Placencia, a former Creole fishing village 30 miles south of Dangriga, is a small seaside community on a thin sandy peninsula promoting the delights of the offshore cayes and marinelife and is a good base for inland tours too.

Placencia is becoming more popular among people looking for an 'end of the road' adventure. It's a relaxing combination of chilling out on the beach, fishing, snorkelling and diving. If you time the trip right or get lucky, your visit may coincide with the migrations of the whale shark - the largest fish in the world at up to 55 ft - that passes through local waters from March to May. And, between January and March, hundreds of scarlet macaws gather at nearby Red Bank. Also worth hitting if you can time it right is the Lobster Fest, on the last full weekend in June, with two days of music, dancing and lobster and the Sidewalk Arts Festival held the weekend before or after Valentine's Day.

There are no streets, just a network of concrete footpaths connecting the wooden houses that are set among the palms. The main sidewalk through the centre of the village is reported to be in the Guiness Book of Recordsas the world's narrowest street. The atmosphere has been described as laid back, with lots of Jamaican music, particularly after Easter and Christmas celebrations.

Around Placencia

Trips can be made to local cayes and the Barrier Reef, approximately 18 miles offshore. Offshore cayes include Laughing Bird Caye. Gladden Spitand Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, also protected by Friends of Nature. Whale sharks visit the spit in March, April, May and June for 10 days after the full moon to feed on the spawn of aggregating reef fish.

Several hotels and guide services have kayaks that can be rented to explore some of the nearer islands or the quieter waters of the Placencia Lagoon. Those who want to keep their feet dry can go mountain biking on the peninsula or use it as a base for trips to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary and Maya ruins.

Day tours by boat south along the coast from Placencia to Monkey Riverand Monkey River Villageare available. Monkey River tours, feature howler monkeys, toucans, manatees and iguanas. Monkey River Village can be reached by a rough road, which is not recommended in wet weather. The road ends on the north side of the river and the town is on the south side, so call over for transport. Trips upriver can also be arranged here with locals but kayaking is best organized in Placencia. Trips can be arranged to Red Bank for the scarlet macaws, which gather in their hundreds between January and March. North of Placencia is the Garífuna community of Seine Bight.

Cayes near Placencia

Ranguana Cayeis a private caye reached from Placencia.

At the southernmost end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef are the Sapodilla Cayes. There are settlements on a few of the Cayes including Hunting Caye.

The Silk Cayes, also known as the Queen Cayes, is a small group of tiny, picture- perfect islands, which sits on the outer barrier reef and, together with Gladdens Spit, has recently become the core zone of the country's newest marine reserve. The Silk Cayes have superb diving, especially on the North Wall. Coral in the deeper areas is in good condition with many tube and barrel sponges and sharks, turtles and rays often seen cruising the reef wall. The Silk Cayes are a popular destination for Placencia-based dive operators, however, it's not possible to dive in this area during periods of rough weather. The rainy season lasts from June to January.

Laughing Bird Caye used to be the home of the Laughing Gull (Larus articilla), now it's home to other sea birds and has an exciting array of underwater life around its shores.

South of Dangriga is the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (21,000 acres), the world's first jaguar sanctuary and definitely worth an extended visit if you have two or three days. The sanctuary was created out of the Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve in 1986 to protect the country's highest recorded density of jaguars (Panthera onca), and their smaller cousins the puma (red tiger), the endangered ocelot, the diurnal jaguarundi and that feline cutey, the margay. Many other mammals share the heavily forested reserve, including coatis, collared peccaries, agoutis, anteaters, Baird's tapirs and tayras (a small weasel-like animal). There are red-eyed tree frogs, boas, iguanas and fer-de-lances, as well as over 290 species of bird, including king vultures and great curassows. The sanctuary is a good place for relaxing, showering under waterfalls, tubing down the river, or listening to birds - hundreds of bird species have been spotted and there are several types of toucan, hummingbirds and scarlet macaws to be seen by early risers. The reserve is sponsored by the Belizean government, the Audubon Society, the Worldwide Fund For Natureand various private firms. 

Park HQ is at the former settlement of Quam Bank (whose milpa-farming inhabitants founded the Maya Centreoutside the reserve). Here there is an informative visitor centre. An 18-mile network of jungle trails spreads out from the centre, ranging in distance from a few hundred yards to 2.5 miles. Walkers are unlikely to see any of the big cats as they are nocturnal, but if you fancy a walk in the dark you may be lucky. Note that the guards leave for the day at 1600. You will see birds, frogs, lizards, snakes and spiders. Longer hikes can be planned with the staff. Nearby is one of Belize's highest summits, Victoria Peak (3675 ft), which is an arduous four- or five-day return climb and should not be undertaken lightly. There is virtually no path, a guide is essential; February to May are the best months for the climb.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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