The black out curtains threw off my sense of time and I missed the sunrise. There’s nothing I love more than sunshine gently waking me as it slowly warms my body letting me know the day has begun. The Park Place Belize Hotel was still retired for the night with not a living soul around. The restaurant doesn’t open until lunchtime, leaving a quiet as the breeze of the ocean greets you on it’s back steps. There is a dirt road between the hotels and the beach allowing pedestrians and golf carts to get around.
Walking the entire stretch down beyond the main square, I was surprised how many restaurants were not open yet. There were a few tourists chilling on their balcony’s drinking coffee but otherwise it was a very quiet peaceful walk. Having circled the area to check out options and see what the ‘main town’ portion of Ambergris had to offer, I headed back to where the hotel had recommended for breakfast. I’m not typically a fan of following verbal recommendations, especially from hotels in small communities that are likely referring me to their friends, but with most places not yet open, the options were limited.
There was only one couple in the Melt café when I entered. The floor was a lovely wood plank much like an outdoor patio and it was open to the ocean and it’s breeze. The breakfast menu was pretty standard, what you’d expect from a tourist spot. I chose the fried egg, bacon, and potatoes. Yes very American, but alas. The food was decent, not great, but adequate. There’s something quite lovely about a quiet breakfast when the place is almost all yours under the backdrop of the ocean, palm trees, and bright sunshine. Life is good.
Not having seen a whole lot in the city that was a draw, the reviews online suggested it was worth the trek to Secret Beach. It seemed far too long for a bike ride, though with the right person I could see it being a nice romantic way to see the island in a slow casual way. The other options were golf cart or taxi. Though I was a bit uncertain given how far out it was how a taxi could be found for the way back. Which left golf cart as the option. Most the golf carts on the island will rent for a few hours or by the day. The daily rate seemed to fluctuate with demand, for this period it was $55 USD/day with a one time fee of $30 USD for a full tank of gas (which seemed excessive so I negotiated down to 1/2 tank at $15 USD).
With the golf cart, almost all portions of the island were now available. A sense of freedom of exploration was quite exciting. Some of the roads in town are one way and most have stop signs at intersections. It seemed a little more than half the drivers were foreigners which meant there was little communication or signals between drivers. It reminded me a bit of tourists in New York that randomly stopped, turned, and were completely unpredictable in their lack of conscientiousness to their impact on the flow of movement. Being an avid bicyclist, I happily used the signals to communicate with the few locals on the road, when in Rome right.
Getting out of the main tourist hub, the bridge guard charged all tourist golf carts $2.50 USD to cross, each way. The hotels were a bit larger north of the bridge and there were certainly some worth visiting restaurants. The road to secret beach veered toward the West away from the beach and providing a view of the river, which looked a bit like the Florida everglades. Continuing further until the hotels and restaurants were much further apart, the road began to degrade significantly. The joy of dirt roads in wet climates. It’s clear rains had done a number on the road and the bumps were intense bringing the golf carts to a pace where the bicycles were passing.
After the section of intense bumps, which lasted probably 5 or so minutes, the road smoothed out again. It took a 90 degree turn to the direct West and the road became like a bridge between the everglade looking surroundings. There was not another golf cart in sight. The realization that my Google Fi had no connectivity whatsoever and a flat tire or running out of gas could result in a very long walk back, I had to wonder if crocodiles existed in this everglade looking place. Though there was nothing I could do to mitigate the risks, but accept them and move forward. It’s times like these when I think how lovely it would be to travel with a strong capable protective minded person, where risk mitigation and resolution wasn’t all on my shoulders. One day…
The completely desolate road heading directly West eventually turned directly South and then directly West again. Periodically a random house would appear, though unclear how habited it was. Passing the second juncture other golf carts got into sight and it started to look more promising this was indeed the path to Secret Beach. The entire route took probably 45 minutes or so. Upon arrival, there was a plot of sand off to the left where it appeared people were leaving their golf carts, so why not. It wasn’t structured in any way, meaning as people free form came in if it got busy, it is very possible your golf cart could be stuck behind others and trying to find the owners off in the ocean or drunk at the dock might not be fun. Thank goodness it was not that packed.
There was a food truck like contraption near the parking area that wasn’t making me want to stop. Moving along was a covered dock with chairs and people snorkeling. On shore was a small bar with a semi covered awning and some upright chairs. It was definitely chill and had more of that dive bar / pub like feel to it. Also not really the vibe that felt right. Heading further down the path was a stretch of beautiful clear water and a beach shaded perfectly by palm trees, lovely beach chairs with padding and a fun bar with charismatic bar tenders. This was my kind of place. The beach chairs were $2.50 USD per hour, which beat sitting on the sand.
The water was tepid, taking a bit of time to get used too. Though it was crystal clear and lacking in seaweed. The sand was warm and a beautiful light brown. The beach was filled with foreigners, most with American accents. Up at the bar, I enjoyed practicing my broken Spanish with the bartenders. I think they found it as much fun as I did. They were charismatic and charming and really gave the whole place a fun, free vibe that says – this is vacation. In addition to cocktails, they also had a small menu of things to eat.
There’s nothing like eating lunch on the beach. I think that has to be one of my favorite things about a beach vacation. Well that and the sunrises… oh and the sunsets… well and just listening to the ocean… oh and feeling the sand in your toes… I guess I just really love beach vacations. The tacos were absolutely delicious. Fresh ingredients and made with care. Having struggled to find good non-greasy food in Belize, this was a lovely surprise.
As the afternoon sun started to make it’s way closer to meeting the ocean, it was time to go. The thought of driving back on the practically empty road at night not knowing anything about golf cart maintenance if an issue were to arise and having zero ability to make a phone call it was time to head back. With a good solid 4-5 hours on the beach, it was an absolutely perfect day, this beach is definitely a must visit for anyone’s list. It is not a secret by any stretch, but it is still quite beautiful.
Breaking up the ride back, about the halfway mark is a place called Stella’s that sits right on the river with a perfect sunset viewing spot. They have a small covered dock and a lawn like area with trees and grass, both with chairs. It has a classy feel, not pretentious, but comfortably nice. The menu was small and appeared to change regularly. The wine list was the best seen so far, though don’t expect to see many California wines by the glass. The only one I found they were out of, so I ended up with a rose. A gorgeous view and the perfect way to end a day on the water.
Back at the hotel it was time to clean up from the lovely day at the beach and check out Lonely Planet’s recommendations for dinner. Having the golf cart allowed any of the options to be on the list, which was quite cool. One of the highest rated was called Hidden Treasure. I guess today was all about secrets and hidden goodies! Figuring the street signs at night likely would not be of help, I tried to memorize the landmarks for when to turn and thank goodness I did because otherwise there may have been some wrong turns or going passed it. The restaurant is off the beaten path tucked into a neighborhood area just south of the main tourist area.
When you first pull up a small local eatery is on the left. At first I thought, that can’t be it but maybe it is. The street looked empty and dark ahead. Though walking a little further, off to the right opened into something from the Swiss Family Robinson. A romantic setting of palm trees and white Christmas lights covering an open air barn with vines and curtains. This place was incredible. A live keyboard player sang songs the entire night from a variety of different genres, up to today’s top 40. He was great and his range was impressive. My favorite part was when I was singing along to All Of Me and he missed some of the words leaving both of us laughing so hard.
The food menu reminded me of back home, exquisite dishes with creative flavor combinations and elegant presentations. The wine list had options with plenty of my favorite varietals. The place was filled with Americans… I guess our palettes are similar… either that or most tourists here are from America given the super close proximity. Nonetheless, it was an incredible restaurant. Even if the food hadn’t been so delightful, the ambiance and atmosphere of the place nestled into a local community was just fantastic.
What an amazing day, though it was time to go to bed as tomorrow would be another day on the island! Yes!