Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hopkins and Dangriga, Belize

As you know, my wife and I went to Belize for our 7th wedding anniversary.  We started making plans several months earlier, and the first order of business was figuring out where to stay. Belize isn't a very big country, and most tourists either a) go to one of the Cayes, especially Ambergris Caye, to get in some beach time, or b) stay in a jungle lodge to do some trekking in the backcountry or one of Belize's national parks.  My wife and I wanted some beach time AND some jungle time to look for jaguars, so we settled on the village of Hopkins, approximately 120 miles south of Belize City.  Hopkins is a small Garifuna village of maybe 1,000 people, though there are a surprising number of beach resorts here, including the Jaguar Reef which I reviewed in my post last week.  Hopkins itself is about 20 miles from the larger town of Dangriga, also a garifuna settlement of about 10,000.  Today's post will feature these two towns, and a few things to see in the general vicinity.

Hopkins Village

As mentioned above, Hopkins itself is a small village with a collection of several beach resorts to the south of the main village, and several mom-and-pop restaurants and general stores in the village itself.  The village, and much of Belize itself for that matter, reminded me of southern India, especially the coastal state of Kerala.

Being a small village, there isn't a whole lot to see in Hopkins itself, though there are several restaurants in town for those who either get tired of eating at the resorts, or just get tired of paying resort prices.  Many of them appeared to be closed, as it was the off-season when we visited, but we did have the opportunity to try two places, Innie's, serving traditional garifuna cuisine, and Iris' Sunnyside Up, featuring Belizean cuisine. I will review both of these establishments in a future post.  If you need cash (most stores and restaurants in Hopkins don't take credit cards), there is a Belize Bank ATM in the center of town, at the end of the road that leads back to the Southern Highway.

If you're not interested in lounging on the beach, you can charter a boat to take you out to the reef for fishing or snorkeling (or just acting lazy on a boat), or you can head over to one of to the parks nearby, Mayflower Bocawina National Park and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaguar Reserve.  I will put up separate posts about those two places.  You can also head up the road and explore...


Compared to Hopkins, Dangriga is the big city.  If you rented a car, there are a few gas stations in town to fill up, or if you don't want to fool with driving but are headed to one of the Hopkins resorts or the jaguar reserve, there is also an airport here.  You can also hire boats to take you out to the cayes or reefs, or a water taxi to take you to Belize City, Ambergris Caye, or Placencia.  We came here fairly early in the day, specifically to look for some garifuna handicrafts, which we were told could be found here.  Much to our disappointment, there was nothing to be found.  Apparently most all of the shops were closed on account of it being the off-season.  I have to admit, the town is kind of dumpy looking.

We then walked over to the Dangriga Central Market.  There was very little for sale here on this day, except for some junk items (think cheap knock-off t-shirts and the like) and some fruits  Again, a casualty of the off-season.  The market looks like one you'd find elsewhere in Mexico or Central America, or even India.

Not finding what we were looking for, we re-crossed the bridge to head back to our car.  The river was high and muddy, but in the second photo, you can see the brilliant blue seas of the reef in the distance, contrasted against the muddy estuary.

I'm not so sure I'd want to have a hot dog or taco here.  Then again, if it's chicken tacos they serve, the meat is probably fresh...

Overall, there was surprisingly little to see and do in town, but this was probably at least partly because of the season.  I saw a few small backpackers' hostels in town, but if you're looking for the resort experience, you'll have to head down to Hopkins.

On the west side of Dangriga, there is a small museum very much worth visiting, the Gulisi Garifuna Museum.  You can't miss the sign, on the outskirts of town near the "Uno" gas station, on the Hummingbird Highway.  The museum documents the history of the Garifuna settlement of the area, including the original migration of the Garifuna from Africa to the West Indies.  A small gift shop is inside the museum, but as seemed to be the case pretty much everywhere, nothing was available for sale since it was the off-season.  The entrance fee is BZD 10/USD 5 per person.

We then headed over to Billy Barquedier National Park for a quick hike in the jungle, about 16 miles west of Dangriga on the Hummingbird Highway. I had seen the sign for the "waterfall entrance" on the way over the day before, so we wanted to check it out.  The weather had started turning just a bit bad along the way...

The entrance fee is normally BZD 20/USD 10 per person, but the booth was unmanned when we pulled up, so we got a freebie.  The trail to the waterfall area is short, but quite steep.  Bring hiking shoes and raingear.  And be aware - wearing a long-sleeved raincoat in the tropical heat and humidity can really take a lot out of you very quickly.  Make sure to carry water.  Anyway, it was raining a little bit, but not too bad to make the hike unmanageable.  And personally, I find walking through the rainforest when it's actually raining to be a lovely, relaxing experience.

After maybe 1/2 a mile, you reach the creek.  To get to the waterfall, you have to walk upstream a little ways.  The stream was running a little too fast for my comfort, and since I can't swim, I decided not to chance it.  The end of the trail is a pretty spot, though.

After a short but tough hike, I was starving, so we headed back to Hopkins to grab lunch, before our attempted, though ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to find the Nim Li Punit Mayan ruins down towards Punta Gorda.  The weather continued to threaten, and while today wasn't so bad, it was a harbinger of things to come.

There are other sites to see in the immediate area that we didn't have time to explore. One is Davis Falls, the second highest waterfall in Belize.  You'll see the turnoff at Mile 14 of the Hummingbird Highway, just past the citrus plant when heading west, but getting to the falls requires a 4WD vehicle, plus a strenuous 2-mile hike from the end of the road. 

The other is Marie Sharp's Factory, located a few miles outside Dangriga off the Hummingbird Highway (you will see the sign a couple of miles west of the Southern Highway junction).  Think the Belizean version of Tabasco sauce.  I did wish we had more time here, because I would have liked to pick up a few bottles.

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