The last time I was on the Coastal Highway was in 1999. We rented an Isuzu Trooper in Belize City and planned a family road trip to Placencia. Although warned that the so-called “highway” was in rough shape, as a hardy group from Wyoming where four-wheeling is a way of life, we figured, NO PROBLEM, it’s only 36 miles! We could have taken the Hummingbird Highway through the Cayo District instead, which is a longer route, but we were up for an adventure! It will be fun, we said!
So off we went, connecting to the Coastal Highway at La Democracia via the George Price Highway, some 30 miles from Belize City. We discovered that “highway” left room for interpretation. Choked in thick clouds of red-clay dust, dodging potholes, and enduring teeth-rattling washboard surfaces, the six-hour drive was a challenge, and we were happy to intersect with the Hummingbird Highway in Hope Creek. I don’t remember much about the surrounding terrain as our attention was focused on the road, and of course, we took the Hummingbird Highway on our way back.
Fast forward two decades. With tourism growth in southern Belize and Placencia being a key destination, the demand for better access to the route, which shortens the course from Belize City to Dangriga by 29 miles, grew. A massive highway renovation began in early 2020. Six new bridges, four additional bridges reconstructed, roundabouts, generous shoulders, and thirty-plus miles of road paved with asphalt later, the Government of Belize inaugurated the renewed Coastal Plain Highway on July 6, 2023.
So here I was, 24 years later, behind the wheel of a rented car and ready to navigate the new and improved road. I was excited for many reasons. I usually drive a golf cart on Ambergris Caye, so piloting a bonafide vehicle is a novelty. I was eager to experience the new highway and check out the scenery.
One would believe that vistas of the sea and shorelines would explain the name of this southern route, and I thought I would miss the gorgeous landscapes you travel through on the Hummingbird Highway when you connect to it in Cayo. Always the owner of a confused name, at least the Coastal Plain Highways is now a legitimate highway in every sense of the word, sans the coastal views.
As you traverse the length of this highway, verdant hilltops, and lush scenery expand before you. The road is a dream to drive. Village names and mile markers are painted banners over covered bus stops, and vendors sell seasonal fruits along the way. Lucky for us, that would be mangoes! Signs alerting drivers about Tapir, Deer, and Jaguar crossings add to the exotic route, and we imagine these striking creatures emerging from the heavy jungle along the way.
The new Coastal Plains Highway is a game-changer for tourists and locals traveling to the southern coast of Belize. Instead of the four-hour route via the Hummingbird Highway, travelers from Belize City can save more than an hour by using this new highway. Driving adventures are a great way to see the country at your own pace, and there is no lack of dramatic landscapes, colorful villages, and scenic panoramas, just remember to keep your eye on the road and watch out for the wildlife!