Sea Turtles And The Secret Beach Of San Pedro, Belize
The journey from Playa Del Carmen to the island of Ambergris Caye in Belize is a fairly simple one. We jump on one of Mexico’s premier bus services, the ADO bus, which takes us right to the border of Belize, to a ferry port in Chetumal. The views at the terminal alone are enough to take your breath away.
From the ferry port, we fill out our exit papers and pay a small exit fee of 336 pesos before jumping on a speedboat water taxi that will ferry us out to the English-speaking island. The town we are headed to is called San Pedro and aside from it’s neighbouring island, Caye Caulker, it’s one of the top destinations for backpackers in the country.
The sun is beating unbearably hard as we cross through the Belize customs centre and head along the sandy street towards Central Park, 13kg of backpack weighing each of us down. There’s no need for a taxi here as San Pedro has only three main streets running parallel to the sea either side. The main forms of transport are either a golf buggy, or a bicycle. It’s not long before we’re nearly taken out by a golf buggy as we gawp at the colourful wooden houses around us and follow the sounds of booming reggae music coming from the nearest beach.
We enter Central Park to find a festival taking place; hundreds of Belizean men and woman dance in the concrete square and the majority of them are covered in what looks like orange powder paint. Our hostel is sat directly opposite the festival, so we head in and dump our bags in a somewhat smelly dorm room, before heading back out to take in the atmosphere. It turns out, today is the celebration of independence for Belize and that is the reason for the commotion on the beachfront.
It’s amazing to watch. Children run barefoot along small wooden piers hovering above the calm blue sea, while adults stand in groups watching the singers performing and eating street food. Both Dave and I are already loving San Pedro, it’s Caribbean vibe completely unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been.
Stingrays, sharks and sea turtles -oh my!
The following day, after a walk around the island in thirty degree heat, we book onto an afternoon snorkelling trip with a company called Searious Adventures (pun intended). In a small group of just seven we’re taken by speedboat out to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, for an hour of exploring the coral reefs and the sea life that lives below. I, for one, am not disappointed. For years it’s been my dream to swim with a sea turtle and right at the end of the first snorkel stop, as I’m beginning to give up, there it is – a huge sea turtle gliding along no more than one meter below us. We follow the turtle for a minute, but as it surfaces for air we lose it. I don’t mind though, I’ve swum with a sea turtle at last!
Our second snorkel stop is at a place called Shark Ray Alley. This one I am not so excited about. As the name suggests, this is where we’ll be swimming with stingrays and nurse sharks. It takes me a couple of minutes to build up the courage to get in the water, especially when we see the sharks noses jumping above the surface, eager to get some of the fish being thrown towards them from another boat skipper. I do it though. I cling on to Dave’s arm the entire time, but I do it. We see a couple of sharks swimming below us, one definitely twice the size of me (and I’m 5″11), but the water’s murky and the fish have run out so the sharks quickly disappear from view.
It’s been a brilliant tour and we dock back on the island as the sun is setting and spend our evening cooking dinner in the hostel kitchen, while chatting with an Israeli girl we’ve befriended from our dorm room.
The never-ending journey to the secret beach
The following day is just as swelteringly hot so we decide renting bikes from our hostel is the only way we can achieve exploring the island. We’re told by the hostel owner that there’s a beach at the most northern point of San Pedro, “It’s about an hour’s ride,” she tells us. It is not an hour’s ride. After at least and hour and a half cycling partially flooded dirt tracks through marshland we agree we’re completely lost, despite having a map given to us at the hostel. Neither of us has the energy to keep going, so we head back to a bar we passed along the way, for a well deserved beer.
The bar is called Palapas and it’s been recommended to us by a couple of people we’ve met so far. Palapas is a double-storey wooden building on the end of a pier, that has inner tubes in the water which customers can float in, whilst being passed alcohol down in a bucket. What more could you want? Dave and I grab our first beers, put our things on the side of the pier and settle ourselves into an inner tube each. Not long later, we’re joined by another young English couple from London and we spend the afternoon chatting in the sun, requesting beers be lowered down every now and then to keep us going.
Before we know it the sun is nearly setting. Our new friends tell us they have a golf buggy and suggest finding the secret beach that Dave and I failed to find earlier in the day. So, we all hop on the cart and head back out to the flooded paths of marshland, stopping only once at a tiny shack to pick up a beer each. With Dave and I navigating and the power of a golf cart we finally find the secret beach of San Pedro! And I can tell you that it is one hundred percent worth the effort. There are just three other people to be seen when we pull up by the water’s edge. This is the view:
Amazing, right? Now imagine being in the water with an ice cold beer and not another human person to be seen for miles, while the pink sun goes down. That is how incredible the moment was. It was over quickly mind you. One of the other three at the beach, a local guy, informed us crocodiles actually came out of the woods after dark to swim in the water and so we made a swift exit before it was completely dark.
That evening, after another hostel-cooked dinner and much-needed shower, we met up with our London friends at the nearby Hurricane Bar and spent the evening being taught tricks by the barman and our friends. We now have some brilliant party tricks to share!
Overall, San Pedro has been brilliant, if not a little too expensive. We’re running on a tight budget and although our original plan was to remain in Belize and head south to Placencia next, we decide to go straight to Guatemala the next day as it’s considerably cheaper and more fitting with our backpacker budget. See my next blog for the lowdown on our time spent in Guatemala!