Dis 'n Dat
Geography: As shown in the map to the left, the Placencia Peninsula is an approximately 14 mile long peninsula in southern Belize. The Caribbean Sea forms its eastern and southern boundaries and the Placencia Lagoon is its western boundary.
Placencia Village is located at the southern tip of the Peninsula, and is an authentic Belizean Creole fishing village, although most of its fishermen are now also tour guides (snorkeling, fishing, diving, kayaking and sailing).
The southern tip of the Placencia Peninsula is the southern boundary of Placencia Village. The northern boundary of Placencia Village is the Wild Orchid development, about 3/4's of a mile south of The Inn at Robert's Grove. Placencia's northern boundary line is also the southern boundary line of Seine Bight Village, a traditional Belizean Garifuna village - one of four in Belize. (The other three are Hopkins Village, Dangriga Town and Barranco Village, all in southern Belize.) The northern boundary line of Seine Bight Village is at approximately Riversdale, a small community just north of The Placencia Hotel and Residences, and 10 miles north of the boundary line between Placencia and Seine Bight.
Although the boundaries of Seine Bight Village encompass the communities of Maya Beach, Riversdale, and The Plantation Development area, these three communities are not thought of as being a part of Seine Bight Village, either culturally or economically.
The distance from the southern tip of Placencia Village to the intersection of the Peninsula Road with the Southern Highway is about 24 miles.
Traveler's Checks and U.S. Dollars. US Dollars are the only foreign currency accepted in Belize, and no need to exchange traveler's checks or U.S. dollars at the banks because U.S. dollars are welcome everywhere, as are U.S. traveler's checks, although no one uses them much anymore, and we've recently heard that traveler's checks are becoming harder to cash outside main tourist areas. Also, please be very careful with your signature - make sure to sign EXACTLY as you signed when you purchased the checks, and please don't date the check or enter the merchant's name on the check.) In addition, a bank may only give a $1.9875 BZD to $1 USD exchange rate, instead of the 2:1 given by merchants. Ask the bank for the exchange rate first.
(Note: The reason you shouldn't date traveler's checks and enter the name of the merchant is that Belize banks impose a 40-day clearance delay for traveler's checks deposited into local accounts. This means that if you enter the merchant's name on the check, the merchant will have to deposit the check in the bank and won't be able to access the funds for over a month.)
Atlantic Bank is the only bank on the Peninsula, although Belize Bank has an ATM in Placencia and has promised one in Seine Bight. Both Belize Bank and Atlantic Bank ATMS will accept international Mastercard and Visa credit or debit cards. Atlantic Bank is located in a large free-standing building just south of the water tower.
Credit Cards. More businesses accept Visa and MasterCard than American Express. Credit card advances can also be obtained from Atlantic Bank for a flat fee of $5.00 US per cash advances (Visa and MasterCard only - no American Express).
Remember, you also won't get a 2-1 exchange rate on any cash advance - you'll only get BZ$1.9875 to US$1, and possibly a currency conversion fee of 2-4%. The actual amount charged on your MasterCard or Visa for cash advances and purchases made in Belize will depend on your contract with the issuer of your card, so check your contract, or talk to your issuer to determine what your charges will be.
(Note: Not all issuers charge a conversion fee in addition to the 1% charged by Visa or MasterCard, so it might pay to shop around for a credit card with a fair foreign currency policy.)
Some local businesses still charge a 5% service charge on credit card purchases (some charge more, so ask). Also, check to make sure there's not minimum charge for purchasing with a credit or debit card.
Debit cards issued by MasterCard or Visa work just fine.
ATMs. Again, you'll be charged a service fee, and will get a $1.9875 BZD to $1 USD exchange rate (rather than the 2 to 1 you would get with cash).
Wire Transfers. Fees are fairly high, but wire transfers are credited much faster than they used to be (usually within 2 business days as opposed to 2 weeks a few years ago).
Cash and Checks. Bring a good supply of smaller U.S. denominations (5s, 10s, 20s). Funds drawn on foreign checks are usually held eight weeks before being released by Belize banks.
Other Currencies. As noted above, currencies other than Belize and US dollars are not accepted in Belize. (Make sure to purchase traveler's checks in US dollars.)
Language. English is the official language of Belize. However, Spanish is widely spoken as well. Creole is a patois of English, Portuguese, Mayan, African and other languages, and is the REAL official language of Belize. Other languages you may hear in travels around Belize include Garifuna, several Mayan dialects, German (Mennonites) and various Asian languages.
Transportation. Tropic Air and Maya Island Air both offer convenient daily regularly scheduled flights between the Placencia Peninsula and Belize International, Belize City Municipal, Punta Gorda, Dangriga, San Pedro and Caye Caulker. You can also arrange private ground transfers to Placencia, but ground transfers are more expensive than flying unless you have at least 4 people in your group.
Once you're in Placencia, taxis are easy to find, and fares are as follows:
- Within Placencia Village: BZ$6 for 1 person; $3 BZ/person for 2 or more
- Placencia Village to Turtle Inn or Los Porticos: BZ$12 BZ for 1 person; BZ$6/person for 2 or more
- Placencia Village to Airstrip: BZ$12 for 1 person; BZ$6/person for 2 or more
- Placencia Village to Rum Point area: BZ$14 for 1 person; BZ$7/person for 2 or more
- Placencia Village to Robert's Grove/Seine Bight: BZ$22 for 1-2 persons; BZ$8/person for 3 or more
- Placencia Village to Maya Beach: BZ$40 for 1-2 persons; BZ$15/person for 3 or more
- Placencia Village to The Placencia Hotel and Residences: BZ$50 for 1-3 persons; BZ$15/person for 4 or more
Within Placencia Village itself, restaurants, shops, banks and other services are all within walking distance. You will, however, need to take a taxi or rent a golf cart, bike or car to travel among Placencia, Seine Bight and Maya Beach. In Placencia Village, Captain Jak's offers rentals of all three, and Car Rental of Placencia is just north of the Placencia airstrip.
Water. Tap water is safe to drink in Independence, Mango Creek, Big Creek, Placencia and Seine Bight Villages (really). Bottled water is also readily available (if it makes you feel better). We suggest relying on bottled water in most other Belize destinations.
Food Markets. Placencia Village has several grocery stores including Nang Kee's near the Placencia dock, Everyday Discount Grocery near the old Scotia Bank building, Mings near the BTL building, Top Value on the road at the northern end of the Village across from Atlantic Bank and Uncle's across the road from the Blue Lagoon Apartments. In addition, Placencia has a few small "convenience" markets located in odd locations around the Village.
Seine Bight Village has two grocery stores. (The Peninsula is a large concrete store on the main road and is pretty well stocked). Maya Beach also has a reasonably well-stocked grocery store.
For fresh vegetables, look for the stands and trucks from Cayo, Orange Walk and sometimes Toledo on the main road near Wallen's. (Primary ones are Greg across from Tutti Fruitti and Clive across from Wallen's Hardware.) Also, Perez's Market on the main road across from MNM Hardware is usually well-stocked, especially with fruit.
Fish Co-op. The Co-op is at the Placencia Village dock and is supplied by local artisenal fishermen. If you want to purchase lobster or conch, please only buy from the Co-op. Illegal trapping and sale of under-size lobsters and conch are threatening the supply, and if you buy from someone on the street, you're usually buying an illegal lobster or conch (that the Co-op won't accept). Lobster season is closed from 15 February to 15 June of each year. Some resorts have received a special dispensation from the Belize government to serve lobster in the off-season. The lobster served is supposed to be lobster caught and frozen during the open season. However, this system is subject to abuse, and with lobster stocks declining, it's best to stick to conch and other seafood during the lobsters' closed season. (Think of it as a lobster honeymoon :->) Purchasing fish directly from the boats is ok, especially since the Co-op often does not have fresh fish.
Conch season is now closed 30 April through 30 September - the dates were recently changed to attempt to protect the dwindling stocks.
Also, don't forget to eat your share of lion fish - lion fish is an exotic species introduced into the southern Atlantic and Caribbean waters after a hurricane in Florida was destroyed and released lion fish into the wild Lion fish have virtually no predators in this part of the world, and they eat everything, threatening decimation of locall fish stocks unless kept under control. One way to keep lion fish under control is to eat them - and they're deliciious (try the lion fish fish and chips at Pickled Parrot on Fridays for lunch). Lion fish do take some skill to clean, though, because they have venomous spines - so buy fillets.
Shrimp. Shrimp purchased frozen in the grocery stores is farm-raised shrimp. Trawling has now been banned in Belize (the first country ever), so no fresh shrimp from the sea in Belize anymore, which is a good thing. (A Belize Coastal Zone Management report states that for each 1 pound of shrimp netted, 11 fish are caught and destroyed.)
Shrimp farms can quickly devastate coastal environments through destruction of mangroves, heavy sedimentation and pollution of area waters. The Belize government strongly supports shrimp farms in the Placencia area, and we understand that the farms are now employing more environmentally sound practices for disposing of sludge and dumping of pond water into the Lagoon. And, the water quality in the Lagoon and some of the rivers feeding into the Lagoon is improving. So, enjoy your shrimp while in Placencia, but please make sure you also eat sustainably produced shrimp at home.
Other Fresh Produce Sources. If you happen to be traveling from Dangriga on a Friday or Saturday, Dangriga has a fairly good farmer's market.
Bread and Pastries. John the Bakerman makes a good loaf of white bread. John's cinammon rolls are a Placencia Village tradition (after 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday). Greg, one of the vegetable vendors (usually across from Tutti Frutti Ice Cream on the main road) often has multigrain loaf bread from Cayo. Creole bread (about $2 BZD per round loaf) makes an outstanding sandwich (and is a fairly decent substitute for Italian bread for bruschetta). Many of the local women make pastries - look for people (often children) selling from large plastic boxes. Black Cake is a very dense cake made as a special treat at Christmas.
Street Food. Street food is common in Placencia, especially on the main road near MNM Hardware/MNM Service Station and the Hokey Pokey. Several people still sell tamales around the Village. However, be careful of the tamales - Belizans love chicken feet, and you may find them as an ingredient in chicken tamales. (Same goes for chicken soup - often includes chicken feet.)
I have also occasionally found dukunu being sold by street vendors (both savory and sweet dukunu). Buy some if you can - it's delicious, and no longer very common. And, if you run into anyone selling small coconut pies or fresh-roasted cashews - buy some! (Fresh cashews are also available in most grocery stores in Placencia now.)
Meat pies are a favorite for a quick and easy to carry breakfast as are the breakfast burritos sold at most of the street stands in Placencia Village.
Unusual Food (to try - - or not). Per above, tamales and chicken soup often include chicken feet. Cow's foot soup is a local favorite (and does include one or more cow feet) . Gibnut - well, some say it's a small rodent (rat?), other's say it's like a groundhog - supposed to be a vegetarian either way. (Actually gibut is very, very good - sort of like very good pork - hah, thought we were going to say chicken, didn't you?) Can sometimes be found on local menus, but we've heard that gibnut may soon be on the endangered list. Definitely try sere (boiled fish in coconut sauce), chimole (similar to a black gumbo), cassava bread, cassava and plantain chips, fried plantain, fish balls, fry jack, tamarind juice (supposed to be good for hangovers, plus a sexual stimulant - do we see a connection here?) - - and, of course, the national dish, red recado stewed chicken with beans and rice (or rice and beans -- and there IS a difference). Red recado gets its color from annatto seeds and is a seasoning mix made from flour and annatto, plus a variety of other herbs and spices. In the stores, it looks like a red sausage wrapped in plastic wrap or small pieces sold in bags. (Marie Sharps also now produces a liquid recado in a squeeze bottle.) You cook with it by mixing it into a paste with cider vinegar. Makes a good base for stewed chicken and barbecue bastes. If you have a kitchen and find some "Spanish Cream" (Nang Kee's near the dock often has it), try it as a thickener for sauces or seasoning for steamed vegetables (but don't use it as a sweet - it's a savory rather than sweet substance). Best we can figure, Spanish Cream is similar to creme fraiche.
Ice Cream. Tutti Frutti Ice Cream Shop, located near the basketball court on the Placencia Road, sells wonderful home-made fresh fruit Italian ice creams (the lime is amazingly good - and so is a combination of chocolate and lime, believe it or not).
Chocolate. Goss Chocolate is organic chocolate made on the Placencia Peninsula and is delicious and available in most local stores. Goss Chocolate is owned by Linn and Kerry Goss, who also formerly owned Blue Crab Beach Resort in Seine Bight. Their products include millk, white, dark and "special" chocolate bars. (The "specials" are made from rarer types of organic cacao.) The Gosses also make special treats for holidays such as Easter, Chrismas and Valentine's Day, including the most delicious chocolate truffles you've probably ever eaten.
Lyra Spang's Taste Belize Tours Shop on the main road near Ming's sells some very interesting locally made products including fudge made from Belizean organic chocolate - you never know what she'll have so stop in and find out!
Day-to-day food. Hamburgers are not particularly tasty - beef isn't great in Belize to begin with, the patty is often thin, and the bread usually overwhelms the meat. But if you crave a burger anyway, don't ask for a hamburger - you may be told the restaurant doesn't carry ham! Instead, ask for a beef burger. The best cheeseburger we've had lately is at Maya Beach Bistro.
If you order a salad, you may get slaw (which is really good). Belizean potato salad is awesome!
Placencia has good pork and chicken, and of course, the seafood is great. However, you can't usually buy seafood in the stores. Best bet is to meet the fishing boats when they come back to the dock in the evenings, or buy from the Fishermen's Co-op at the docks.
Belize produces a decent coffee (by Gallon Jug). However, be aware that some restaurants still use instant coffee. Above Grounds Coffee Shop near the dock imports shade grown free trade coffee from Guatemala and it's delicious.
Definitely try stew chicken - but look for a jar of onions and peppers that should be somewhere in the restaurant and add some to your stew chicken, beans and rice (or rice and beans) - adds a totally new dimension.
Liquor. Rumfish y Vino imports its own wine and has a retail outlet separate from the restaurant, which is located across from the soccer field near the Placencia Tourism Center. Also, Everyday, Nang Kee, Ming's and Top Value carry a fairly good selection of wines (US, Chilean, Italian, South African and Australian). (Note: customs duties mean wine in EXPENSIVE in Belize - a bottle of Gallo Turning Leaf Cabernet is about US$17.50.) Try the local blackberry wine mixed with club soda for a refreshing spritzer.
Beliken, the national beer of Belize (read "monopoly"), is ubiquitous (for a reason), but you'll also find Red Stripe and Heineken (made in the Caribbean), as well as Guiness, and Kabuli, a Caribbean import. Note that Caribbean Guiness is not Guiness as you probably know it. Also, Beliken makes several specialty beers - Chocolate Stout in late spring (around May) to honor Belize's organic cacao industry (and to coincide with Chocolate Fest in the Toledo District), Verano, a special summer beer and Sorrel Stout at Christmas time, which is absolutely the best beer made in Belize, bar none.
Personal dark rum favorite is One Barrel or it's more upscale cousins, Three Barrel and Five Barrel - reminds us of Barbancourt Rum -- sometimes - Five Barrel is hand made so the flavor can vary). When selecting rum, just remember, the cheaper the rum, the better it is as a varnish remover (the stuff in the unmarked bottles can remove varnish just by setting the bottle on a piece of furniture - no need to pour it out). Locally produced cashew and craboo wines are very sweet, almost liquerish - both are definitely acquired tastes. However, local blackberry wine makes a good spritzer when mixed with club soda.
Imported liquor is VERY expensive - especially Scotch and vodka.
Restaurants. In Placencia Village, the food is fresh and usually very good. Favorites in Placencia Village include (but are not limited to) The Galley, Wendy's, Merlene's, La Dolce Vita, Rumfish y Vino, D'Tatch, A&D's, and Secet Garden (Note: Many local restaurants are closed one day of the week. (Don't ask which one - I can never keep them straight.)
Outside the Village, try Maya Beach Bistro for very good, very creative meals. Mango's in Seine Bight is also good.
Special Note on Summer Restaurant Schedules: there aren't any. That's not entirely true, but almost. If few tourists are in town, be prepared to try several restaurants before finding one open. Definitely plan on eating lunch before 2 p.m., and try having dinner between 6-8 p.m. when restaurants are most likely to be open.
Drugs (Prescription and Otherwise). Definitely carry a good supply of prescription drugs - Wallen's Pharmacy is located above Wallen's Market and carries common antibiotics and other prescription medications, plus a good selection of over the counter medications. However, the Pharmacy may not have the prescription medication you need, so best to bring your own supply. Also, packing regularly used over-the-counter drugs is not a bad idea. Otherwise? The Belize government seems to be serious about cracking down on illegal drug use, and arrests have been occasionally made, although marijuana smoking is now a misdemenor - just be careful out there.
Sundries, Personal and Household Products. In addition to medications, Wallen's Pharmacy carries some cosmetics, skin creams, shampoos, reading glasses and other sundries, AND a good stock of sunscreen, insect repellant and pet supplies such as Frontline, Heartgard and worming medications. (Hurray!) Wallen's Hardware Storeis a source for not only hardware, but also plus such essential items such as corkscrews, decorative candles, coolers, dishes, pots and pans and shower curtains.
MNM Hardware on the main road near the basketball court also carries household items. You never know what you'll find at Everyday Discount, Nang Kee, Ming's and Top Value, so check the grocery stores if you don't find what you need at Wallen's or MNM.
Computer and Office Supplies. Placencia Office Supply across from Nang Kee's Grocery Store and near the Placencia dock carries a good variety of computer and office supplies, and provides printing, Internet access and other office services.
Healthcare. Local doctors are good for routine medical care and cuts and scrapes. But for serious medical care, you'll need to get back to the States (or at least to Guatemala or Mexico). Consult your doctor about malaria medication. You should be up-to-date on your tetanus shot when you visit - - and a Hepatitis A shot isn't a bad idea - for North America as well as the third world. AIDS is becoming a major health problem in Belize - especially in Belize City - carry protection. Bring your health insurance card and check to make sure your insurance covers health care outside your country of origin AND emergency medical transportation. (If it doesn't, definitely buy travel insurance that includes this coverage. Also be aware that even if you do have health insurance, you may be required to pay up front and then ask your insuror for reimbursement.) See our Healthcare page for more detailed information.
Safety. The Placencia Peninsula is not crime free. However, local crime almost always involves petty theft, not crimes against persons. Just don't be stupid and leave your wallet on a windowsill or your hotel room unlocked - or get involved in local romances or less than licit night-time transactions.
You'll find all kinds of people in Belize, as you wlil everywhere, and some of those you'll find are not saints. If you are the victim of a crime, ask the police about expedited procedures, and make sure a thorough police report is taken. GO TO THE POLICE STATION THE NEXT DAY AND GIVE A POLICE REPORT AND ASK FOR HELP FROM YOUR HOTEL.
Placencia has safe sandy beaches, with small tides and no dangerous undertows. However, there are no lifeguards. Also, at certain times of the year, you will see a few jellyfish (generally late April and early May). The clear ones are fairly harmless, the small brown ones can give an uncomfortable sting, but dousing with vinegar (or other acidic liquid) usually relieves any discomfort. During May, be careful swimming if you're allergic to bee stings because this may indicate an allergy to jellyfish larva which ordinarily causes a mild rash known locally as pica pica.
Portuguese Man O' Wars have been occasionally reported (mostly during the late fall and early winter months), but if they're around, you will have heard about it - and stay away from them whatever you do - those stings are seriously painful. Stingray stings are also possible. If you are stung by one, clean and then soak the affected area (usually around the ankle) in water as hot as you can stand for about 1.5 hours (keep adding hot water to keep it very hot). Then, see a doctor to make sure that no parts of the stingray barb or venom sack remain.
If you're diving, make sure you inspect the dive operator's gear and ask about safety procedures and equipment. Ask to see the tour guide, boat licenses and captain's licenses if you feel uncomfortable with any tour operation (or even if you don't feel uncomfortable). Generally, if someone's price for a tour is considerably lower than everyone else's, that should give you reason for pause. And, if most local folks tell you the weather is too bad for fishing, diving, snorkeling, or whatever --- BELIEVE THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!
Expenses. Belize is NOT Guatemala - in fact, Belize is probably the most expensive country in Central America. However, if you think of it as a Caribbean country, it's fairly inexpensive.
Litter. The trash you might find on the beach is usually brought in by the ocean, and the substantial majority of it does NOT originate locally. (The junk that is sometimes washed up on the shore is a good illustration of why everyone everywhere needs to be conscious of the trash they produce.)
Reef/Corals. Our reef and corals are already threatened by climate change and pollution. We're sure you don't want to contribute to coral reef destruction, so avoid buying coral products (including coral jewelry - even black coral jewelry), and standing, touching or anchoring on coral. Also, be careful with the use of your fins when snorkeling or diving. Sand stirred up by fins can cover corals and kill them.
Fishing. Please, catch and release only, for bonefish, tarpon and permit (it's now the law!!!!!!! Hurray!). At the most, keep only one snook (but please, put the young ones and the really big guys back). Also, artificials only for bonefish and permit - no live bait. And, definitely no spear fishing (except with Hawaiian slings). Jewfish (Goliath Grouper) are critically endangered, so release them!
Souvenirs. Conch shells can definitely NOT be taken out of the country without first obtaining a permit - which requires a trip to Belize City. Don't plan on taking a whole coconut into North American and European countries.
Haggling is generally not done at the local gift shops, but is somewhat expected by the street vendors. Don't haggle TOO hard, though. These people are not getting wealthy off their crafts.
Scams. Sometimes we think the customs department must confiscate the common sense of some visitors. Don't do anything here you wouldn't do at home - - such as:
- Loan money to strangers (if you do, you've almost certainly just given a gift)
- Loan money to acquaintances (or even newly made "friends") without proper documentation and security interest (otherwise, also probably a gift)
- Pay in advance for meals, food items, merchandise, delivery services, etc. (You will need to pay in advance for tours, so use a reputable tour operator.)
- Buy land without getting good and marketable title (yes, you DO need an attorney)
- Leave your doors/windows/vehicles unlocked
Tourism Information and Services. The Placencia Tourist Center is located on the main road across from the old Scotia Bank building. The Center is open Monday-Friday from 9 am to 12 PM and 1 PM to 5 pm, and provides the following services:
- Information on the Placencia area and local attractions
- Sale of local maps, music CDs, posters, travel guides and other useful stuff
- Distribution of the local monthly newspaper, the Placencia Breeze
- Transportation information (boat, bus and airline schedules)
- Information about special events
- Emergency assistance
- Lost and Found
- Taking of complaints (or kudos) about local services
Belize Time. As in many (most?) tropical countries, the concept of time is a little different than in North America. You'll be fine if you can slow down and expect service to take longer than you would ordinarily anticipate. Most Belizeans feel that they are on time for an appointment if they arrive within 30 to 45 minutes after the scheduled time. (However, we've been told that in Belize City these days, the only people to arrive on time for meetings are Belizeans. Apparently, gringos so often expressed their dissatisfaction with late starts, that Belizeans started arriving early, BUT at the same time, the gringos started arriving late. We definitely haven't yet encountered this problem in Placencia - EVERYBODY is ordinarily late.)
Shops that are supposed to open at a specific time often don't -- give yourself at least a half-hour after the scheduled opening time to save yourself some frustration. Planes and buses generally leave within 15-20 minutes of their scheduled departures, so you really should try to be on time in terms of transportation. Government offices are supposed to be open during the lunch hour, but we haven't yet found one that is.
Restaurant service is often the most frustrating for North Americans. Either get yourself a drink and relax, or go early for meals when the wait is liable to be the shortest.
Tour operators try to start all tours on time. However, local guides sometimes unexpectedly revert back to Belize Time (without advance notice to the tour operators), so give your guide a half-hour or so leeway before you start getting "cranky."