An adventurer’s dream
Dive deep into Belize
As an adventure photographer, WideOyster’s Frits Meyst had travelled around the globe looking for good stories and thinking he had seen it all. He couldn’t be more wrong. What he saw in Belize made his photographic heart beat faster: a turquoise barrier reef teeming with colourful fish, eagle rays, whale sharks and manatees. Infinite rainforest with christaline rivers and deep caves. Mystical Mayan ruins and settlements with different cultures. Sit back and get ready for the ride that is called Belize.
Why not start with an Atoll? The only atoll in the Caribbean named Glovers Reef, which is made up of a circle of coral islands that have grown into one another to form a reef and a shallow lagoon in the centre. As a result, the waters are ideal for kayaking, and I can confirm that staying in an oil lamp-lit lodge tent amid the palms, is a really good way to start my adventure. Leaning against a palm tree in the balmy afternoon sunshine with a Belikin, the national beer of Belize, life just doesn’t get any better. The pelicans in front of me make breathtaking dives into the fish schools that live on the reef.
The following morning, I rise early. For our dinner, Mike is about to go fishing. He directs his boat toward a flock of pelicans and tells me as he throws the next net, “Where the pelicans are, there are fish.” I comment about the small size of the fish. “Wait, that’s our bait!” Mike says in response. We’re actually going to start fishing now. After an hour, we’ve caught enough red snapper to serve the entire camp, which is just now starting to gently awaken. Mike removes a fillet and suspends it from an even bigger hook. Mike is driving and I’m fishing as we glide gently over the reef. “I’ve got something”, pulling on the line as hard as I can but to no avail. “He’s making you work for your dinner!” Mike laughs. After a little fight, we manage to land what appears to be a large barracudas. Mike, who is elated with our catch, shouts, “We started with a sardine and now we’ve got a barracuda, what more can you want?” I say, “Kayaking?” That is why I am here.
“We started with a sardine and now we’ve got a barracuda, what more can you want?”
To go snorkelling, we paddle to Middle Caye, which is about an hour away from our camp. We quickly settle into a rhythm in the tranquil, turquoise-coloured water. Eagle rays scoot away under our kayaks. They aren’t used to people because not many people visit this marine reserve, which protects them against overfishing, the effects of which we will see later when we plunge into the sea with our snorkels and dive masks.
Hundreds of fish quietly move through the vibrant coral branches. When I get too closely, a big green moray eel pokes its head out of a crack in the coral and bares its razor-sharp teeth. Before we reach the end, a sea turtle swims alongside us. Further along, a barracuda floats suspended among the fan coral, waiting to ambush any fish swimming by.
The combination of kayaking and snorkelling is undoubtedly the greatest way to experience this underwater world up close, making the day unimaginably perfect. I take pictures of an osprey that is curious about our lunch and comes down from its perch in the palm tree to get a closer look.
The combination of kayaking and snorkelling is undoubtedly the greatest way to experience this underwater world up close
GETTING WET WITH THE BIG ONES
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where snorkelling and scuba diving are popular pastimes, is located between San Pedro and Caye Caulker. A catamaran took us away from San Pedro in the direction of “Shark Ray Alley,” the area of the reserve with the highest density of nurse sharks and stingrays. They swarm toward the boat as soon as we get to the buoy. We plunge overboard equipped with a snorkel and fins to get a better look of these friendly critters. They are nearly docile since they are so accustomed to people. The enormous sea bass and moray eels contribute to the feeling of an open-air zoo in the area.
World’s largest fish, the whale shark, follows snappers to Gladden Spit Reserve around full moon in April and May
Belize is the meeting spot for several enormous marine animals. The world’s largest fish, the whale shark, follows snappers to the Gladden Spit Reserve every year around the full moon in April and May to reproduce. These up to twelve-meter-long sharks consume plankton and use their gills to filter out fish eggs. If you go diving or snorkelling at this time of year, you can see these gentle giants.
The Manatees live in Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary. You can only travel these shallow waters using an oar or stick since these amusing-looking sea cows frequently become victims of boat propellers. They are frequently seen in Hol Chan as well.
One of Belize’s most picturesque highways, the Hummingbird Highway winds through the rainforest along small communities with vibrantly coloured homes. Our vehicle exits the highway at a sign that reads “Caves Branch.” We venture far into the jungle on a dirt road.
Belize is endowed in a lot of limestone, which has the ability to dissolve in water and so form enormous cave networks. These frequently grow to enormous proportions, forcing the roof to collapse and creating a “sinkhole.” These caves were of keen importance to the ancient Mayan people.
We follow the guide through the knee-deep water over the boulders while wearing a helmet, climbing rope, headlamp, and life vest. As we enter the ‘cathedral’, daylight is somewhat behind us. Hugely long stalactites, that are called stalagmites at ground level, dangle down from the ceiling like organ pipes. I pay close attention to what our Maya guide Ching says so that I don’t destroy anything.
This was the Mayan priests’ dominion two thousand years ago, and victims were even sacrificed here to the gods
He explains, “Such a formation takes tens of thousands of years to develop, and you may undo several millennia of its growth with a single footstep. Since this landscape is so delicate, we only take small groups, and you are not allowed to put on DEET or sunblock.” The primitive life in these caverns is easily killed by those toxins.
We discover pots and bones after a brief ascent to a path. This was the Mayan priests’ dominion two thousand years ago, and victims were even sacrificed to the gods. I tremble at the prospect and am relieved to arrive at the scenic high point, the waterfalls, a little later.
I’ve never had to climb a cave with a waterfall, but now I will. We ascend a total of three of them. In a sort of indoor canyoning, we climb up and then jump off again while being secured by ropes.
While standing under Secret Falls with the water raging all around me, slightly dizzy from champagne, I think to myself that adventure doesn’t always have to be extreme. We are on the 7200-hectare Hidden Valley Inn private estate in Belize, a little nation on the Caribbean Sea beneath Mexico. The estate is situated in the midsts of 145 km of walking and hiking trails that make up the Pine Ridge, a stretch of coniferous-covered mountains in the Cayo District. We wander through the forest for fifteen minutes before coming across a pool by accident. The table is beautifully set for lunch, with tablecloths and a cooler carrying a bottle of champagne. As we would love to keep it as it is just the two of us today, we asked for the waiters to be invisible, and they are nowhere to be found. And so we were told to use the walkie-talkie to communicate if we wanted to go back to the lodge.
The following day, we discover another such undiscovered beauty as we travel past plantations. Barton Creek is a tiny, crystalline river that flows for at least 10 kilometres underground. We get into a canoe, turn on the searchlight, and make our way gently down into the murky depths. In the powerful light beam, the water shimmers milky. We paddle from one wonder to the next while we try to avoid hitting any stalactites with our heads because the river is high. And this aquatic paradise is not the only one. Oh no. Under the surface, Belize is brimming with such treasures. All are primed for discovery.
We get into a canoe, turn on the searchlight, and make our way gently down into the murky depths
GET YOUR MOHO RUNNING
Moho River’s cool waters in the south of the nation draws us in. Our river trip starts in Santa Teresa. The Mayan town is within an hour’s drive on dirt roads from the developed world. It consists of wooden homes with palm leaf roofs and rammed earth flooring. Kids play among the pigs, chickens, and turkeys.
We searched for the most picturesque section of the river where kayaking is possible without encountering too much whitewater. The jungle will be our home for three days on this amazing expedition. We will paddle down the Moho River in inflatable expedition kayaks with Sue, a certified kayak leader from the US, Pedro, our local Mayan guide, and his brother Mario.
The river is made up of ‘drop pools’, where the water flows gently for a while before abruptly turning into a cascade and then continuing. Although I can’t yet see it, I can definitely hear some whitewater as we kayak towards a bend in the river.
My heart is pounding, and my stress levels rise. Before the drop, Pedro halts and instructs us, shouting above the din, “Pass me on the left, then take a hard right down below, or you’ll hit one of these tree trunks.” I cautiously paddle over to the edge, but there is still nothing there. Then all of a sudden, I’m poised at the edge, about to fall.
In front of me, Mario shouts “yeeehaaaaa!” before paddling ferociously to the right and landing in the following section of the river. We’ve gotten through it. How exhilarating was the ride through the water. And it was only a minor rapid. By the end of the second day, we are proficient kayakers and can easily travel through waterfalls with names like Machaka Falls, Bucking Falls, and Monkey Falls.
CAYE CAULKER: HIPPIES, RASTAS & BACKPACKERS
This is the most laid-back island in Belize, making it a fantastic place to wrap up my journey. Hippies, rastas, backpackers, and a disproportionate number of Europeans can be seen on the dirt main road of this car-free island. On their quest for the perfect sunset, people pass by the vibrant shops, bars, and restaurants while strolling barefoot, cycling, or riding on golf carts.
I watch the sun set over the Caribbean for the last time as I sip a ‘panty ripper’ (coconut rum, pineapple juice and a splash of grenadine) while sitting in a cabin on the beach, thinking back on the past two weeks. Belize is a traveler’s dream come true. “I’m coming back! You Better Belize it!