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Placencia, Belize: Get Here Before Everybody Else Does

Robin Pfeifer

Known as the “caye you can drive to,” Placencia Village is located on Belize’s Placencia Peninsula at the end of Placencia Road. See how easy they make it? That’s the embodiment of how life operates here. Why over-complicate matters when things can be quite simple?

Peninsula life combines the laid-back attitude of island life with the conveniences and lower price tags associated with living on the mainland. Getting around is best achieved on foot, on bike, or, if you’re in a hurry, a golf cart. My husband and I have visited Placencia twice during the “high season,” yet, there were no crowds to contend with. There were no waits at even the most popular restaurants. There was no competition for lounge chairs or a place to lay our towels on the sand.

Placencia is finding its way onto an increasing number of best of lists for its white sand beaches and clear blue Caribbean water. The friendly locals, comforting food, and a laid-back vibe make you feel at home. While waterfalls, big cats, rowdy monkeys, and fast-moving spiders remind you that you are far from it. While its star may be on the rise, Placencia maintains its status as a charming village with plenty of hidden gems left to discover. Here are my tips for traveling to and around Placencia.

Are You a Placencia Person?

Courtesy of Luke Daniel Photo

Placencia offers more of a polished environment for tourists compared to the nearby villages of Seine Bight and Hopkins. But nothing is fancy, formal, nor precisely on-time. Belize is still a developing nation, and some of the utilities we take for granted like WiFi and electricity are very expensive and considered a luxury. Gas costs over $6 per gallon, so a lot of people hitchhike or pile into the back of pickup trucks. Dogs roam freely in and out of open-air restaurants. Some of the best food is served out of the worst-looking shacks.

If you’re the kind of person who loves the beach, but prefers to hide from the local culture, Placencia is not for you. If you’re cool with your fancy shoes being a pair of flip flops and having only sporadic access to the internet, welcome to paradise.

Navigate Your Own Way

Courtesy of Robin Pfeifer

Many major US airports have direct flights into Belize City — you can even take Southwest there. From Belize City, you can choose to rent a car and drive four hours south or take a 45-minute flight via Maya Air into Placencia. Both options cost roughly the same amount.

Having a car is a convenient way to take self-guided excursions and explore more of the country. We were expecting chaos, but instead, found driving conditions to be rather painless. The biggest issue we encountered was navigating the persistent pedestrian ramps that appear out of nowhere. These raised mounds spanning the width of the road are known locally as “sleeping policemen.” Some are so tall, you’re forced to slow to a crawl to get over them or risk losing your exhaust pipe. On the flip side, locals will sometimes stand near these ramps and sell delicious pineapple, orange juice, and coconut water to passers-by.

Pack Lightly, But Wisely

Courtesy of Robin Pfeifer

Placencia is exceedingly casual. Cut-off denim shorts, a white linen button down, The Sidestroke swimsuit, and a pair Nisolo Huaraches is an appropriate look for everything from the beach to dinner. A few additional necessities include reef-safe sunscreen, a sun shirt, and a hat. Unprotected skin will burn quickly and ruthlessly. Don’t waste your trip being a human warning sign to others.

A close second to sun protection is bug repellent. Sand fleas are tiny crustaceans that jump onto your legs, bite your skin and cause you to itch from the knees down. And they happen to live on the beaches of Placencia. Also, Botlass flies reside in the nearby jungle of the Cockscomb Basin. These tiny black flies leave an angry red welt with every bite. A little preparation will prevent a lot of itching later on.

Eat Your Heart Out

Courtesy of Robin Pfeifer

This small village has a large variety of dining options, thanks to the eclectic mix of local and expat cultures. Sip a smoothie in a treehouse at Above Grounds Coffee. Join the locals at Mim’s for a plate of stewed chicken, coconut rice and beans for around $5. The Barefoot Bar’s lobster grilled cheese sandwich is beyond decadent and the Pickled Parrot’s “daily special” is the best deal in town. But the one thing you need to eat, preferably everyday, is the Ferraro Rocher gelato from Tutti Frutti Gelateria.

Go Have an Adventure

Courtesy of Robin Pfeifer

Despite the many charms of peninsula life, restless souls will find it necessary to venture onto the mainland once in a while in search of adventure.

The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Preserve is located about an hour away in Maya Centre. Better known as the Jaguar Sanctuary, visitors are free to hike on any of the trails in search of the elusive cats. The closest most people get is spotting a paw print or two in the mud. Hike the Tiger Fern Trail to a double waterfall and cool off in the clear blue water of its upper pool.

Courtesy of Luke Daniel Photo

Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef is a must-do for anyone without a mustache. It’s the second largest reef system in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Swim with nurse sharks, turtles, spotted eagle rays, barracuda, jellyfish, and if you’re really lucky, whale sharks. Book a day trip to Silk Caye Marine Preserve through Go Sea Tours located near the pier in Placencia.

Courtesy of Robin Pfeifer

Those interested in cultural and culinary exploration will love experiencing the latticework of Mestizo, Maya, Creole, Garifuna, and Mennonite communities surrounding Placencia. Locals have a go-slow attitude and genuinely enjoy meeting new people. They will force you to step outside of your day-to-day cultural norms and embrace more intimate interactions with strangers. Ultimately, this will be the reason you come back to Belize.