A mecca for hard-core scuba divers and laid-back beach types, this tiny Central American country on the Caribbean has even more to offer—vast ancient ruins, stunning native crafts and a wealth of exotic flora and fauna—for those who venture off the beaten path
Author Joe Keohane Photography Al Argueta
DAY THREE | Robert’s Grove offers a full breakfast, but given that you’re going to spend most of the day swimming, you opt for coffee and toast at your table by the beach. It’s a simple meal elevated by the fact that, as you eat it, a pod of dolphins wheels by and pelicans scour the waves.
An hour later, you’re suited up and rocketing across the glassy turquoise water in one of the resort’s boats. Robert’s Grove provides snorkeling trips out to the Belize Barrier Reef—the second longest reef in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef—that are run from a private island resembling something out of a New Yorker cartoon: tiny, with a few palm trees, a barbecue pit and a couple of rudimentary restrooms in a raised wooden shack.
It takes about 50 minutes, skittering past a handful of other small islands, to get there. You hop out of the boat and wade through warm, shallow water to the island to strap on your gear. The next hour is spent exploring the nearby coral reefs, occasionally lighting out in pursuit of their many technicolor denizens, including reef sharks, angelfish and the mesmerizing trumpet fish. There’s a break for lunch, a traditional Belizean feast of barbecued pork and chicken with beans and rice. You make quick work of it— then promptly fall asleep on the sand.
The final leg of your snorkeling excursion takes you out into open water, where some bigger specimens are reputed to lurk. When your guide spots a turtle, you hurl yourself enthusiastically, if inelegantly, over the side and set out in pursuit. There are indeed three giant sea turtles gliding along down there. As you approach the awesome creatures, which are trailed by pilot fish, they seem mildly put out by your presence but also willing to endure it with a kind of tranquil forbearance.
Having returned to the resort, you take a quick shower and hop into the car to go back to Placencia. Close to the beach is the Placencia Sidewalk, which once held the Guinness World Record for narrowest main street on earth (it was knocked off by the unsightly Spreuerhofstrasse in Reutlingen, Germany). The slender walkway is lined with colorful homes, shops and bars, and you stroll the length of it, greeting friendly passersby and chatting with artisans hawking their wares.
Dinner is at Rumfish y Vino, an airy and very popular restaurant run by New York expats that reflects the cultural melting pot that is Belize, with Asian, European and Central American elements jockeying for prominence. You order the spiced plantain chips and a perfect conch ceviche as an appetizer, and choose Rumfish’s flawless take on barbecued pork, served with greens and polenta, for a main, washing it all down with good wine.
After dinner, you head to the end of the street and turn left. The pavement ends, yielding to sand, and you walk another 10 minutes in the dark along the shoreline until you reach Yoli’s, a laid-back, open-air bar overhanging the water. The music is good, a mix of classic and contemporary reggae, and the air is cooling, so you belly up and call for a Belikin as the place fills. Before long, one of the locals involves you in a game involving a brass ring suspended from a string. The aim is to swing the ring across the room and land it on a hook on the far post. You try, fail, try again. Patrons are timing it so they can dance across the room without getting hit. The woman asks if you want to make a wager. Sure, you say: one beer. She destroys you, but you don’t care. Go again? Why not—what’s the hurry?
Hemispheres editor in chief Joe Keohane never did get the hang of that game.