Belize’s San Pedro; Isla Bonita

Anyone after a safe and easy introduction into Belize tourist life could do far worse than trip on over to San Pedro on the Ambergris Caye an island about 90 minutes out to sea on the ferry from Belize City. We chose to spend the night in Belize City itself, and was glad we did, given our flight was 2 hours late in and we would have missed the last ferry. Some of the passengers had a last minute scramble for costly flights so as to get on the island. The guide books suggested Belize City to be some kind of muggers paradise and while I would not wander down an unlit street while drunk at midnight with a $100 note on view in my back pocket, it didn’t have a totally edgy feel.

Our hotel was at the back of a Chinese restaurant, the New Chon Sing and was very clean, located perfectly for the ferry and very hot on security (to the point of barbed wire over a high metal fence – I got the impression Mr Trump would approve).

We ate at Nerie’s a well rated local restaurant and had a very good local meal; once again showing that a lot of Belize food has a Mexican feel. This is a holiday where I’m living off veggie Buritos; I think it could be some months before I tire of the diet.

I had a rather over romanticised vision of our journey over the water; an open deck, a bar perhaps. Instead there was a long queue, limited outdoor space and we spent a steamy 90 minutes downstairs while the folk who had got outdoor space were soaked by a thunderstorm. Don’t forget to queue to validate your tickets. Large luggage items are stored together and returned to you on arrival.

The only hassle we encountered came with the taxi drivers at the ferry port on our arrival to San Pedro; just at the point stuff is new and you are waiting to collect your luggage, someone is bending your ear about a taxi. We were staying in the main town about a kilometer from the ferry port, so despite the heat and the rucksacks we politely told the annoying taxi drivers to go and trouble someone else, picked up the strain and spent the money on a pit stop drink on the way.

Our hotel, the Del Rio is reasonably priced at around £80 a night, but has a bit of wow with its traditional style thatched cottages (some rooms, including ours) and its view of the beach front. I liked being towards the edge of the “fun” rather than being in the middle of it.

The main restaurant drag is just 20 minutes walk, a good bar is about 5 minutes away as is a shop for basic provisions. There’s a few sun loungers, hammocks and the like and the place has a relaxing quiet vibe. There’s a free simple breakfast of cut fresh fruit and bread and jam. Again, simple is good.

Eats at San Pedro in the town is rather like you might expect. Food tends to be Mexican orientated. In terms of the beach, the general rule of thumb seems to be OK, unexceptional but quite pricy (towards UK prices) for meals or you can choose cheaper wholesome more local fare in fairly grotty surroundings, away from the sea. There are exceptions of course, but work on that basis and you won’t be disappointed.

We had wholesome and very veggie fresh pizza at Sandbar and misread the pizza size (14 inch). Had we shared, it would have been a good deal at this nice, lively and fairly trendy venue.

We also had a good fish meal at Caliente’s, although it did work out fairly expensive at £30 a head for 1 course with a huge cocktail and a beer. This was a nice friendly relaxed family run place where the service was good, so it wasn’t feeling like a poor deal. I also spotted some reggae bars and jerk chicken eateries, so you could lose yourself in the Caribbean vibe if you so wanted. There is a helpful rasta man selling space brownies (it’s not illegal here).

Iguana Juan’s in the centre of town away from the beachfront was our other eatery of note in the town centre off the sea front. This place is nicely quirky and upstairs; a filling and reasonable meal of fajitas came in at $10 us with a cocktail on offer at $5. There was a 70 year old rasta man murdering classics, Beatles and 70s standards on a beat up electronic organ which just added to the vibe.

While there are sea activities, I suspected they would not come up at bargain prices and in truth I’m not a big water fan. However I spotted glass bottomed boats, and various implements to enable you to bounce, slice or hover above the water if you so wish. The sea is shallow and quite a walk will still only get your knees wet.

Instead we hired a golf buggy for the day for $60 US, and explored the bumpy roads of the island. I’m not sure whether I have got cowardly and feeble in my old age but while the locals were smiling, chatting and bouncing around, I treated it as something of a white knuckle ride. A video I took felt like we were on a slow moving lawnmower but out there, sitting with your back to the direction those lumps and bumps felt monumental. A few of the locals mocked both our speed and the concentration on our faces in a good natured way, but in truth we were not the slowest on the road.

The destination for all golf buggys is eventually the Secret Beach right at the one end of the island. The reviews of the secret beach seem to be almost univerally positive, but the words I’d choose is “a bit disappoining”. It was clearly beautiful once, but there are now 8 or so sprawling beach bars and it kind of felt like anywhere.

Again the bar we chose had a good rating, but for me it seemed I had travelled halfway around the world to end up in a place with the vibe of a Rhyl holiday camp family disco. I prefer my places to have a theme and a distinct vibe but there was no reggae, no techno, no indie and just a kind of boring inoffensive choice of music. While Brown Eyed Girl has its place, an edgy cool beach bar is not one of them.

The food was poor to average and there seemed to be a full quota of beach bores sitting around the centre bar. I much preferred the vibe and look of the bars in town, although Secret beach does at least point in the right direction for a spectacular sunset rather than the sunrise of the main beach.

The journey to Secret Beach made the trip well worthwhile despite the sorry destonation. I did note the number of building plots on offer at this end of the island, which will finally kill any remaining charm if even half of the plots are taken up.

Despite my severe disappointment in being 10 years too late for the sheer pleasure of Secret Beach overall, San Pedro is a great place for 2-3 nights chill with a few things to see and enjoy.

Chris R

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