Submitted by Dr. Dianne L. Lawrence
Walking the colourful downtown streets of San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye, you will notice many signs. There are so many that the 1970’s song by Five Man Electrical Band comes to mind, ‘Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery…’ But these signs are not blocking the scenery; they are the scenery!
Yes, they are advertising signs for local businesses, restaurants, events and more. Some are humorous to enliven the message. One example is a cliché of a Rastafarian-looking toucan (a large-beaked bird) advertising for a gift shop. Another sign is of a funny monkey and the smelly durian fruit promoting the better aromas of a handmade soap business.
Other signs are quite clever, incorporating recognizable elements of Belize, like our flag displayed in the shape of a permit fish for a fly fishing business or the several fish shapes forming a tiburón (shark in Spanish) for a local lounge. San Pedro is well known for its fly fishing and the Meso-American Reef, making these signs iconic to both San Pedro and Belize. The building which houses the government protection agency offices and museum, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, displays a beautiful, hand-painted undersea mural.
Many of the signs of San Pedro are hand-painted by island artists. And indeed they are artists! Typically, they are commissioned to add the extra draw of aesthetic appeal. They develop a draft, and incorporate the business context and location into the finished advertising product. Sometimes the signs are painted on unique surfaces like a surf board for a local beach bar. Another artist created a 3-D effect with an exterior form of papier-mâché for an ocean-side night club. The effect is as impressive as the sculpted animal-head entrance for yet another night club.
In real estate, the phrase ‘location, location, location’ also holds importance for signage and sign space. But not all advertisers have space at their shop or office, including this magazine, My Beautiful Belize. Their hand-painted, artistic sign is featured prominently on a wall space around the RC Elementary School. They pay an annual rental fee to the school, which is used for the school’s educational activities, and it gives us the advertising exposure year-round.
Another type of artistic sign that may help you navigate our one-way streets is the street map on street corners, topped with colorful fish sculptures to guide you. These signs were created with technology by a local graphic design company. They too are unique to San Pedro.
Now, if you are looking for souvenir photos with some of our signs, the local trend is large individual letters spelling the name of the resort, business and even our town. Each letter sports a different colour and a subtle design like jaguar spots, fish scales, and coral patterns for example. Our Town Board commissions several of these souvenir signs for community events like New Year’s 2019 hosted in Central Park, and they become the ‘paradise pic’ that tourists send to family and friends while enjoying San Pedro.
So, enjoy your walks, read the signs and know they are a large part of our island culture, not just advertising.

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