From a few miles out, Cucumber Beach is very apparent with its red-and-white roofs, which stand in stark contrast to miles and miles of nothing but mangrove trees. The marina entrance coordinates had been provided to us by Carlos and we rolled up the jib about a half-mile from the waypoint. A jetty running diagonally to shore has been built at the marina entrance to reduce the amount of surge that is allowed to enter. We were guided in on VHF channel 68 to our slip, having cleared ahead of time which side we would be tied to and had fenders and dock lines ready. Smiling, friendly dockhands were on hand to assist us, and within minutes we were secure.
Now that the critical issues were resolved, we could move on to the more mundane concerns of laundry and groceries. With only one washer and one dryer, laundry took a while, but it was a short walk from the boat. Shopping was another issue with town being five miles away.
We happened to strike up a conversation with a Canadian woman whose cousin lives in Belize, and had lent her a car to use during her stay. I was able to hitch a ride to the store with her and top off Sea Trek’s stores with items from the Save-U and the wonderful produce markets directly across the street. We found local meats and produce to be fairly reasonably priced and of good quality. U.S. products could also be purchased, but for substantially more than at home.
The entire complex is owned and operated by Francis Cisco. A nicer and friendlier proprietor you will not find. He personally greets all boaters and is very open to suggestions. We should also mention that we found the food at Sibun Bite reasonably priced and delicious. Free wireless Internet is available in the marina and restaurant.
We got weathered in Cucumber Beach with very strong trades so decided to go inland. If your cruising kitty is well-stocked, you can hire a private taxi to take you virtually anywhere in the country, even to neighboring Guatemala to Tikal. (It’s closer from here than from the Rio Dulce.) The Belize Zoo is only 20 miles away from the marina and is an inexpensive, fun-filled day. With limited funds, we braved the country’s bus system and rode to San Ignacio. It was hot and crowded and lots of water is recommended. We had the small ruins of Cahal Pech, a Mayan city, to ourselves one bright morning. Hotels and restaurants are plentiful and reasonably priced. We spent three great days in this rustic small town that is loaded with tourist attractions.
The next night we had chosen Coco Plum Cay near the Tobacco Cay reef pass. Although a beautiful little cay, broken up into three after numerous storms, the holding was terrible and we spent two hours trying to get either a CQR or Danforth to hold. The bottom was just too hard and grassy for anything to penetrate so we let out the 45-pound anchor and 150 feet of chain to hold us in place. We prayed for no squalls overnight and fortunately there were none.
Ordinarily we would have moved to a better anchorage, but the afternoon was wearing on and we didn’t want to get stuck in reef-strewn waters in the dark.
Placencia is an interesting town at the end of a very long road. (See accompanying story, Page 11.) We cleared out of Belize in Big Creek, just south of Placencia. Chuck and the captain of the other boat dinghied the three or so miles there from the anchorage in Placencia. (It’s only three miles by water, but 45 miles by road.) They were chastised for not bringing the big boats to Big Creek as well as fined an additional $20 by the customs official. Live and learn.
A catamaran anchored in the little bay was occupied by an American couple looking to buy property in the cove and spend their retirement here. We found this to be true in many places in Belize and Guatemala.
Like much of Belize, this area is now designated as part of a park system. On our second morning there we were hailed on VHF 16 by the Port of Honduras. Two gentlemen in a panga approached our stern and advised us that we would need to pay $10 (U.S.) per day per person for our stay there. Chuck politely discussed this with them. We could not understand why this would be part of the park as it was mainland area and not reefs, and there were no moorings or services.
They couldn’t have been more courteous and accepted payment for one day instead of two. They told Chuck that some people refuse to come out of their boats to speak to them and others don’t let them touch their boats to hang on to talk.
Belize is a wonderful, beautiful country with friendly people. However, one should note before traveling through Belize by boat that much of the country, mainland and cays, is part of the park system and as such is subject to a per-person charge to anchor. Tropicat, a cruising boat out of San Francisco, reported to us in December 2005 that at Lighthouse Reef the charge is $30 (U.S.) per person per day.
For those of us on tight budgets these costs can become prohibitive so, unfortunately, we did not see as much of Belize as we would have liked. Hopefully, the government there will reconsider some of these charges and the effect they might have on future tourism.