4 Amazing Outdoor Adventures in Belize
By David Webb Jan 2, 2014
Explore joined with BC-based outfitter Island Expeditions to discover the adventure potential of Belize's barrier reef. Read on to learn about four awesome outdoor adventures in Belize:
Adventures in Belize
Welcome to Belize — paddler’s paradise. With more than 300 km of barrier reef to explore, along with hundreds of islands, islets and tiny cayes, this micro-country is fast becoming one of the watersports enthusiast’s most sought-after vacation locales. Recently, explore joined BC-based travel outfitter Island Expeditions to discover exactly what makes Belize such a desirable adventure destination. And we weren’t disappointed. Read on for Belize’s top activities:
With the world’s second-longest barrier reef running the full length of Belize (and beyond), averaging about 20 to 40 km offshore, this country prides itself with some of the world’s finest sea kayaking. Imagine: loaded up with a week’s worth of gear, you push off from a tiny desert islet — one of innumerable cayes — and journey along the reef-crest, paddling caye-to-caye in the Caribbean sun for a week or more. Authentic Kriol cooking and comfy beach huts await at each stopover and engaging guides illuminate their beloved country throughout.
I joined Island Expeditions on such a tour — their Paradise Islands package. Pushing off from minuscule Coco Plum Caye, about 20 km offshore, we made a five-kilometre kayak crossing to Tobacco Caye, a two-hectare desert island at the reef-crest; then a 10-km crossing to Southwater Caye — a larger yet-still-remote caye to the south. Daily paddling tours of the reef and the neighbouring islets within 47,000-hectare Southwater Caye Marine Reserve occupied the time between crossings. Waves from the Caribbean Sea crashing against the edge of the leviathan, 900-km-long Meso-American Reef lulled us to sleep within our beach huts each night… as if, after an active day, we needed the help.
Within Belize’s barrier reef ecosystem there are 70 species of hard coral, 38 species of soft coral, 500 species of fish and innumerable invertebrates. This is impressive — but became staggering when I discovered biologists estimate only 10 per cent of Belize’s reef species have been documented. Needless to say, the country offers world-class snorkelling virtually everywhere along the reef-crest.
Water temperature hovers around the high-20-degree Celsius range; warm, but not like swimming in tepid bathwater. Perfect, I thought, as I submerged to the sandbottom near Southwater Caye — spotting parrotfish, French angelfish, queen angelfish, gruntfish, cowfish and so many others (including invasive lionfish!). The premier sightings were of the abundant stingrays: leopard rays, eagle rays and the gargantuan southern stingray — actually the most dangerous ray in the Caribbean. It really came as no surprise when I discovered a Smithsonian-run biological station on diminutive Carrie Bow Caye, along the southern reef. The area is an absolute marine life hotbed; a natural aquarium at the waiting.
Admittedly, this is merely a facet of the Belizean sea kayak experience — but it’s unique, so we felt it was worthy of its own section. Yes — you can sail a kayak. You really can! Sure, the wind must be blowing in the exact direction of travel (lack of a keel makes it impossible to transfer wind energy), but even with the relatively small two-metre-tall sails we hoisted atop our tandem kayaks, we were able to hit speeds that doubled paddling velocity.
Kayak sailing is a relaxing and efficient way to traverse the Caribbean Sea — if a tad less physically satisfying than paddling — and the cockeyed looks we received from locals and fellow tourists when we pulled into dock only added to our amusement. Those not-in-the-know view kayak sailing like it’s one-part crazy and two-parts impossible. If you go, be sure to act like it’s “old hat,” just to further confuse lookee-loos.
Stand-Up paddleboarding is the fastest-growing watersport in North America for one simple reason: it’s fun. Sure, it’s a good workout and a surprisingly efficient method of water-travel, but even during a tumble it’s impossible to rid the smile from your face. And due to the calm, protected waters of its reef-crest, warm sea temperatures (high 20s or better) and abundant sea life to gander at, Belize is a flatwater SUP mecca.
From minuscule Tobacco Caye, on the southern barrier reef, we paddled offshore for nearly an hour — until the caye was a dot on the horizon and all around us was an endless cerulean sea. We snorkelled atop the reef’s more than 100 coral species, spotting parrotfish, trumpetfish, needlefish, neon-speckled squid and other examples of the region’s 500-plus fish species. But it was the paddle back to Tobacco Caye that truly stands out: the sun dropping to the horizon; the islet a speck in the distance; the calmness so complete it felt palpable as I paddled through it.