Many tour operators have their offices in shacks clustered in the village or by the main dock area in town, just past the gas station; most are subcontracted by the hotels that offer tours to their guests. If you’re going it on your own, ask around and know that prices are often based on a minimum number of passengers, usually four. Prices vary little, but it’s definitely worth comparing. Monkey River day trips, for example, range US$60-75 pp, depending on whether lunch is included and the size of the boat. Half-day snorkel trips are about US$35- 75 pp, depending on group size. Most tours require that you sign up the day before; reef tours typically leave around 9am, and inland tours around 7am.
I highly recommend Splash Dive (tel. 501/523-3080 or cell 501/610-0235) for inland trips, snorkel and dive tours to the cayes, or whale shark experiences. Their guides and drivers are professional and very friendly, and no request is ever too much for owner Patty Ramirez, who loves to meet travelers and is absolutely top-notch— she goes above and beyond to make sure you’re taken care of and happy.
Nite Wind (tel. 501/503-3487 or cell 501/660-6333, email@example.com) is reliable for tours, as is Seahorse Dive Shop (tel. 501/523-3166). Locally owned Ocean Motion (tel. 501/523- 3363) gets great reviews and offers snorkeling and fishing tours to Ranguana and Silk Cayes (US$70 pp, lunch and equipment included; US$325 per boat for fishing 11-19 miles offshore). Hubert and Karen Young’s Joy Tours (tel. 501/523- 3325 or cell 501/601-0273, Monkey River US$63 pp, Laughingbird Caye snorkel US$75 pp) is across from Tim’s Chinese restaurant. Clint, the son of the proprietress of Lydia’s Guesthouse, operates Pelican Tours (tel. 501/634-8476 or 501/630-2795, firstname.lastname@example.org); he’ll take you to the reef or Monkey River (US$65 pp).
Placencia Village offers a long uninterrupted stretch of thick golden sand, good for walks, jogs, and dips. The beach is public, so you can feel free to spread your towel anywhere, as long as it’s unoccupied by a resort’s lounge chairs. The water isn’t perfect Caribbean turquoise- clear, but it’s clear enough and refreshing. Popular stretches are just across from Tipsy Tuna, ideal for grabbing lunch, some sun, and even some beach volleyball.
The prettiest beaches I have seen on the peninsula are in the Maya Beach area. You can pick any of the restaurants in that area—Robert’s Grove, for instance—to lunch and swim off the beach for the day. A great unpretentious spot to chill for the day with a cocktail is the Maya Breeze Inn’s beach bar; just bring a towel and your own snacks.
Diving and Snorkeling
Although the beach is usually fine for swimming and lounging, you won’t see much with a mask and snorkel except sand, sea grass, a few fish, and other bathers. A short boat ride, however, will bring you to the barrier reef and the kind of underwater viewing you can write home about. Snorkel gear is available for rent (US$5 per day) everywhere, and trips to the cayes and reefs cost around US$50 per half-day, depending on the distance.
There are a handful dive shops with comparable prices, and you can either let your hotel arrange everything or do it yourself. The three well-known ones include, for starters, Splash Dive Center (tel. 501/523-3080 or cell 501/610-0235, 2-tank dive US$120, snorkeling US$90 pp, lunch included) with two locations: an appointment and tour booking office across from Scotiabank (while they await completion of the new marina and Fishermen’s Coop, after which they plan to return to their original location) and a top-notch Dive Center on the north end, across from Chabil Mar. The Dive Center is where Splash’s fleet of six boats, including a brand-new 46-foot Newton, are docked, and from where trips depart. Splash has the most professional operation I’ve seen in Belize, from the way they handle their gear to the attention they pay to their customers, first-timers or experienced. They take care of everything, from pickups to fittings to food. Owner Patty Ramirez—named a Sea Hero in 2012 by Scuba Diving magazine for her dive center’s contributions to community building and marine environmental awareness—left a banking career 13 years ago to pursue her passion. Along with her partner, Ralph, they’re a classic example of a passion turned into a success story. Splash also offers inland tours across Stann Creek and Belize.
Avadon Divers (tel. 501/503-3377, U.S. tel. 888/509-5617) is another safe operation run by a brother-and-sister team with many years of experience. Call or check with your hotel for a trip schedule. Seahorse Dive Shop (near the town dock, tel. 501/523-3166, whale shark dive US$185 pp, 2-tank local reef dive US$110 pp), is highly recommended for whale shark tours. Farther north from the village, you’ll find a couple of other serious dive operations linked to their respective resorts, with professional shops at Robert’s Grove Beach Resort and Turtle Inn.
Placencia has always been a fishing town for its sustenance, but with the advent of tourism, it has gained a worldwide reputation for sportfishing. Deepwater possibilities include wahoo, sailfish, marlin, kingfish, and dolphin fish; fly-fishing can hook you a grand slam—bonefish, tarpon, permit, and snook (all catch-and-release). Fortunately, serious angling means serious local guides, several of whom (like the Godfrey brothers, Earl and Kurt) have been featured on ESPN and in multiple fishing magazines. Hire Earl at Trip’N Travel Southern Guides Fly Fishing and Saltwater Adventures (Placencia Office Supply Bldg., tel. 501/523-3205, email@example.com). Most tour operators listed in this chapter offer fishing trips, and a few specialize in them, like Kingfisher’s Tarpon Caye Lodge (tel. 501/523-3323, 3- or 4-night all-inclusive fishing trip US$2,160 pp), boasting decades of experience. Charlie Leslie Sr., owner and head guide, has a stellar reputation and will take you to a variety of spots, from inshore places that include nearby flats to Tarpon Caye and the remote Ycacos area. Also ask about their island cabanas for rent. Check www.placencia.com for more options.
Kayaking and Paddleboarding
An unforgettable and underrated way to explore the near-shore cayes, mangroves, creeks, and rivers is by paddle. Plastic open kayaks are available to guests at most resorts, and many tour operators and dive shops have some for rent as well. Located behind the peninsula, the Placencia Lagoon is home to birds, saltwater crocodiles, manatees, and mangroves. While it’s easily explored solo by kayak, I recommend going with a guide if you’re not an experienced kayaker, in case of a surprise croc encounter. Avadon Divers (tel. 501/503-3377, U.S. tel. 888/509-5617) offers guided trips (US$100 pp, half day) and rentals for self-guided exploration (US$45-60 single and double kayaks).
Stand-up paddleboarding classes are available with the energetic Tony from BelizeFit (tel. 501/631-7427, firstname.lastname@example.org, hours vary, call ahead, private lessons US$25 per hour, board rental US$12.50 per hour). Tony offers morning beach workouts (US$10) and intro lessons. There’s also an on-site gym. When I stopped by one morning, he had a group of eight folks tossing exercise balls on the beach—fun stuff!
Boating and Sailing
Opportunities abound for day trips, sunset cruises, snorkel voyages, and sail charters, all ideal for floating around the gorgeous southern cayes. Expensive, high-end The Moorings (tel. 501/523-3351, U.S. tel. 800/535-7289, US$500-1,700, minimum 3-day rental) has a dock for multiple catamaran adventures on their beautiful 40- to 46-foot cats, based on the lagoon side north of the airstrip and just across from Laru Beya Resort. Bring your own crew or charter one with a crew and all the bells and whistles for a weeklong sail. Belize Sailing Charters (tel. 501/523-3138) has bareboat and crewed yacht charters. Just across from town, Placencia Yacht Club (tel. 501/523-3500 or 501/653-0569) is on Placencia Caye, featuring the Tranquilo Restaurant and Bar. The über-exclusive membership-based Tradewinds Cruise Club has headquarters here, in case you were wondering, on the lagoon side across from Sunset Pointe Condominiums. They’ll pick you up from across the lagoon if you wave. Their 50-feet luxury cats will have you gawking.
Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Belize.