cool.
It’s not an island but Placencia touts itself as the island you can drive to. In reality Placencia is a 29 km (18 mile) long, thin peninsula in southern Belize. Most of its east coast is a long sandy beach. We rented bicycles to explore this interesting popular peninsula. Maya Beach is located in the middle of the peninsula and claims to have the best beach. There are a few ex-pats living in this area so we thought we`d check it out. Unfortunately, the water is an unappealing brown from dead seagrass and the beach looks polluted from seagrass being washed up on shore. The sand is wonderful, but no one swims in the ocean because of the seagrass. There are several high-end resorts and a few more in various stages of being built. Many have lovely pools for their guests that make up for the less than ideal beaches. The weather is perfect and the area is beautiful so its the ideal place for a pool-side holiday.
On the other side of the peninsula the shore is more wild as it borders the long lagoon. It’s pretty in a different way with views of the Maya Mountains in the distance.
The beaches improved somewhat as we cycled further south, but it wasn’t until Placencia Village that we found nice beaches. For beach lovers, Placencia is the place to be in Belize. The ocean is gentle, the sand is fine and the seagrass is kept to a minimum. Located on the southern tip of the peninsula, Placencia Village is the most popular area for tourists.
The laid-back village has plenty of tourist hotels and restaurants. Even though it’s busy with tourists, the town retains its mellow vibe. There’s a long pedestrian strip in the centre of town where you can find local shops and stalls selling jewelry and art. There are a few dive shops in Placencia. We didn’t dive here but the reef diving is supposed to be very good.
Placencia Village seems to be a popular stop for sailors. There were several sailboats anchored off shore including the impressive Tall Ship, Fryderyk Chopin from Poland.
On the other side of the peninsula, mangrove forests line the shores. We kayaked in the lagoon hoping to see one of the many elusive manatees, but they were all hiding from us. The water is very briny so visibility is not good, you wouldn’t want to swim here and we certainly didn`t want our kayak to tip.
Getting to Placencia
Whether you travel by car or bus, it’s a nice drive from Belmopan. The drive takes you through small green mountain passes and then by many orchards and farms.
By car – It’s a long but easy drive on the Hummingbird Highway and then on the Southern Highway to reach Placencia Village. (3hrs from Belize City, 2hr 20 min from Belmopan)
By bus – Only a few buses travel directly to Placencia Village from Belize City (Novelo’s Bus Terminal) or Belmopan’s Bus Terminal. More frequent buses travel to Dangriga where there are buses to Placencia Village. Another option is to take a bus going to Punta Gorda and get off in Independence. From there take the Hokey Pokey Ferry into Placencia. The ferry takes 10 minutes and has 8 departures throughout the day. It’s 1 ½ km from the Independence bus stop to the ferry, but it lets you off close to downtown Placencia Village. If traveling from San Ignacio take a bus to Belmopan, then follow the above routes.
By air – There are many daily flights from Belize to Placencia. The airport looks a little scary though as the short runway ends just before the ocean. Cars have to wait as planes land and take off since the highway wraps around the runway. The picture below was taken from the highway.
On the mainland, a little north of Placencia, is the quiet fishing town of Hopkins. It’s growing in tourism, but this town retains a very local feel. At either end of the long beach are high end resorts, but in the middle, the quiet town has a few moderate and budget guest houses interspersed between humble local homes. Most of the restaurants are local diners but have great food and lovely ocean views.
The beach is one of the nicest we visited in Belize and that’s probably why it’s becoming more popular. It has fine clean sand and less seagrass than anywhere else we visited. Hopkins is a great choice if you want a no-frills beach vacation.
Getting to Hopkins
By car – Located 5 km off the Southern Highway, it’s easy to reach Hopkins by car (1 ½ from Belmopan).
By Bus – There are a few buses that travel between Hopkins and Dangriga. Most guest houses know the bus schedule. From Dangriga there are frequent buses to Belize City (Novelo’s Bus Terminal) and Belmopan’s Main Terminal.The other option is to take a taxi from Hopkins to the Southern Hwy (5 km) and catch a bus coming from Punta Gorda and heading to Belmopan/Belize City.
We used https://www.belmopanonline.com/belize-bus-schedules and found it to be a great resource with accurate information. Buses in Belize are not the most comfortable. They are un-air-conditioned school buses, but we actually found the seats more comfortable than the public buses in Costa Rica.
We don’t recommend spending time in Belize City. It feels very unsafe, especially after dark. Nothing happened to us, but we were very cautious. Even Belizeans from outside of the city told us they are afraid of being robbed when they have to go Belize City.
We spent two days in the city and there wasn’t much to see. Most of the streets have run down buildings and in the worst areas, hostile beggars line the sidewalks. There are many cases of people being robbed when walking in the city after dark.
The neighbourhood around the small harbour is the nicest part of town. There are few good hotels and restaurants and a handful of nice colonial buildings that are in good condition. The harbour is small and is connected to the city by a series of canals. In the day there’s a constant stream of ferries, cruise ship tender boats and local fishing boats coming and going from the harbour.
The best site in Belize City is the historical St. John’s Cathedral. The church was built in the early 1800s using stone ballast brought from England. The history of building the church isn’t pleasant as it was built by African slaves who were brought to Belize to work in the mahogany logging industry.
With little to see and uncertain safety, we recommend heading straight to your tourist destination rather than spending any time in Belize City.
This is the last post from our most recent trip in winter 2019/2020. Upcoming blogs will be from previous trips including our Seven Summits series.
Coming Next: Trekking in El Cajas, Ecuador
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