We’ve just sailed past the tip of a long peninsula jutting south from the Belize mainland and now we’re negotiating a photogenic harbour populated by cruising sailboats anchored off a laid-back beach resort village called Placencia.
We motor close to the municipal pier; we check out a nearby swathe of sand stretching north as far as the eye can see. The dock itself is decorated by a quartet of clapboard sheds where vendors hawk souvenirs, Belikin beers and excursions to nearby islands. One shed is aquamarine, one is painted coral, a lemon-coloured hut squats beside a lavender one.
Because we’ve booked a sailboat from Dream Yacht Charters to explore the cayes dotting the waters inside Belize’s barrier reef, this morning we limit ourselves to a cursory inspection, but the view haunts my imagination so much through the next week that we modify our float plan.
We decide to sail west a day early and anchor here so we can explore Placencia’s myriad attractions.
“Placencia,” very roughly translated from the Spanish, means “Nice Place.”
The change to our float plan seems to meet with the approval of the sea gods almost immediately. We don’t even have our anchor set when a dolphin appears, diving and surfacing a mere two metres off our bow.
We’ve arrived at a town called “Pleasant.”
When we dinghy ashore shortly before nightfall we tie up to a rudimentary dock and saunter into a thatched roof bar built from hardwood. We grab a table at this establishment called, appropriately, Yoli’s Over Da Water, and order frosty Belikin beers (the local libation) before exploring more of the village.
Thirst slaked, we pass playing fields where a softball game is in progress, we pass a basketball court where local boys play barefoot, deciding to dine when we discover a rustic bistro called Omar’s Creole Grub, boasting the catch of the day.
Next morning we head ashore again, this time exploring one of the village’s chief claims to fame, an attraction with a quirky backstory.
Miss the “the sidewalk” and you miss Placencia.
Locals claim that this thoroughfare has earned a place in Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s narrowest main street. While facts don’t support the claim two things are certain: this is Placencia’s main street and it is narrow.
The “sidewalk” parallels the beach, leading north from the pier for roughly twelve hundred metres.
Built from concrete over a base of thirty thousand crushed conch shells, it was reportedly built to protect the tender feet of a bishop, who commissioned a walkway leading from his house to the Anglican school and church. Until 1984, it was the only road in Placencia.
Next to the beach itself, this sidewalk is both chief defining feature of the village and its chief attraction.
Come February they even hold a Placencia Sidewalk Arts and Music Festival, a two-day celebration featuring folk art, crafts, food vendors and live music.
Our own exploration here begins with the pier and a leisurely stroll to the nearby beach decorated by an outsized blue painted Muskoka chair seaside.
Here we soak up some rays for a bit before we make for the sidewalk.
Today we are on a mission from God. Having done some homework, I’m intrigued by the offerings of one beachside watering hole called Barefoot Bar, where, along with our friends and crew, Ed and Kim North from our home yacht club back in Toronto, we plan to eat, drink and baste in the sun for the better part of the rest of today.
But first the sidewalk – for it’s truly Placencia’s “main street.”
Now we march along this thoroughfare, sheltered by dancing palms and fiery explosions of poinciana blossoms, past the rainbow-painted signs indicating a world of destinations complete with mileage (Alberta is 3080 miles away), past the church, past laid-back resorts.
Stop at Art’n’Soul Art Gallery in a loft cabin showcasing the work of forty local artists. Do breakfast right on the beach at Cozy Corner under a thatched palapa, grab a pastel-painted picnic table at the Shak, explore the wares at Belizean Handicrafts.
But don’t be distracted.
Head beachward – for the sea and the sand are constant companion here, sometimes right beside the path, sometimes peaking coquettishly between emerald stands of sea grapes.
For the beach – and Barefoot Beach Bar – does prove irresistible.
Here we stake our claim, sipping Mango Coladas while reclining on pastel-painted beach chairs. We cool off in the surf, we gaze at distant islands, we consider more ambitious past-times.
For Placencia is also ideal for exploring Belize’s delights farther afield.
Visit the Cockscomb Reserve, the world’s only jaguar sanctuary, an hour drive away. Book a day trip to the Tikal Mayan Ruins or one or more of those distant islands.
Or maybe, instead, another mango colada.
For why ever leave a town called Pleasant?
- For help in exploring the whole country of Belize, check out travelbelize.org
- For an in-depth guide to “A Town Called ‘Pleasant’”, log on to placencia.com
COVER PHOTO: The harbour at Placencia is popular with charterers and serious cruisers alike. PHOTO CREDIT: Sharon Matthews-Stevens