Prior to writing about food and travel professionally, I always had a passion for culinary travel, or what is commonly referred to as “food travel” these days. I was snapping photos of my dinners long before smartphones were around. Blogging and social media were virtually unheard of, and people thought I was a bit off for booking vacations based around food and/or wine-centric destinations.
10 years ago, I ended up on vacation in Belize at the request of an ex-boyfriend who had always wanted to come diving here. I admittedly knew very little about the country and even less about its cuisine. I arrived with no idea what to expect, but instantly fell in love with every aspect of Belize, especially its food and the passion of those that work tirelessly to showcase the local cuisine.
Today, I call Belize home for a majority of the year, and I’m often humbled by how much I continue to learn about traditional dishes and family styles of cooking here. Belize hasn’t gained the recognition that some other Latin American destinations have for its cuisine, which is truly a shame. I think part of that stems from a lack of understanding due to Belize’s multiple cultural influences and the overshadowing of the country’s spectacular natural attractions. However, I predict within the next five years you will definitely see Belize holding its own against other culinary-notable destinations in Latin America.
Belize’s background includes Maya, Mestizo, Chinese, Lebanese, Creole, East Indian, and Garifuna cultures. This translates into a very wide range of what is considered Belizean cuisine, and can vary based on where you travel within the country. If you’re planning a trip and are interested in checking out the best spots for food travel in Belize, I’m not exaggerating when I say the entire country is worth exploring for its cuisine. And, it’s quite small, geographically speaking, making a road trip through Belize ideal, although you will have to take a boat or plane to check out the food here on the Cayes.
Here’s a look at some of the best places in Belize for food travelers, starting with two of the most popular tourist spots:
I live on the island of Ambergris Caye and have enjoyed watching the dining scene continue to evolve here. We now have everything from amazing street food eats to high-end dining establishments with international chefs. It’s also hard to argue against including San Pedro when you have a local chef like Jennie Staines from Elvi’s Kitchen who holds the honor of cooking for Prince Harry during his visit to Belize in 2012. Chef Jennie has worked to bring back many of the traditional Mayan dishes and techniques that have been lost on newer generations. Check out Elvi’s Friday night Mayan buffet to sample some traditional Mayan specialties.
Try a Belizean breakfast on the beach, fresh meat pies, or a massive stuffed fry jack. When it comes to seafood, try ceviche and conch fritters. Everyone has their own style so it’s worth sampling a few different ones. If you’re really hungry, try a whole fish, either fried or “tour guide” style. Swing by one of the local “delis” and sample lots of fast food like garnaches, panades, and dukunu. El Salvadorian pupusas are also popular here — head down Middle Street in the evening to try these.
And, it’s exciting to share that San Pedro is now producing many local Belizean products. Coffee, local liquors, and chocolates are just a few of the Belizean food products you can find made right here on Ambergris Caye.
Stroll down the sandy streets of Caye Caulker for amazing barbecue and local eats, especially during lobster season. You’ll find both the vibe and often the prices to be slightly less than San Pedro if budget is of concern. Both Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye host impressive Lobsterfest celebrations to kick off the annual lobster season in mid-June — one of my favorite times to be here. They are markedly different so if your schedule allows for several weeks in Belize, hit both celebrations.
Trying to decide on whether to visit Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker? While I readily admit to being a bit biased towards my home of Ambergris Caye, fellow travel blogger Beyond Blighty shares some compelling reasons why you should visit Caye Caulker too!
Head back to the mainland and pick up your rental car to head off on a culinary road trip. The reason I highly recommend food travelers explore Belize by car is the ability to stop at some of the awesome little roadside stands and food stalls. You can stop for delicious homemade tamales and two miles down the road find homemade cashew wines that are quite impressive. But of course, don’t drink and drive.
Drive around Belize City and you’ll find it’s quite international when it comes to cuisine. If you’re after local favorites, this is the place to try Belize’s “national dish” of rice n’ beans with stewed chicken. Seek out one of the more unique drinks in Belize — a Belizean seaweed shake — and there is often an adult version available with rum!
Another local Belizean specialty to try is gibnut, dubbed the “royal rat” after it was served to Queen Elizabeth during a previous visit to Belize.
Chimole and escabeche are two other local Belizean dishes to seek out in Belize City. Known as “black dinner,” don’t be turned off by chimole’s dark color which comes from the black recado. Escabeche is different than what you’ve likely heard of from the Mediterranean. Here it’s a vinegar soup with chicken and loads of onion. And, if you’re really brave — one of my personal favorites is pigtail.
If you’re in the city, this is the place to learn more about Belizean beverages. Stop by Traveller’s Rum to learn more about the rums and local liquors they produce or visit Belikin Beer and tour the brewery to learn more about the country’s beers.
Cayo is regarded as the cultural heart of Belize, but it’s also quite a culinary hot spot. The San Ignacio Market is a must to visit, especially if you are staying somewhere with kitchen facilities. Be sure to try some of Belize’s delicious mangos and other local fruits like soursop. Resorts like Ka’ana offer cooking classes and some of the most innovative twists on local Belizean cuisine. If you’re of drinking age, be sure to try a sweet corn colada — one of my favorite drinks in all of Belize. Other resorts like Chaa Creek and San Ignacio Hotel have awesome onsite restaurants and there’s no shortage of local and international offerings in town.
Aside from its sugar cane used in Belize’s beloved rum production, Orange Walk is also famous for its rolled tacos. Ask anyone from Orange Walk and they will tell you there is no better place in Belize to try these! Another dish to seek out is salpicon. Orange Walk’s answer to ceviche, this tasty snack is typically made with either pork or beef.
This area is highly-regarded for its Garifuna villages and culture. The UNESCO World-Heritage recognized Garifuna culture comes alive in the cuisine. Options like hudut, bundiga, and cassava bread are staples here.
If you’re driving in this area, Stann Creek is home to Marie Sharp’s — the essential condiment for all your Belizean dishes. These habanero based sauces are rather addicting — 10 years ago I couldn’t handle even a few drops of the mild one and now I travel outside of Belize with small bottles of the spiciest to satiate my craving! Check for availability and hours, but Marie Sharp’s does offer tours or you can just stock up in the factory store if you’re short on time.
Also, add a stop at Sittee River Marina and Curve Bar. One of my favorite chefs in Belize, Sean Kuylen, recently opened a new restaurant here. He’s born and raised in Dangriga, but studied culinary arts in the US and has also worked at notable international spots like the Cliff House in San Francisco and Walt Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge. His mastery of Belizean cuisine and passion for Belizean ingredients is unsurpassed.
Added July 2015: Sean Kuylen is no longer at Sittee River Marina and Curve Bar. We will amend his current location when we have more information. For now, you can contact him on his Facebook page to discuss catering options and future events.
What was once a sleepy fishing village is becoming a hotspot for expats moving to Belize. You’ll find an impressive array of restaurants and eateries here — everything from authentic Italian gelato to Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn. Sample local Belizean cuisine or opt for one of the international restaurants that have popped up in, and around the peninsula, the last several years.
No matter what area of Belize you travel in — try fry jacks and johnny cakes.
Punta Gorda/Toledo District
One word to remember in this less traveled southern tip of the country — Chocolate. Every May, the Toledo District hosts a Chocolate Festival that needs to be on every food lover’s calendar. All the chocolate produced in Belize comes from the Toledo region so if you’re looking to satiate your sweet tooth — head right to the source.
When you’ve had your fill of chocolate, local cuisine is the way to go in the town of Punta Gorda. The Toledo District is home to the Kekchi and Mopan Maya, whose diet is rich in corn and beans. Look for game animals, delicious fresh fruits, and an abundance of family grown vegetables. If you’re really interested in the Maya culture, Toledo offers a Maya homestay network program you can check out as well.
Garifuna and East Indian are two other predominant cultural influences in this region. Be sure to try the East Indian specialty, tacari and cohune cabbage.
Food Travel in Belize
The dishes mentioned here are just an introduction to Belizean cuisine and the country’s varied cultural influences. I’ve dined around the country and I honestly can’t say I’ve ever run across a place I’d deem a tourist trap. In San Pedro, many of the beachfront restaurants and “expensive” joints are frequented by the locals and expats, quite a departure from nearly everywhere else I’ve traveled in the world. If you’re looking for specific recommendations, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to offer suggestions. And, if you’re found some gems here in Belize, do share as I’m always looking for new places to eat!
This post was in partnership with Alamo Rental Car, but as always, thoughts and opinions are my own.