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This Backpack and Snorkel Travel Guide (Placencia Purple Guide) provides information about the best things to do in Placencia and ensures that you will be Making Memorable Moments on a relaxing vacation in Placencia.
We took the high-speed water taxi “Ocean Ferry Belize” from Ambergris Caye to Belize City and a taxi to Crystal Auto Rental Belize. With our rental car, we drove to Placencia.
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Crystal Auto Rental Belize has a small facility at the airport (in the parking lot next to the other car rental company offices) and a large one between the airport and Belize City (map). We chose Crystal as they are one of the few (if not the only) car rental company that allows their cars to be taken across the border into Guatemala which was important as we were going to Tikal in Guatemala later on.
Booking and payment was easy over the internet. When we arrived at their facility we were welcomed by friendly and smiling staff. They invited us to help ourselves from their Christmas buffet (cookies, cake, crackers and cheese).
Crystal asked us for our passports and drivers licenses and made copies that the Guatemalan authorities require. Then they gave us 2 stacks of paperwork – one stack for the Guatemalan authorities and one stack for us, with the receipt and a notarized certificate that states that we can take the car across the border. Crystal also provided us with a cell phone and cell phone car charger just in case we needed to contact them.
Our rental car was a 2 wheel drive Jeep Patriot and it was in perfect condition and very reliable during our trip. My advice is to spend a little more money and get a car with high clearance – you will be thankful for that considering all the speed bumps and potholes you will encounter in Belize and Guatemala. There are plenty of unpaved roads which Crystal (rightfully) does not allow you to drive on with a sedan.
We accidentally took the unpaved Coastal Highway and we would not have made it without our high clearance Jeep.
Returning the car afterwards was a matter of minutes. Thank you very much Crystal team!
Long story short: Crystal is a great car rental company and I can only recommend them.
What do you want to explore now?
You have two options to drive from Belize City to Placencia:
The shortest drive (Option 1) from Belize City is via the Western Highway, then the Coastal Highway, the Hummingbird Highway, the Southern Highway, and then Placencia Road. Unfortunately, the Coastal Highway is a compacted dirt road with large potholes and it can get very muddy when it rains.
With our high clearance Jeep, driving the Coastal Highway was not much of a problem, albeit it was a slow drive. If you drive a low clearance sedan then I suggest that you avoid the Coastal Highway - your rental car company may not allow you to take this highway anyway.
In this case, you will need to take Option 2, which is the paved Western Highway all the way to Belmopan and then change to the paved Hummingbird Highway and after Hope Creek you will then take the paved Southern Highway.
This route is 28 miles (45km) longer, but since you can drive faster, it will take about the same time.
Here are some photos from our drive via the rural Coastal Highway, which will bring you along a British military installation:
Our Belize & Tikal Travel Guide has detailed information about the individual destinations, links to their locations in google maps, reviews and websites (if available).
Please see the Backpack & Snorkel Travel Store for more information.
Placencia is one of the few places in Belize where you can swim off the beach without the need to wade through lots of sea grass. Its beach is made of soft sand and not compacted crushed sea shells and Placencia is a relaxed place which is more like Caye Caulker than busy Ambergris Caye. For those reasons, Placencia is a favorite beach destination for tourists and also a favorite place for expats from the US, Canada and Europe. What has kept the expat community small is the lack of sophisticated healthcare and only one doctor’s office in the city.
Placencia has one main road with several side streets. It is moderately busy during the day and traffic quiets down rather quickly after sunset. There is some nightlife in the touristy area at the southern tip of the city.
The eastern end of Placencia borders the Caribbean Sea and is a long beach which is perfect for sunbathing and, in many areas, for swimming. Snorkeling is not a good idea as the water is not clear enough.
The lagoon facing the Western side of Placencia has no beaches. Swimming here is dangerous, because of the occasional crocodiles. Kayaking here is possible and it is possible to spot occasional manatees.
Placencia has quite a few restaurants. If your hotel has a kitchenette and you are in the mood for cooking, then you can go to the Placencia Municipal Pier (map) in the later parts of the afternoon and buy freshly caught seafood directly from the fishing boats. Or, of course, you can join a fishing excursion where you can catch your own dinner.
Michelo Suites is a small hotel in the northern part of Placencia. It is owned by a Belgian expat who built it.
We stayed in room 4 (room with outside window and door frames painted in pink) for 4 nights. The room has a queen size bed, 2 tables, two garden chairs, 3 barstools, 1 couch, a wall shelf and an unenclosed small bar hangers to hang clothes with but no closet. The kitchenette, dining space and bedroom form one large room.
In the kitchenette are a fridge, microwave, toaster, coffee machine (no filters) and a sink, liquid dish soap, pots and a frying pan, dishes (plates and bowls), utensils for 4 people and a portable electric cook top with 2 heating elements.
There are 2 ceiling fans, one over the bed and one in the kitchenette.
The A/C is supplied with electricity only from 6pm-8am. The owner charges US$15 per day extra if you want to have the A/C running during the day.
No toilet paper is allowed to be thrown in the toilet and has to be disposed in the bin provided. The owner explained that the ground water level is only approx. 1.5 ft deep and therefore the plumbing has a very shallow angle and thus can clog easily. In case you are surprised by that, building codes in much of Central and South America only require narrow waste pipes that can clog up easily and therefore it is almost never recommended to throw toilet paper in the toilet. The other Belizean hotels we stayed in did not have this limitation, however. Maybe that was because these hotels were built with larger pipes having tourists in mind, or maybe the owners simply forgot to tell us.
The bathroom has a shower. Only complimentary soap is provided, no shampoo or conditioner.
The house has a small 3rd level sun deck with obstructed views of the ocean and bay. It is only a 3min walk to the east to a beautiful and uncrowded beach where you can swim. We almost had the beach to ourselves. If you walk south on the beach then you will come to a couple of restaurants. And if you walk all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula, then you will find even better swimming with clearer water (and more people) near the pier.
There is a supermarket about a 1min walk from the hotel. When you walk further south on Placencia Road then you will pass several more supermarkets, other stores and restaurants. It will take about 10-15min to reach the end of the road at the Placencia Municipal Pier.
During the day, you can hear noise from the street as the hotel is located on the only road in and out of Placencia – it is not a busy road, however. Traffic noise died down shortly after sunset.
The wifi signal in the room is weak and my iPhone lost the signal frequently whereas my Microsoft Surface kept the connection nicely. An excellent wifi signal is available near the office on the 2nd floor.
Long story short: This is a nice and affordable hotel in Placencia. It is in close proximity to the beach and if street noise during the day does not bother you, then this hotel may be for you.
Monkey River is one of Belize’s major rivers. It discharges into the Caribbean Sea in Monkey River Town and forms about 10 miles (16km) farther upstream at the confluence of the Bladen and Swasey rivers. Monkey River is navigable by small boat year-round and allows visitors to experience a nearly untouched ecosystem and lots of birds, occasional manatees, iguanas and howler monkeys.
We had booked our tour with Monkey River Eco Tours. Alfonso picked us and another customer up in his boat shortly after 8am at the M&M gas station in Placencia and then navigated to a hotel about 15min away where he picked up another family.
Then we were on our way to the Monkey River.
The first stop was his company’s office and restaurant which is located at the mouth of the Monkey river in Monkey River Town where we could use the restroom and order lunch. Then, a few minutes after 10am, it was off to the Monkey River.
It was a rainy day and it had rained quite a bit in the previous days. Luckily, after we left the office, the clouds started clearing and the sun finally burned through the clouds. Alfonso stopped many times and showed us different birds and iguanas. We also saw bats and a turtle. Alfonso was very knowledgeable and he also provided facts about different plants.
In total we saw maybe 10 different bird species. The majority had different shades of gray or was mostly white; one small bird was bright yellow.
When we arrived at the trail where we were supposed to see Howler monkeys, Alfonso got out of the boat and asked us to stay in the boat. That was the time to put on DEET as there were many mosquitos. The DEET helped and I did not get a single mosquito bite, the flies did, however, not seem to care about DEET at all and were a real nuisance. Alfonso returned after almost 30min and said that the trail was a mess with lots of water and mud and he did not see any Howler monkeys. He navigated the boat to a nearby area where other boats were docked and we went into the rainforest. The trail was very muddy and we only followed it for about 10min. Then Alfonso showed us a pair of Howler monkeys high up in a tree above us. He tried to call them, but they stayed silent and just watched us. Then we walked back and briefly stopped at a spider web where a spider was feeding; Alfonso explained that this was the second largest spider in Belize, only to be topped by the tarantula. We got back to the boat about 10min later and then left for the office where we arrived shortly after 11am.
Lunch was then served; I had a chicken with rice a plantain slice, cole slaw and a bottle of Belikin beer. My wife had the fish with the same side dishes and split peas and a Belikin bottle. Each dish with the beer was US$9.50. I liked the food and think that the price was appropriate.
Afterwards, we walked to the gift shop which is a 2min walk from the office/restaurant and had similar souvenirs but at significantly higher prices compared to what I have seen in Placencia. We left shortly after noon and stopped near the lighthouse to look for manatees. We were lucky to see 2 manatees when they came up to the surface to breathe. We then arrived back at the M&M at 1:20pm.
Long story short: We were not lucky as we only saw few different bird species and only two quiet Howler monkeys. But that is the way it is and certainly not Alfonso’s fault. I would have liked to see more of the Monkey River as the tour was advertised as a 6h tour, and we only toured for a bit over 5h. My wife and I have done similar river and wildlife viewing tours in different parts of the world and need to say that this tour was definitely on the expensive side for a 5h tour.