Saturday, April 12, 2014

Campgrounds in Belize

We're not the only ones that prefer the comforts a Hilleberg tent for good night's sleep...
There seem to be quite a few people traveling the Americas in 4x4 campers that camp just about anywhere. Parking areas, deserted side roads, petrol stations, quarries and even behind the local church. I don't have a problem with that, although I quite understand that the local people might not appreciate it all that much…! Especially when the people that stayed there mark these places in their GPS as campgrounds, don't provide accurate information with it and publish them on the net…

This was described to us as a 'nice campground in a
quiet area'. Imagine arriving here after a long day riding
The local people might be ok with one camper camping behind their church, they might even laugh about it as no-one had ever done that before. It becomes another matter altogether when 6 or 7 turn up night after night because that first camper spread it to the world as a campground. Another problem, especially for motorcyclists, is the way the 'campgrounds' are being described. We had one which read, 'beautiful quiet campground, lots of room, water and toilet'. When we arrived there it turned out to be a carpark at a dead end road of an out of town shopping complex. Sure it was quiet, the toilet was the night guards own porta-loo and not open to the public while the 'water' was a small dirty stream next to it… We've also had WalMart parking lots, a quarry with a big closed gate around it, campgrounds that have been closed for years, etc. Some GPS coordinates were so far off that it took us an hour to find where it should be.

A few weeks ago we've met people that are trying to plot all the campgrounds for Central America into an iPhone app and rely on data that others send them. We wish them the best of luck in sorting through all this mess and rogue coordinates, as most of them you simply cannot judge on accuracy without actually being there. Situations can change quickly too. Especially the so called boon docking or free spots, which will be closed by councils when they gain popularity. 

What we have done instead is make a list of camping options for motorcyclists. Spots where you can pitch a tent and where there are toilets and water. Proper campgrounds. Of course you can also visit them with a camper, a trailer or a car and tent. These can be RV parks, swimming pools that cater for campers, National park campgrounds or people just opening their garden as a campground. 99 Percent of these will cost money, but as they provide the local people with an income they are also likely to stay open in the near future. 

As we like to find free and accurate info ourselves, we publish our findings free of charge too. When we leave a country, and have had some time to get all our data checked, we'll upload the GPS coordinates with a brief description to our skydrive which can be found here. These can be downloaded free of charge and used in any Garmin GPS or the Garmin Basecamp programme which is freely available from Garmin. How that all works can be found on our blog as well here. The maps we have used to plot these coordinates into are also free. We used the maps from both Open Streetmap and for Central America we also used the Cenrut map. Our GPS is a Garmin 62 which is accurate to approx 4 mtrs. and we have checked the given location against both maps before publishing them.

We haven't visited each and every of the locations. In the info section of each campground you can see which ones we have checked personally and which ones we have stayed at. There are also a couple where we haven't stayed as there were better alternatives nearby (which we have named too). The rest have been checked by people we have met recently and are clearly marked with 'haven't stayed there ourselves'. 
To give a little insight into how many 'rogue' GPS coordinates there are out there, we started with a list of over 70 camping options for Belize. Our first reaction was: Wow! Camping must be huge in Belize. It wasn't. At the end of our Belize trip there are just 13 left, 4 of them are terrible (we left them on just in case as there were no other options at the time) while 2 of them are on an island, leaving a grand total of 7 out of 70 on mainland Belize. Still, as you can see when you download them, going through Belize on a motorcycle with a tent and camping all the way is perfectly possible. 

We prefer camping over hotels and motels as it brings us closer to nature. We've enjoyed Howler Monkeys around our tent, enjoyed beautiful starry nights and just enjoy being out there. We haven't seen TV for a year and haven't missed it at all! We also prefer camping at campgrounds over free spots. Not only because of the facilities provided like toilets and showers, but also because we feel we contribute something to the country we're travelling in. We like the small campgrounds, often operated by a family, where you can see directly where your money is going to. The people operating the campground are usually lovely hospitable people and a goldmine of local and accurate information too. Camping at campgrounds and spending a little money also means the cleaning lady has a job. We love camping and we love Belize!