Cruise log – Belize City, Belize.-
For our third port day in a row, we sailed into the fascinating former British colony of Belize, one of the most unusual countries in Central America, on another beautiful day in the Western Caribbean Sea.
Formerly British Honduras, Belize is the only country in the region where English is the official language, and it is home to the second-largest coral reef in the world, as well as three of the only four atolls in the western hemisphere.
It is a scuba-diver’s paradise, and is loaded with Mayan history dating back more than 4,000 years. And yet Belize City is barely the size of the average town, with a population of little more than 50,000 and a friendly, welcoming aspect that we quickly learned from our guide, Gregory.
But first we had to have breakfast, and that leads to more choice (and choice would be our key word today). If we’d thought soon enough, we could have ordered breakfast in our suite, which would have been ideal in our undecided circumstances. We could have headed for the Arts Café, with its tempting array of pastries, sandwiches and yoghurt pots. We could also have gone up to La Terrazza for its full buffet alternative. But, given that we had no specific plans for our day in Belize, we decided we could be more indulgent with our time and head for main restaurant Atlantide, with the widest choice possible for the first meal of the day.
Belize City Tourism Village
Good call. Forty-five minutes later we were comfortably replete and ready to explore this new country to the full. The one snag was that this is a tender port. The sea here is extremely shallow, hence our Silversea vessel had to lie at anchor, some 20 minutes by small boat from the heart of town. It is only a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things but it does add extra time to all the to-ing and fro-ing a ship needs in meeting its wide variety of excursions.
Without a definite plan of action, we were happy to make a slower exit than most, enjoying the leisurely boat ride to the city on a stonkingly gorgeous day that was already bordering on the tropically warm. Seeing as it was a Saturday and Silver Muse was the only visiting vessel, many of the shops and bars in the neat little Tourism Village that forms the cruise port welcome centre were closed.
Not to worry, we got the lowdown on the local rum in one of the shops that was open and grabbed a map of the immediate area, intending to head to the Museum for more of an overview. We got to the main gate of the Village and stopped. This didn’t look like the map, and the roads were hard to identify. Not to worry. There was a Gregory nearby.
Driving with Gregory
Gregory was, in fact, a licensed tour guide and just happened to be free. “I’ve got my car over here and I can give you a full city tour for just $20 each,” he insisted. Hmmm. We knew parts of Belize City were not totally visitor-friendly, but the tourist official aboard our ship had mentioned there would be guides hanging around, ready to act as taxis if necessary. There were certainly no taxis in sight, and Gregory’s car was a slightly battered mini-van with no discernible markings. However, the security officials at the port wouldn’t have allowed him to hang around if he didn’t have the necessary credentials, so we decided to give it a go. Good call. Excellent, in fact.
For the next two hours we enjoyed pretty much the whole of this compact city in Gregory’s company, first at the compact 1857-built Belize Jail (now the Museum of Belize) and then in ever-increasing circles of the city. Gregory definitely knew the history, culture and geography off by heart and was a wonderful guide, with his Caribbean lilt and “Y’know what I mean” catchphrase lending a genuinely authentic air to his stories of the Mayan era, the Slave Trade, Britain’s battles to keep the colony, and Belize’s modern history, including its full independence in 1981 and the fact it has – proudly – the highest literacy rate of any country in Central America.
Suitably regaled – and impressed – we headed back to the bobbing figure of Silver Muse for a late lunch. With the usual overwhelming choice of six options, we headed for pastures new (at least for us), settling on the sushi haven of Kaiseki. Coffee in Arts Café soon followed, along with cookies from La Terrazza and, finally, canapes back in our suite, where we possibly grabbed 20 or so winks on the balcony to recover.
Our Daily Trivia contest was next on the agenda – this has become our late-afternoon fixation, not so much for the competition as the total social aspect of it, with our six team-mates providing such convivial company – and we surprised ourselves by finishing top team for the second day running.
In our sworn mission to investigate every dining opportunity on the Silver Muse menu, we had booked this evening for the night-time alter ego of buffet alternative La Terrazza, when it becomes a full-service Italian restaurant as night falls. Keen-eyed readers will notice this was our fifth different dinner venue in five nights, and La Terrazza certainly did not let us down in any way. In fact, it might just have been the most memorable meal to date, with an amazing range of Antipasti plates, fabulous pastas and two superb fish dishes, of which the Branzino (sea bass) was declared the winner.
Sad to report, we really did eat WAY too much, but the danger to our expanding waistlines was definitely worth it. So much so, in fact, we have already booked for our last night at sea here!
A slow walk around the deck allowed some of our extra ballast to settle and we concluded at the pool-deck party to celebrate the day. Seeing as it was March 17, it was, of course, St Patrick’s Day, and parts of the ship were suitably decked out in emerald green. The Voices of Silversea group turned in an excellent singing rendition of Simply Divine, and we toasted St Paddy as we sailed on through the night, next stop – Guatemala.