Sep 28, 2022

Scenes alongside Placencia Road

Part Four:  Pursuing paradise in Placencia Village, Belize 

Call it a natural sense of adventure or curiosity, but when I have the opportunity to spend any extended amount of time somewhere new, eventually I want to get off the beaten tourist path and get a better sense of what “real” life is like for those who live there. 

So, when we went to Placencia this summer, it became clear quickly that meant spending time off the Placencia Sidewalk and on the primary paved street of Placencia Village, known more officially as Placencia Road.  

It’s the same street you take into town from the airport, and going south from there it ends where the land ends, at the municipal pier.  And the closer you get to the pier, the more you’ll see in terms of the daily buzz of activity that keeps the village running. 

Many of the village’s basic “necessities” are located on what I refer to as the northern half of town, such as a couple of hardware stores, the village’s only gas station and, appropriately for the location, a bait shop. 

Surprisingly, I counted at least four grocery stores in Placencia which also carried many of your basic household needs.  We took advantage of the Ming’s to purchase a few food items to take home (e.g., hot sauces and jellies) as well as a few items we had neglected to pack.  Cheap sunglasses, for example?  They had them.       

One advantage of shopping local is being able to enjoy the local resources on hand.  For instance, the orange/pineapple juice we bought was bottled just up the road in Stann Creek, and I’m not joking when I say it was the freshest and most intensely flavorful juice I have ever tasted. 

In fact, the only way we could have possible gotten fresher fruit was to buy straight from the supplier, which was apparently an option on Placencia Road. 

It only takes one walk down Placencia Road to realize not only the small-town tropical charm of the village, but also the disparity in wealth among the long-time residents and recent arrivals.  For instance, glimpses of the harbor from the road also come with peeks at private resort-worthy style homes with private docks. 

Contrast that with the deterioration evident at the village cemetery adjacent to Placencia Road, as well as many of the smaller homes in the surrounding area.     

The village also had its share of shut-down businesses.  But for every abandoned building there is opportunity, I suppose.  Anyone interested in investing in a fixer-upper hotel right on the main drag? 

Even with the contrasting wealth and poverty, Placencia Road had a surprising variety of charming shops and attractions worthy of drawing in visitors, including gift shops, coffee shops, day spas, tour operators and a handmade jewelry store.   

In particular, Punky and I were drawn to the smoothie stand close to our resort.  Maybe it was the strand of plastic oranges hanging out the window that did it.     

Regardless, it was the menu that ensured we purchased a nice cooling treat, each one made fresh, to fight the midday heat.    

But the best way we found to combat the tropical temperatures and humidity on Placencia Road was at the Tutti Frutti Gelateria in the heart of the village.    

By all appearances (and online reviews), this is the top place in Placencia to cool off.  While we were there, the line didn’t seem to stop.  

Plus, the gelato is legit, and they showcase a nice variety of flavors.  Personally, I found the coconut to be amazingly tasty with bits of pure coconut flakes in every bite.  

This section of the main drag also takes you past the public park and is dotted with several roadside (more like walk-up, actually) stands specializing in cheap street food.  I took one look at Carmen’s Kitchen and knew I had to at least get a snack.  

As you’d probably expect, it’s a cash-only operation, but the prices are so right that you can’t go wrong with whatever you try. 

Like the gelateria, the steady stream of business coming up to the order window told me I chose wisely.
  I was also impressed how, for such a small two-person operation, Carmen's was keeping up with the fast pace of demand in very hot working conditions.

And I did.  We received wonderfully crunchy and fresh-made tostadas and taquitos – a perfect midday snack to get us through the afternoon, and the right amount of food to not shut us down in the heat of the day.

But our best eating experience by far on Placencia Road, and maybe the entire trip, was Wendy’s Creole Restaurant & Bar near the end of the road at the harbor.  It was our first breakfast in Belize, and between the outstanding service and the food, Wendy’s definitely left a great impression on us.   

For starters, they provided what I like to call “full table service” coffee, bringing the cream and sugar to you.  And the waters came without asking (in case you’re wondering, yes, the water in Placencia is perfectly fine to drink). 

The breakfast menu was by no means expansive, but the Spanish and Belizean options stood out.  Of course, I was going to try a Belizean breakfast.  And of course, if I see “butt bacon” on a menu, my curiosity demands that I order it. 

The breakfast plate I got was nothing short of scrumptious.  So, butt bacon is basically your southern-style breakfast ham.  Still, it was completely on point. In addition, the staple side of refried beans were the perfect consistency for dipping your fry jacks into.  And the fry jacks themselves?  One of the best things I ate while in Belize.  Crispy, light and chewy all at once, with a pocket inside to fit a smattering of butter or papaya jam in.   

Add in the al fresco dining on the porch, and we had a truly memorable meal. 

Spending much of our time in Placencia walking along the main highway and the village’s famous sidewalk helped reaffirm to me that it pays to immerse yourself in your surroundings.  You learn a lot more about where your temporary home away from home that way.  Sure, use your standard caution with anywhere you’re unfamiliar with, but don’t be afraid to explore Placencia Village, or to use Placencia Road as your guide. 

But you may want to heed the warnings about guard dogs … and chickens. 

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