Blue Water Visions
Caye, Belize - May 2004
Our journey to Ambergris Caye had been a long time coming. We had talked about going to Belize for ages, but it took lots of research to decide when to go and where to go. For years we had entertained the idea of heading further south to Placentia in search of the ultimate whale shark encounter at Gladden Spit. We just felt that should we fail to actually see one, the whole trip would be a total disappointment. So we settled on Ambergris Caye and decided to travel on the full moon in May just in case a geographically challenged whale shark passed a little off track to the north.
left on a Saturday morning and flew through Charlotte on US Airways direct to
Belize City. After a short wait, we
caught our flight to Ambergris on Maya Island Air . . . a charming 12 seat,
single engine Cessna Caravan. (Just
the kind I’m never too thrilled to board)
Oh, but the low flying plane provided views that were breathtaking.
After take off we saw a river snaking through dense jungle, then the
classic Caribbean blue water interspersed with small islands stretched out
before us, and finally our tiny destination with an even tinier airstrip.
Our flight from Roanoke departed at 8:00AM and we were arriving here by
mid-afternoon. Belize does not
observe daylight savings time and falls in the Central Time Zone.
At the airport, our luggage was quickly put into one of the few vans on
the island and we were at The Exotic Caye Beach Resort in moments.
home for the next 8 days was a beachfront efficiency right beside the hotel’s
bar, Crazy Canucks. This bar is a hangout for many of the island locals and
expatriates alike. After settling in and donning swimsuits, we headed to town.
The heart of Ambergris Caye, San Pedro, was
only a 15-minute walk up the beach. It
was still quite hot outside, so we searched out an appropriate vantage point to
take in a cool drink.
trip research, we’d read of the “battle for the best Monkey La La in the
Caribbean.” The discussion pitted Fido’s on Ambergris Caye against Fantasy
Island Beach Resort (Roatan, Honduras). Since
we planned on visiting both in the same year, we immediately sought to find
Fido’s and sample contestant number one.
When we approached the bar and ordered a Monkey La La, it became clearly
apparent that he had no idea what we were talking about . . . so we settled for
Margaritas on the beachfront. Oh
well, only 4 months until Roatan.
room at the Exotic Caye was set up like a small beachfront condo.
We had a nice size living/dining room combo, a kitchen, bedroom, and
bathroom. We had a microwave, full
size refrigerator, and stove. Plates, glasses, and silver were provided as well.
We took advantage of the facilities to reheat dinner leftovers for lunch,
keep cold juices, and basically set up our own bar. Chairs on the front porch
made sitting outside and just watching people, boats, and activities at the bar
simple. The staff was always very friendly and helpful . . . once
even using a wheel barrel to take our initial load of gear up the beach to the
dive shop. Each day when we returned, our maid had filled a small tub beside our
door to rinse our feet off before entering a clean room.
Someone is available almost all the time at the front desk to help you
rent a golf cart or bike, plan a mainland excursion, or just buy bottled water
for your room.
first day of diving was Monday since Sunday had been too windy for boats to go
out. Protech Belize would be our dive operator for the week. They are located on
a dock just a short distance up the beach directly in front of the Belize Yacht
Club. Just far enough to walk on
the waters edge and enjoy the incoming waves in the morning. We had an excellent
dive master, Brian, who wore whimsical fins which read “I lead, You Follow”
on each fin. He would be our
divemaster everyday, which made it easy to quickly become comfortable with each
other. We dove with the same operator each day except Thursday when we opted for
the all day Turneffe Atoll trip with Amigos del Mar. A couple from California named Ken and Kristin joined us for
most of the week as well. It’s
always nice to meet other couples and talk about your travels. They had opted to spend a few days on the mainland followed
by diving here and had many stories to share.
We’ve continued to email back and forth since the trip.
It’s great to have dive buddies all over!
seems most of the dive spots had names that deservedly ended with the word
Each site seemed to just
roll and roll. As you crossed over
each knoll and into the next canyon, you just never knew what large creature
you’d find swimming through the channel.
We regularly saw free-swimming moray eels, nurse sharks, and turtles. We also saw 4 or 5 spotted eagle rays sort of dancing in a
cylinder pattern in one canyon. There
were always tons of other fish on each dive.
All the coral looked very healthy and the dive sites were relatively
close. In fact, we came back to
ProTech’s pier between the two dives each day. I won’t bore you all with a complete fish list,
just take a look at the Belize Gallery to see the marine life and creatures we
encountered. We did find a new
creature that had to be looked up while logging our dives . . the Batwing Coral
Crab. Unfortunately, his pose was
just not impressive enough to make the gallery, but we always enjoy pouring
through our fish/creature identification books until we find what we saw!!
During one dive we heard the unmistakable clicks and whistles of dolphins
but it was so hard to determine their direction underwater.
Rick and Brian saw 5 in the distance, but I unfortunately did not.
south of most of the diving is Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
This is a spot we visited twice during our week here. We dove it first as
a night dive. The site is a 20 to
30 feet deep and lies in a near U pattern with the deepest portion lying near
the bend in the middle. Current was definitely strong near the only break in the U
where the water feeds into the channel. We
felt the need to cross this section quite quickly to avoid being swept outside
the reef. Any attempt to retrieve a
diver swept out would be difficult since a recent boat grounding on Ambergris
Caye had destroyed the only remaining channel marker noting safe passage outside
the reef. There were lots of cool creatures for pictures here, but none more
striking than the overwhelming abundance of Southern Stingrays.
We must have seen nearly 30. They
were literally everywhere. Some
were half buried and stalking their next meal, but all were strangely still. Not
a single one was cruising around. We returned to snorkel Hol Chan after our last
day diving with ProTech. They fill
a piece of PVC pipe with chum to draw nurse sharks and stingrays in for all to
see. We took both cameras but remaining submerged long enough to
take good pictures was a challenge. It served as a reminder of how wonderful
having an air supply is while trying to compose a picture. We got precious few clear shots, because the feeding activity
and the number of people snorkeling really stirred up the water. During our
outing, a single spotted eagle ray made one elegant pass, but refused us any
evidence of his visit. We still
aren’t sure if having scuba gear or the fact it was dark made the first dive
here a little better.
one-day outing to Turneffe Atoll was really impressive. You know you’re going to have a great day diving when you
pass a well know live aboard vessel anchored a mile from your first dive
location. We passed one of the Nektons (never could decide which it was) just
before diving “The Elbow.” This
site was fabulous. The barrel
sponges on the wall were literally 5 to 6 feet in diameter and equally as tall.
The colors of the coral and sponge growth seemed more vibrant here and
the wide variety and overwhelming abundance of marine life was spectacular.
As the dive neared the end, our dive master turned away from the wall and
out into the blue. Obviously he
knew this is where the two currents actually converge. We saw five different
schools numbering in the hundreds. Sometimes
there were two schools at a time. The
effect was extremely disorienting and required a close eye on our depth gauges
to keep us in check.
other two dives were equally as striking. There
were many more of the enormous barrel sponges and tons of fish here too.
We had lunch on Calabash Island where the University of Belize has a
research facility. Amigos del Mar
provided the meal here in grand style. Our
feast was made by a local woman from Ambergris Caye and warmed in the
facility’s kitchen while we made our second dive.
It included chicken, rice, potato salad, fruit and even fresh coconut
cream pie for dessert. After lunch
we made the third dive and then started the long boat ride back.
During the return trip, the crew brought out cold Snickers bars and beer
for all on board. Once inside the
reef but still about 45 minutes out, they served the local favorite cocktail,
the “Panty Ripper.” Made from coconut rum and pineapple juice, these potent
libations became a new favorite for us. The
all day excursion started with a pick up on our hotel dock at 6:00AM and
didn’t return until almost 5:00PM, but we’d highly recommend the trip.
We had the option to do Turneffe or the Blue Hole, and after hearing from
those who had done both, we opted for the Atoll.
If you’re visiting and feel compelled to go to the Blue Hole, note that
most said “it’s a deep dive with some cool formations and occasionally you
may see sharks circling in the bottom.” Although we have no basis for
comparison, I think we made the right decision.
on the island, we always enjoyed the short walk in either direction to find
dinner. One of our favorites was
the Jambel Jerk Pit. Rick really
likes spicy food and this place had great jerk chicken. Most of the restaurants were small and seemed to have only 5
to 10 tables. They had sand floors
and served mostly local cuisine. All
were reasonably priced and served lots of seafood, rice, and black beans or
other local vegetables that we really enjoyed. We sampled El Divino, Caliente,
El Patio, Elvi’s Kitchen, The Belize Yacht Club and Monkey Bites Cafe. We also managed to have a
delicious pizza actually delivered to our room from a roadside stand near our
hotel after a night dive. Another
evening we spotted Bobby Knight at a little restaurant called Rasta Pasta.
For those of you who don’t know him, Coach Knight is the current head
coach of the Texas Tech basketball program.
He was both coach (@ West Point) and mentor to Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
University’s head basketball coach. As an avid Blue Devil’s fan, I had to ask if Rick could
take my picture with him. He was
extremely accommodating and even talked a little about his recruiting class
coming up. We chatted, snapped the picture, and walked back down the beach with
only excursion beyond walking distance was an afternoon golf cart rental to see
the northern end of the island. We
drove through the busy streets of San Pedro and came upon the small waterway
known as Boca del Rio, that separates north from south. The only way across is on a hand pulled ferry .
. . really! Although I understand
they have decided to replace it with a bridge. Several larger resorts including
Captain Morgan’s, where TV’s “Temptation Island” was filmed, are out
this long bumpy cart path. Soon
after the crossing we started to encounter heavy rain.
During one shower we parked under a nearby banana tree, it’s huge
leaves acting as our umbrella. Once the rain let up we were off again until the
next downpour. It was raining so hard at one point we actually stopped at one of
the resorts for a beer and asked for trash bags to wear as rain coats to
continue. The scenery was
beautiful, but would have been so much nicer if we’d been able to stop and
take more pictures on a sunny day. We
stopped for a late lunch at The Laguna Grill at the Belizean Shores Resort near
the road’s end. After climbing
several flights of stairs, we were treated to a fabulous, although rainy view
both inland and out to sea. The
rain abated to a sprinkle and we began the ride back to town.
All week we’d had wondered why the golf carts had knobby monster truck
tires, but now we knew.
is definitely a place we would return to visit and dive. The quaint little bed and breakfast style hotels line the
beach and the short walk by moonlight is quite romantic. The diving and dining were excellent and the people on the
island were extremely friendly. I
think every place we ate or shopped took a credit card and almost all the locals
spoke English. When our week came
to a close and we returned to the airport, we again boarded a tiny plane.
But this time the copilot’s seat was empty and Rick quickly hopped to
the front. His vantage point made
for some great photo opportunities. As
we descended back into Belize City, we saw an enormous shrimp farm and we got a
different look at a thunderstorm. It
appeared as a curtain of water closing over the lush tropical forest.
All in all, Ambergris Caye is a great vacation destination.