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A few days in the Belizean Cayes- Photos & written by Charlotte van Weeghel
|Map of Belize's Cayes and atolls: Turneffe Islands, Lighthouse Reef and Glover's Reef|| |
Just east of both Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulkner is the famous Belizean
Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, after Australia's Barrier
Reef. Its coral surface rises above the water like a long, snaking ridge.
Outside, the reef gently slopes down, unveiling many shallow-water corals
and an abundance of gorgonians. The sloping shelf is dramatically cut
with deep cracks and crevices winding to the reef's outer edge, where
a great wall drops into the depths of the sea.
Also famous is the Blue Hole. These three immense rings
of coral and the acclaimed Blue Hole lie east of the mainland outside
the reef. The uniqueness of the Blue Hole and the massive size of the
atolls have attracted many divers over the years. The waters surrounding
these reefs hosts healthy coral and an abundance of exotic marine life.
The most popular of all cayes in Belize is Ambergris Caye. Offshore
and Northeast of Belize City, the long, slender caye is dotted with
resorts of all shapes and sizes. The caye is a prime destination for
dive travelers and watersports enthusiasts. Dive operators can be found
up and down the caye and day-trips and overnight excursions to the Blue
Hole, Lighthouse Reef and Turneffe Islands depart from Ambergriss Caye
on a regular basis.
The main town on Ambergris caye is San Pedro Town. It is a mile or so
long and encompasses only a few street blocks. Most of the houses are
wooden with tin-roofed houses. San Pedro town is the heart of Ambergris
Caye and offers a wide range of restaurants, bars, souvenir shops, and
banks. Everything in Ambergris Caye is only a hop, skip & a jump
away including the "airport" which is really only a small
building with an airstrip.
The main means of transportation are golf carts. Bicycles, scooters,
and some cars and vans are also available. The streets are sandy and
unpaved so be sure to leave your fancy clothes and high heel shoes at
home. There are no traffic lights, no freeways or highways, and no high
rise buildings on Ambergris and the atmosphere is very low key and relaxing.
dove with Amigos del
Mar, a well-known dive center in San Pedro. Their shop and dive
boats are located on their own pier near the Mayan Princess Hotel in
the center of town. They are easily spotted by the logo on the roof.
First thing you notice when you step on their premises is their professionalism.
The shop is large, clean and airy, the boats looks shiny and fast and
the service is swift and friendly. They are clearly a well organized
We were all psyched to go to the Blue Hole immediately but when we checked
in at the counter it turned out we had to sign up for a day of "check-out"
dives, meaning local dives around Ambergris Caye first before being
allowed to make the trek to the famous Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is a
deep dive and not recommended for novice divers. Amigos del Mar wants
to determine your dive level before they take the risk and rightfully
Visit the Amigos del
Mar Web site for more information.
|We returned to the dive shop
the next morning at 9 am to see what "local diving" around
Ambergris Cay was all about. After a five minute boat ride (all
the boats of Amigos del Mar are super fast!) we jumped in the water
and were immediately greeted by nurse sharks! I wasn't quite sure
how to react as I'd never been so close to so many of them. They
were obviously expecting us and seemed pretty harmless, just waiting
to be fed. It seemed like a well rehearsed routine. You nudge the
divemaster and he gives you food. They followed him around like
a puppy dog and he would push their heads away which seemed to only
increase the frenzy. Quite a sight. After a while they lost interest
and we continued the dive.
| || Amigos del Mar ocean front location|
We spent the majority of the dives between 70 - 100ft exploring the
spur & groove finger canyons of " Victoria Tunnels." The
tunnels were certainly interesting with beautiful boulder corals and
caverns (swim through's, not caves) that go on forever. The divemaster
told us there are 30 types of coral to be found and they looked extremely
healthy to me. We were back by noon after two relaxing dives and spent
the rest of the day exploring San Pedro.
The second day we got up early for the Lighthouse reef trip. This is
a three-tank dive that takes up the whole day. About 22 divers showed
up all groggy at 5:30 am in the morning. Coffee, scones and fresh fruit
were waiting for us and the crew had prepared everything ready for take
off. This was really was of the most smoothly run operations I've come
across. Especially for day trips. You usually see this only on liveaboards.The
"Miss Mel" is a large and fast Pro 48 dive boat. It took 2.5
hrs to get to the first dive site. Even though the trip gets a little
rough on open water crossing, the "Miss Mel" is so comfortable
I slept all the way over on the comfortable cushioned and shaded benches.
||Our first stop was at the
long awaited Blue Hole. First dive of the day. The Blue Hole is
the largest ocean sinkhole in the world, created by a collapsed
underground cavern, hence giving the appearance of a dark blue circle
amidst the turquoise sea. It reminded me of the far lesser known
blue Hole in the Red Sea. But there is more to see in this one.
The Blue Hole became famous in 1972 when Jacques Cousteau anchored
his ship Calypso to its ridge to film inside.
|The famous Blue Hole|| |
After a thorough briefing we were divided in two groups and down we
went. The Blue Hole is over 1000ft (30 m) in diameter and 450ft (135m)
deep. You have to swim to the shallow lip and then down to 40 meters
where you'll find a cavern filled with huge stalactites and stalagmites.
Diving the Blue Hole is usually reserved to experienced divers only
as it is easy to go too deep. A limited variety of fish species can
be found here but I believe you dive down more for the experience of
being in the Blue Hole and seeing the stalactites than trying to encounter
sea life. It was quite an exhilarating experience. When I looked away
from the beautiful formations and up, I saw a group of Lemon and Black-tip
Sharks and huge Horse-eye Jacks. It is quite a short dive but spectacular
|During our safety stop underneath
Miss Mel, the crew fed the sharks from the boat and it was wonderful
to see so many of them right around us. Once all safely back on
board, the crew started the last show of chumming the sharks with
bloody fish which resulted in a real shark frenzy.
After this fine first dive we went on to Half Moon Caye Wall for
some wall dives. The marine life was very good. Numerous varieties
of sponge and sea fans competed for space amongst a profusion of
coral species that include Mountain Star, Giant Brain, Stag horn
and Lettuce coral. We also saw Turtles and beautiful Spotted Eagle
| ||Shark frenzy seen from Miss Mel|
During the surface interval between the second and third dive we got
off the boat at Half Moon Caye for lunch and an excursion of the island.
Half Moon Caye is a beautiful little palm fringed island and also a
sanctuary for endangered Red-footed Booby and Frigate birds. There are
no inhabitants except for the people running the sanctuary. One of the
girls who had been diving with us that day was returning to Half Moon
Caye to finish her research project of counting all the boobies. That
seemed to be a lot of work considering threre are so many. We walked
around the island following a designated trail and learned a lot about
the flora and fauna of this enchanting island. We climbed up on the
observation tower to see the boobies and their fluffy young in their
nests. I have never seen so many nests in my life! Read more about Half
Moon Caye on the Belizean
Audubon Society page.
||Lunch consisted of a hearty
chicken stew, rice and beans and potato salad, which I discovered,
is the standard fare of the local people on the cayes. Dessert was
a filling coconut custard pie and lots of fresh fruit.
After digesting and relaxing on the palm-fringed beach, we were
all ready for our third dive to the "Aquarium" for its
tremendous variety of fish found at this site. The Aquarium is located
right off the northwestern side of Long Caye. Clear, long coral
ridges and sandy canyons run perpendicular to the reef. The coral
ridges here have many holes and grottos, providing a sanctuary for
a variety of marine life.
|Half Moon Caye, a World Heritage Site|| |
It was a nice drift dive with a good current. At around 50ft off the
wall we saw beautiful deep-water lace coral and black coral and lots
of different fish. Then it was time to go back to San Pedro which we
reached at around 5 pm.
The third day we had to be at the dive shop at 5:30 am again for the
Turneffe Islands South dive trip which is well known for its deep walls
and lots of fish. Same routine again but on a different, slightly smaller
boat with less divers. The engines were just as fast though and we were
speeding towards our destination. On the way there were beautiful vistas
of atolls and mangrove passages.
The first dive blew us away. It was a pleasant drift
dive along a wall with a swift current and spectacular marine
life, just as promised. The Elbow is Tuneffe island's most popular
dive site. The coral colors are remarkable here and the variety
of marine life is outstanding. The site is called the "dive
show piece" of the atoll complex. The location is on the
southern bend. The Corral, very nearby to the elbow, is an excellent
drift dive as well. The Zoo, named so because the shear volumes
of marine life found here is an excellent dive site for photography
and videography. Other sites include Three Amigos, Myrtle's Turtles,
Lefty's Ledge, Joyce's Jump and Gorgonian Bluff with large deep
water gorgonians and blacktip sharks. There is also Billy Bob's
Shallows, Black Beauty, Majestic Point, Birthday Reef with a shearing
vertical wall, Cockroach Slope, N.E. Point, and Rendezvous Wall
to name a few.
We spent our first surface interval at a nice little settlement
with an over the water bathroom and huge sun deck. We chatted
with the friendly fisherman (who use this place as their base
when on a fishing trip and not able to go home for the night)
and patted their puppies who were happy to see us once they were
allowed out of the dog house. We watched them clean fish and generally
lazed around the place for a few hours.
The second dive turned out to be great as well with a couple of
beautiful Eagle Rays and Turtles to top it off.
| ||Amigos del Mar Dive Schedule|
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