Sarteneja is affectionately known as the place where the sun sets on the water. It’s the only place in Belize where you can witness this and it gave me some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. Not only that, this small fishing village, visited by few tourists, is a quiet respite from the bustling islands and vibrant towns around the country. There are only boats, animals and jungle here, and it was perfect.
KEY INFORMATION ABOUT SARTENEJA
- Unsurprisingly, it’s not that easy of convenient to get to this tiny place. Someone recently described it to me as equivalent to the end of the earth – few roads go here, and nothing goes away from it.
- You can take the Thunderbolt boat at 7am from Corozal or 3pm from San Pedro to reach Sarteneja (and it doesn’t take long). It is pricey at around 50BZD (£20) from San Pedro – I’m not entirely sure of the price from Corozal but it’s closer so it’s cheaper.
- These same boats will take you away from Sarteneja at 7:30am to San Pedro, and 4pm to Corozal.
- Alternatively, and much more economically, you can take the bus to and from of Sarteneja. You will either take the bus north to Corozal or south to Orange Walk Town (and onwards to Belmopan and Belize City etc). I’m not sure of the buses to Corozal, but the ones to OWT leave at 3:30, 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30am. It cost me about 10BZD (£4) to get to Belize City.
- The best place to stay is Backpackers Paradise, which is a hostel/farm run by a lovely French lady, Natalie. The dorm is pretty comfortable and there are also private cabanas. There are horses and dogs wandering around and a good, well-equipped common area.
- Price of a dorm bed: 36BZD (£14 per night)
- You can ride the gorgeous horse Shiva for 50BZD (£20) and can ride as long as you want.
- Bicycle rental is 10BZD (£4) per day.
- Natalie is also super helpful organising other things to go.
- In Sarteneja, thanks to being close to the Mexican border, they speak a complete mix of English and Spanish, so you can generally be understood speaking either. When I say a mix, I mean it. Sentences are commonly half English and half Spanish – they will simply use whichever language is easier to say something.
- You can walk or cycle everywhere.
- Food options are limited in the ‘supermarkets’, but okay for a few days. There are some restaurants in the village, though I didn’t visit any.
The village itself is pretty small and full of both traditional Belizean wooden houses and grander colourful villas belonging mostly to ex-pats. The community is an interesting mix of fishermen and their families, friendly children and retirees that have moved here for a quite, simpler life than they had in North America or Europe. Everyone was super friendly and it’s very much the culture to talk to everyone you pass. Plan double the time to walk anywhere because you will end up having 3 or 4 conversations on any walk.
The waterfront is the most picturesque part of the village. Colourful wooden boats, still blue water, docks heading out from the path and sweet paintings encouraging the village to be mindful of the environment. I took many walks and cycle rides down this path throughout my relaxing stay.
As I said, one of the nicest things about staying at Backpackers Paradise is the horses. I took Shiva, a gorgeous, strong-willed mare, out for a morning ride and had a lovely time. Natalie let me go off by myself for a while, and I took Shiva to the waterfront and intended to take a nice ride up through the village. The went a little wrong when we bumped into her half-sister and Shiva would not leave her alone. So alas, Natalie came and got us, as she’s the only person Shiva will truly listen to, and we went off into the jungle for a couple of hours, away from her half sister. It was great to be back in the saddle and to explore the jungle minutes from where I was staying.
Also can’t forget about the gorgeous foal, Taco, who was affectionate and curious to everyone, which was lovely.
A great thing you can do whilst visiting Sarteneja is paying a visit to Wildtracks – a manatee and monkey rescue and rehabilitation center. It’s at the end of a long dirt track and right on the lagoon where they actually do their soft releases of the manatees back into the sea. They do incredible work and their volunteers are amazing – it’s very long hours and tough conditions, but some stay for many months to work with these gorgeous animals. It takes a long time to rehabilitate a baby manatee and they do it with lots of love and care. They are also very successful with the monkeys and are constantly doing more and more.
It’s not open to the public, so to visit you have to email to find out if they can show you around . Most likely, one of the volunteers will meet you, show you around and then let you watch the manatee feeding. They are full of information and it’s a great project so I’d highly recommend.
Shipstern Nature Reserve
One of the other main things to do here is visit Shipstern. This is a nature reserve centered around its lovely jungle walks and beautiful butterfly house. I was fascinated to see and learn about the butterflies they have and they were amazing! I spent about an hour just gawking at them. Then I set off on the jungle walk, which is an easy route and takes about an hour. You wander through lots of trees, see some small lakes and bask in the jungle air and sounds. It’s very peaceful and there’s literally no-one around. It culminates in the lookout point which is a tall structure taking you to a platform way above the tree canopy. It is gorgeous.
In any remaining time I had in Sarteneja I fully relaxed. 10-12 hour sleeps (except when I was joined by a giant cricket in bed – perks of cabanas), watching netflix, cooking food, playing with dogs, chatting with locals and lounging on docks. It was a blissful few days and I fell in love with Sarteneja. I hope to go back some day, perhaps for their Easter weekend which is apparently the best and biggest celebration as all the fishermen return home.
So many people don’t visit Sarteneja, or northern Belize in general. I think this is a big mistake. Belize is blessed with so many diverse cultures and landscapes, expecially as it’s such a tiny country. It seems a shame to me that most tourists only see one side to it when it has so much to offer. So if you go to Belize, stop in sweet Sarteneja.
Next stop: Caye Caulker