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Punta Gorda (PG) is a developing town away from the touristy resorts scattered throughout Belize. It was only about ten years ago that the Southern Highway literally paved the way for visitors to get here and tourism to develop. The month of May brings out the most visitors to their annual Chocolate Festival where you can celebrate one of the local crops; the cacao bean. The isolated waterfront town is also a great escape for those who want a slower way of life.
Getting here means flying into Belize City International Airport then you have the option of taking the 8 hour ride along the James Bus Line down the aforementioned highway for $14 BZD or $300 BZD on a small puddle jumper plane via Maya Air or Tropic Air. Once there, you can get around town via taxi, bus, or bike. There is basically one bus route that comes down the Southern Highway to the Central Park and back. Most residents bike and some homestay may have bikes rentals.
The majority of guest houses can be found in the waterfront area. Some families offer homestay. The internet is not the most up to date so it is best to ask around. Wherever you end up staying, don’t be surprise to be living with cockroaches, geckos, or scorpion. You are pretty close to nature and it is kind of unavoidable. Expect occasional power outages and hot water may be in limited supply. If that’s the case it may be wise to shower mid afternoon when it is hottest.
Currency & Communication
US travelers should have an easy time adjusting as English is the official language and currency is 1 USD to 2 BZD. There are two banks with ATMs in town but it is always good to have cash as credit cards are not usually accepted. Just about every place accepts USD and will give you change in local currency.
There is a BTE store in town for phone service, once you get a sim card you can reload it at most convenient stores or online. Many restaurants, hotels, and the BTE Store have Wi-Fi but it is slow. There is a post office in town for outgoing mail but don’t expect incoming mail as most places don’t have addresses.
Most people are friendly minus a few drunks and drug addicts. Don’t count on the police for much help as they are more interested issuing fine to make money. The bigger concern is protecting yourself from zika, dengue, and malaria. Consult your doctor for shots and medication before visiting. Healthcare is free and a hospital is available on the eastern side of town, near the cemetery, hopefully the proximity is not an indication of their service.
The weeks leading up to the 3 day Chocolate Festival you will hear and see it around town. Restaurants and stores will start selling Belikan’s seasonal brew of Chocolate Stout. It doesn’t taste much like chocolate but has the aroma. Restaurants will also start selling $60 BZD tickets to the evening party at Belcampo Lodge, which includes roundtrip bus ride to the resort from the Central Park and drink tickets. The local rum company also offered unlimited spiked frozen drinks during my visit. Horderves will be served as you wander around the campground sampling all kinds of chocolate while a Garifuna band performs live. If you can’t make it to that party, there is still a free after party during the day at the center of town where vendors would setup booths with all sorts of unique chocolate products like soap and tea. If you are not around during May, there is a still a small chocolate shop open year round that offer tastings and tours. You can also purchase cacao beans straight from the Toledo Cacao Association at a rate cheaper than most places.
Activities and Daytrips
Joe Taylor Creek runs through the northern side of town. Nearby is Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) and Garbutt’s Fishing Lodge, which offer activities and tours. Kayaking in the creek itself is one of the activities in town. You will paddle your way through mangroves while seeing crabs and hearing howler monkeys. While the water is calm, you can still get pretty wet climbing through tree as you get deep in the creek. The waterfalls at Rio Blanco is relatively close and inexpensive, there you can picnic and the adventurous type can also do some cliff jumping. For those interested in Mayan Ruins, there is Nim Li Punit a little further out. The next closest town is Placencia, which has a more resort town feel. It is a good jumping off point to the cayes and has some high end places like Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn resort along the way.
Food and Entertainment
Most restaurants have a homey atmosphere, with the exception of the fancy Belcampo Lodge. Some restaurants host events like Reggae Night at Gomier’s or cooking demonstrations at Walucos. There’s also a number of bars with karaoke, darts, or pool tables. My favorite hangout is the A Piece of Ground for its charming atmosphere and decor. The staple is usually beans and rice. Seafood and chicken is abundant, but good beef is hard to come by. Seafood alternates between conch and lobster season. A lobster plate can be had for less than a bag of imported Cheetos (shop for local alternatives like plantain chips if you don’t want to overpay). Eating lionfish is encouraged because it is an invasive specie. The water is not safe to drink so stick with canned or bottled beverages.
While Punta Gorda is small, it has a lot of potential and good people trying to make it a better place. If you are traveling near the southern end of Belize or the eastern shore of Guatemala especially in the month of May, it is worth checking out Punta Gorda before it become overrun with tourists.
About the Author:
Min Lee is an artist, photographer, and videographer. Min spent a few months as an artist-in-residence in Central America using art and photography as a means of promoting conservation. You can find Min tinkering in his Fuglee Studio or wandering the world in search of a meaningful way of putting his skills to use. Follow Min’s work at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or his website Fuglee Studio.
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