Hopkins, Belize is a coastal town with one street and a thriving Garifuna culture. It’s sleepy, dusty, and has yet to be completely invaded by tourism.
I visited Hopkin on my ten-day adventure around Belize. Staying in a small guest house on the main drag, I explored the area by foot and boat. My adventures in this town kicked off with a traditional drumming lesson, followed by snorkeling, and concluded with a pretty epic fishing trip.
The first night in Hopkins my group participated in a traditional Garifuna drumming lesson.
I will admit that I was a bit apprehensive about this activity. I figured one of two things would happen. First, that it would be touristy and not authentic or second, that I would be absolute crap at it.
Well, I can say for sure that I do not have a hidden talent for drumming, but I had an absolute blast learning the art. Our group was taught three different beats; each of which got progressively difficult. I confidently mastered the first three beat rhythm, wavered on the second five-beat rhythm, and failed quite spectacularly on the final seven-beat rhythm.
The best part of the session though was learning about the Garifuna culture.
Based on a combination of African and Caribbean traditions, the Garifuna culture is strongly expressed through music and dancing.
Once our formal lesson was over we were treated to a performance from the master drummers. Watching them play was mesmerizing. Their hands flew over their drums as they beat out a rhythm that pulsed right through me. My feet thumped to their sound and soon the entire group was up dancing.
The combination of learning how to play the drums and the master performance was a wonderful way to experience the Garifuna culture.
The next morning I woke up early in preparation for a day at sea. On the agenda, snorkeling, and fishing.
At 8:00 am sharp, a young guide arrived at my guesthouse to pick me and few others up. He took us down the main street to the company’s ramshackle snorkel shack and we were all fitted with gear. Once we had our masks and fins we walked across the street to the beach and our awaiting boat.
Once our gear was safely stowed aboard the boat, we stood back and watched a crew of men launch the rig into the water. Using a system of logs, brute force, and timing the men pushed the boat into the waves and started the engine. We then rolled up our pants, ran into the waves, and jumped into the open top boat.
With the motor straining, we bumped and splashed against the waves, leaving the shore behind us.
After an hour in the boat, we arrive at a small island. As we beached the boat we all jumped out with our snorkel gear and backpacks and made our way to a small patch of shade cast by a cluster of palm trees. Here we stripped down to our bathing suits and ran straight into the beckoning water.
With my mask firmly fixed to my face I dove under the water.
The sea floor was covered in white sand, pale grass, and tiny silver fishes darted around. As I swam further from shore, the water got deeper and the sea grass gave way to coral structures.
Now swimming above a coral garden, larger and more unique sea creatures began making appearances. The first big fish I saw were silver barracudas and second, came a school of little cuttlefish.
I was amazed at the diversity of sea life that I was seeing. But, as I swam I could not help but notice that the reef did not look as colorful as I had pictured. Our guide later informed us that we were not snorkeling in protected waters. For this reef, this has meant damage from boats and people. However, the local community and a local research station are working to revitalize the reef. I saw evidence of this while snorkeling. There were grids of growing coral set up everywhere underwater. It was a treat to be able to see how a reef is brought back to health.
Once the group was finished snorkeling we packed up our boat and zoomed off to go fishing.
Finding a good spot, the guide stopped our boat and dropped the anchor. He then baited our hooks and showed us how to cast.
Within two minutes I felt a distractive pull on my line. Fish on! Reeling my line in as quickly as possible I eventually pulled a beautiful grouper out of the sea. I danced excitedly, celebrating my catch, and the guide rebaited my hook. Plunging my line back in the water, I had snared another fish within ten minutes. This time I brought a small red snapper into the boat.
The final time I cast my line into the ocean it took a bit longer to get a bite. But, when a bite came, the strength of it nearly pulled me out of the boat! I reeled and reeled, and then reeled some more. This fish was huge! The guide was convinced I had bagged myself a juicy barracuda but, as I pulled in the last bit of line what I had caught was revealed.
I had caught a nurse shark!
Laughing in utter amazement I got my husband to snap a quick photo while the guide set about releasing the creature. Once the shark was safely released I gave up fishing for the day. Nothing was going to top catching a shark and my arms were sore from reeling her in.
Hopkins definitely surprised me. I did not know what to expect before arriving here but, I was glad I visited. The town is rich in culture, full of adventure, and seems ripe to be the next tourist hot spot in Belize.