Story by Susan Enfield Esrey
Sea kayaking's fundamental ease is more Zen than lazy: The rhythmic paddling motion allows you to open your mind and senses to the natural elements above and below. You commune with birds that swoop astonishingly close, memorize the coastline's every feature and feel the pull of currents and tides.
Which isn't to say that it can't also be a challenging sport. Aimlessly tooling around a tropical bay, after all, is nothing like braving a frigid, storm-whipped chop along the cliffs of Nova Scotia.
Late fall is the perfect time to head out on a sea-kayaking trip. Summer's scorching rays are gone, but the water's still warm. The crowds have abandoned beaches, lakes and rivers, leaving them in tranquil solitude. Here are some of the best -- and most accessible -- of this season's paddling paradises.
If you can't decide which sounds better -- Caribbean snorkeling or tropical-water sea kayaking -- get your fill of both in Belize. Touted as the world's second largest reef (after Australia's Great Barrier Reef), the Belize Barrier reef protects the country's entire coast, creating multiple possibilities for coastal expeditions.
For a unique, beginner-friendly paddling foray, head southeast of the Belize Barrier reef (35 miles east of the coastal town of Dangriga) to Glover's Reef, a National Marine Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Slickrock Adventures (800-390-5715, www.slickrock.com) runs a multisport resort on Long Cay, one of three islands within this mostly underwater atoll. Scuba diving the 2,600-foot drop-offf just outside the atoll is a big draw here, but sea kayaking from Slickrock's rustic but comfortable "base camp" isn't too shabby either. Half-week or weeklong all-inclusive trips ($1,350 and $1,850) start with a kayaking orientation, including lessons in paddle strokes and water exits. Subsequent sessions include exploring the atoll's 82-square-mile, shallow lagoon and other islands and tying up over patch reefs to snorkel the crystalline waters, rich with sea creatures such as barracuda, bonefish and eagle rays. If you have any energy left, head to the waves where resort guides will teach you to windsurf and surf kayak.
In the evening noncampers will appreciate the comfy thatch-roofed cabanas (part of the tour package) perched above the surf, as well as the Belizean cook's seafood specialties, among them poached horseradish grouper and conch stew. For information on this private beach vacation, jungle/sea combo trips, and a three-day tour visiting ancient Mayan culture, contact Slickrock Adventures: (800)390-5715.