The Lure of the Belize Palapa Bar

It’s been said the best time to hit a palapa bar is in the early evening, just before the sun goes down. The warm air envelops you, people are sitting around smiling, talking about some totally awesome ocean oriented activity that they did that day, and you feel like you’re in one of those Travel and Leisure ads you used to fantasize about, only right now you’re not dreaming about it, you’re living it.

My first night ever in Belize was one of those evenings. I’d just arrived in Placencia via the puddle jumper from Belize City, and to welcome me the resort had offered a free drink in their palapa bar.

I was actually looking forward to relaxing under a palapa. All throughout Placencia palapas are situated out from the shoreline on extended wooden piers. They give you that space you’ve been craving to experience the ocean away from the shore without having to get wet. They’re the quintessential Belizean postcard, a symbol of vacation charm and a great place to hang out.

In Belize there are palapas with all kinds of purposes. There are palapas for looking at the stars, palapas for relaxing in a swing with your sweetie, palapas for sitting out and sunbathing, palapas for fishing and there are also palapa bars.

Here’s a picture of the palapa bar I went to on my first night in Belize.

Excited about my free drink, I dropped my bag in my room and headed down the uneven, narrow walkway out to the palapa jutting out from the sandy shore of the hotel grounds where the bar was in full swing.

Sitting under that thatched roof felt just the way travel should be – relaxing at the end of a pier with a drink of fresh juices and rum in my hand, talking to my ten new best friends that were having their fruity drinks too, hearing the waves lap beneath my feet and watching the sun go down.

Yeah, Jimmy Buffett, eat your heart out.

I had a grand old time socializing and sipping. The country was giving me some sort of much needed mental massage as I developed complete amnesia as to why I ever managed to get myself at all stressed out in the first place.

It got darker and we all got hungry. People began to drift off in search of dinner and I was ready to drift off too.

I headed over to the mouth of the walkway I’d taken to get under the palapa only to discover just how blackeningly dark the path was once the sun dropped below the horizon. The narrow, uneven walkway seemed navigable with daylight still hanging around, but now that the sun had dropped, it was barely distinguishable from the water surrounding it, and lit only by a few scattered luminaries.

With my sight lines impaired, and rum in my system, I wondered, what if I started walking, miscalculated and ended up falling in the ocean and getting eaten by an croc? We’ve all seen reality tv. It could happen.

But isn’t that why we travel? To have exciting experiences that far outweigh anything we could watch from an armchair? How many people can brag they narrowly escaped being a croc dinner while staying put in Omaha, Nebraska?

So I took a deep breath, got on my knees and crawled all the way back to the hotel shore.

When I stood back up with splinters in my pants, feeling entirely victorious, I noticed some of the people sitting by the pool had been watching me. They applauded.

Ah yes, you never forget your first night in Belize.

Brett Renee Stone is a managing partner and director of communications for Palm Reef Resort.

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