Belize City, like a lot of cities in Central America, doesn’t have a good reputation. It is much less laid-back than the rest of the country and few find it charming.
Yet it changed.
We were there in 2001 and again in 2003. I had memories of a chaotic and dirty city, of barred windows and slightly unsavory characters, of people locking their door tight as soon as the sun set.
Belize City still isn’t everyone’s favourite travel destination. Yes, it’s a bit dirty and some areas can be sketchy. I wouldn’t wander alone by the waterfront after dark. But the streets were cleaner and despite a few beggars and drunks, most people were welcoming.
We found a logical explanation to this: the all-almighty cruise ship.
When we last came in 2003, the waterfront was being built. It’s now fenced off and caters to cruise ship passengers who wander into Belize for a couple of hours—if they dare.
We walked to the lighthouse, at the end of the waterfront. For about 400 metres, we passed a Disneyland Belize—dubbed the “Belize Tourism Village—complete with a fake “craft market” of made in China souvenirs, horse buggies shuttling tourists along the waterfront (US$20 per passenger for the ride!) and friendly police officers. There was even a pricey Mexican restaurant—because you know, Belize and Mexico is pretty much the same country and nothing says Belize like Mexican food, ya see?
Security was tight around the waterfront and even we couldn’t enter the area now reserved to cruise ship passengers that used to be public. No doubt the city centre was also “cleaned up” for these rich tourists. Not that it matters much to them: I doubt anyone venture pass the tourist-friendly area.
In a way, it’s a shame. Why do these people even bother getting off the ship? What will they see of Belize?
On a side note, we just heard tonight on CNN, that San Pedro Sula is now the most dangerous city in the world. Great to know, after we were there!