Belize city, Belize – one of the oldest manually operated bridges in Central America, a cathedral build with British bricks, and salad in a plastic bag
Against all warnings from travelers and blogs alike, questioning the safety in Belize City, we decide to spend a day in the old capital of Belize. Anyways when you board the water taxi from Caye Caulker to Belize City you need to stop here. Most tourists skip the town in general but not us. Our curiosity is stronger than some warnings.
Belize City and some weird things about it
Belize is the only country in Central and South America where the official spoken language is English. This is great because I can finally understand the language and not just point at Denny when someone asks me something. Or! Just stand there and nod when she gets directions etc. It’s quite funny, tho – normally it goes like this – she asks something, gets the information we need, I nod next to her the whole time as I perfectly understand everything, we leave, and my first question is “What did he said?”
Anyways, back to the story.
Belize City is the largest city in Belize and there are two parts of the town. The north part, “the safer”, or also called the tourist part where the passing by tourists hide in their luxury hotels, waiting for a plane out of the country or a boat to one of the islands. The south part, “the dangerous” city center side, where locals live, shop, and eat. We of course choose the downtown of Belize City. What’s life without a bit of danger?!
After a short boat ride from Caye Caulker, we arrive at the port of Belize City without knowing what to expect. The port is not friendly at all – tens of people are trying to put you in a cab, chaos is everywhere and our only thought is how to get our luggage before it disappears somewhere. Couple of minutes after we are happily reunited with our backpacks and are ready to find our accommodation.
By the look of everything on the way to the hotel, we could tell that this city was prospering once. Belize City was the capital of Belize until 1970, and then Belmopan replaced it. The city withstands not one or two major disasters – two hurricanes at the beginning of last century and two more at the beginning of this one, combined with two major fires in the last 20 years.
Old colonial houses once freshly painted in different colors are now fading and falling apart. In front of them toothless beggars, replaced the old women gossiping or knitting long time ago. Broken fences, covered windows, and rusty signs remind us of once open businesses waiting for clients, now just a memory.
Right after the Swing Bridge, we notice an old Rastafarian man who sits on an old broken chair in front of a small store . His black shirt and black pants fit perfectly with the melody that comes out of his trumpet. The only color is the Jamaican knitted hat he wears, covering his huge hair. Next to him, a flag dances playfully. On it, a gun and it states, “No guns, more love.”
Where to stay in Belize City
Further in town the traffic is crazy and on every corner police officers are trying to help the traffic jam. After a bit of walking we arrive at our home for the night – Caribbean palms Inn. It is located practically on Kings Street – the same street that leads to the bus terminal in Belize City. Unfortunately, the door is locked. We ring the bell. No one shows up. Hmm. We ring again. Nothing. That’s not good!
I start imagining the map of the town and wondering where exactly to find another place to stay and quickly because walking around with the huge backpacks just draws unwanted attention, which we try to avoid. I have a solution! It will be much more practical if I leave Denny in front of the hotel with the backpacks and go explore.
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At the same time Denny, of course, does the more rational thing. She asks for help the person working in a food stand next to the hotel. The next moment I’m awaken by someone shouting “Shakiiiiiiiiiiiraaaaaaaaa!”. Couple of minutes later Shakira, a big Afro-Caribbean lady, shows up with a huge smile on her face and opens the door for us. Pff, one trouble less!
The room is big, clean and (really) has hot water in the shower! Yeeeiiii! Without wasting a minute, we are at the door in no time. Our safety in Belize City (and elsewhere) is very important for us, so we decide to ask Shakira where to go and where is not advisable to hang around. The smiling receptionist reassures us that during the day we will not have any problems exploring. That’s what we want to hear!
Excited by the good news, Shakira takes us back to the ground by quickly scanning us up and down. You can tell she doesn’t approve something. We should lose Denny’s banana bag! Done! Now we have just the small backpack with water and some change (after some arguing Denny takes the camera too).
The bus terminal in Belize City & how to get from Belize City to Hopkins, Belize
Our first destination is the only bus terminal in town. Tomorrow we need to get a chicken bus to Hopkins, a small village in the south part of the country, nested on the Caribbean Sea.
From the hotel we go directly on King Street, which goes parallel through the whole town. The walk there is calm and the streets are full of people. Kids with perfect uniforms are coming back from school and mothers are buying fresh fruits from the street stalls. Everything looks quite normal until you look to the long side streets. They are full of homeless people and crumbling houses. The sidewalk is narrow and covered with manholes, and most of the lids are missing. You can barely look up trying to navigate them and not fall in.
Important! There is no information online about the chicken buses schedule from Belize City, so the only option is to go directly there and ask.
Important! There is no ticket counter at the bus terminal in Belize City, no bus schedule, and no info point. At least there are buses, tho. With entering the bus terminal, we are surrounded by lots of people asking where we want to go. However, we don’t intend to tell them because we are looking for the official attendants. You can easily recognize them because they are dressed in green shirts and khaki pants.
Important! When you get information for the bus you are looking for, make sure you ask if it is express or not. They have 100 fewer stops than the normal ones but they leave only 2-3 times a day. Of course, you can’t buy tickets in advance, nor you can book a seat because you pay directly at the bus (if you manage to get on it, that is)
We quickly ask when is the bus from Belize City to Hopkins and it turns out that there is no direct bus. This means we need to pass by the capital Belmopan and change in a city called Dangriga. From there we need either to take a taxi, hitchhike or wait few hours to get on the next chicken bus. However, I will tell you about how we manage to go from Belize City to Hopkins in our next story.
What to do in Belize City & Points of interest
Satisfied with the information we receive, we take a brisk walk to explore the city and its few sights, conveniently located within walking distance of our hotel. We head to the north part.
The Swing Bridge, Belize City
Next to the port is one of the sights in town, the Swing Bridge. It connects the north and the south part of the city. The Swing Bridge is a historical landmark and one of the oldest manually operated bridges in Central America. It is definitely interesting but not exactly what I expected. Denny even didn’t notice it until I told her about it later the same day.
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Shopping in Belize City
The next landmarks we see is the municipality building, housed in a not so interesting building. However, nearby, a paradise for bored tourists has been built. The tourism village in Belize city is a shopping center in Caribbean style, that waits for its victims and offer them souvenirs of questionable, handmade origin.
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The boardwalk, the City museum, and the Liberty hall
Down the road, we stop by the colorful sign of Belize City and the beautiful lighthouse. We are posing for the mandatory picture or two and keep going. The neighborhood is full of interesting colonial houses, each one in a different style. This part of town feels abandoned despite all the embassies, protected by high fences and covered with razor wire. Here is no one on the streets and we are the only living breathing creatures. We discuss how the town has a lot of potential if only people where not afraid to visit it.
If you are interested in Belizean history and art, you can check out the City museum and the Liberty hall. We are not in a mood for visiting museums today, so we don’t know if they are worth it.
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Where not to eat in Belize City
It is lunch time so we head to Le Petit Café, which I check online and it has good reviews. It’s right across from Radisson hotel. Yep, you read this correctly, there is Radisson in town! The café is nothing special but we don’t have much of a choice. We order (awful) sandwiches and beers. There is no beer! You should have seen my face!
The cashier sends me across the street in Radisson. In the lobby I find some tourists, hiding in their luxurious escape. I order a beer. There is beer!! It’s quite pricey but there is beer! The bartender informs me that I’m the first customer for the day. Well, that’s not really a surprise.
History of Belize – How Belize got its name
Happy with a beer in hand, I cross the street back to Denny. Out of nowhere a colorful elderly man carrying an empty bucket stops me and starts asking me historical questions. One after another! Most of them I can’t answer. In the middle of the street, he starts explaining me in-depth about the history of Belize and the region of Central America.
I can see with the corner of my eye Denny looking at us amused but at the same time bit scared. I highly doubt that I’ll be kidnapped in the middle of the day in front of a posh hotel, but who knows. He doesn’t seem dangerous at all so we continue our conversation (or better to say his monologue).
His last question is “Do you know how Belize got its name?” I give my best to answer but I fail again. It feels a bit like “Who wants to be a millionaire?” I can assure you – it wouldn’t be me!
Why Belize is named Belize, you’ll ask? According to Wikipedia, one of the theories is that the name comes from “Belikin”, which in Mayan language means “Route to the East”. Belikin is also the name of the most popular beer in Belize. The other theory is that the name comes from the Belize river, which in Mayan language means “muddy”.
A third theory is that in 1638 a Scottish pirate with the name Peter Wallace came to Belize and settled. With the time passing, the name changed from Wallix, then Valis and next Balis, to get to the name today – Belize. In Spanish you pronounce the letters B and V with the same sound and it sounds like something between the two.
At the end the elderly man tells me that his name is Prince Charles Perez and asks me to google him. I did. Here he is. Apparently, he is really knowledgeable amateur historian and a great character.
The Anglican Cathedral Saint John, Belize City
We finish eating in the company of a small red bird and its time again to look for the other attractions back in the downtown.
This time we cross town again and head to the south part to reach St. John’s Cathedral. St. John’s is the oldest Anglican church in Central America, and one of the oldest buildings in Belize. In addition, it’s the only Anglican cathedral outside of England. The building is built with red bricks brought by the British when Belize was named British Honduras.
Next to the cathedral is the oldest cemetery in Belize, where we stumble across a funeral. We don’t want to disturb the people gathering there so we take a picture of the building and continue on our way.
If you have a day more and some extra money
We couldn’t see everything for a day in Belize City. If you do have more time, for the price of 1 Belizean dollar and the good old chicken bus, you can go and check out the Belize Zoo. We didn’t manage to go, but considering that the flora and fauna in Central America is so diverse we just decided not to waste time.
Another alternative is to visit the Travellers Liquors Heritage Center Museum, where you can walk and dip into the secrets of world’s famous One Barrel Rum and to do a tasting tour. Unfortunately, we found out about this place only after we left, so we couldn’t visit.
Where to try some great, cheap, local food in Belize City or just have a drink while watching the sunset
I check google maps again (love this thing) and close by is a restaurant at the edge of the peninsula called Bird’s Isle.
Important! Wherever you travel in the world, make sure you download the google offline maps of the places you’ll visit. It’s really handy and you can use them without internet.
The road to the restaurant is a bit dodgy and scary, but it’s well worth it. The place is huge and empty. As we reach the bar, the owner is closing for his 3-hour lunch break. Caribbean life! We manage to persuade him to sell us some drinks and he reassure us that we can stay there as long as we want. We chat for a while and he explains how his father build the island long time ago (actually it is a small peninsula) and it’s a restaurant ever since.
Unfortunately, we can’t eat because we want to be back at the hotel while is still day light outside. He leaves us to enjoy the quiet afternoon staring at the water and pointing at different sea creatures. We even manage to see a green eel. Blah!
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It’s sunset so we make our way back to the hotel, on one hand to be good kids and listen to Shakira’s advice, and on another to escape from the mosquitoes. We pass buy a very old man who sells bananas out of a bucket and decide to buy some for the road tomorrow. “May I have two bananas, please?” He looks at me as if I’m crazy. “TWO bananas, what for do you need just TWO bananas? Buy the whole branch!” Yep, that’s how it is here.
Except of the super market, everything on our way to the hotel seems to be closed after sunset. Dinner will be chips and beer. Sitting on the roof terrace of the hotel with an ice-cold beer in hand is the perfect ending of the day. Well, the hot shower afterwards is not to be underestimated either.
How to navigate at the bus terminal in Belize City
Waking up early is something we both don’t enjoy, especially when on vacation but we chose an early chicken bus. The hotel offers (horrible) free coffee, but somehow we enjoy it. The whole journey today will take around 3-4 hours and it will be good if we reach out our final destination still in day light, mainly because we still have no idea how to get from Dangriga to Hopkins.
We quickly discuss if it is a good idea to walk with the backpacks to the bus terminal or just get a cab. 20 seconds later, we are already on the road walking. For a nice surprise, we realize that there is a market right next to the terminal, probably because it’s Saturday. They sell second-hand clothes, fresh vegetables, and countless types of fish, mineral and coconut water in a plastic bag, and strange but quite tasty Belizean tacos with salad in a bag. (no footage available, sorry)
The nice attendant at the bus terminal shows us the “gate” (to be read as – huge metal fence with a door, which opens when the bus arrives). Unfortunately, in front of the terminal there are already many people with huge bags waiting for the bus.
Denny decides to ask how to make sure that there will be a place for us too (and in the best-case scenario not to stand during the 3-hour ride). For our amazement, the attendant tells us that it’s not a problem for him to get on the bus first and reserve seats for us. That’s a customer service! Thank you for your hospitality, Belize City.
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Next stop of you Lazy Road Trip Central America – Hopkins, Belize!