Travel brings you some new and interesting road trip experiences, some places more than others. Belize rates high on this chart. You will see all kinds of picture-worthy driving moments both on the mainland and on the Cayes. As for San Pedro traffic, people in the back of trucks, overcrowded golf carts, and crazy things on small vehicles.
Like a guy driving right-handed on the beach road carrying a rolled-up mattress with his left arm. I turned to look away from the Caribbean sea just as he was gliding by and barely managed to catch the picture before he was gone.
Please excuse the blur. I feel this guy earned a place in this important post for his mad skills in spite of my picture quality. Had I been driving with a friend, I would have turned around and helped him get his mattress to its destination. Not that I thought he was sketchy but a friend recently reminded me through his recent experience that a girl should always err on the side of caution from dusk onward.
For first-timers, be safe and always watch for unusual traffic when driving around town. It is easy to see how this man could have gone sideways had he swerved to miss a pothole, animal or child suddenly crossing his path. Always safely pass them or leave a cart length between you and these kinds of travelers if you can.
For a town that is technically less than 2 miles long, it can be a bit confusing to navigate San Pedro traffic. We have waaaay too many and widely varied size vehicles for our narrow streets and sadly it is only going to get worse with increased development and increasing numbers of drivers.
For that reason I let my royal blue beach cruiser with high handlebars go to Caye Caulker with my friend Francine. I know I can go ride in the peaceful country ride anytime I want. Although I still prefer walking there or golf cart taxis on roads less traveled, especially when it is a six-seater filled with my friends 😀
San Pedro Town Traffic
To make it easier to understand where the traffic hot spots are, I will write N/S or E/W, to indicate which way the streets run. In addition to the roads to watch out for below, you can find some good info on the Applied Worldwide blog post on Exploring San Pedro with Ease: Our Experience Renting a Golf Cart.
Nurse Shark Street N/S
On the north-west side of the old football field in town, across from the Artisans Market and San Pedro House of Culture you will find Nurse Shark Street. Technically this is true Back Street but it is shorter than the others. It runs parallel to the lagoon and offers a very pretty view on bright blue days and at sunset.
Something to watch for on this road:
Be very careful when you round the south end corner of this road by the Barber and the International water taxi terminal. It’s not very wide and someone barreling left around the corner heading south (turning east) can easily cause a fender bender. You also have to watch for the International Water Taxi Terminal traffic coming from the west.
My traffic safety collage below shows you what it looks and feels like to be heading south and make this turn. Due to the drain dips, you are pretty much forced into oncoming traffic in order to make your turn. It is also worth noting, because the road in this area is smooth people tend to drive faster. Make sure you slow down at either end.
3-Way Intersection on Coconut Drive N/S
The road jogs on its way just outside of town, passing Island Academy school with the pretty white picket fence to the east and shopping to the west with Island City Supermarket and the Belikin Beer Distributor.
Coming from both directions it’s a quick right, then a quick left. That doesn’t seem so bad until you factor in the drivers heading east in front of the store (between the supermarket and the Bowen & Bowen Warehouse). Those folks have a stop sign so when you’re going either way on Coconut Drive you have the right-of-way.
There is also a huge speed bump just to the south of the veer. Sometimes drivers heading east (turning north) try to beat the other vehicle that is going over the speed bump heading south. The building blocks the view a bit to the north so it’s a good idea to just take it easy when going around this corner either way.
This is also a tricky spot on foot during higher traffic times. Often vehicles (because it is common and our streets are narrow) end up taking more than of their fair share of the road. There is also a lack of sidewalks for the amount of foot traffic to consider in this area.
The photos below are shot from the north-west end of the intersection. As you can see, the southbound “tree truck” and the northbound water truck take up the same space on the road. The stop sign is not in a proper location, but it would probably get hit if it were where it should be.
I am a big fan of community outreach so I asked former traffic police and Hell Fighter Ministry volunteer Ismael Badillo to weigh in as a qualified source. Always striving for a safe community well beyond traffic, Ismael was happy to share a few more places he felt were important for you to watch out for.
Coconut Drive N/S to Tarpon Street E/W
This area covers a large part of the San Pedro airport zone and the main road in and out of town. Heading north, Tropic Air is on your left. As you approach the northeast corner of the building you need to make a quick left (there is a concrete wall in front of you) then a quick right. The street name is still Coconut Dr. You must turn left or right on Tarpon St. as there are buildings on the other side (Coconut Dr. ends).
taco Tip #22
For island first-timers, practice bicycle hand signals as this is how you will help people know which direction you plan on heading.
As you can see the south end of the airport area can easily become a nutty cluster. So much varied traffic in and out of town in the midst of drop-offs and pick-ups and sesame street moments on both sides of the road by Tropic Air Departures and around the corner at the open-air baggage claim. Carts Belize and popular Sunbreeze Hotel and Blue Water Grill Restaurant are to the right (renovations were underway at Sunbreeze when I shot that pic below).
Middle St. N/S & Caribeña Street E/W
When you are on Caribeña heading east and you approach Middle St. which is officially Pescador Drive, you must turn either right or left. Caribeña becomes one way heading west on the east side of Pescador.
On the flip side, starting on the one-way north Barrier Reef Drive (Front St.) turn left on Caribeña and heading west, you can:
- Turn south onto Pescador (Middle) and you will be in a shopping and low-cost local food eating district.
- Turn north. Pescador takes you toward more businesses and the bridge – but the names changes to Laguna Drive north of the roundabout.
- Go straight (W) towards Almond, (Back Street N/S) the lagoon and town gas station. If you then turn north on Back Street, you can take an interesting back road ride to the bridge. Partial water view, a great daytime local neighborhood picture-worthy off the beaten path experience. Head south and you will find a commerce and residential zone.
Keep in mind, the streets are narrow and most of them are not marked. Folks tend to navigate by buildings and colors first and actual street signs last.
Many of the two-way streets allow for parking so it is inevitable that you will find yourself driving in the direction of oncoming traffic. I counted on my way to the pool yesterday. Five times wheeled vehicles of varying sizes were coming at me for a brief moment till they got back in their lane. Caribeña is a street where this is definitely going to happen especially at peak traffic times and on delivery days. The photo below is taken facing east on Caribeña, between Back & Middle St. As you can see by the golf cart pulled over well in advance on the no-parking side of the road, there is still little room for the big truck to pass.
The Fountain Roundabout
Heading north it’s a “regular” roundabout that gives you the right-of-way all the way around. Heading south, east or west approaching the roundabout you must stop. There are stop signs and these ones are strictly enforced. Remember, if you are heading south or east and you reach the stop sign at the same time as one another, the driver on the right (in this case the one heading east) has the right-of-way. When heading west, after you stop and then proceed into the roundabout, you have the right-of-way (as if you had entered heading north). You can go around and head south, make a right turn to head north or go straight “across” to continue heading west.
What you will find in each direction from the roundabout:
- North, business and residential. Local food like Annie’s Pastry and tacos, grocery, fruit markets and other shops up to the bridge.
- East is the famed beach road with a popular beach bar line up including Palapa Bar and Grill, Sandbar Restaurant, Sandy Toes, Wayo’s, Hurricanes Ceviche Bar, and more. You are sure to find cool people, tasty food a fun view and often live music. You can always cab home if you find yourself a bit too tipsy from this fun self-guided bar crawl. There is a benefit to picking up your cart in the morning. You can choose to enjoy breakfast in town at Estel’s Dine by the Sea, or Lily’s Treasure Chest and enjoy the view and a Goma (hangover relieving morning cocktail).
- South heading to town there is a wide variety of nicer restaurants and shops. Be sure and past by Caye Custard, formerly known as DandE’s Frozen Custard or the Belize Chocolate Company if you have a sweet tooth for finer affordable treats. Or stop by Casa Pan Dulce for a piece of tres leches cake – it is pure creamy goodness with big icing flower designs on top 😀
- West, you cannot go not far before you will have to go North or South through local neighborhoods with smaller tienda’s (corner stores) and a handful of other local businesses.
And remember folks, if you are walking the beach and your left foot is in the colorful Caribbean, you are heading south. If it’s your right foot in the water you are meandering north.
I will leave you with one last picture and some good advice.
taco Tip #23 Getting Around Ambergris Caye
If you can, avoid traveling during school hours. Traffic is especially busy with everything from foot-travel on up and extra street vendors often cause minor slow-downs forcing foot traffic to go around. Always anticipate possible unexpected occurrences.
A leisurely early evening drive in North Ambergris Caye (across the bridge) had a few of us stopped in our tracks a minute as we waited for big dump trucks to maneuver so they could empty.
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