Belize Trip Report by Sheila Jordan
Heading to San Pedro town on the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize is an adventure of it’s own. As we walk across the tarmac headed to a small Maya airplane, a man tells me to hand off my bag and get into the co-pilot’s seat. As I sling my bag over to Matt, he hands me his camera. “Take pictures!” he says climbing into the back of the little plane.
Yes, it was cool sitting next to the pilot, but out the windows was a whole new world. Passing over shallow sholls, small Cayes, islands, every shade of blue in the ocean speeding by, we could tell we were headed somewhere special.
We knew San Pedro was going to be a small airport in a small town. It did not disappoint. We landed less than 100 yards away from our hotel. As we rolled our bags to our beachfront abode we watched the golf carts and bikes cruise by. Smiling tourists and locals at the helms gave us a great vibe right away.
The SunBreeze Hotel was our home for the week. Two levels of large, air con rooms shaped like a horseshoe with a sand courtyard, lounge areas and hammocks in the middle. Close to the beach are the restaurant, bar, pool, dive shop and boat dock. Local school children play on the beach, soccer and laughter aplenty.
Beach level rooms all have a big lanai with tables and chairs. (The lanai was a fantastic place to hold our nightly happy hour.) Centrally located, you could walk anywhere in San Pedro. Cruise down the beach in either direction and pass eateries, pubs and dive shops. Walking along the streets brings you to more of the same, with a few trinket shops, bike or golf cart rentals and grocers thrown in the mix.
The food in Belize was quite good. Our hotel hosted a delicious breakfast each morning. Off the menu, you could choose American items, Mexican choices, Belizean breakfast, fruit, pancakes and more. Lunch and dinner we choose from the eateries near by. A few of the popular choices were Carolines (fish & chips, fish tacos, chicken with rice & beans), El Fagon (stewed deer, stewed gibnut- aka royal rat, frozen sangria), the Papusaria (El Salvadorian tortilla dish) and our own Blue Water Grill (conch chowder, fish & chips, nachos).
We even headed down the beach to watch and participate in the crazy “Chicken Drop” at Wahoos lounge on the beach. Picture this, a numbered grid, a dreadlocked DJ, “chicken security” guard (aka Coconut Willy), a confused chicken and a circle of barefoot, beer clutching people cheering for the chicken to poop on their number, printed on the slip of paper waving around in a sweaty fist. Both Barry and Sara got to be the chicken master for a round. Shawn and Jill actually got the lucky “drop” on their numbers and took home a little extra Belizean money!
The diving in Belize
The whole reason for the trip, diving. Our first few dives were a little bumpy on the surface, but below was beautiful. We splash into the world of soft coral and fans flowing with the current, sandy bottom canyons, swim throughs and the ever present nurse sharks gliding along through the soft corals and divers alike. Some of the wildlife we encountered: giant green eels, friendly loggerhead turtles, lobsters twitching their antennae like underwater orchestra conductors, fire darts hovering over their hole homes, huge groupers, invasive lionfish (which our DM would spear and feed to the nurse sharks), barracuda hunting along the canyons, huge sting rays in the sand, flamingo tongue cowries climbing up the coral stalks for a snack, snappers eyeballing us as we swim by, parrotfish, jacks on reef patrol, and cleaning stations where small striped fish service their clients.
Some of the most remembered encounters… Group 3 (Matt, Sheila, Bob, Kathy, Barry & Garret) took a giant stride right into a group of huge bottlenose dolphins! What a treat, you could not see them until you were in the water. This playful group of dolphins kept showing up along our dive and even made an appearance as we joined up with Group 2 (John, Donna, Lisa, Sara, Shawn & Geoff.)
Group 2 also had “The Flying Ray Experience”. An eagle ray was getting bothered by an overzealous remora, right in front of Geoff at their safety stop (as he was filming) the ray launched itself out of the water in a full breach!
Group 3 (Vanessa, Fred, Ann, Ken, Steven and John) found a GIANT stingray. Our group was lucky enough to run across them as they were filming this 6’ plus specimen. Group 3 also had the best lionfish hunter, so they got to see shark feeding often.
Night diving in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve was something special. Back roll into warm water as the sunset fades. Looking down in the shallow sandy bottom the huge hermit crabs crawl through the seagrass looking for their next conch shell home. Making our way to the natural channel in the barrier reef, we see a stingray! Then another, and another and another… Eagle rays cruise by as the green eyes of the resting stingrays warily watch. The channel edges teem with small shrimp, crabs, their hermit crabs cousins and fish bedded down for the night. Huge eels slither on the hunt, an iridescent green/blue octopus looks for dinner, lobsters tiptoe from their hidey holes as the reef comes alive. We thought ahead and had some beers to share on the star lit boat ride back, chatting about all of the wonderful things under the water we were so lucky to see.
About half of our crew opted to take a day trip to the famous Blue Hole. It’s quite a trek, a 3 hour speedboat ride each way, but this is a “bucket list” dive for some. Their tales were happy ones about the journey and dives. The Blue Hole itself was once a cave in the center of an underground tunnel complex whose ceiling collapsed. Stalactites and other proof this giant hole was part of a cave can be still be seen. This day, the divers were luck enough to see a beautiful large Caribbean reef shark cruising along the crater wall. Little life is in the hole itself, but the surrounding Lighthouse Reef dive holds more than enough to make up for that.
Lamani Day Trip
Our final full day was spent trekking to and exploring the Mayan ruins of Lamani. No diving planned so we could rid ourselves of extra nitrogen before flying home. An hour of speed boating gets us to the mainland of Belize. Sea birds, small islands, mangroves and even a few manatees greet us along the way. Riverside breakfast, then off for the bus ride to the next leg of the journey. (One van was a little late after a mechanical issue, but our groups took it in stride, after all, that was the van holding the beer.) Another hour speeding down a twisting river watching for the egrets and kingfishers. We leave the narrow curves of the river and come out onto a vast lake fronting the Lamani Mayan ruins.
After a local Belizean lunch we start to head off to the temples but a howler monkey resting in a tree distracts us then we spot the coati in the same tree and are delayed by photos. Finally we get it together and head through the jungle and arrive at the temples with steps headed up to the sun. Mask Temple, Jaguar Temple and High Temple are all stunning. We manage to get our whole group together for a few photos. Walking through the ball courts causes an eerie feeling, knowing the winner would literally lose his head. Just as we are about to head back to the boat, we hear some rustling in the trees. Howler monkeys! John, Matt and I went to investigate. There was gang of howlers hopping around and checking us out. They got louder and louder, we could still hear them calling as we made it to the boat for our trek back.
Additions to a dive trip to Belize:
Vanessa and Coop took a few days before the dive trip to Placencia. This tiny coastal town is know for it’s visiting whale sharks. Seahorse Dive Shop led trips out to snorkel with these awesome creatures. Vanessa and Coop also enjoyed the quaint town, friendly people and delicious food in Placencia.
Matt and I spent 4 nights prior to the dive trip at Black Rock Lodge. We had a wonderful time at this riverside eco resort. Canoeing, bird watching (3 kinds of toucans!), hiking, mountain biking, tubing both in the river and an underground cave system kept us busy during our stay. The food was great, bonus!
Belize Scuba Diving Trip Information (historical) – This information was used to advertise the trip.
Prices and details may change for future trips, but it gives a snapshot of what the trip prices were like at this time. Contact Sheila Jordan if you would like to her to arrange an independent traveler trip for you.
Trip to Sunbreeze hotel with 5 days of diving and a jungle river cruise to Mayan ruins – Lamanai. Also included a fun sunset cruise and daily breakfast. $1599 for a deluxe room dbl occ, $1499 for a standard.
It may be one of the smallest nations in Central America, but Belize is home to the world’s second-longest barrier reef and three of only four true coral atolls in the western hemisphere. During the spring and early summer months, Belize is one of the most reliable destinations for swimming with whale sharks, and it boasts the most recognizable landmark in the known dive world, the massive ocean cavern known simply as the Blue Hole.
Now factor in the topside attractions-some of the most significant Mayan archaeological sites in all of Central America, laid back beach towns, remote island dive lodges and adventurous jungle tours. This doesn’t even begin to cover all the reasons thousands of divers flock to Belize every year.
In a country filled with exceptional dive options, Ambergris Caye (Where we are staying!) is the most popular spot for three simple reasons-location, location, location. The largest of 200 cayes that dot the coastline, it’s just a 20-minute plane ride from Belize City. It’s also the closest you can get to the Belize barrier reef. You’re never more than a few minutes by boat to a great dive on the deep coral formations that shelter the island, or to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Topside, San Pedro is one of those quirky, laid-back beach towns that divers take to instantly. Thanks to a just-right mix of waterfront restaurants, bars, internet cafes, ATMs and small stores, you have all the conveniences of home while still reveling in that world-away feeling.
Hol Chan is Mayan for “Little Channel” and refers to the deep cut in the barrier reef off Ambergris Caye. It’s the access point to dive sites outside the barrier reef, and the center of the three-square-mile Hol Chan Marine Reserve. In place since 1987, the park is actively patrolled to enforce the rules: no anchoring, no touching the coral and no fishing. The aggressive protection has paid off in the form of abundant marine life and healthy stands of elkhorn coral. The current can be blistering, but hanging out with the dense schools of jacks, grouper, snapper and barracuda massed along the walls is worth it.
The Belize barrier reef, the largest in the western hemisphere, stretches north to south along all 190 miles of the coastline, sheltering the interior cayes and providing divers with countless opportunities to explore. The reef runs closest to shore near Ambergris, slowly arcing away as it heads south. Dive operators specialize in taking divers through the deep coral canyons built by staghorn, elkhorn and brain corals. Many dive sites start in as little as 45 feet of water, but they can drop to 90 feet or more. Marine life includes all the usual Caribbean reef fish suspects, from tiny tropicals to reef sharks and turtles. The barrier reef is also home to the whitespotted toadfish, a species found only in Belize.
Belize is rare among top dive destinations in that it offers as many topside attractions as it does great dives. The convenient geography of the country (it’s only about the size of Massachusetts) means that from almost anywhere on the mainland you can venture out on a topside tour and be back at your resort in time for cocktails. Some of the most accessible Mayan archaeological sites in all of Central America are found in Belize, and should not be missed. Favorites include Xunatunich, an ancient ceremonial center overlooking the Mopan River valley near the Guatemala border; Altun Ha, just outside of Belize City; and Lamanai (Where we are going!), a scarcely excavated site on the New River Lagoon.
Although Belize is a relatively small country, it has an amazing variety of wildlife living in a wide range of habitats. The country’s savannas and lowlands are home to rare waterfowl, it’s forests provide a refuge for tapirs, pumas and numerous tropical birds while the mountain harbor the elusive jaguar. There are approximately 145 species of mammals living in Belize. There are 139 species of reptiles and amphibians that have so far been identified in Belize, including over 56 species of snakes. Belize is also a birder’s paradise with over 500 species of rare and beautiful birds.
Travel Related Country Information
No Visa required for US citizens.
Passport must be valid for six months AFTER your return date.
$35 cash departure tax to be paid at airport upon leaving
English, Spanish and Creole are the major languages spoken. (Belize used to be a British colony.)
Money: One USD = 2 Belize Dollar No need to exchange though, USD is gladly accepted.
Torn or tattered USD will be rejected. Bring smaller bills, it can be hard to get change.
Credit cards aren’t always accepted when you are out and about.
You may bring 1 liter of spirits. (Duty Free store!)
You may not bring in more than $5000 USD per person.
Bring bug spray!
Good idea to bring a light rain jacket. Tropical places do get rain.
Average temperature in May is a high of 89 degrees, low of 78 degrees.
Water temperature in May should be between 80 and 84 degrees.
Electricity: Plug in like US but wattage is 110v or 220v
About Ambergris Caye/San Pedro:
(Rumor has it this is the island Madonna sang about in “La Isla Bonita”.)
Our week long abode is the Sunbreeze Hotel, located near the heart of town. We are well within strolling distance of eateries, shops and bars.
Sunbreeze Hotel Phone:+501 226-2191
Beachfront, Ambergris Caye Belize
Coconut Drive, San Pedro Belize
The island is a 25 mile long, flat, coral sand island, protected on the east by a living reef that extends 185 miles down the coast of Belize. Ambergris is the Southernmost extension of the Yucatan Peninsula, a unique peninsula of porous limestone.
Golf carts and bicycles are the principal mode of transportation. The streets are home to local and visiting barefoot strollers, casually making their way through the the shops and restaurants or just relaxing and chatting with the friendly locals.
We can arrange to rent golf carts at the hotel.
Casual and cool is the name of the game when it comes to clothes. Shoes are optional all around town. There is a laundry service at the hotel, so you don’t need to pack a lot of clothes.