Travel Talk / Braaping in Central America: Belize // ADV Rider

Mexico is vast, diverse, affordable, and offers amazing riding. Guatemala is smaller but boasts plenty of incredible routes and nature to explore. Belize, wedged between the two, is tiny, more expensive in comparison, and people go there to dive and relax on paradise islands rather than ride bikes… So is it worth a visit?

I had no idea. I’ve ridden Guatemala, Mexico, and most of South America, but not Belize. It just doesn’t come up much when there’s talk of adventure travel in Central America; you can cross it in a day should you wish, it doesn’t have any spectacular mountain passes or bucket-list, must-see places, and most riders traveling from Alaska to Ushuaia either pass by quickly or skip it altogether.

Last year, I finally got the chance to explore Belize while scouting routes for a tour.

Photo: Lila Shaw

There’s something incredibly delicious about going into a country and knowing very little about it – there’s not much you can learn about Belize from other riders, the reason being that few ever venture there. Apart from some basic facts – Belize is an English-speaking, tropical-climate Caribbean country, watch out for hurricane season – I had no vision of what it would be like. Due to its geography, I guessed Belize would be like mini-Guatemala of sorts.

A World of Its Own

Turns out, it’s nothing like Guatemala or Mexico at all. In fact, Belize is nothing like any other country – rather, it’s more of a cheerful mix of something Jamaican, something Cuban, a little Mayan, a bit Mennonite, and positively Caribbean.

Braaping in Central America: Belize // ADV Rider

Photo: Lila Shaw

Belizean dollar notes still feature a young Queen Elizabeth; the coastal areas are mostly populated by Garifuna communities – descendants of West Africa – while more than 50 percent of Belize’s population is a mix of indigenous Maya and European origin; town supermarkets are manned by Chinese expats, and expensive diving resorts are populated by aging Americans; visa extensions are expensive ($100 if you need more than 30 days in Belize), rum is cheap, and the cuisine ranges from traditional Garifuna hudud (fish cooked in rich coconut sauce) and roasted gibnut (a sort of a nocturnal jungle rat) to glorious seafood dishes, especially during the lobster season.

Photo: Lila Shaw

The lush green rainforest provides plenty of muddy dirt trails, Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve has several fun hilly tracks, and an expedition toward Corazon Creek offers a glimpse into a wilder, mostly Maya-populated country near the Guatemala border. There’s a robust Mennonite community in Belize (if you’re going to buy ice cream, buy it at the Mennonite barn shop on Hummingbird Highway just before Armenia), impromptu Garifuna drumming parties at beach bars, a few fun paved routes (especially the stretch between The Malfunction Junction and San Antonio/Cristo Rey), and plentiful creek crossings should you venture into Red Bank or the Cockscomb Reserve.

Photo: Lila Shaw

Locals seem happy to see travelers about, and while this is true for most Central American countries, Belizeans appear to be extra laid-back. Whether you ride a Harley, a dirt bike, or hitchhike, and whether you choose a fresh coconut with a dash of rum or an ultra-healthy smoothie for breakfast, no one’s going to judge, and everyone’s going to smile.

Photo: Lila Shaw

But what makes Belize stand out most, aside from its colorful culture, is the diversity in such a small place. Riding alone isn’t enough to truly experience Belize: if you’ve got the time, add in the jungle hikes, the waterfalls, the Mayan ruins, the snorkeling tours, the traditional cuisine, the horseback riding, and the rainforest stays – and, if you feel like having a bit of a Robinson Crusoe experience, spend a week on Glover’s Atoll watching the melancholy life of hermit crabs and nurse sharks or go marlin fishing.

Photo: Lila Shaw

Belize has so much to offer in terms of nature and adventure that it’d be a shame to just braap by – so here’s a list of places, tours, and people that can help make your Belizean adventure a truly unique one:

Martz Farm Treehouses is a jungle lodge in Southeastern Belize, but it’s a lot more than just a place to sleep. Run by Miriam, Joe, and their sons, Martz Farm is a remote little rainforest paradise offering tranquil stays in treehouses and cabins, horseback tours in the jungle, fantastic food and, best of all, riverboat cruises. Joe is an incredible wildlife guide, and his river tours include waterfall hikes, swimming, spotting crocodiles and iguanas, beach barbecues, Dominican rum, and…poetry. Plan to spend several days at Martz Farm to see Belize from a genuinely local and immersive point of view – if there’s only one thing you’ll do off-bike in Belize, it should be this.

Happy Go Luckie Tours offers diving, snorkeling, fishing, and island tours; Captain Luckie is a character like no other, so if you’re after Caribbean experiences, this is it. Depending on the season, you might be able to go on a bioluminescence tour – another fantastic and somewhat Avatar-y experience hard to find anywhere else.

Alternate Adventures is a Hopkins-based motorcycle rental and self-guided tour company offering small dirt bikes, route suggestions, and accommodation. Whether you’re traveling on your own bike or looking to rent, this is a good spot for a moto-friendly basecamp, information, and a hub to meet other riders.

As the locals say, you better Belize it – before the place becomes the next Costa Rica.

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