Over Easter weekend this year I ventured down to Placencia, Belize to squeeze in some Scuba Diving. Belize is a small Central American country known for its jungles, Mayan ruins and most famously its marine life. Belize is at the core of the world’s second largest barrier reef, and largest one in the Western hemisphere. It shares the reef with Mexico and Honduras as well from my understanding. Belize is also home to the picturesque Great Blue Hole and during the months of April through June, whale sharks in the southern part of the country. Furthermore, as far as destinations that touch the Caribbean sea and offer scuba diving, Belize is really quite affordable and has in my opinion a more balanced range of hotels.
The national language is English but most people speak Creole, then Spanish. The currency is pegged to the US Dollar, 2 BZE to 1 USD, but USD is widely accepted. Note you will either receive USD, a mix or local currency at the pegged exchange rate as change. Hotels, bars and dive shops take cards.
Getting to Belize is fairly easy from the United States and Canada, many airlines offer nonstop flights. Its a tad more challenging from other parts of the world. All international flights arrive in Belize City, which from what I gather is not the safest nor most exciting place to be, though I am sure it has its charms to be discovered. Most folks will then proceed to take buses/ shuttles/ ferries or a short domestic flight on either Tropic Air or Maya Air to other destinations. I chose to fly Tropic Air from Belize City to Placencia, and with a flight almost every 30 minutes, you have options. Cheapest tickets are around $60-$80 one way.
Once you arrive in Placencia, you can either rent a golf cart, rent a car (only worth it if staying for extended time), or get a taxi. Placencia is a peninsula and the town center is close to the airport but many resorts are scattered towards the north along the coast. Taxi for me to Maya Beach Hotel was around $15-$20 one way for a 15-20 minute commute.
The goal of this trip was to get in some scuba diving. I had Good Friday off so I was able to get 2 nights in, which would allow me a good 18-24 hours of surface time after my dives before my international flight. I really wanted to do whale shark diving as it was full moon which is the prime time of the month to do whale shark diving. However, the dive shop I went with, Splash Dive Center, really value safety, environmental care and ensuring you and others can enjoy themselves. As such they require advanced divers to pass a “check out” dive on their first day of diving to ensure they are fully independent divers before taking them out for whale shark diving on the next day. Thus, given my tight schedule I was unable to do the whale shark dive, I did however join the check out dive and it was still great. Well, our second dive was great, waters in general were murky due to thunderstorms the day before but the second dive I saw a much greater variety of sea life and more colorful corals. Further, note that whale shark diving is done out in full open water, where you have no reef near you and likely cant see the bottom, also note that it is highly regulated and one cannot touch the gentle giants and there are strict caps on the number of divers on one boat. I would highly recommend diving with Splash, a PADI 5-Star center, they are professional, responsive to email and whatsapp, and similarly priced to everyone else in Belize. You can rent all scuba gear with them for $35 and arrange for roundtrip transfer for $10. They also do have snorkel trips and certification courses and non-advanced diver trips!
Forgetting that it was a religious holiday, accommodation ended up being tough to score on the weekend as the city was hosting a festival on Saturday before Easter Sunday and many local tourists as well as regional ones flock in to celebrate. Nonetheless I got lucky with Maya Beach Hotel, located on Maya Beach in northern Placencia. The staff here were very responsive and accommodating. Rates start at around $75 and go to around $150 per night, with a variety of rooms to choose from all with views of the sea or direct access to the beach, AC, TV, semi to full kitchens, complimentary refillable jugs of water and the warm and friendly service of the Maya Beach Hotel team. Maya Beach Hotel’s bistro is also excellent, and is one of the top places to eat in town so it attracts lots of non-hotel guests. The hotel is by no means a 5 star ultra luxe hotel, no one is going to come to your lounger to take drink orders, you’ll have to go to the bar yourself, but they do go above and beyond in other ways to ensure you have a great stay. One such way is concierge, Marlon, who will come through the resort checking with each guest on their itinerary for their next day and ensure all transport and things are in order. Finally, I would book direct on their website for accurate availability and best prices.
Over all, I enjoyed my time in Belize. The Belizean people are all super laidback, friendly and warm. The hotel staff at Maya Beach Hotel were excellent and attentive. Splash Dive was great, and the diving itself was great but not the most amazing I’ve done. Also helps that everything was all reasonable priced for a Caribbean tourist spot.
- My flight arrived in Belize City at around noon, after customs and immigration (note: to protect the flora and fauna, Belize is rather strict with what you can and cant bring into the country), I walked out the door to the domestic and regional flight check in hall. Proceeded to check in for my Tropic Air flight to Placencia.
- After a 25 minute flight, I landed in Placencia at around 2:40PM. I had phoned Maya Beach Hotel earlier to let them know of my arrival time and a taxi was waiting for me outside the “baggage claim.”
- 15 minutes later I was in paradise. Checked-in, and was informed they had upgraded me from my original booked Hibiscus room, which has beach access but is attached to the restaurant and lobby and is rather exposed, to the King Fish Room, a stand alone cabana on the beach. They also informed me of a last minute availability for Saturday night that would require me to switch room, which I was totally fine with as I was near about to go without accommodation on Saturday. Again, welcoming, friendly staff, Maya Beach Hotel essentially treats everyone as part of their family.
- After settling into my room and changing into proper beach wear I headed off to the bar to grab some Belikin Belizean beer and walked out to the hotel jetty to relax and read. I arrived on a cloudy and stormy day but thankfully it stayed dry until the evening.
- I then grabbed a Rum Punch at happy hour, running 3-5PM, kitchen closes 4-5PM for break. I chilled on my cabana’s porch and continued reading. Then I grabbed another Belikin, this time a dark stout.
- Soon it was 6PM and time for some dinner at the Bistro. The food here is really quite good, and Wine Spectator has awarded this restaurant many times for its wine list, which I must say for a hotel of this level is quite impressive. Wines by the glass rotate nightly. The menu is Belizean inspired flare mixed with a little European inspiration. I ordered whole baked garlic with tomato chutney and goat cheese to start. Then some Seafood Coconut Chowder, a spin on a traditional Belizean stew: Hudut, seafoods, shallot, onion, coconut, plantains, carrot, potato. It was amazing. Topped of the meal with a tropical carrot cake that was incredible and some Nance Craboo Belizean dessert wine.
- After a wonderful dinner I relaxed in my cabana and went to bed by 10.
- I woke up at 5AM to a partly cloudy but still beautiful sunrise.
- I then headed to breakfast at the bistro which starts at 7AM, with complimentary coffee starting at 6:45AM. I ordered some Belizean breakfast with bacon: fly jacks (fried dough), scrambled eggs and refried beans, and fresh grapefruit juice. It was delicious.
- Splash dive center’s bus came to pick me up at 8:15AM.
- After signing papers and getting geared up our dive boat headed out to Pompion Caye, an hour by boat, for our two dives for the day.
- We pulled up to a private island whose owners allow Splash to use their island. Geared up then headed to the first spot, Pompion wall. An 80 foot, 40 minute dive. The dive was murky but I managed to see some nice coral, eels, giant lobsters, puffer fish, lionfish, and lots of other reef fish.
- After the first dive we did our surface time on the private island which included our lunch. It was a typical Belizean meal of beans and rice, plantains and stewed chicken. A beautiful clear sunny day on a tiny little island in the middle of the Caribbean, it was perfect.
- After lunch we geared up again but first spotted a few reef sharks swimming near the boat which was cool. We then headed to the last spot of the day, Pompion Canyon. This dive was a 60 foot dive at around 43 minutes with better visibility and more lively coral and sea life. Saw very similar species to the first dive but there was a larger variety and many more fish and creatures throughout.
- Once we all surfaced, the day was over and we headed back to Placencia. Got back to Placencia at around 3:30PM, and back to the hotel at around 4.
- I returned to the hotel and checked into my new and massive room, Joya Main, which is part of an independent beachfront house that has two floors and two rooms, you can also book the entire house. My room was an apartment with living room, dining room, full kitchen and separate bedroom and a full wrap around deck.
- I spent the rest of the afternoon with beer and my book on the jetty and beach.
- I headed to the restaurant at around 5:30PM for an earlier dinner. I started off with a refreshing Watermelon Gin cocktail, and a shrimp stuffed calamari with mango habanero sauce. Then tried some Belizean rum straight, it was actually smooth and nice for a 5 year aged rum. Followed by a Stormy Sunrise cocktail to go with my Sassy Shrimp: Placencia shrimp, plantain, coconut spice rice, all delicious. I topped off the meal with another carrot cake.
- I got another pour of the rum to go and sat on the beach star gazing. Then the moon slowly rose on the horizon and I had never seen such a bright colorful moonrise before. It was at first red and sightly yellow then slowly the light florescent yellow that the moon normally is and lit up the ocean and horizon. It was incredible.
- I called it a night at around 9PM.
- Woke up again at 5AM but this time to a clear sky sunrise which was amazing.
- Had breakfast at 7AM again, this time I ordered the Duck Sausage Hash with over easy egg and spicy orange hollandaise sauce, it was tasty especially the sauce. I also ordered the house specialty of Coconut-Banana muffin which was great.
- My taxi came for me at 7:50M and I was sadly off to the airport to catch my Tropic Air flight back to Belize City for my onwards connection.
- There are no lounges of any sort at Belize City Airport. However, I do recommend grabbing a meal at one of the two tiny hole in the walls serving up Belizean food and sandwiches. You order and pay for what you want and wait around for around 15 minutes as the lady calls in your order which is then delivered to her to give to you. I ordered the classic Belizean dish of stewed chicken, beans and rice and plantains again, and it was delicious.
I would definitely return to Belize and Placencia, though next time I might also go north to San Pedro or other cayes off the coast. I would also probably spend at least an extra day to either squeeze in more diving or do a Mayan ruin or explore the jungles and caves of Belize.