The quaint village offers Caribbean flavor and more services than cruisers might expect
The quaint village offers Caribbean flavor and more services than cruisers might expect
For cruisers in the Western Caribbean going north to Mexico and the United States, or heading the opposite way to Guatemala, Honduras and points south, a very logical and popular stop is at Placencia, Belize. The nearby Port of Big Creek is becoming more and more of a choice to either check in or check out of the country.
Big Creek is a commercial port just west of Placencia. This is a port for large ships so the channel is deep and well-marked with red and green buoys. You must bring your boat to the port for either checking in or out. The Customs official will not clear you if you try to simply dinghy over. We found it’s a good idea to call Belize Port Control on Ch. 16 to find out if there will be any ship traffic as you enter or leave. The river is at least 20 feet deep, but it is also very narrow.
Travel up the river and drop anchor just beyond the commercial docks past a series of white floating buoys in about 8 to 10 feet of water. Anchoring beyond the buoys will put you out of the way of any ships or commercial vessels. Do not tie up to the commercial docks or you’ll be charged for docking as if you were a commercial ship. You can dinghy in past the commercial seawall to a small wooden dock with a roof and tie up for clearance.
At this point you may very well be met by Elvis. OK, not that Elvis. But this Elvis has been working here at Big Creek for many years. He operates all of the heavy equipment at the port, but most importantly to the cruisers, he is a cab driver and his cab is almost always available. If he is unloading or loading a ship you might have to wait a bit.
Your first stop needs to be Immigration, and that is where the cab will come in handy. It is at least a couple of miles away and hard to find, so sharing a ride with fellow cruisers can save some money. As of Dec. 1, 2005, the fare was $25 (Belize) round trip with $1 (U.S.) equal to 2 Belize dollars.
Our immigration charges were $25 (Belize) for two passports. After returning to the port, the next stop is customs, which is right outside the front gate for the port. Paperwork is quick and easy, and if it is not a holiday or overtime hours there is no charge.
Next you’ll need to go to Health and Agriculture, which has offices directly across the street from customs. Their process is also quick and easy and their charge is also $25 (Belize).
After that, the Health and Agriculture inspector and Customs inspector will come to your boat for an inspection. They are looking for the usual things plus contaminated fruits, vegetables and meats that might be harmful to the agriculture and poultry in Belize. Small amounts for personal consumption are OK. You will need to ferry them back and forth in your dinghy. Remember that this port is primarily to receive large ships.
After the clear-in process is completed the move to Placencia is a short trip. Once you’re clear of the last set of channel markers coming out of the river you can turn Northeast to the anchorage easily seen just off the village.
There are no marinas here. We usually anchor just west of the small cay, also called Placencia, in about 20 feet of water. This gives good protection from the north to the east. If a swell works in from the south it will get a little rolly no matter where you anchor.
Placencia, or Placentia as it is also spelled, has undergone quite a change over the last several years. This was originally a small fishing village with just a dirt road and a few amenities.
It has since become quite a tourist destination with many resorts, guesthouses, restaurants and endless opportunities to snorkel, fish, dive or trek in to the mountains. Resorts both large and small are nearby with some still under construction — by film director Francis Ford Coppola.
Eco-tourism is the word we hear over and over again and the Europeans have definitely discovered the area. Most small hotels and guesthouses are full of what are affectionately known as “backpackers” — young folks who travel the country visiting out-of-the-way places with all of their belongings in their backpacks.
Many of the guesthouses and restaurants can be found along the “sidewalk.” This is just what you think — a continuous sidewalk that extends from the waterfront near the Fisherman’s Co-op to the north end of town. It parallels the white sand beach lined with palm trees as it meanders past quaint homes and commercial establishments. The amazing thing about this particular sidewalk is that it took the local residents 30 years to complete. Different dates and names can be found embedded in the cement all along its length.
The sidewalk is connected to the main road by many footpaths and short dirt roads. There are many hidden treasures along these footpaths, like John the Baker Man. Each morning the line forms for his breads and cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. You must look closely for the signs directing you to his bakery.
Tips on food and fuel
As cruisers we are always interested in the ability to replenish provisions and other necessities. There are two small grocery stores on Main Street. They can provide almost anything that might be needed. Good supplies of frozen meats are always on hand, along with plenty of canned goods, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products on the shelves. Fresh vegetables arrive every couple of days and, in addition to the grocery stores, there is at least one fresh vegetable stand with excellent products just next to the smaller of the two groceries. Fresh seafood as well as ice by the pound can be purchased at the Fisherman’s Co-op just off the waterfront, but you must bring your own bag for the ice.
There is a fuel dock at the end of Main Street where you can also land your dinghy. As with any fuel docks in the Caribbean we suggest that you take an empty, well-marked 5-gallon container and ask them to put five gallons only in it. We have been very surprised at the results many times, but it helps us determine the “actual” cost we will be paying for fuel and has helped us determine in some cases whether we might want to fuel up elsewhere.
The gate at the fuel dock is locked after 6 p.m., so if you will be later be sure and tie up on the inside of the gate at the dock. We know of no security problems here with dinghies but we usually lock the dinghy to the dock no matter where we go.
If you nail down any cruiser that has been to Placencia before as to why they come back time after time, you will time after time get two reasons. One is the Tuttifrutti Ice Cream shop and the other is Skip and Magda’s Smoothie Shak. Skip is a transplant from Los Angeles looking for a simpler life and Magda is from Honduras, but has lived in Placencia for 20 years. Their colorful shop makes great iced smoothies using only fresh fruits and you can find flavors from mango to seaweed. (Don’t knock it until you try it.) They also serve fresh vegetarian, chicken and fish lunch dishes. You won’t find any red meat on their menu.
The other delicacy in Placencia is Tisiana’s Italian homemade gelato ice cream at Tuttifrutti. Tisiana is truly Italian and the recipe has been in her family for generations. The flavors sometimes change, but never the quality. She also serves fantastic shakes and sundaes made with flavors of your choosing. If you hang around long enough you will notice some people coming back several times a day.
There are many restaurants in town serving all types of food. With names like the Purple Space Monkey, the Pickled Parrot, Yoli’s and De’tach, the atmosphere and cuisine is quite diverse. We always ask around town where the locals tend to eat and get a pretty good idea who has the best menu and prices. You can dine right on the beach or find a place with Caribbean flavor. Some of the restaurants now offer Internet service with your meals and one is free if you are eating there. Placencia even has a Wendy’s (not the fast food chain), which serves a great breakfast and lunch and dinner with a down island flavor. Fresh seafood and local dishes are found on most menus, as well as some more familiar items.
Fun in the sun
Eating and provisioning are not the only reasons to stop here. Each year the village puts on a number of annual events that should not be missed.
Each February for the last three years the village has put on a Side Walk Arts Festival. The festival has been so successful that artists from all over the world, as well as some wonderful local artists, come to show off their latest creations. Paintings, sculptures, jewelry and just about anything you might be interested in is on display.
In June the tourism center sponsors a Lobster Fest that is now in its eighth year, and well-known to cruisers that come to the western Caribbean on a regular basis. Seafood and entertainment are the order of the day and the celebration goes on for the entire weekend.
The annual Placencia Fishermen’s Day Saltwater Fishing Tournament is also held in June. The tournament covers fishing for Kingfish, Barracuda, Wahoo, Dorado, Tuna, Rockfish and Mutton Snapper. Prizes run from $750 to $1,000 for certain categories. Most folks come down for the fishing and the fun, and not necessarily the prize money. This year will be the seventh year and the number of entries gets larger and larger every year.
A new festival held for the first time this year is the Jambalaya Carnival Parade. Street vendors, music, dancing, entertainment and, of course, the parade made this first year such a success that planning is already in the works for next year.
Each Halloween a big celebration is put on for all of the local children; everyone is welcome. It is designed to give the kids a fun evening and all proceeds go toward the local humane society. This is a major source of their funding. The adults seem to have as much fun as the children.
The Annual Mistletoe Ball is held each December. Everyone dresses in their most formal wear and celebrates the beginnings of the Christmas season. Music and dancing along with contests make this a favorite for the folks all around the village as well as all visitors.
Celebrations are also planned for national holidays with parades, music, dancing and a whole lot of fun. Add to that the wonderful snorkeling and diving on the reefs and outer atolls and the great year-round fishing and Placencia is truly an undiscovered jewel in Belize. There seems to be something going on almost any month here. More details for dates, times and events can be found at www.placencia.com and also www.placenciabreeze.com. Information can also be found by doing a search for Destination Belize.
We have found this a wonderful place to stop and relax and highly recommend it to cruisers coming this way. We also know in doing that we take the chance on spoiling a great location but we felt the need to share Placencia with all of you. If you see a very pretty traditional ketch with red stripes and a white hull in the anchorage, stop by and see if it is Sea Trek. I suspect we will be here again and again.
Chuck Baier and Susan Landry are a cruising couple from Marathon, Fla. They sailed out of U.S. waters aboard their 40-foot ketch, Sea Trek, bound for ports in Guatemala, the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize, and eventually through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Ocean. Their dispatches from Internet cafes along the way appear in Soundings.