How Do You Grocery Shop in San Pedro, Belize?

I got this question earlier this week from a slightly exasperated fellow.  “Where do you shop…I mean…how do you eat?”.

The family was visiting for two weeks, had been out and about in town and found grocery stores…with no produce and expired products, fruit and vegetable stands…with a scant selection in comparison to what they were used to and products that were up to 5x what they would pay for them at home.

fruit and veg

There’s no Starbucks, no McDonalds’, no Whole Foods, no recognizable chain grocery store…

What gives?  How, they asked me, do I shop for my food on Ambergris Caye.

The answer is:  very differently than I did in the US.  But then, that makes sense.  I am not in the US.  And that being said, it did take me a while to adjust and learn how to make it work for me.

cayemart

But let’s start by being straight up.  I am not much of a cook, so intensive, pantry-stocking shopping is not my thing.  But my very first job on the island was doing provisioning for a now-defunct resort way up north so I know it can most certainly can be done if you follow a few rules and you know where to look.

 1. Fruits and Vegetables:  Eat local.  Vegetables and fruits grown in Belize are fresher, generally and much cheaper in price.  You can find apples, pears, imported lettuces…but you are going to pay for them.  The year round fruits are usually:  pineapple, bananas/plantains, papaya and watermelon.  And then we get all sorts of fun seasonal stuff from mangoes to custard apples.   Buy what looks and smells good.  And try new stuff!

pineapples
Oh my goodness LOOK at these cheap prices. This is on the mainland. On the caye, you can expect to pay about $5bzd for one.

Vegetables that you can count on year-round are:  cabbage, onions, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, small local pumpkins, cucumbers, sweet and hot peppers and potatoes.  Often cauliflower is available.

If you are craving brussel sprouts (and I do!) or bok choy or baby carrots in a bag or grapes,  they are going to be pricey…sometimes shockingly so.  A bag of cranberries, $20bzd!

They have been imported and a heavy duty was paid.

The Greenhouse (on Middle Street) is a fabulous store for both produce and specialty food items.  If you are looking to prepare food in San Pedro, I’d put it first on my list.

greenhouse

2.  Dairy Products:  Fresh diary products – from milk to yogurt to ice cream – are a relatively new thing in supermarkets.  We live on an island and the temperature is generally quite warm.  Not ideal for diary transportation.

For years, San Pedranos used powdered milk and butter was EXPENSIVE and actually came in a can.

wood dunn

So while many products are now sold in stores, we are even getting greek yogurt in some places, they are pricey to import and pricey to buy.  ALWAYS check the expiration date.  Often these items are left on the refrigerated shelves for quite a while in hopes that they will be sold.

3.  If you want to “eat American”, it’s going to be cost ya.  I’ve seen it so many times.  A group of visitors going around a store, filling their cart with Doritos and Fruit Loops, frozen pizzas and Stoli Vodka.  They get to the register, see the total and pale.  These things are imported and cost up to five times what they cost in the states.

Consider tortilla chips, eggs, toast and gorgeous local bacon, rice and beans and go for local rum.

Annie's Pastries just across the street from the High School opens at 3pm and is a smorgasbord of delicious goodies. Sweet and savory. Get the chicken dip!
Annie’s Pastries just across the street from the High School opens at 3pm and is a smorgasbord of delicious goodies. Sweet and savory. Get the chicken dip!

4. Meat Since we are on an island, you’d think it would be fish, all fish.  But Belize really is a chicken eating country.  (Herbert Hoover would be pleased.)  And you can find it in many grocery stores.  Definitely pick one that seems busy or specializes in meat/chicken (like Quality Poultry or Lino’s Meats) to make sure you get the fresh stuff.

This is the chicken for we!
This is the chicken for we!

Pork is delicious and the Sausage Factory south of town (their products are carried in the Greenhouse) has some delicious cuts.  Beef, unless you buy something at a specialty shop that is wildly expensive, is just not a typical local meat.  It is getting MUCH better…but if I were you, I’d enjoy it at a nice restaurant.

Or wait until you get home.  Eat local!

FISH!  You’ll ask where to buy it…can you get it fresh?  You’ll ask around and find all sorts of answers like “well, I have this guy who rides around on his bike on the Back Street” or “try to meet the fishing boat at the Central Park pier on Tuesdays or sometimes Fridays” – it’s almost like a game or buying crack (I imagine).  A game I don’t like to play.  Fish?  I eat out.

no fishing

5. Imported Alcohol is Crazy Expensive.  If you don’t like rum at all or local beer, you are going to pay for it.  Literally.  A bottle of Barefoot brand wine in the states is anywhere from $6.99 to $10.99, in Belize, they start at $30bzd.   Hard alcohols are the same…or worse.

My advice?  Embrace rum.  Belize makes some lovely ones for $15-25bzd a liter.  Or pick up a few bottles of what you do like at the Duty Free Shop where you pick up your luggage at the international airport.

bottles

6.  There are lots of good grocery stores on the island like Caye Mart (shown above) or Mermaid Store south of town.  I like these stores because the owners are behind the registers – and they are great guys.  And willing to negotiate on pricier items.  SERIOUSLY!  No need to be shy…a quizzical “is this really the price?” can get you a discount.

And don’t always grab for the brand you are used to.  Often there is a local substitute that works just fine.

Superbuy (a HUGE one on Back Street and one South of town) has a great selection.  At all places, just check your dates and all should be fine.

7.  LASTLY, if you are single or a couple, consider eating out for most, if not all, meals.  As a single gal, I found it cheaper to eat out for lunch.  A giant plate of DELICIOUS chicken, rice & beans at a deli like Briana’s is $9bzd (or $4.50US).  There are so many yummy cheap eats that I wrote a whole blog on them.

brianas deli

A huge lunch has me (usually) eating something lighter, more snacky for dinner.  Street food is both safe and delicious in San Pedro.

8. Lastly plus One.  Coffee – one of my favorite things.  Many Belizeans are used to drinking the instant stuff with powdered creamer and sugar – years ago, that was all there was.  Now there is a greater selection but again, it’s mostly imported and a bit pricey.  But one MUST have coffee.

My favorite is Caye Coffee which is roasted and bagged here on the island.  A pound will run you anywhere from $12 to $14USD.  It’s great stuff.

caye coffee

Or try Maxwell House.  It’s not only good to the last drop, it’s as good as it gets here in Belize.

If all else fails – there are provisioning companies on the island.  So that you can just check some boxes and have things delivered right to your hotel or rental home.

Make shopping part of your Belize experience…a bit of hunting and gathering is a great way to meet people.






Be the first to get the Scoop AND receive my weekly newsletter...

  • Miranda

    Great post, Rebecca. I have been spending about 1/3 of the year in SP for about 3 years now. I got some good tips from you, which I will employ on my next trip.

  • SPmQQse

    geszzz Rebecca….now i’m hungry.

  • Jeanne

    Your blog has been SO interesting lately. It is really informative and helpful to those of us who are excitedly anticipating a trip to your beautiful island! Great job!

  • mysteryboy

    “There’s no Starbucks, no McDonalds’, no Whole Foods, no recognizable chain grocery store…” and are we not happy!

    I always laugh at that typo duty free “cartoon” cigarettes

    • I didn’t even notice that! I wonder…are they like candy cigarettes?

  • johnwinkler

    Hi there- Happen to come across this article Googling Greenhouse to get their hours! To the authors point, it is our #1 pick for food shopping in San Pedro. We are San Pedro veterans, this is our 16th year. I say that we came for the fly fishing and come back for the people! Love the article and agree. Couple of adds which I hope are helpful: If you are a coffee lover, several options have popped up lately if you REALLY need that americano, chai, or frappe. We have tried them all and would recommend ‘Marbucks’ (yes you read correctly, cute, right?). The owners are cheerful and are just as good baristas as anywhere. Good homemade baked goods too. Since we are on the flats all day dinner tends to be our biggest meal and we cook in for all but 2 or 3 nights of our 2 to 3 week stay. We eat great, save money, and have impromptu dinner gatherings with friends and other guests of Captain Morgans. Of course, that means your rental needs to have a kitchen. If it does, and you plan to cook, be sure to get a list of what it stocked with, and is not. Over the years we have learned to bring some essentials, like a favorite knife, measuring cups, even a cookie sheet. All to say, don’t be a penny wise on packing if it will save you money in the long run, not mention add to your enjoyment. If you are nice, I will connect you with our guide and good friend. In addition to our normal catch and release fly fishing, Darrel will take us for a quick spin to hook up a couple of snapper or, like today, hop in and hand pick up a couple of lobster…doesn’t get fresher than that. The pic attached is last week’s Belizean surf and turf with some of our guide friends. Could go on….hmmm…why aren’t we ‘blogging’. Enjoy our favorite place! Peace!

  • Jeff In York

    Recently completed our first outing to your beautiful island. What a wonderful trip. My wife and I were in St. Thomas many years ago and this felt similar in many ways but yet a little more laid back. You had mentioned groceries and before our trip, I was a bit worried about the adventure that grocery shopping can be in an exotic locale. We ended up contacting belizegrocery and they handled everything for us. They even delivered everything on the day we arrived. It was just one less hassle we didn’t need to deal with. We didn’t buy too many big items because there were so many good restaurants to choose from, but this sure got us stocked up on breakfast foods, Pinot Grigio, and other staples. Probably spent a little more than venturing out into the city, but for us, it was worth it.

  • CordovaChick

    We were recently staying in Ambergris Caye at a condo and cooked most of our meals in rather than eating in town at restaurants. Finding all the food we needed was challenging, but fun if you like to shop around…we called it “forging for food.” U.S. Dollars (usd) are accepted in Belize…just believe that one (1) US Dollar equals two (2) Belize Dollars (bzd)…all change is given in Belize coins. Our recommendations for various items:
    GENERAL GROCERIES / PAPER PRODUCTS / MISC.
    • Island City Supermarket: We had read that this grocery store was 10-15% higher than others in San Pedro, but learned from a local source that the store was under new management. We found their prices very reasonable and most items were had not expired yet. (Tip: check all expiration dates.) Ask them about their VIP Discount Card (10% discount off purchase of $20.00bzd or more, restrictions apply on certain items). Cost of various products: box of Oatmeal ($3.50bzd), small bottle of olive oil ($3.95bzd), half gallon of 2% milk ($10.95bzd), one pound of sharp cheddar cheese ($19.95bzd), small bottle of soy sauce ($3.50bzd), one dozen eggs in carton ($4.50bzd; eggs are 3 for $1.00bzd and carton is $0.50bzd; tip: take carton with you each time you go to the store for eggs)
    PRODUCE
    • On Tuesday mornings (maybe even Wednesday & Thursday) meet the boats that come into the docks near Back Street with fresh produce to sell. We got prices for items on our list from 6 or 7 vendors before buying anything. The prices here are almost half the price of similar items at fruit and veggie stands/stores in San Pedro. Our mistake was not buying enough produce the first time. Cost comparison (dock produce vs. in-town produce): one head of romaine lettuce ($3.00bzd vs. $4-$5.00bzd), tomatoes ($1.50bzd/lb vs. $2-$2.50bzd/lb), white potatoes ($1.50bzd/lb vs. $2.25-$250bzd/lb), onions ($2.00bzd/lb vs. $2.25bzd/lb).
    • We did find a couple of fruit/veggie stores on Back Street that had fresher produce and better prices than the supermarkets or the Greenhouse.
    MEATS
    • CHICKEN: we went to the Quality Poultry Products store on Front Street (Barrier Reef Drive) and brought two whole chickens and cooked on the charcoal grill and had several meals (including chicken tacos). Cost: $23.58bzd (9.0 lbs @ $2.62bzd per lb) or about $12.00usd.
    • FRESH FISH/SEAFOOD: either take a boat and go out fishing for the day (or half day) or check out Mario Seafood Service (Tel 660-0473, located on the west side of the airport runway) that sells fresh fish and seafood. We did both and had an abundance of fish to eat. Cost: Conch $13.00bzd/lb, large shrimp $18.00bzd/lb, small shrimp $12.00bzd/lb, snapper $15.00bzd/lb. If you order 25 lb or more, they will deliver. Lobster was not in season at this time.
    • PORK/DELI MEATS: We brought spare ribs, deli meat, and cheese at the Ambergris Sausage Factory. We discovered this place later in our stay and wish we had found it earlier. The frozen spare ribs were on sale for $5.00bzd/lb and had lots of meat on them. Most of the meat is frozen (except for the deli meats and cheeses).
    BEER, WINE & LIQUOR
    • BEER: Belikin is the beer of Belize. You can buy it wholesale from the Crystal Belikin Beer Depot, which is located south of San Pedro. To get there, travel south on the main road (Coconut Drive) until you have to make a right. After making the right turn, keep going straight past the gas (petro) fuel station intersection and the depot will be about a block down on your left-hand side. Cost per case of regular Belikin beer (24 bottles): $65.00bzd that includes GST and $11.00bzd deposit ($5.00bzd for crate and $6.00 for bottles). Empty bottles and crate can be returned here or at the Belikin Beer Distributor located across from Island City Supermarket and Island Academy.
    • WINE & LIQUOR: (Warning: liquor and wine is very expensive to buy in San Pedro.) Each person is allowed to import one litre of wines or spirits, duty free, into Belize. We each brought a bottle of liquor in the duty free shop in Atlanta before our flight to Belize City. Upon your arrival in Belize City and before picking up your luggage and going through customs, visit the Arrival Duty Free Shop located in the baggage claim area. There each person can purchase up to 6 litres of spirits or wine (or mix and match). We brought a case of wine (12 bottles) and the duty free store put them in a box that we were able to check as a piece of luggage on our Tropic Air flight to San Pedro. Also, Tropic air required the duty free liquor we brought in Atlanta to be placed in our checked luggage.
    CHOCOLATE
    • The Chocolate Boutique (located on Front Street): gives out free small samples of dark, milk, and white chocolate.
    • Mahogany Chocolate (located in Mahogany Bay Village): They have the most delicious “cold chocolate” drink that only cost $1.00usd for about 2/3 cup. Three of us shared one and it taste like melted chocolate ice cream!
    FRESH BAGUETTES, BREAD & PASTRIES
    • Delices de France Bakery (located in San Cas Plaza across the street from the Tropic Air Terminal): This is the new French bakery in San Pedro. They have REAL french baguettes and we got a fresh loaf every day. The apple tarts were also delicious. The owners (Florent and Sandra) are from France and extremely nice. We also got their sandwiches for lunch one day….really good, and each got a croissant the day we were leaving!!!