Not all those who wander are lost.– J. R. R Tolkien
From the moment I first saw a photo of The Great Blue Hole in Belize I was intrigued and really wanted to see it. It truly is a stunning natural wonder. Belize is an amazing country with so much to offer. I will focus this post mainly on The Great Blue Hole, though will touch on some of the other features Belize presents. Belize itself is steeped with Mayan history, and very advanced in terms of being eco-friendly. In addition, you’ll see some amazing animals and marine life very close up in their natural habitats.
A bit of geography: The Great Blue hole is a naturally formed giant sinkhole just off the coast of Belize, perfectly circular in shape and an enormous 318m wide, and 124m deep. Its sits inside a shallower body of water, an atoll, which has a coral reef surrounding it; in turn surrounded my much deeper water. It formed many thousands of years ago and is a World Heritage site.
From the Air: In my opinion, the best way to see it is from the air. So, from Caye Caulker, a little island a short boat ride from the mainland, up I went in a small 6-seater plane; sitting next to the pilot he also let me have a little go at flying the plane! Another amazing experience, though slightly stomach churning when I directed us down a little too quickly!
Diving the hole is on many people’s bucket list, you must be an experienced diver to do so. Whilst you would see marine life inside the reef of the atoll inside the hole itself is very dark and would be more for viewing the stalactites than fish or sharks. I was advised by a guy called Chris from Kidderminster who lives in Belize and runs a farm there, that if the weather and sea conditions aren’t right then the boats often don’t make it far enough to see the hole itself. And also that the view from a boat is nowhere near as stunning as seeing the hole from the air. If you want to dive there little agencies everywhere offering Boat Trips. I recommend Black Durgeon Dives. Ask for Cory or Simeon.
How to organise the Flight: Booking the flight seemed harder than it ought to be, so here’s my thoughts and advice for what its worth. I tried calling and emailing in advance, but none of the agents seem interested or reply until you are physically there in person. They need a minimum of 3 people to guarantee a flight. So I recommend that it’s the first thing you do when you get to Caye Caulker. We were staying there for 3 days and I managed to make it happen so ensure you allow yourself a bit of time in case there’s not enough people or bad weather conditions. If there’s a few of you then its fine, but I was on my own so I ended up booking a provisional flight with one of the agents along the main street, she then advertised it to go in a couple of days meaning she had a bit of time to get to the minimum number of people. Fortunately, the next day she got two more so I was in!
In the end 4 of us went up with the pilot. There are plenty of booking agents, it’s a really small place so you’ll come across them regardless which way you walk or where you’re staying. Some just do boat trips but they all know each other so can point you to their friend that offers the flights. I believe you can also take a slightly larger plane if there are more of you. I paid around $150 for my place – thoroughly worth it! It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen! I used the agents just opposite Black Durgeon Dives called Anda De Wata Tours.
#Toptip! Whilst beautiful, Caye Caulker has lots of sand flies that bite your legs and are generally irritating! They don’t like baby oil so take some and cover your legs in it before you go out and it should discourage them!
There are some amazing Snorkelling opportunities from Caye Caulker. I recommend a boat trip out to Hol Chan Marine and Shark Ray Alley. The corals and array of fish you see is outstanding. We saw some turtles and lots of stingrays. If you’re really lucky you might even see a Manatee! Then at Shark ray alley you can jump off the boat into a group of sharks which I thought was amazing but I guess its not for everyone! If not the view of them from the boat is great too.
Placencia is a chilled out little area with a beautiful beach. We took a boat trip out to a tiny island which really felt like you were on a deserted island in the middle of nowhere. The snorkelling was good, though there is more to see at Caye Caulker.
Temples: There are so many different Mayan temples to visit whilst in Belize; and also Tikal in Guatemala if you venture a little further. Some of the temples I’d recommend you see whilst visiting Belize: Altun Ha, Lamanai and Xunantunich. Definitely get a guide as they’re so informative and there really is a tremendous amount of history.
Wildlife: is plentiful, one of my favourites was a visit to Shane’s place where you could get so close to the Howler Monkeys in their natural surroundings. Also saw some amazing spider monkeys at Tikal in Guatemala. Another good place to go if you get the chance is the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. We saw birds, storks, crocodiles and iguana’s during boat trips up and down the river.
Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve: I didn’t see any Jaguars while I was there but did a great hike up to ‘Ben’s Bluff’, which offers incredible views of the forest and Victoria Peak. There are various other trails so you can take your pick of what you prefer.
The ‘other’ Blue hole: is a naturally formed fresh water swimming area. It’s a collapsed limestone cavern. Due to this the water is gorgeous and your skin feels really soft after swimming. It’s a stunning blue colour as well – pictures can’t do it justice. Definitely worth a stop.
Rum is hard to avoid whilst in Belize. My two favourite cocktails were a ‘Panty Ripper’ – Banana rum and pineapple juice, and of course Pina Coladas – of which I sampled many! Of course they make a mean rum punch too!
Cuisine: its all about rice and beans, and beans and rice – there is a difference! I prefer rice and beans! Also fried jacks for breakfast are delicious! Portion sizes are often on the larger side.
The practical stuff: currency is the Belize Dollar, which is pegged to the US dollar at 2BZ$ = 1US$. You can spend either. As ever I recommend a Starling bank card to maximise the exchange rate and minimise costs. I drew cash out once I arrived, and paid for a lot of things on my card.
There are a lot of different bugs we’re not used to everywhere, especially at some of the Mayan temple sites. Definitely bring bug spray and something like anthisan. And where you can I’d recommend wearing long sleeves and long trousers to avoid getting bitten.
Finally: I went to Belize and Guatemala as part of an Explore trip so it is all organised for you with some optional extras should you choose to. I would recommend the trip, the company and most importantly the country to anyone. Our guide Wilfred Garbutt was brilliant, friendly, knowledgeable and enhanced our experience further. As did Chris the local ground agent. Being with a fabulous bunch of fun people I’d never met before, many with a great sense of humour also helped make this an enjoyable and memorable trip. As did the MANY pina colada’s! The group dynamic was good, everyone got on and we had a lot of laughs – special mention to Louise, Patrick and Hamish for the fantastic company!
Thanks all for the great company and experience!