Punta Gorda, Belize is the closest I’ve come to tropical paradise. A coastal town overlooking the Caribbean, Punta Gorda offers small town charm and secluded relaxation. It is a small town at the southern tip of the country. So far south that when we went out on a boat my cell phone switched between Belizean and Guatemalan carriers. Being far away from the capital or any other major city means it is a challenge to get to Punta Gorda but totally worth the bumpy road trip. I spent one week there in college volunteering in the community (the same people I volunteered with in Costa Rica). We flew into Belize City and loaded onto a yellow school bus for the drive south. Yes, the same yellow school bus that many Americans take to school. A lot of them find their way to Belize and are re-purposed for tour groups and intra-country travel. Along the way we stopped for some rice & beans, or maybe it was beans & rice? I was adamantly told there was an important distinction between the two but I couldn’t keep it straight. As we were only there for a week our time was precious and we put each day to good use. We volunteered at a wildlife preserve at the beginning of the week and finished helping a local school beautify their classrooms and spruce up their soccer field.
Coconut trees were plentiful all over the island. There is something so pure and delicious about drinking coconut juice straight from the freshly opened gourd. We also picked almonds off the tree and tried them. Pro-tip: don’t do that. Almonds need to dry out and process before they become tasty. Straight off the tree they are bitter, green, and gross.
On our last day we hired a boat to take us off shore for some snorkeling and fun in the sun. Before this trip I had never been snorkeling and I was really looking forward to it. As you can see in the picture above, the Caribbean water is crystal clear making it easy to spot fish and coral below. At one point as our boat was speeding off for the coastal islands a few dolphins were playing in our wake. Our captain timed it right and told us when to jump into the water (with our snorkels and goggles on) so we could see the dolphins up close. Not sure how safe it was jumping into the water from a moving boat but it was totally worth it because I got to see a dolphin swimming in the water below me!! Our day only got better from there. As we snorkeled around the tiny island I spotted a very large lobster and even a shark! The fish were brightly colored and they matched well with the different types of coral.
The official language of Belize is English due to the fact that it is a former British colony. However, Belize is truly a linguistic melting pot and on any given day you could hear: Belizean Creole, Spanish, Q’eqchi’, Mopan, Yucatec Maya, Garifuna, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese, I’m not sure), and even some Plautdietsch or Pennsylvania German (surprisingly there is a large Mennonite population). The elementary school kids we spent some time with came from indigenous backgrounds or they were mixed Hispanic and indigenous. Some of them might be switching between 3 or 4 languages. It was dizzying trying to keep track of it all!
Going with my university group was one of the main reasons I had such a blast in Belize. All of us signed up for this trip knowing we would spend the week volunteering and learning about this tiny country in Central America. We learned a lot, laughed even more, and have memories to last us a lifetime. Tell me about your favorite beach vacation in the comments below!