Unlike the tourist-ridden cayes in northern and central Belize, Punta Gorda is a great off-the-beaten-path option. Located in the Toledo District, which is the rural and remote southernmost region of Belize, it is rich with cultural diversity and history and its sustainable travel and eco-tourism industries are on the rise. Travelers interested in a laid-back, relaxing Caribbean destination might find that Punta Gorda (or PG as the locals call it) is just the place.
Getting to Punta Gorda
If you’re already in Belize, there are a couple of different options to get to Punta Gorda. Old American school buses are the most popular and affordable mode of transportation. Several bus lines offer a bus from Belize City to Punta Gorda several times a day for less than $30 BZD. They are low-cost, but crowded, often with three or more to a seat and some standing in the aisle.
Get to the terminal early to ensure yourself a spot on the bus! A conductor will collect fares while the bus is moving, tickets are not sold before hand. Regular buses will stop for passengers along the road at any point between destinations and Express buses stop only in larger towns. Keep this in mind, because it makes a difference in the arrival time, which could be upwards of 7 hours between Belize City and Punta Gorda.
The other, much faster and less crowded (but much more expensive) option is to shell out for a domestic flight with Tropic Air or Maya Island Air. You’ll cruise over the beautiful Belizean coastline in a plane that only fits up to 11 passengers, and in little over an hour you’ll be on the ground in Punta Gorda. A round-trip flight could cost you $250-$300. The views from these small planes are unBelizable! (Sorry – I couldn’t resist)
Tips for Tourists in Punta Gorda
1. Belize is so affordable! The exchange rate is $2 BZD per $1 USD. In US currency, most restaurant meals cost $5-$10, bottles of Belikin (the local beer) were $2 each, and souvenirs ranged from $1 for bottles of local hot sauce to $20 for a hammock.
2. It won’t be long before you befriend plenty of chatty locals, expats, students, and volunteers from all around the world. Everyone you meet will be friendly!
3. Visit during the week of Garifuna Settlement Day, held annually on November 19, if it fits well with your schedule. It’s a national holiday observing the settlement of the Garifuna people in Belize. Stores close for the day, no one works, and everyone gathers in the town center to play games, dance, and celebrate. Other local festivals are scheduled around this day as well.
4. If you decide to fly domestically out of Belize City, know which airport you’re flying from – the municipal or the international. Making this simple mistake could cost you time, extra cab fare, or additional airline fees. TRUST ME.
5. Be prepared for the climate of Belize. It’s warm and humid every day, and the rainy season gets longer each year. Helpful things to pack include a small travel towel (to wipe sweat from your brow every five minutes), a light and breathable rain coat, and waterproof boots/shoes.
Things to do in Punta Gorda
1. Make sure you visit at least one Maya ruin. Close to Punta Gorda, right off the Southern Highway in the Maya village of Indian Creek, is Nim Li Punit. After paying a small entrance fee, you can tour this site on your own. Catch a bus there and back to PG for $5 BZD each way.
2. Rent or borrow a bike to get around town. Some guest houses offer bikes to guests, but be careful riding at night because many streets are unpaved and riddled with potholes. Some deep enough to swallow bike tires whole!
3. Go kayaking through mangroves. The folks at Garbutt’s Fishing Lodge are super friendly and accommodating, but make sure you have traveler’s insurance. Unlike other places, they didn’t have me sign a waiver or do any paperwork of any kind before going out on the water. Even though I didn’t feel in danger of being injured, it felt good to know I had coverage just in case. An hour-long kayak rental was $15 BZD.
4. Support local conservation efforts, community development, and sustainable tourism by booking tours, like a hike through the protected Belizean jungle with a local Maya Ranger. I recommend booking through EcoTourism Belize; there are several types of activities from which to choose.
5. Enjoy the local cuisine. Including beans and rice or rice and beans – there is a difference! My favorite restaurants were Waluco’s Bar & Grill, Backa Jamas Hostel, Bar, and Eatery, Joycelyn’s Cuisine, and Asha’s Culture Kitchen.
Where to stay in Punta Gorda
I took advantage of the fact that a friend of mine was living in Punta Gorda at the time that I visited – she let me stay with her for free. There are accommodations for all types of budgets, though. Punta Gorda has many hostels, guest houses, b&b’s, hotels, and even resorts ranging from backpacker-budget to high-end. Some that I heard about from locals and expats during my visit to Punta Gorda include Backa Jama’s Hostel, Tate’s Guest House, Hickatee Cottages, and Blue Belize Guest House.