Never before having ventured to the southern borders of Belize, my decision to visit Punta Gorda (PG), the southernmost town of Belize, was one that came with eager anticipation. I can recall as a child, many of the stories that were told of the South and I must say, not many of them were nice. So, as an adult, I decided to discover it for myself.
Getting to PG from San Pedro, the capital town of the Toledo District, would be fastest by plane, however for the budget traveller, an overnight stay in Belize City with an early morning (3:15AM) express bus gets you there just around 9:30AM. Of course buses do travel south throughout the day, but the earliest express leaves at that time. The Southern Highway provides for just about the most beautiful scenic landscapes in the country, what with the towering Maya Mountains and winding highways through valleys and towns. However, during my trip, a lengthy nap was much more appealing, especially taking into consideration the fact that on an average 8AM is considered very early for me! At 2:45AM I could barely keep my eyes open to get onto the bus, but I was determined.
I awoke just as we approached the “Welcome to Punta Gorda” sign, which interestingly enough, was shaped like the Belize dollar coin. Anticipation heightened as I left the bus in to this ‘unchartered territory’, not knowing what awaited me. Would my stay be pleasant? Would the locals be nice? (Childhood stories swarmed my head yet again!) Questions, questions…so many questions.
To my advantage, I did have a friend that lives just outside of town that was waiting for me. After a quick drive around town, I got to see the main streets. There weren’t many, just like San Pedro, so I felt quite at home already! By then, it was around 10AM and I noticed there was much commotion on the streets so I put on my exploring hat and took to the streets.
Almost immediately, the kindness of the people became apparent. A good morning here, and a hello there – it was a pleasant, unexpected courtesy. The beach lover that I am, I made my way down to the sea shore. I wasn’t expecting much, for I had been informed beforehand not to. In PG, there isn’t a beach per se; the water is a dark color. I would assume this is owed to the fact that a large number of rivers empty into that portion of the sea. As I stare out into the horizon, I don’t see the white crest of waves crashing against the Barrier Reef like I’m used to seeing in San Pedro.
Beach stroll done, I hit the streets again. It was Saturday morning, which meant Market Day in PG. Market days are Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. About three blocks of the front street was lined with vendors. Most everything could be bought; from arts and crafts, Maya artifacts, locally grown crops such as sweet potatoes, cassava, cocoa, plantains, corn, callaloo and quite a number of veggies that I had no idea what they were. There is even a meat mart – where when in season, you’d find conch, lobster and shrimp, and there’s always fish. For an extra buck or two, your fresh fish can be cleaned and scaled for you. Fresh butchered pork and beef can also be bought at the market, ready for that day’s lunch.
Feeling a little hungry from your travels? There is a variety of food vendors that you can choose from, preparing local food. My first choice would usually be the tamales, but since I had decided to open up to new experiences, I decided to try something that I can only get in PG. The Dahl Roti, an East Indian food was within my sights. I had no idea what it was, but I soon discovered that it was like a burrito made with split peas. Mm, delicious!
I decided to venture mid-town after my snack, and when I happened upon the towering town clock at the intersection, I knew I was at the Town Square. Here there were a variety of clothing vendors and even more food vendors. Okay, so it’s settled; on market days in PG, you can find whatever you need in a five block area. If what you’re looking for isn’t readily available, the townspeople are willing to give suggestions and show you the way to finding it.
PG offers all types of accommodations. For the budget traveler there’s the Charlton’s Inn; Frontier Inn and St. Charles Inn to name a few, with the Sea Front Inn at a moderate rate. For a bigger budget, there’s Belcampo (formerly Machaca Hill), Beya Suites, Coral House Inn, Hickatee Cottages, Cotton Tree Lodge or the Lodge at Big Falls. All these resorts are in close proximity to the town and offer the cool ambience of the jungle as well. I lucked out with a friend’s couch – which meant I got the full PG experience on a total budget!
Is there any nightlife to be had in PG? Well my investigations quickly revealed that as a matter of fact, there is. And any of the locals would be more than happy to volunteer that in PG, the place to be on weekend nights is the Embassy Nightclub. Located in the sleepy village of Forest Home, the nightclub is just about a ten minutes’ drive from town. In town, MJ’s bar is a local favorite of Karaoke lovers, while the PG Sports Bar is the choice where you can go get your boogie till “mawnin”. Looking for food, dancing and the chance to test out your vocal cords? – Beyonce’s Bar and Grill in nearby Elridgeville would be your choice.
Not all of us that travel do so with the ultimate goal to party with the locals. So for those seeking the sights and exploring, PG is an excellent venue. With a combination of cultures including the Garifuna, Mestizo, Kekchi Maya, Creole, East Indian and Mopan Maya – the melting pot is alive and well in PG. A few miles from town and one can travel back to the time of the Mayas as you visit one of the many archaeological sites in PG. Lubaantun, Nim Li Punit, Uxbenka and Pusilha are located in the Toledo district. All can be reached from Punta Gorda town for a convenient day trip. Lubaantun (near San Pedro Colombia) and Nim Li Punit (near Indian Creek) are the most visited. In Pusilha (at Jalacte, near the border with Guatemala) excavations are currently ongoing.
In abundance in the Toledo District as well are waterfalls. A trip to the San Antonio Water Falls provides the opportunity to venture through the East Indian communities of Jacintovill or Mafridi, which has the largest East Indian population. On the way, there is the old rice mill which still produces rice to this day and the Columbia Quarry – a towering mount producing much of the sand for construction in the south (and who knows where else). Other popular tourist destinations that the locals brag of include the river tours along the Golden Stream, Rio Grande, Moho River, Sarstoon and Temash rivers. The offshore Snake Cayes, Moho Cayes, the Port of Honduras Marine Reserve and the Sapodilla Cayes are said to be very popular destinations for some of the best snorkeling and diving trips or for a beach Bar-B-Q. These are just some sites and adventures that I can remember off the top of my head – my trip was a dizzying, wonderful experience chock-full of fun and exploration!
With so much to do in PG, one trip alone is certainly not enough to experience it all. And for that reason, I’m already planning my next trip. Maybe I’ll include a stay at one of the nicer resorts down there and tell you guys all about it!