…it seems like yesterday, and not so far away.” These lyrics from Madona’s song, Isla Bonita will forever make me think of the tranquil turquoise water, the breezy beach side bars, and the desolate dirt roads I spent five days exploring with my best friends to celebrate my 40th birthday (a few weeks early). After spending a few days on the mainland in Western Belize exploring the jungle, I was looking forward to some rum-infused cocktails and drunken sunsets with lifelong friends.
Belize is an interesting country in that half of it sits in Central America, and the other part is in the Carribean. With many islands off its coast, Belize boasts some of the best activities and beautiful waters in the region. Most visitors to Belize spend their time in Ambergiris Caye where the town of San Pedro, a former fishing village, is host to many restuarants, bars, and diving and snorkeling tour operators. Arriving in the off-season, the bars and restuarants were not as crowded or lively as we might have expected, but it did make visitng places a bit easier.
After meeting up in the Belize City airport, we decided to take the water taxi to the island, rather than spend the money on the puddle-jumper flight. With a bit of time to spare before the next ferry would arrive, we ventured out to try some “local” Belizean food and found ourselves in an Americanized coffee shop serving lattes and Indian-inspired fare.
After a long ferry ride, where Jenn and I rode uptop, behind the captain with no railings or anything to keep us from falling out, we finally arrived at the ferry terminal in Ambergris Caye, and caught a taxi to the Grand Colony Villas; our home for the next 4 nights. Just over a mile south of San Pedro, the Grand Colony Villas are a weird hybrid between a condominium rental place and a hotel, although we weren’t always sure which was which. Though the walk into town seemed a bit far, the hotel offers free bike rentals, and one can also rent a golf cart, the vehicle of choice to cruise around the island.
Our first night we headed back into the center of San Pedro and found ourselves walking alongside the beachfront bars, popping in and out, grabbing some rum punches to go, before eventually settling into the Palapa Bar, perched at the end of a wooden dock.
The next morning, we started the day with a delightful, water-side breakfast right next to our hotel at restuarant 366.
Around 9am we were picked up at the end of our dock by Lil Alfonse, a snorkeling tour operator who came highly recommended and apparently, was also Samantha Brown’s guide when she travelled here. There were a few other parties in the boat, including two girls from Canada, an Uncle and niece from Chicago, and a family from the U.S. Once we picked everyone up, we cruised south towards the world’s second largest barrier reef and the Hol Chan Reserve, a protected body of water that is home to some of the most beautiful and abundant sea life in the world.
Although I’ve been on snorkeling tours in the past, I have never experienced one like this. A group of ours were assigned to swim with Alfonse and follow him underwater, whenever he saw a fish he wanted to point out, he would punch his fist against his open palm three times to get our attention, and we were to all swim in his direction and look. Although there was amazing sea life everywhere, and Alfonse’s enthusiasm was admirable, we often wound up seeing the bubbles of the fins being kicked up in front of us as everyone clammered to get to the spot where he saw the fish. Even with this minor annoyance, this was still the best snorkeling I have ever done, we even saw a turtle!
After an hour and a half in the water, I felt the sudden urge to have to urinate, but unlike most normal people, cannot bring myself to pee in the water. In a desperate attempt to relieve myself, I swam back to the boat early with the hopes I would be able to “go” off the side of the boat before anyone returned. My plan was spoiled however, when I looked behind me and saw a trail of heads bopping on top of the water and realized my group was right behind me.
After Hol Chan, most tour boats take you to Shark Alley, a separate part of the reserve that sits on the outside of the reef, and allows visitors to swim with nurse sharks and giant sting rays. The area used to be where fishing boats would unload their chomp that they were not using, and thus the sharks learned to wait in this area for food. On the way over by boat, I felt an increasing panic that I would not be able to hold in my bladder. In a moment of pure “I don’t give a shit”, I asked Alfonse if I could pee off the back of the boat while we slowly approached where we would be anchoring down. In typically Belizean fashion, he happily obliged. As I told the rest of our boat mates to just “turn the other way” for a moment, I shimmied my way to the back of the boat and began to remove my bathing suit with the hopes of going quickly before we actually stopped and saw sharks. Hanging out half naked on the back of the boat, I panicked when I heard Alfonse yell “look everyone, sharks!”, as he pointed to the side of the boat. At this point, everyone grabbed their cameras and was hurrying to the side and back of the boat with my bareness in full view! Unable to get myself together in time, I panicked and grabbed the Belizean flag that was hanging next to me and wrapped myself in it, calling out desperately to my friends to grab my white cover-up. Fortunately for me, the allure of sharks swimming alongside the boat seemed to deter any attention that might have been paid to me.
After finally getting myself together, I happily dropped off the side of the boat to swim with the nurse sharks and stingrays who were everywhere.
After our snorkeling trip, we headed back to the shore, grabbed some drinks by the pool-side, and then rented a golf cart to drive around the island and explore. Our first stop was Fido’s for lunch where we first discovered what would become our favorite Belizean cocktail; the panty rippa!
After a boozy lunch filled with rum punch and other delightful Carribean concoctions, we proceeded to explore the island via golf cart, stopping in and out of stores and bars before we headed north to the Secret Beach.
One of my favorite stops along the road north of the island was the Dive Bar; another coastal bar which boasts a swing set in the water.
After we left the Dive Bar, we headed into a more desolate area of the island, where the paved road becomes dirt, and one finds themselves driving alongside canals and marsh grass. With a few signs pointing us in the right direction, about thirty minutes later we arrived at the secret beach, which is not too much of a secret anymore.
Perched on the western sides of the island, the secret beach is a section of Ambergris Caye where the water is warm and calm, and one can walk across it for miles. We arrived at the sweet-spot of the day, with the sun just beginning to set, and hopped up to one of the two bars that sit on the water. Another panty rippa down, and it was time to jump into the warm, soothing water.
By around 5pm, we headed back into San Pedro just in time to buy tickets for the “world famous chicken drop” where people bet on where a chicken will lay its poop on a large board. Jenn and Michelle were able to get tickets for the last round, so we grabbed a quick but delicious dinner at Caliente’s which is right next door to Wahoo’s Lounge, the host of the chicken drop. While sitting and enjoying dinner, I looked up to see a man begin climbing a coconut tree with his bare hands and feet?!?!
Soon enough, it was time for the famous drop. Jenn, being the most excited to see the event began to wane in excitement when she saw that the winner would have to clean the shit up off the board themselves, while Michelle, who prides herself on being an advocate for animal rights, began yelling at the people not to hurt the chickens. After waiting a few rounds, it was finally time for our chicken to be brought to the game. Basically, the DJ yells out to “chicken security” to bring out a chicken and then a volunteer blows up its butt for good luck, places it on the board, and people wait to see where it will poop. If it poops on your number, you win the jackpot. Fortunately for Jenn, our number was not picked.
Feeling rather tired and hungover, the next day we were picked up by a taxi driver who drove us to the airport so we could board the smallest plane I have ever seen!
We headed over to the mainland and were picked up by Jovan, our guide for the day. After a few stops along the way to pick up the ingredients for rum punch, we were well on our way to the western border of Belize to visit the Mayan ruins of Xuantunich where we explored a bit with a local guide before we climbed “El Castillo”, the main building in the complex. Xuantunich, which translates into “Stone Woman# was “discovered” by British archeologists and is still be excavated today.
After about an hour exploring the ruins, we headed back toward Belize city to stop off to go ziplinging in the jungle.
After we were done ziplining, we were given a delicious lunch of bbq chicken and rice and beans, before we were met by our guide, who equipped us with helmets, tubes, and lights as we set off on a little hike to get to the cave we would be tubing. One of the more unique things to do in Belize is cavetubing, where one can float through gorgeous formations that often served as sacred and ceremonial sites of Mayans, particularly in terms of representing hell. As we approached the cave, our guide interlocked our tubes and led us down the river, pointing out various rock formations that Mayans believed to represent certain gods and people.
As we existed the cave, our guide basically told us “we had to go” in order to catch the last flight off the island at 5:30. Apparently, all the other people who were on the river with us were also trying to catch that flight and we had to beat them to the airport. As Jovan took off like Batman to get us to the airport before everyone else, we all suddenly remembered we had not yet had time for our rum punch. With that, he pulled into a rest stop area and mixed the punch for us, before getting back on the road to beat the others to the airport. Priorities! The punch was actually outstanding, and we had many laughs trying to refill our glasses in the back of his van as he drove like Mario Andretti to get us back in time. When we arrived at the airport, we were bequeathed the rum punch container to drink on the plane.
After a very long day, we freshened up at the hotel before heading out to Carambas for some fresh seafood where one can pick the catch of the day right from the fisherman, Jose.
Our last full day on the island, we decided to forego the Lobster Fest that was taking place on the adjacent island of Caye Caulker, and instead rented a golf cart again to explore San Pedro a bit. We started off at the Carribean Villas where we went to the bar to grab an afternoon drink and play on the water toys. Graceful as always, we enjoyed our time playing in the water.
In the afternoon we headed to Elvi’skitchen for a delicious lunch.
With our full day-drinking on, we headed to the north end of the island again to explore some different beaches, but realized after stopping at one that nothing would compare to the secret beach and thus, we headed back there. Knowing we would be short on time and likely caught in a rainstorm did not deter us from one last panty rippa on the secluded and enchanting coast that is the secret beach.
Of course, on the way back, buckets of rain fell from the sky and we were caught in thunder and lighting. But really, the secret beach is so worth it.
Overall, spending quality time with my closest friends on a tropical island drinking panty rippas might just be the best way to begin celebrating (that’s right, I said begin) my 40th birthday.