You just can't help slowing down and relaxing in Placencia. Sit back, sip a seaweed shake, and forget your cares. Nobody ever seems to get up early (except maybe the fishermen), and most people spend their days camped in the sand reading books and eating seafood. The beach, although narrow in places, is arguably the best in Belize. You can walk for miles and see hardly a soul. Still, if you need more activity and adventure, there's a host of options.
Snorkeling & Scuba Diving -- There's often decent snorkeling right off the beach, especially if you head north a mile or so. The water's clear and you'll see plenty of fish and bottom life in the sea grass and along the sand bottom.
One of the more popular snorkel excursions is to the nearby Laughing Bird Caye (tel. 523-3565; www.laughingbird.org). Located just a few miles offshore from Placencia, Laughing Bird Caye is a national park. It's a tiny little island measuring roughly 11x107m (35x350 ft.). There's good snorkeling and swimming offshore, and a beautiful little beach. Many tour operators take folks here and then serve a picnic lunch on the beach.
However, if you're serious about diving or snorkeling, you'll want to get out to the barrier reef and its dozens of little offshore cayes. It's between 16 and 40km (10-25 miles) out to the reef here, making it a relatively quick and easy boat ride. Diving here is as spectacular as at other more popular dive destinations in Belize, and you'll often have far fewer fellow divers around.
From late March to early July—especially just before, during, and after the full moons—the waters offshore from Placencia are a world-renowned place to spot and dive with mammoth whale sharks (rhincodon typus), the largest fish in the sea. Whale sharks can reach lengths of up to 12m (40 ft.) and weigh in at more than 20 tons. It’s about a 30-minute boat ride to Gladden Spit, an offshore, deepwater site where tens of thousands of cubera snapper come to spawn right around the full moons. No dummies, the whale sharks come to feed on the nutrient-rich snapper spawn. And not only whale sharks. During these peak feeding periods, you are also likely to see dolphins, bull sharks, and sea turtles, as well as the massive schools of snapper. Note: Even during peak periods, whale shark sightings on these dives are far from guaranteed. If you sign up for one of these dives, you must be very prepared for the possibility that you’ll see little more than some snapper and jack.
Most of the larger resorts have their own dive operations, and these tend to be some of the better operations on the peninsula. There is also a handful of independent operators in the village servicing folks at the rest of the hotels. If you're not staying at a hotel with a dedicated dive operation, check in with the folks at Seahorse Dive Shop (tel. 523-3166; www.belizescuba.com).
A snorkeling trip should cost between BZ$60 and BZ$120, depending on the distance traveled and whether or not lunch is included. Rates for scuba diving run between BZ$120 and BZ$300 for a two-tank dive, also depending upon the length of the journey to the dive site and whether or not lunch is included. Equipment rental should cost from BZ$15 to BZ$30 for a snorkeler, and BZ$30 to BZ$60 for a scuba diver.
Fishing -- Fishing around here is some of the best in Belize. There's excellent bonefishing in flats in this area. Anglers can also go for tarpon, permit, and snook, or head offshore for bigger game, including grouper, yellowfin tuna, king mackerel, wahoo, mahimahi, and the occasional sail or marlin. Experienced guides can help you track any of the above fish, and many are taking their guests out fly-fishing for them as well. Most of the big lodges and resorts here offer fishing packages and excursions. Well-equipped sport-fishing outings run between BZ$1,200 and BZ$3000 per day, depending on the size of the boat, number of anglers, and distance traveled. However, you can hire a smaller open-air skiff perfectly suited for fly-casting for bonefish, permit, or tarpon for between BZ$400 and BZ$1,000 per day.
We particularly recommend the team at Tarpon Caye Lodge (www.tarponcaye.com; tel. 1/833-827-7661 or 523-3323;); these are some of the more experienced fishing guides in town, specializing in fishing for permit and tarpon. They run a small fishing lodge on the remote Tarpon Caye. You can also try Trip ’N Travel (www.tripntravel.bz; tel. 660-7189) another long-standing local operation with well-regarded guides.
Kayaking -- Several hotels and tour operators in town rent out sea kayaks. The waters just off the beach are usually calm and perfect for kayaking. However, the lagoon is probably a better choice, offering up more interesting mangrove terrain and excellent bird-watching opportunities.
Rates for kayak rental run around BZ$10 to BZ$20 per hour, or BZ$60 to BZ$80for a full day. A guided tour of the mangroves or a combined snorkeling and kayak tour offshore should cost between BZ$80 and BZ$150 per person.
If you're looking for a guided tour, the best kayak operator in Placencia is Toadal Adventure (tel. 523-3207; www.toadaladventure.com). These folks offer several different multi-day kayaking trips, both out on the ocean and on inland rivers. Custom trips can also be designed.
Sailing -- The crystal-clear waters, calm seas, and isolated islands surrounding Placencia make this an excellent place to go out for a sail. Your options range from crewed yachts and bareboat charters for multiday adventures to day cruises and sunset sails.
The Moorings (tel. 888/952-8420 in the U.S. and Canada, or 523-3351 in Belize; www.moorings.com) and TMM (tel. 800/633-0155 in the U.S., or 226-3026 in Belize; www.sailtmm.com) are two large-scale charter companies with operations in Placencia. Options include monohulls, catamarans, and trimarans of varying sizes. Given the shallow draft, increased interior space, and reduced drag, a multihull is your best bet. All of the boats are well equipped and seaworthy. Rates for a weeklong charter run between BZ$4,000 and BZ$18,000, depending on the size of the boat and whether or not you charter it bareboat or with a crew.
Guided Day Trips
While the ocean and outlying cayes are the focus of most activities and tours in Placencia, there are a host of other options. The most popular of these include tours to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the Mayan ruins of Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit, and up the Monkey River. Day trips can run between BZ$100 and BZ$300 (US$50-US$150/£27-£80) per person, depending upon the distance traveled and the number of activities offered or sites visited. Almost every tour agency in town offers these trips, or ask at your hotel for a recommended guide or operator.
Monkey River -- Perhaps the most popular "inland" trip offered out of Placencia is up the Monkey River, and most of it is actually on the water, anyway. Located about a half-hour boat ride down the coast and through the mangroves, the Monkey River area is rich in wildlife. If you're lucky, you might spot a manatee on your way down. Once traveling up the Monkey River, you should keep your eyes peeled for crocodiles, green iguana, wild deer, howler monkeys, and the occasional boa constrictor. In addition, you're likely to see scores of bird species. These tours can be done entirely in a motor launch, or may allow you to kayak on the Monkey River portion; I recommend the latter. Most tours include lunch in the quaint little Creole fishing village of Monkey River itself, as well as a short hike through a forest trail. Monkey River trips cost between BZ$90 and BZ$120 per person.
Spas & Bodywork
If you're looking for a little pampering while in Placencia, there are several options. Most of the big resorts, like Turtle Inn and The Inn at Robert's Grove, have their own spas and spa services, which you may be able to book even if you're not a guest there. Alternatively, there are a couple of day spas right in the village. The Secret Garden Day Spa (tel. 523-3420) is located behind Wallen's Market near the center of the village, while Siripohn's Thai Massage & Oriental Spa (tel. 620-8718) is a new option located in the Placencia Village Square, next to the Tutti Frutti Ice Cream Parlor. An hour-long massage should cost you between BZ$140 and BZ$200.