First, avoid the crocodiles
Ambergris Cay is a small, long island off the coast of Belize. The eastern ocean side of the cay, north of the main town of San Pedro, is where most of the vacation rentals are. These range from beach houses to a couple of posh resorts.
The middle and west side of the cay are swampy and rather stinky. One local man whom we met at a restaurant says there are at least 100 crocodiles in those swamps. He likes to go croc watching like some people like to go bird watching. The largest crocodile he knows of on Ambergris Cay is 10 feet long. He thinks the last person bitten was a tourist 4 years ago who waded too far into the water and “‘startled’ the crocodile in its home.”
Another person we met said the zoo released a 21 foot crocodile into the swamp because it was too big for the zoo. He showed us the best spot to view crocodiles. My husband and his friend went there the next day and saw many crocodiles sunning on the bank. The crocodiles all slipped into the water when the men showed up. The viewing spot is across the road from the new Wyndham Grand Resort being built.
Any other critters?
We saw one of the odd raccoons when we were driving the main road. It has a much longer snout than what I am used to seeing. There was also a four foot long snake slithering into the swampy area. There are rumors of jaguars, but we haven’t seen any. Also, apparently quite a few deer.
There were a couple of large iguanas along the beach path. Here is a list of other animals that supposedly may be seen on Ambergris Cay, which is not that far off shore from Belize and the water looked pretty shallowing when flying over in the small airplane.
What I saw the most of on my run was dogs (5). All but one were with owners who kept them under control, though they were loose and allowed to approach me. One of them was not claimed by anyone, but was small and was chased away from me by a fellow tourist.
Insect bites are a real concern
After two two days on Ambergris Cay, I was covered in insect bites. While it is possible I got some on the run, all four of us vacationing together have lots of bites, too. No one else has gone on the path, but two people have been fishing by the swamps for hours. The fourth person has mostly been in a lounge chair, so there is no single activity predisposing people to insect predation.
Even though we have seen some mosquitoes (mostly the fishermen have), some research shows that sand fleas are the likely culprits for the myriad of bites. I have not seen or felt being bitten. When I posted about it on Facebook, friends who have been to Belize and other similar climates suggested sand flea. These two articles also say the sand fleas are often a huge problem for visitors.
The most commonly recommended deterrent is a layer of baby oil on the skin because the little buggers are so small it blocks them from biting the skin. Apparently they are not repelled by the common insect repellents.
As far as soothing the itchiness, I have found that applying some olive oil helps quite a bit. So does swimming in the ocean’s salt water! A local resident recommended a hemp seed oil mix that helped a lot.
An excellent starting point for a run
We rented a beach house near the Indigo condominiums called Casa de Bonita (managed by the same staff, so we could use the pool there). We walked north of there one day and there is at least a mile of beach, but in too many places the sea grass washed up covering the shore, there were swarms of associated bugs, and trash was abundant.
Going south from Casa de Bonita, there was not exactly an official path, but a number of factors have created one anyway.
- a reef east of the cay moderates the tide and waves
- it is basically flat (no shoreline slant) most of the way
- all of the resorts keep the beach by them cleaned up
- lot of people walk and ride bikes along there
- the sand seems to be mixed with clay and is very firm almost everywhere
Right to the south of Casa de Bonita the path is a small road that is also driven on enough by the ubiquitous golf carts on the cay so that tire lanes are distinct. (see first photo above) It is nice that most of the resorts have posts spaced to block golf carts from monopolizing the pathway. For a short section after the small road, the path is more like a deer trail. However, soon it opens up into a swathe of well kept beach fronts.
In some places the path is clearly distinguishable, even being lined by well pruned shrubs. In other places there are wide open beach yards, of sorts, but there seems to be a way that most people on the path traverse. In just a few places the shoreline is neglected and adjacent property either undeveloped or in ruins, but there are still very reasonable places to get through.
There are sections where a thin layer of gravel make running less than comfortable, but it was never enough to make me put on the Luna sandals I had in my hip bag. In a few places there are short sections of what seemed to be pitted pavement.
But what about the heat
I started my run at 7 AM, which was great for the first half hour. By the time I turned around, I was aware I was doing heat training… But significant sections of the path were in the shade during that time frame, so that kept it manageable. Closer to sunrise, there very well may have been less shade.
A brief glance a toward the ocean made it clear I wouldn’t be enjoying the ocean view. The sun on the water was blinding. I don’t like to wear sunglasses while I run these days. I don’t think they would have cut that glare enough anyway.
I should mention that in the first two days we were here there were rather sudden storms, but both in the afternoon. We could see the clouds coming, then when the rain hit it as like someone pouring a huge bucket out of the sky. It was an onslaught of water that I would not want to be running in for very long.
I wish I had pre-applied vasoline and taken liquid to drink
When I run at home, I usually don’t need to carry hydration for runs less than 8 miles. In the dryer Idaho climate, cooling off even on warmer days is easier. Here in Belize, I was wishing I had something to drink by mile 4. I still made it back without feeling totally spent, but I wonder if the second half of my run would have gone better with some lemonade to sip!
The humidity meant more perspiration. Again, about mile 4 I was feeling the beginnings of raw spots. If I go on another run this week for more than 3 miles, I will use my vasoline!
The end of the line
I finally came to a place where further access down the coastline (or anywhere other than the main road full of crazy driers) was blocked. It was a combination of rock wall and otherwise unfriendly barriers. I checked Strava and found I had run 3.2 miles.
I didn’t take photos until on the return, so these are all looking back north.
It must have been slightly more than 3.2 miles, because just before I got back to my beach house, I hit the 6.5 mile mark. I did have just a little bit more trouble staying on the main thoroughfare on the way back, though, so that could also account for the extra distance.
I was mostly by myself while running. I passed 3 other runners during the time, all going the opposite direction. I crossed paths with a hand full of tourist walkers, plus just another handful of locals walking and biking to work. There were probably about 10 workers, 1-2 at a time, in front of various resorts cleaning up the beach. Everyone was quite friendly, except for the one man who called his dogs away from me with some reluctance and irritation.
Not for tender feet
As I mentioned, there were enough rough patches that I wouldn’t recommend the whole route to newer barefoot runners. However, there was enough loose sand and obstacles that I felt I had an important advantage in balance and ground purchase with my bare feet. I also imagine that shoes would get debris in them and get mucky from the sea grass areas.
In a couple of places, for fun I ran along the wide cement wall holding the ocean back. Bare feet always make me much more stable for that sort of balancing.
If you want to see the map of my run on Strava, here it is. We have driven quite bit around Ambergris Cay north of San Pedro. I really can’t see running on the main road. Too much of the road is right next to the stinky swamps. Too often there are golf carts, bikes, and taxis serving all over to avoid each other, and large grey puddles. I’m sure I would come back covered in clay water, if I came back at all.
Biking is an option
The beach house management has cruiser bicycles we can borrow, so I hope to ride the path once while here. Meanwhile, I have gotten in both an ocean swim and a pool swim, which I plan to write about later! I am trying to not be too regimented about exercise while here, but I think one more run is likely, too!