Foodie and travel blogger, Ayngelina Brogan, from BaconIsMagic.ca has been telling me how much she loves Central America but hates Belize; Belize City to be more specific. This actually doesn’t surprise me as it is pretty evident that the sentiment resonates throughout the internet. Many people who visit Belize and only see Belize City, especially Cruise Ship passengers, end up with the impression that the old capital reflects the entire country. A justified assumption or not, it makes for an interesting discussion.
Tell me a little about yourself, your blog and travel style.
I’m in my mid-thirties and two and a half years ago I decided to leave my career, boyfriend, apartment and friends to take a one-way flight to Mexico. I then spent the next 14 months in Latin America, with a short side-trip to Belize. I am really interested in learning more about the Americas and in particular about the culture, especially the food.
What made you decide to travel to Central America?
Prior to this trip I had already lived in South East Asia and spent considerable time in Europe but I hadn’t been to Mexico, Central America or South America. My plan was to spend 6 months heading down and then move over to Africa. But Latin America really captured my heart and I found it difficult to leave countries, it was like leaving a relationship. Even at 14 months I feel like I need more time there and I know I’ll go back.
What was your impression of Belize prior to visiting and how did that change after you left?
To be honest, I didn’t know anything about Belize when I first entered, in fact I spoke Spanish going through immigration. Once I arrived in Belize City I finally realized it was not a Latin American city, which was reinforced by all of the English, the money and the culture.
People had warned me not to go to Belize City, especially as I was traveling independently as a woman. I was an over-confident traveler and thought they were being silly. In fact I walked from the bus station into town to find somewhere to stay. I wasn’t aware of any safety issues until I arrived at the hotel. The manager warned me that I needed to go find something to eat and get back to the hotel before it got dark as it was a Friday night and things would get hectic.
The food was delicious. I can say that without a doubt.
I ended up spending most of the night talking to the man who was guarding the door. He explained the issues with gang violence and that everyone in the city knew at least one family member that was killed by a gang member. He advised me to just move from Belize City to San Pedro or Caye Caulker.
There were a number of things that conspired to a negative time in Belize: I was looking for a Latin American experience and to improve my Spanish, my introduction to Belize City wasn’t great, in Caye Caulker it seemed to be a week of Spring Breakers who were just partying all the time and the local men, although harmless, were very aggressive at getting your attention. I started hearing more news of people who had issues of being robbed or attacked in Belize City.
Finally I had to move onto Flores to meet someone so I just cut my ties and went to Guatemala.
You say Belize City is scary, care to elaborate?
I’m not worried about being robbed, I have been robbed three times. If someone wants my stuff I just hand it to them and let them run away. But there is a level that goes beyond that where people would also attack you. I had heard many stories of this and just decided it wasn’t worth putting myself in danger like that.
Crime and poverty are big issues in all major Central American cities, what makes the city of Belize different?
Absolutely, Central America’s capital cities definitely have issues. Managua (in Nicaragua) is also a place I would prefer not to visit again even though I adore the city. I wrote about a common scam of people getting robbed there and there are gangs of glue-sniffing children there that will swarm you. Guatemala City is also another city that I’d prefer to avoid in the future.
That said I do know you can’t judge a country based on its capital. Which is why I’m always careful to say that I did not like Belize City and not generalize to the whole country. In fact there is a part of me that really would like to visit the rest of the country just to prove to myself that what I saw wasn’t representative.
Let’s try to be positive, what did you like about your entire Belize trip?
There were elections during my time on Caye Caulker and I had a really great talk with a local about the struggles with tourism on the island and how it impacted the infrastructure and what they were doing to maintain a balance.
Final question, if you could re-do your trip to Belize, how would you make it different?
I am definitely going back to Belize, I hope in the next 12 months. I will probably skip Belize City and Caye Caulker if that’s possible. I’d like to spend a few weeks traveling to see some of the other areas, those that are popular and those that aren’t so obvious. Maybe San Pedro, Ambergris Caye or Placencia or Hopkins.
Now a question for the readers. Do you believe that the negative impressions of the biggest city of Belize are right? Or are they all assumptions based on personal experiences of a few travelers?