Placencia Peninsula

The Placencia Peninsula is fast becoming one of the major visitor destinations in Belize, one that may eventually rival Ambergris Caye as the most popular resort area in the country. It's one 16-mile- (26-km-) long peninsula, with three different but complementary areas: Northern Peninsula/Maya Beach, Seine Bight, and Placencia Village.

The former dirt track that ran 25 miles (41 km) from the Southern Highway to the tiny community of Riversdale and then down the peninsula to Placencia Village has been paved, and the road is now in excellent condition (beware the speed bumps, however). Beginning at Riversdale, at the elbow where the actual peninsula joins the mainland, you'll get a quick glimpse through mangroves of the startlingly blue Caribbean. As you go south, the Placencia Lagoon is on your right, and behind it in the distance rise the low Maya Mountains, the Cockscomb Range ruffling the tropical sky with its jagged peaks. On your left, a few hundred feet away, beyond the remaining mangroves and a narrow band of beach, is the Caribbean Sea. A broken line of uninhabited cayes grazes the horizon.

The northern end of the peninsula from Riversdale south to Maya Beach once had just a few small seaside houses, and Maya Beach was a sleepy beach community. Now the towering five-story buildings of the Copal Beach condominium development, currently under construction, with a small casino on the first floor, rise up out of the flat peninsula land. "For Sale" signs dot the roadside, supersize beach- and lagoon-side mansions are going up at The Placencia Residences and elsewhere, and several new condominium communities and resorts are open or planned (though some are struggling to find buyers). These new resorts and condo developments join a group of laid-back seaside hotels and cabins. The beaches toward the upper end of the peninsula are some of the best on mainland Belize, and more restaurants and shops are starting to open here. One of the best restaurants in all of Belize, the Bistro at Maya Beach Hotel, is usually packed. There’s now even a small bowling alley in Maya Beach, Jaguar Lanes.

Roughly midway down the peninsula is the Garífuna Village of Seine Bight, struggling to adapt to change. At both the north and south ends of the village upscale resorts and condo developments have sprung up to take advantage of the appealing beaches.

On a sheltered half-moon bay at the southern tip of the peninsula is Placencia Village. Founded by pirates, and long a Creole village, the community is now inhabited by an extraordinary mélange of people, local and expatriate. Most of the hotels in the village are modest, and most shops have tiny selections. Never mind, once you arrive you'll probably just want to lie in a hammock with a good book, perhaps getting up long enough to cool off in the gentle waves or to sip a Belikin at one of the village saloons.

From anywhere on the Placencia Peninsula you can dive along the Belize Barrier Reef, swim in the warm seawater, look for scarlet macaws in Red Bank village to the southwest (mainly between December and February), explore the Mayan ruins at Mayflower and hike to the waterfalls there, or, on a full day trip, travel to the Mayan sites at Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit near Punta Gorda, or treat yourself to some of the best sportfishing in the country.

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