For months I had been trying to find a travel destination that would be a combination of a culturally-rich tropical paradise with a laid back vibe. I've already explored many cities in Mexico and did not have the time I needed to fully experience countries in Africa or Europe. For no other reason did I end up in Belize, specifically the island of Ambergis Caye also known as San Pedro. It's also called "La Isla Bonita," - the beautiful island. Thank you Madonna!
A week before I arrived I on the island I was worried about Hurricane Earl and the effects the Category 1 hurricane may have left behind. Even though I planned my travel to beat hurricane season (which officially begins in September), one can never really make plans when Mama Nature is involved and I was pushing it. Obviously my travel wasn't impacted. I could definitely tell the hurricane had made its presence known but it wasn't as devastating as I had imagined. There was mostly debris washed up on the beaches, which meant lots of clean-up, and docks that had been destroyed. For an island reliant on tourism and lots of water activities that was probably the most devastating part. The Belizeans I spoke with were in the best spirits though! There was no 'woe is me' or victim mentalities. I loved their energy.
Tip for you - the summer months in Belize are HOT! I'm talking, you walk out the door and need a shower 5 minutes later hot. Humidity in the summer months is about 76% and air conditioning in many restaurants in town is a luxury. Even with the air running it can be uncomfortable during the day. It does take some getting used to. Add to that all the walking I chose to do and I didn't have one ounce of guilt about all that amazing Belizean beans and rice I indulged in (made with fresh coconut milk - my goodness). I'm off track though. With all that humidity I gave up on trying to keep up with my hair. It was kind of freeing - I just went in full vacation mode and embraced being completely natural and very hot. I wore swimwear and a cover up as I discovered the city.
Golf carts get you where you are going. Belizeans drive them and tourists rent them. The streets are pretty narrow and their is lots of foot traffic so that gets interesting trying to avoid hitting people. But if you ever wanted to own or rent a Jeep Wrangler, even for a little bit, to do some rugged terrain driving you can get your fix in San Pedro. I took a day trip to a beautiful beach called Secret Beach, about a 30 minute drive - one way - from San Pedro. Get ready for a rough, bumpy ride but you also get to explore the northern part of San Pedro on the way which is largely uninhabited. There will be many times you will question whether or not you are on the right path - you can't use your GPS and can't stop for directions. But when you do arrive, you find a beautiful, secluded, shallow beach - away from city life. The water is warm because the water is so shallow. It's also very calm - there are no waves. We went out pretty far and it didn't get higher than 4 feet. It's a great place to experience the beauty of San Pedro in a more private, almost romantic setting. The other beaches are lined with bars or restaurants. This is the one place I found that is a bit more relaxed. I bet during the high tourist season it's hectic though since all the locals recommended Secret Beach as a destination.
One of the highlights of my trips is something I can't even believe I'm calling a highlight. I'm just glad I am alive to tell you about it. San Pedro will always be special to me because it is the place I managed to overcome my deadly fear of being submerged in deep water. I spent a day at Hol Chan Reserve (depths of 7 feet to 30 feet) snorkeling with Green Moray Eel, nurse sharks, sea turtle, black snapper and array of other marine life. I then traveled four miles over to Shark Ray Alley and swam with more nurse sharks and stingray as our dive operators fed them. When I bought this package it was sold as visiting Shark Ray Alley to swim with the nurse sharks and stingrays in shallow water. I don't know what I was thinking but I was not mentally prepared for anything greater than 6 feet of water. This "shallow" water could swallow me up! The bulk of the time was spent at Hol Chan where all my anxiety had to be conquered quickly. Spending most of the time at Hol Chan definitely worked out better though - once I got mildly comfortable with the submersion, there were some amazing sights to be seen (including all the reef and mangrove). With 11 other snorkelers and two of the best Searious Adventures operators imaginable , I had to commit myself to 4 horseshoe miles of novice swimming in the channel. After a few false starts and a mild panic attack, it was absolutely amazing. Yep, I was incredibly tired and scared out of my mind the few times I looked back for the boat and couldn't see it but I'm glad I conquered that fear. By the time we re-boarded the boat and made it to Shark Ray Alley, I felt like an old pro. At that point it was just conquering the nerves of swimming with a slew of sting ray and nurse sharks much bigger than me. I wanted to feel invincible but that big body of water had a way of reminding me I was insignificant!
San Pedro Belize is definitely in my top three travel destinations so far. If I had to go again, I'd stick to their winter season, when the temperature is about 85 degrees without humidity. It's the island tourists go to for night life, water adventures and cultural sight-seeing tours.