Embracing Garifuna Culture and Beach Life in Hopkins, Belize

Letter 180

If you head down south, away from the Caribbean vibes and backpacker hotspots of the islands, you’ll find the petite village of Hopkins. This string of local houses, beachfront cabanas and vibrant bars and restaurants is lined with a long sandy beach and crystal clear water. With access to nearby national parks, a serene river trail and an abundance of diving and snorkeling, it’s a brilliant place to visit. It also happens to be much cheaper than the islands and far less touristic.

Belize Hopkins Beach 1

KEY INFORMATION ABOUT HOPKINS

  • Reaching the small Garifuna village of Hopkins is actually very easy, but it helps to know exactly what you’re doing.
    • From the north you need to first get to the capital, Belmopan. This would mean either taking a bus from Belize City (where buses from Corozal or boats from the islands will take you) or from San Ignacio (where you might be if you have arrived from Guatemala). In some cases you can get a bus all the way from Belize City to Dangriga with no need to change in Belmopan. Cost: approx. 10BZD (£4)
    • From Belmopan you need to take a bus to Dangriga. The buses will be the old school buses and are very cheap. They are also surprisingly efficient and on time. There are buses from Belmopan to Dangriga around every hour. Cost: approx. 8BZD (£3.20)
    • From Dangriga the easiest way to get to Hopkins is to take one of the village buses that will drop you off right in the village. The problem with these is that they are very infrequent (but again, they are efficient). Cost: 5BZD (£2).
      • Dangriga – Hopkins: 5:30am, 8:30am, 10:30am, 2:30pm, 5:15pm.
      • If you miss these, you can take any bus south (Punta Gorda/Placencia) and jump out at the Hopkins intersection. You can then hitchhike or take a taxi to the village for 20BZD (£8).
  • There is one backpacker hostel and this is the Funky Dodo. It was a good hostel with decent rooms and a lovely outdoor common area and kitchen. There are also lovely private rooms and there were couples and families staying as well as backpackers in the dorm.
    • Their website is SUPER helpful for all travel information and things to do, even if you’re not staying there.
    • Funky Dodo Website
    • I paid £13 per night for a dorm bed.
  • If travelling in a couple, you could book a luxury beachfront cabana for cheap.

Belize Hopkins Funky Dodo

 

Garifuna

Hopkins is mostly known as heart of Garifuna in Belize. Garifuna is a unique, vibrant culture descending from both Caribbean and African ethnic groups. It is different to everywhere else in Belize and this makes Hopkins a must-see when in Belize. For a small country, Belize has a lot of diversity!

The key thing to experience here, is the music. Drumming in particular is a huge part of Garifuna culture and is so much fun to try out. The Driftwood beach bar and Fred’s Lime Tree bar both have Garifuna drumming nights where you can watch the masters in action and then have a go yourself. Both offer good food too.

You’ll notice beautiful handmade jewelry and clothing being sold from roadside shacks and women and men dressed up for evenings out or even community meetings. The food also differs slightly from the rest of Belize, with more emphasis on seafood stews and delicious plantain.

Belize Hopkins Garifuna Drumming

 

River Tour and Bio-luminescent Water

The only activity I did in Hopkins, besides lounging on the beach and eating, was the Luminescence Tour of the Sittee River. This tour costed 60BZD (£24) from the hostel, so wasn’t cheap and I’m certain had I looked around I would’ve got it cheaper, and takes you on a boat tour beginning around an hour before sunset, and ending later into the evening when the luminescent water becomes visible.

The river tour was beautiful. The mirror-like water and silent sunset was pretty special and we also got to see some iguanas, birds, bats and glowing spiders, but unfortunately no crocs. After getting back down the river we floated through a small tree covered passageway which led to the large open lagoon. At first it looks like nothing – just a black lagoon under a dark night sky. Then we were told to start moving the water and we saw it. A magical trail of bright blue is left after every movement, almost like sparkly fairy dust. We were mesmerised! The best way to really experience it is to get in and swim about with a blue echo around every movement. This is actually caused by tiny organisms emitting light caused by a chemical reaction. When we travelled a little around the lagoon and looked out at the water, you can even see fish swimming around, creating the same blue trail. It was brilliant, but I have no photos of this because a) it was too dark for my camera and b) I was too busy ogling at it.

Belize Hopkins River 6

 

Beach days

One of the nicest things about Hopkins is the long stretch of sandy beach which is dappled with coconut trees and the odd sunlounger or hammock from a cabana. It’s not crowded at all and is a nice place to swim. People are often a little dumbfounded when they realise that the islands actually don’t have many beaches (Caye Caulker has only one), so heading south to Hopkins and Placencia is worth it for some sand between your toes.

Belize Hopkins Beach 3Belize Hopkins Beach 4

Belize Hopkins Beach 2

That tiny red dot in the middle is the sun rising – for some reason this is how it looks every morning!

Belize Hopkins Beach 5

The locals love their coconut water and if you’re lucky someone will climb up and cut one open for you to try. 

 

Cycle around the village

The village of Hopkins is small, but long. The best way to explore is by bike. I rented one from my hostel, Funky Dodo, and it was 1BZD (40p) per hour so a very affordable activity! I cycled all the way down the coast towards Sittee Point, mostly out of curiosity, and it was a kind of strange place. Here is where the local, cultural village turns into a string of resorts and holiday home, and it was pretty much deserted. When you reach the river, however, it’s pretty lovely. I tried my best to spot a crocodile but again failed. I did see some interesting wildlife though!

I then cycled back into the village, stopped at the first beach access I saw for a swim and something to eat (at Thongs which is a cool cafe, reasonably priced and very enjoyable!), and then headed to the northern part of Hopkins. This felt much more ‘lived in’ and there were lovely painted wooden houses and fun bars.

Belize Hopkins Cycle 1Belize Hopkins River 1Belize Hopkins Cycle 2Belize Hopkins Cycle 3Belize Hopkins Cycle 4

 

Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve and Mayflower Nature Reserve

If there’s one thing I’m truly gutted about with my trip so far, it’s that I didn’t get to do to either of these reserves. These two are within easy reach from Hopkins and both have unique things to do and see. I was keen to go to Mayflower to hike around the waterfalls and you can also try your hand at ziplining. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me, mainly because I was on my own. When I was in Hopkins there weren’t many people at the hostel and it was therefore difficult to get a group together to go. To get to the reserve, the hostel offered transport for 4 people for about 40BZD (£16) each. If you have a group, that’s great! Not so great when you just want to go. It seemed like you couldn’t really get there by bus but in fact it might be possible.

A friend who has been living here for a while said that it’s possible to take the early southbound bus from Hopkins, get off on the main road junction to Cockscomb and then hitch a lift in with one of the passing workers who are arriving for opening as well. I don’t know how well this would realistically work and it’s just much easier if you have a group.


 

I’m desperately hoping to do some hiking before I leave Belize, but it can be difficult if you’re travelling solo. There’s so much to see, it’s just often inaccessible! I would love to come back with someone else or a group, rent a car and go to all of those hard to reach places.

Overall, I really enjoyed Hopkins and think more people should visit. I find it funny that people complain about how expensive Belize is when they are only basing it on the touristic islands. They are expensive, but the northern and southern coasts, and interior towns, are much cheaper. Plus, getting the buses around Belize is incredibly cheap.

Next Stop: San Ignacio

I’ve been staying in a small village called Santa Familia, a few miles out of San Ignacio, for almost a month. I’ve been doing some volunteering here and exploring the area and have loved it. It’s gone far too quickly and I’m nearing the end of my time in Belize, but I still have a few more things I want to do and I’m hoping I can still manage it! To come: tales of volunteering, explorations of San Ignacio and a weekend in Guatemala.

 

From Lou

About Me

 

PS. Before I arrived in Hopkins, I had planned to do some more diving (fresh off my PADI course!). However, I soon realised it would be really expensive and I just couldn’t justify it. The dive shop in the village centre was charging 150USD for a half day and 250USD for a full day. I was tempted, but knowing I will head back to Mexico for diving that will be cheaper, I decided to give it a miss. I’m sure it would’ve been brilliant, but for me it was just too much.

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