For virgin traveller, ease into Belize
The water taxi revved its outboard motors, spitting the scent of gasoline into the tropical air, and then took off, headed from Belize City to San Pedro Town on Ambergris Caye, 55 kilometres away. On-board, airplane-weary tourists, commuting locals, boxes destined for island businesses — and my wife and I with our luggage — crowded on wooden benches for the hour-plus trip.
Once the boat took off, we quickly lost sight of the on-board chaos and instead became absorbed in the tranquil view.
To call the waters of the Caribbean turquoise is to sell them short. There is an underpinning of deep ultramarine, topped by intricate cerulean waves shimmering across the surface. When the sun casts a certain light, the water seems lit from below and downright otherworldly.
That’s what I’d come for: to dive into a whole other world.
When I landed last winter in Belize, I was a 56-year-old virgin traveller. I had never been outside the continental United States — or my own travel comfort zone. It’s not that I fear planes or other modes of travel. I simply prefer to vacation in places I have been before, where I know what to expect — places I consider emotionally safe. And I bet I’m not alone.
My wife has no such hesitation. After she pushed and cajoled and showed me pictures of tropical beaches, I finally agreed to vacate the country for one week. All it took was a few clicks of her mouse and our vacation was set for Belize, a country in our time zone and where English is the official language — but, still, a world away. And so we had taken the first step in what, to me anyway, was a huge adventure.
See also: 15 beautiful Belize vacation photos
On Ambergris Caye, the water taxi docked in front of the Conch Shell Inn, right where we were staying, so we quickly checked in, unpacked and then headed out for a walk.
That’s when the culture shock set in.
Some of the dining options on the island were housed in colourful but dilapidated shacks no larger than a garden shed. Everywhere we walked, locals wanted to sell us handicrafts. A humble general store was called “Caye Mart,” in a cheeky nod to the American chain. Bicycles and golf carts zoomed along the pothole-pocked roads. We were two among many wandering tourists; Ambergris Caye is a popular vacation spot because of its proximity to Mayan ruins, a vibrant coral reef that parallels the island, and its sunshine and charm.