Paddling in the Tropics
Kayaking trips in the tropics differ from northern climates in that much of our exploration is under the water amongst the coral reefs.
A typical day will include paddling and sailing from one island to another or to patch reefs within the atoll. Whenever possible we take advantage of the northeasterly trade winds to fill our sails as we travel. The protection of the reef wall and shallow inshore waters provides one of the best places in the world for sea kayaking.
Our main concerns while on the water are protection from sun (both above and reflected off the water), dehydration, and the effects of salt. Protection from the sun and dehydration are easily managed by wearing a wide brimmed hat, using a good waterproof sunscreen (SPF 15-35), and wearing light-colored clothing and, of course, drinking plenty of fluids.
Please click here for more information on biodegradable reef-friendly sun-block. We do highly recommend the use of environmental products if you are certain the product does work for you.
As for salt, the high salinity of the Caribbean Sea can dry your skin and cause blisters on hands (paddling) and feet (snorkeling). Skin lotion or moisturizer for your skin, gloves to protect your hands (cotton garden gloves or cycle gloves work very well), and socks for your feet while snorkeling are recommended.
Here are a couple of great videos on sea kayaking techniques that are worth checking out:
Snorkeling in the Tropics
For many, the highlight of their trip is the time spent exploring the wonders of the underwater world.
This does not require great skill or expensive equipment to accomplish. IE guides enjoy teaching the simple skills necessary to enjoy snorkeling.
In many of the areas we explore the water is shallow enough to stand. Initially, we enter the water from a beach but as our skill level increases we will learn to enter and exit from our kayaks. This will enable us to experience longer and deeper dives as well as drift dives - floating along a patch of coral with our boats drifting behind us.
To ensure the reefs are protected for future generations we avoid damaging the coral by not touching, standing on, or dropping anchor on coral. As a living organism, many corals rely on nematocysts to sting their prey. These same nematocysts can sting humans ranging from mild to strong intensity. Care is taken to show all participants the coral species which should be avoided.
If you get cold easily a lightweight wetsuit or ‘shortie’ is recommended to keep from getting cold when spending extended time in the water. Polypropylene or capilene long underwear work as well. In addition, this clothing also protects against sunburn. We highly recommend wetsuits for children.
Purchasing Snorkel Equipment
Knowing how to snorkel and what to watch for are all well and good, but inadequate equipment can spoil the best of conditions.
Therefore it is highly recommended you purchase equipment that fits comfortably. Borrowing a friend’s gear is okay for fins and snorkel but a mask must conform to the individual’s face to ensure a watertight seal. Nothing is more frustrating for snorkelers than water leaking into their masks. When shopping for a mask check for the following:
- A smooth seal around the mask. Both rubber and silicone work well. Check that the material is not cracked, brittle, or stiff - all signs of an old mask.
- Press mask to face and inhale through your nose. DO NOT PUT THE STRAP AROUND YOUR HEAD but leave it off in front of the mask. If the mask seals it will stay on your face even when you tilt your head down. Check that no hair gets between the mask and your face to break the seal.
- Make sure the front of the mask does not press against the bridge of your nose. This will get worse the deeper you dive. Vaseline around the edge of the mask helps for a better seal for men with beards or moustaches.
- Make sure the snorkel fits comfortably in your mouth. With fins, a snug fit is best. Complete foot fins rather than those with a strap around the heel are preferred. Leave enough room for socks if you wish.
- Above all else, try the mask in water (pool, bathtub, etc.) before you arrive in Belize. A good dive shop will gladly exchange an ill-fitting mask for one with a better fit.
Note: Equipment is available for rent in Belize but must be organized in advance with our Canadian office.
Using a new mask for the first time: New scuba masks have a residue left over from the manufacturing process that coats the lens. Unless this coating is removed from the inside of the lens, your mask will constantly fog up. One simple solution is to use toothpaste. Thoroughly rub the toothpaste around the lens with your finger or a soft cloth - if possible leave it overnight. Then rinse well, removing all the toothpaste. Rinse again and you should be good to go.
Before each snorkel outing: To help avoid your mask fogging up you can spit into your mask, rub the saliva around to coat the lens, and then rinse quickly. You can also coat the lens with a commercial defogging agent or bring a supply of baby shampoo, which works the same - this should be done before every outing.