A Guide to Outdoorsy Travel in Belize

Oh, Belize. When the Belize Tourism Board reached out about the opportunity to do a sponsored trip to the Placencia peninsula (ps: this post is sponsored, all thoughts are my own, especially about how good the huevos rancheros are at Turtle Inn), I was stoked. Not only was it a trip to Central America, on the coast, to go playing in the sea–they specifically mentioned environmentalism and sustainability in our first call about the trip. I was clueless to the country’s environmental work, but as I soon as I started digging in, I was in. Did you know Belize is working to eliminate single use plastic across the country?

But I digress. Y’all had a lot of questions about where I stayed, what I did, what recommendations I have, etc. Let’s dive in:

Where we stayed

Let’s talk about the Turtle Inn. Aside from being the most magical place I’ve ever stayed, it was also the most sustainable–but let’s back it up. The Turtle Inn is a property owned by Francis Ford Coppolla (yes, the Godfather fimmaker) with over two dozen stand-alone thatched cottages sitting right on the water. There’s no AC on the entire property to conserve energy–which is supplemented by a near constant ocean breeze, nary a scrap of single use plastic in our cottage, and the Turtle Inn grows some of its own food in a beautiful organic garden on-site. Shampoo + conditioner are kept in little wooden jars that get refilled every morning. Even the trash can has paper lining instead of a bag. Watermelon juice is served with a metal straw. The towels are made from bamboo. I wish every hotel I stayed in was on this level, wow.

Turtle Inn in Belize

I felt like I was on my honeymoon–and many other guests were. Fresh hibiscus flowers arranged by our doorstep every morning, a private outdoor shower, nightly serenades from birds, everything warm and salty and heavenly. If you can afford it, I highly recommend the Turtle Inn. Even grouchy Brody was feeling the tropical vacation vibes, especially after he got to feed bananas to the resident turtles.

What we ate

To be honest, we ate most of our meals at the Turtle Inn. Y’all know I’m a proud vegetarian, but when I’m by the sea, I make an exception for sustainable seafood. When I read on the menu that the Turtle Inn only uses hand/line caught fish (no nets) and skin patch tests every single fish to make sure it’s not endangered, I instantly started craving snapper. And my golly, that snapper was divine over a bed of arugula and veggies grown in the organic garden.

I ate this huevos rancheros every single morning.

Belizean eats involve a lot of fresh fruit like pineapple, papaya, watermelon, mango and coconut. My favorite though is the local staple: beans and rice cooked in coconut milk + potato salad + fried plantain. It reminded me a bit of Cuban food.

We also ate at Rumfish y Vino one night in town, but my favorite eats of the trip were the tiny pupusa stand at the end of the Placencia Village pedestrian-only main street. One of my favorite ways to experience a new place is through their street food, and those pupusas were gooey, crispy, spicy perfection.

How we adventured

I’m pretty sure that wherever you end up in Belize, you will be met with an abundance of opportunities to get outside and do something rad. With only 5 days in the country, I felt like we barely even scratched the surface of adventure.

We started off with a visit to the finish/starting lines for the BTB Love Belize Sea Kayak Challenge, a six-day kayak race that spans across 190 miles of Belize coast. Our first day in town, we rode bikes down to the peninsula’s end to watch sunburnt teams finish a long day of paddling through choppy waves. We returned to the pier the next morning at 6:00 AM to watch their send off, which was postponed by brutal weather, but the change in race plans hardly seemed to phase many of the teams who honestly just seemed so stoked to be out there exploring Belize by sea. PS: Dear wild kayaking friends, Belize wants more international paddlers to come do the race and I can confirm that it seems to be exactly the balance of heck-yeah adventure and mild sufferfest that we all love!

Our own sea kayaking plans got likewise cancelled for the day due to weather, so we just hopped in a car and headed out to explore a bit more in-land. We ended up floating down a river in fat inner-tubes, hiking and swimming in waterfalls. Oh, and did I mention that my parents decided to crash my trip to Belize for their 40th wedding anniversary and ended up staying 15 minutes down the road from us? Typical Boué.

The next day, we loaded up on a boat for the activity I was most looking forward to: snorkeling on the barrier reef. We headed out to Laughing Bird National Park, where I learned a ton about the reef’s history and the impacts climate change are having (and what we can do about it) before diving into the warmest, clearest water. Check out the signage for some answers on many of the questions I got about reef health, invasive species, climate change and more:

It should surprise absolutely no one that I came home with a major sunburn on my backside after being captivated for hours by sting rays, schools of metallic fish, electric purple sea fans, bulbous coral, fat sea cucumbers, lobster sheds and a giant jellyfish.

Here’s a peek into the (recent) history of Belize’s reef health and powerful comeback story, as originally seen on this Instagram post:

In 1996, UNESCO designated the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System a World Heritage Site—but in 2009, the reef was put on the “danger” list because its health was so imperiled.

And unlike so many issues of the health of this planet, Belize didn’t sit idle. The country took action—and y’all know how much I love a problem that is met with solutions.

Belize became the first country in the world to put a moratorium on all offshore oil exploration and drilling. They tripled the size of their marine no-take protected areas (including where this photo was taken). Currently, the country is working on an effort to ban single-use plastic.

There is still much work to be done, but in 2018, UNESCO removed the Belize Barrier Reef’s designation as a World Heritage site in “danger.” In less than a decade, this small country was able to rally and correct course, and enact impactful solutions.

Swimming with sting rays, silvery schools of fish, electric purple sea fans, fat jellyfish and bulbous heaps of vibrant coral—my experience at the reef reignited my hope that we can take this model of action worldwide and save our planet. And golly, does a dose of hope feel good, even with this epic sunburn on my butt.

Anyways, back to the adventures. The next morning, after soothing my rear end with a lot of aloe, Brody and I piled into a van to head out to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Fun fact: it’s the first jaguar sanctuary in the entire world! We didn’t spot any, but our guide knew every plant, bug, and bird on our hike. He entertained me geeking out so hard on all the little creatures flitting about on the forest floor–and he took us to a sweet waterfall to swim in after our hot hike.

Five days in Belize simply wasn’t enough, I could have stayed for weeks–but alas, it was time to get home to Spaghetti. I’ll leave you with a few tips for how to make the most out of a trip to Belize, and how to do it thoughtfully + sustainably:

  • Step one: buy reef-safe sunscreen. Coral reefs are so delicate, and reef-safe sunscreen is the first step we can take to visiting them respectfully.
  • Speaking of reefs: do not touch, step on, or take any piece of the reef. This is the epitome of ‘leave no trace’ – take nothing, leave nothing, touch nothing.
  • Learn about the Indigenous and local communities. The people in Belize are hospitable and friendly–ask ’em about the human element of this country. You likely already know a little bit about the Mayan people, but do you know about the Garifuna culture? In 1635, a ship carrying enslaved Africans sank off the coast in the Caribbean. The survivors of the wreck were welcomed by the local indigenous population and intermarried to form the culture now known as the Garifuna.
  • Hire Mayan guides! The indigenous community in Belize is ready and stoked to show you their land and share their knowledge about this place and its history. Ask questions, be curious, tip well.
  • Pick up some trash while you’re beach-combing. Did you think you’d survive a blog post without me encouraging you to leave a place better than you found it?

Got tips or questions about traveling to Belize? Leave ’em in the comments! And thank you again to the Belize Tourism Board for making this trip happen.

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