One of the common questions we get after people realize we are not planning on living in a hotel environment is “Where do you get your food?” and “Is it safe to eat?”. After I sat down and pondered this I understand why people ask. There is always concern about the quality of the water or the safety of the produce and meat. After doing the appropriate checking with your home governments travel recommendations (though take some of them with a grain of salt or you will never leave home) and spending the time to read the local papers on line or via Twitter. As well as reading over other peoples blogs who have been there before you, you can make some reasonably educated choices.
The first, and for me, one of the most important questions is can you drink the tap water. As we both like to keep physically active and with humidity in excess of 90% a lot of the time, water consumption can become an issue. The information I found was that the tap water on Ambergris Caye and San Pedro was drinkable. We went with the safe approach of starting with bottled, then slowly over the first three weeks switching over to tap water. Other than the normal slight disturbances one should expect in their gastrointestinal system with changing locations, modifying diets and changing water. We had no problems whatsoever. I would strongly suggest you already have all the appropriate inoculations and are stocked up with things like immodium just in case things get a little rough. As well, if you are not peeling the produce you need to be conscientious about washing it before eating it (even the limes for your drinks).
As with anywhere in the world you need to shop around a bit if you are looking for the best prices. But in our minds this is just a great way of meeting more of the local people. One thing to check for is the expiry dates on packaged and canned goods. You will not have to look far to find stuff expired by a year or two, but hey, buyer beware.
We find we prefer to get our chicken and pork from the supermarkets. Their refrigeration just seems a little more consistent. If you are feeling adventurous there is great cooked food to be picked up as well. We have eaten here and quite enjoyed it.
However for fruit and vegetable we have found that your best bet is to get it right off the supply boat when it arrives in the morning, or get it from the produce stalls along the roadside. I find them fantastic and diverse. From the dirt floors and bins of fresh and the bins of severely overripe fruit (kind of like the discount racks in the stores in Canada). The biggest adjustment we had was realizing that where we used to purchase fruit and vegetables for several days at a time, here that does not work so well. Here, the fruit is FRESH. Give it 36 hours and it is overripe. I do believe that also explains the difference in taste. Fruit is good here. It is not that it is super cheap or anything, .50cents US for 4 or 5 bananas, 2.50US for a papaya or pineapple. Green, habanero, and jalapeño peppers are under a buck US depending on quantity.
We found that when it comes to alcohol you need to shop around as well. The shopkeepers are very honest when it comes to advice on what is the best deal and better quality. We get our rum from a small convenience type store where a litre of amber rum of decent quality goes for $9US. For beer you can go to the Belikin distributors if you are at the south end of San Pedro or get a case of 24 for $32.50US at the Village Supermarket just north of San Pedro (that is if you have a case of empties) $38US without empties. A lot of the supermarkets will deliver your groceries if you ask.
Eating and shopping while travelling is one of the great experiences of travel. There are many great restaurants in and around San Pedro and they are wonderful for special occasions. But for day to day living nothing beats buying local and preparing in the flavour of the locale.
Going fishing tomorrow, so hopefully will have some ideas on fresh fish supplies soon.