For fantastic birding and a trip back in time to a simpler era, plan a trip to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and Crooked Tree Village.
Located on a large fresh-water lagoon, the village is surrounded by the wildlife sanctuary. There are four lodges and a few restaurants, all within walking distance of each other. Crooked Tree occupies a huge, natural area and has a population of only 1000 people,. This is arguably the best place for birders in the country, and more than 300 species have been recorded here. Because of the lagoon environment, many of the birds are shore or wading birds.
I have been birding at Crooked Tree twice. Once for a very short “fam” tour, and a second time when I spent 2 nights there and was a full-paying guest. Once it was during peak dry season and much of the lagoon was dry, and we still saw 30 different species on an abbreviated tour; the second time on the all-morning tour we saw almost 50 species. In both cases our Bird’s Eye View Lodge birding guide was fantastic. Since I am a snorkeling guide out at Glover’s Reef, I could tell when we were really seeing something rare by the change in our guide’s demeanor. You could hear the excitement in his voice when he spotted the rare Agami Heron. We watched this magnificent bird stalking fish along the shoreline for at least 10 minutes. In addition to this sighting, some of the other birds I have seen at Crooked Tree are: Great Blue Heron, Neo-Tropic Cormorant, Ring Kingfisher, Grey-Necked Wood Rail, Boat-Billed Heron, Wood Stork, Limpkin, Prothonotary Warbler, Osprey, Black Vulture, Juvenile Black-Collared Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Snail Kite, Little Blue Heron, Black-Crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Tropical Kingbird, Orchid Oriole, Black-Cowled Oriole, Tri-Color Heron, Blue-Wing Teal, American White Pelican, Jacana, White Egret, Snowy Egret, and the enormous Jabiru Stork (wingspan: 10-12 feet). We also saw two Bare-Throated Tiger Herons in the middle of a territorial dispute. One of our guides also reported recent sightings of the Pinnated Bitter, a rare Northern Lapwing from South America blown off-course, Glassy Ibis, White Ibis, Rosette Spoonbill, White-Crowned Parrot, and the American Coot.
Of the four lodges at Crooked Tree, I recommend Birds Eye View Lodge. Situated right on the shore of the lagoon, it is simple, clean, and comfortable. If you can remember all the way back to the 60s, it just might remind you of lodges you visited with your parents when you were a kid. Their excellent kitchen staff serves buffet-style meals with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Be sure to ask for the rooms on the second floor/balcony level. This huge elevated patio is the perfect place for happy hour (visible in above photo). We added about six species to our bird list right from this porch.
They have a small bar for their guests and an in-house tour company. Rates are from $100 a night for a double, depending on room and on season, and meals are just as affordable. Breakfast and lunch are each $15, while dinner is $19 and they accommodate vegetarians. The birding tour for 1-3 persons is $125, each additional person is $35. Birding tours last about 3 hours, starting at 6 a.m. Before your tour they serve you a small breakfast with coffee, then when you get back about 9 or 10 they serve you a full breakfast. Contact Kira Jiminez directly: 011-501-203-2040, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website: www.birdseyeviewbelize.com.
Crooked Tree is only 45 minutes from the Belize International Airport; a perfect choice if you are flying in a day early for one of our Adventure Island packages. They will pick you up at the airport for $75 US (one way) for 1-3 persons; each additional person is $20. You can stay the night, take an early morning birding tour, relax the rest of the day or tour the village, and have them drop you off at the Biltmore in time for our meeting on Day 1 of your tour with us. You can also travel here on your own just for the day in a Belize car rental, but we recommend booking a birding tour in advance, don’t just drop in expecting an instant tour.
If you are thinking of traveling to Crooked Tree, don’t expect a 5-star hotel, great shopping, or nightlife. Accommodations are clean and simple, the village is quiet. What you can expect is to meet some wonderful Belizean people and to see some of the most exotic birds in the world.
If you are planning to visit Belize, likely you have around 8 or 9 days to spend on your vacation. Most people like to do a combination of island and inland. Then they get the best of both: incredible Caribbean island with white coral sand and tall, shady palm trees coupled with deep jungle full of tropical birds, exotic flowering plants, and Mayan ruins.
Our island packages to Long Caye are some of the best no-hassle all-inclusive adventures you can find. I find that people often like a combination of a set package with some Belize- on-your-own so that they can spend part of their week just winging it, and part of the week on our island on a no-brainer tour where everything is within paddling or swimming distance of our shore. No packing and unpacking, no figuring out where to eat or where to stay, and since it’s all inclusive, no surprises on the final bill.
Our Adventure Island at Glover’s Reef First Half package is a 6 night package, 4 on the island, and the first and last in Belize City. This will dovetail perfectly with a trip to the Community Baboon Sanctuary (Howler Monkey preserve) for 2 nights. This 8 night itinerary is mid-week to mid-week, designed especially that way so that you get the best rates on air tickets. Everyone wants weekend to weekend, so if you can do the opposite, you might save as much as $1-200!
The inland part of the itinerary takes in a wildlife preserve, a birding preserve, a Mayan ruin, the Belize Zoo, and our favorite restaurant! With this short trip itinerary, you will get to see a huge selection of the best of Belize.
Here’s the itinerary with links and pricing (all rates in US$). We start out the trip by renting a car and transferring to the Howler Monkey Resort. Although simple, it’s budget friendly and in a fabulous location.
Day 1 – Fly to Belize and transfer to Howler Monkey Resort
Wednesday – fly to BZE. You will probably land sometime in the early afternoon. Go through customs and immigration and meet your rental car pickup from CarOne Rental Belize. They will drive you 15 minutes to their office which is almost directly across the highway from the Biltmore where you will be meeting us on Friday, so it will be a cinch to return the car at the end of the trip (and their airport pick-up will save you $30 on the cab ride into town). The cost for a Dodge Avenger is $60/day, and you will need it for 2 days.
Once you have your car, drive back toward the airport and beyond to Howler Monkey Resort. Located in the heart of the Community Baboon Sanctuary at the village of Bermudian Landing, you are guaranteed to see more Howlers than you have ever seen in your life! This simple jungle lodge is the perfect place to spend the next 2 nights, and it’s a great deal at $100 – $140/night, depending on room chosen, and this price includes breakfast and dinner!
Day 2 – Driving tour on your own, birding at Crooked Tree and exploring Altun Ha Mayan ruin
Thursday – Before your trip, make a reservation for an early morning birding tour with the Birds Eye View Lodge at Crooked Tree. This inland lagoon is located about 45 minutes from your lodge. Drive out past the Community Baboon Sanctuary and back to the Northern Highway and turn left (north). At the village of Sand Hill, continue on the Northern Highway (left fork). Drive another 10 miles to the turnoff to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and follow the signs to Bird’s Eye View Lodge. You’ll have to get there early, tours start at 6 or 7 am. They take you on a boat into the secret, marshy parts of the lagoon. During this 3 hour tour you will likely see 30 different exotic bird species or more. The birding tour for 1-3 persons is $125, each additional person is $35. After the tour, return to the lodge for lunch, which is $15 per person. Their food is delicious! Make sure they know that you plan to have lunch there after the tour. Visit this blog post to learn more about the best birding tour in Belize!
After lunch, drive to Altun Ha Mayan ruin. Retrace your route back to Sand Hill, then take the other fork, which when coming from Crooked Tree will be a left. Go about another 10 miles to the turnoff for Altun Ha. The entrance fee is $5 US per person. It’s possible to tour the ruins without a guide, but we do recommend you hire one right there at the gate. We don’t know the exact rate, but it will be very affordable and will increase your enjoyment of the ruins. Return to Howler Monkey Resort after the ruins.
Day 3 – Driving tour on your own, Community Baboon Sanctuary, Belize Zoo, and Cheers for lunch!
Friday – This morning you will first move out of your rooms because you won’t be returning to the Howler Monkey Lodge. After breakfast drive just a mile or less to the museum of the Community Baboon Sanctuary. This cute little homegrown museum has a lot of great info, and it costs just $3/person to get in. Be sure to hire a local guide who is probably hanging out right there to take you to see the monkeys. They will walk you the equivalent of half a block to where the monkeys are right by the path. They are always knowledgeable about the monkeys, having grown up there with them nearby all their lives.
When you are done at the museum, drive back towards the highway, but take a right turn toward Hattieville at the village of Burrell Boom. This will take you through a part of Belize you have not seen before. You’ll pass the prison. Don’t stop there! At Hattieville you will hit the Western Highway, turn right toward the Belize Zoo, which is about 15 miles from this turn off. The Belize Zoo is internationally famous. All animals are rescues and all are native to Belize. It’s a fantastic zoo and you’ll get to see jaguar, jaguarundi, tapir, and other animals you may never have even heard of. The entrance fee is $15 per person. Before turning into the zoo, decide if you want to have lunch now, or several hours later. Cheers is our favorite restaurant in the whole country, and it’s just a few miles more on the left (the zoo is on the right). Drive past the turnoff to Dangriga (the Coastal Road) and look for Cheers, you can’t miss it. Lunch will cost you about $10-12 per person.
Spend several hours at the zoo, it’s incredible. Just make sure you have enough time (to be safe, leave by 3:30 pm) to drive back to Belize City, drop everyone and luggage at the Biltmore, while the driver turns in the vehicle at CarOne Rental just a few blocks away, walking back to the Biltmore. Check in and be ready to meet your Slickrock guide at 5:30 pm for your trip meeting, shopping trip to nearby Brodies for last minute items, and dinner at the hotel. We go to bed early because we are getting up early to catch the boat to the island! Once you meet us, everything but your bar bill is covered: lodging, dinner and breakfast the next morning at the hotel. The cost for the Adventure Island at Glover’s Reef 6 night package is $1675 per person although if you have a group of 4 or more, you will get 10% off for each person!
Day 4 – Transport to the island, move into cabanas, go snorkeling!
Saturday – After group breakfast walk to our private dock two blocks away. Your luggage is driven. From here we travel three hours by boat to Long Caye (65 miles). After lunch, move into your cabana, explore the island, and snorkel right off our shore after the snorkel orientation. Every night we have happy hour, appetizers, and volleyball before dinner and socializing after.
Day 5 – Sea kayak orientation, snorkeling out of the kayaks, learn to windsurf
Sunday – Our sea kayak orientation is this morning: we cover paddle strokes, entering and exiting the kayak, and rescue techniques. Both this and the snorkel orientation the afternoon before are required, as we don’t offer these again. Starting in the afternoon, the itinerary is open. Several things are offered at once and you can choose what you wish to do. After lunch one guide takes a group paddling to a nearby patch reef to snorkel from the kayaks, while another guide offers windsurfing instruction. Certified divers may also begin diving.
Day 6 – Learn to dive, kayak surfing orientation, paddle around the island
Monday – The first Discover Scuba/Resort course is often offered this morning for beginning divers. Others enjoy a morning paddle around the island or go diving. Both windsurfing and kayak surfing orientations are offered in the afternoon. You may join one or both, then continue to practice these sports with or without a guide for the rest of the week.
Day 7 – Paddle 5 miles round trip to Middle Caye, snorkel, island time
Tuesday – Paddle your kayak or your paddleboard five miles round-trip to Middle Caye to tour the Marine Research Center, home base for marine biologists. We go for a fabulous snorkel while we are there. You may also choose “island time” and stay on the island. You can sea kayak, snorkel, dive, surf kayak, windsurf, or just relax.
Day 8 – Snorkel The Wall, return to Belize City, overnight at the Biltmore
Wednesday – One final dive or snorkel to “The Wall”, where the ocean floor drops from 40 to 2,600 feet in under a mile. After lunch we return to Belize City. Our arrival time cannot be predicted since it depends on factors we cannot control. Therefore, guests should not make other plans for Saturday night. After checking into the Biltmore, guests are on their own for dinner.
Day 9 – Fly home
Thursday – Earliest day to fly home, or continue to other spots in Belize for the rest of your trip.
Summary of all costs
RT Flight to Belize
$300 – 700 per person
Rental Car – 2 days
$120 for 1-4
$60 for all (estimate)
Howler Monkey Lodge, 2 nights includes dinner and breakfast
$200 – 280 for 2
$125 for 1 – 3
Lunch Birds Eye View Lodge
$15 per person
Altun Ha Entrance
$5 per person
Altun Ha Guide
$25 for all (estimate)
Community Baboon Sanctuary Museum
$3 per person
Community Baboon Sanctuary guide
$10 for all (estimate)
$12 per person
Zoo Entrance Fee
$15 per person
Adventure Island at Glover’s Reef adventure tour, 6 nights, includes 6 night lodging, transport to and from the island, 3 meals/day, unlimited beer and soda, national park fees and fishing license fees, and complete use of our sports equipment, instruction in all sports, and daily guided activities all day long: sea kayaking, snorkeling, windsurfing, kayak surfing, sport fishing, kayak fishing, stand-up paddling, and board surfing. Scuba diving and kiteboarding are at an additional cost.
$1675 per person
Total 8 nights, for 2 persons
Approximately $2250 per person or about $285 per day all inclusive, including air.
Today is Garifuna Settlement Day. This date is celebrated as the anniversary that the Garifuna people landed in Dangriga, Belize for the first time.
The Garifuna people of Belize have an interesting history, having arrived and settled in Belize as free people and not former slaves. Garifuna peoples can be found in many coastal towns in southern Belize. Their primary settlements are in the towns of Dangriga and Hopkins, but also in Monkey River, Punta Gorda and others.
The Garifuna people have retained their own language and culture they brought with them to this region, which has its roots in Africa from where they originally were brought to the Caribbean. The Garifuna’s ancestors were slaves brought to the Antilles islands in the eastern Caribbean in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Several groups of these people escaped, and other groups were freed during shipwrecks, and they gathered on the island of St. Vincent which was unoccupied by Europeans at that time. They inter-married with the local inhabitants, the Carib Indians from whose name the Caribbean Sea originated. After more than a century of living on this isolated island the population grew to a considerable size, and their culture was thus preserved for these many years without interruption. The language that developed from the melding of these 2 cultures is unique, it cannot be understood in Africa, or in other parts of the Caribbean today.
In the mid 1700s the British won one of their interminable wars against the Dutch, who had laid claim to the island of St. Vincent by establishing a small colony there that was successfully co-existing with the Garifuna people on the other side of the island. As part of the peace treaty, the Dutch agreed to hand over control of the island to the British, who began a much more aggressive colonization of the island in order expand their booming sugar industry. In short order they ended up in a conflict with the local Garifuna people and a war resulted. The Garifuna held out for four years and were quite difficult to defeat, but in the end the British prevailed and won the conflict.
The British decided not to enslave the Garifuna, but instead exiled them to the far reaches of the Caribbean to the new colony of British Honduras, which they had recently wrested from Spanish control. Basically, they forced them onto ships and dropped them off on Roatan Island off the coast of Honduras, where they were left to survive by their own means, but were left by the British authorities. As they thrived and the population grew, they then spread out along the sea coasts and established new settlements, one of which was in Belize (Dangriga), which was part of British Honduras at that time.
Today the Garifuna constitute an intact society sharing a unique language, culture, customs, and history. Many of our staff have been of Garifuna heritage, as are several currently. All Garifuna also speak English or Spanish or both, as Garifuna is not spoken or understood outside of their tight-knit communities.
Have you ever considered driving to Belize? Last Thursday we packed up our new truck and trailer to make the 3000 mile drive to Belize. Every year since 1977 one of us has driven to Mexico (in the early years) or Belize (since 1986) with a whole bunch of water sport gear and other stuff we need down there. It takes about 8 days. My partner Cully used to do the drive, but after 20+ years he got pretty tired of it, so he taught Neri Chi to do it. Neri is our lead guide for our Belize Adventure Week trip.
It’s a big deal, it’s not just about driving a long way. The primary thing is you have to learn how to deal with the border, and it’s different every time. You have to create a relationship with a border agent. This person helps you get all of your stuff across Mexico with as little duty as is allowable. You have to know how to pack everything, how to declare everything, and of course, what the best way to go is. Neri has gotten so good at it that he has even done it alone. However, this year for the first time ever his wife Herme did the drive with him. They flew up to Moab about 2 weeks ago to visit two of our long-time guests, Dave and Marilyn Stolfa. The Stolfas wined and dined them, taking them to Salt Lake City, Canyonlands, and Arches. It was Herme’s first trip to the United States, first plane flight in her entire life, first time to drive across Mexico…. what a trip for her!
So they packed up the truck and trailer in my front yard, this year we sent down 3 new kayaks, 1 new windsurf board, a generator, a whole bunch of new games, books for the island library, kitchen stuff, kiteboard and windsurf gear, lifejackets, a new cooler, and a set of crutches for the island! (Kyle, one of our island managers, broke his foot on the island last year and we realized that was a good thing to have on hand.)
By now they are somewhere in the middle of Mexico, getting closer to the Belize border. Soon they’ll arrive and everything will get unloaded and sent out to the island!
Many people assume it’s a good idea to rent a car in Belize, but in many cases, it’s not that great of an idea. It depends on several factors such as where you intend to go and what you want to do.
I rarely recommend renting a car in Belize and this is for a myriad of reasons. First of all, Belize is a small country, so it will be easy and relatively inexpensive to get to almost all locations in Belize without having to rent a car. Then, once you are there, you will likely be taking organized tours to the ruins, wildlife preserves, etc. and those tours will include transportation. Therefore, the only time you will likely use the car you rented during the week will be to go out to dinner.
So for example, let’s say you plan to fly into Belize City on a Friday, and plan to transfer to the Cayo area for a 5 night stay, and then return to Belize City to fly home on Wednesday. If you rent with Hertz and pick up and drop off at the International Airport, their smallest, least expensive vehicle will be $495 US, including taxes and fees but not including gas, which is currently about $6.00 US per gallon.
If you took a tour for the four days you are there, and spent one half-day walking around town (which you would drive to) and also drove each night to a different restaurant in town, we can safely assume you would use about 25 gallons of gas, costing an additional $150, for a total of $650.
By comparison, if you took cabs everywhere (the most expensive way to go, next to the car rental option) it would cost about $125 each way between Belize City and San Ignacio, and approximately an additional $30 each time you went from your hotel to town and back. For the same hypothetical itinerary listed above, the total would be about $430. If you instead took shuttles or buses at least some of the time, the total would be much less.
There are at least 12 rental car agencies in the country. Most of them only offer pick up and drop off at one place. Basically almost any car rental agency you can think of has a representative. On my last trip to Belize I made a definitive list of the booths at the international airport: Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Alamo, Thrifty, National, Enterprise, A-Class, Tour Belize, Jabiru, Budget, and Crystal.
If you plan to pick up and drop off at the airport, you should use one of these. However, I recommend a local agency because they are walking distance from the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel, where we stay the first and last night of our trip. This Belize car rental agency is called Car One Rental.
Because all of our guests are advised to arrive one day early to avoid missing a flight and therefore missing the shuttle boat to our island, many of our guests wish to rent a car for just a day or possibly two. The location of Car One Rental makes it an ideal way to extend your stay in Belize when you are traveling with us, because if you used the international airport agencies, you would have to return the car to the airport before meeting us.
So, if doing one of our island trips, you would take a cab from the airport to the Biltmore, drop off your stuff either in your reserved room and use the vehicle just for the day, or drop most of your stuff in the Biltmore’s locked closet where it will be safe while you are gone for the night. Then walk one block to the car rental place with your reduced luggage, and drive to an alternate hotel out of town for the night, returning your vehicle the next day in time to check into your room and be on time for our 5:30 pm orientation meeting. One great half day tour you can do on your own is Altun Ha Mayan ruin. Visit our Belize Mayan ruins map to see where it is located. Another option is a one day Belize driving tour that I detail in another blog post, which includes the Community Baboon Sanctuary, the Belize Zoo, and lunch at my favorite restaurant.
We just received the word that Belize will be phasing out single use plastic bags, styrofoam food containers, and plastic food utensils by April of 2019!
This is fantastic news for us. When you have an island, you get to see first-hand the result of an over-abundance of plastic, specifically plastic from the Belize City dump, which is a mountain of stuff that blows out into the sea and eventually might wash up on our shore. Half of the island is ours, and half is abandoned. We clean both halves, but cannot keep the other end as clean as we wish it was. Even though it’s a tiny island (13 acres), that’s pretty big when you are trying to pick up everything that washes ashore.
Have you ever tried to pick up styrofoam that has been in the sea and the sun for months? You pick a piece up, it breaks in half. You pick one of those up, it breaks in half…. repeating this process endlessly. You can never get it all picked up, it just gets smaller and smaller. And then a bird or tropical fish swallows it.
This new Belize law was recently announced. A committee has already been formed to deal with the implementation of the ban and an education awareness campaign has also been put into motion for the public. Some businesses have already started phasing out the use of these materials, in anticipation of the ban.
Belize attributes this decision to their continued growth in tourism. Over the past 3 years Belize has seen double-digit increases in tourist arrivals, although much of that growth is due to the cruise ship industry. Belize is now up to 1,000,000 cruise ship visitors per year. Belize has advanced to the top-performing destination in the Caribbean region.
We are so psyched! Belizeans love their take-out food, many Belize citizens eat nothing but take-out, since the restaurants are all so good. They ALL use styrofoam. But not any more!!!!
Christmas in Belize is a wonderful way to spend the holiday. Give your family the gift of an experience rather than another “thing” they don’t need. Your kids will remember a sojourn to our island at Glover’s Reef for their whole life, long after the new phone or new shoes are lost, worn out, or forgotten.
If you want to go to Belize for Christmas, you need to start planning early! This means by May or June, but absolutely by September. After September most of the lodges in Belize are booked up. And even if you do find space in your 3rd or 4th choice, you will find that air seats are either all gone or prohibitively expensive.
Every year we turn away hundreds of people for the trip date that includes Christmas, as these dates fill extremely early. This year is no exception. It doesn’t take long for our trip dates to fill because our island capacity is only about 34 guests at a time.
However, we do still have room on the week both before and after this popular trip date. And the second of these options includes New Years Eve on the island! Below is a list of packages that still have room.
Come join us this December for the best family holiday that you will reminisce about for years to come.
December 14 – 22, flying home no earlier than the 23rd December 28 – January 5, flying home no earlier than the 6th Adventure Island at Glover’s Reef Full Week, Fri – Sat or Tue – Wed (flying out Sun or Thurs), 9 nights, $2425 US pp
Package includes 1 night in Belize City before the trip, 1 night in Belize City after the trip, and 7 nights on the island for sea kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, kitesurfing, windsurfing, surf kayaking, board surfing and fishing.
December 14 – 19, flying home no earlier than the 20th December 28 – January 2, flying home no earlier than the 3rd Adventure Island at Glover’s Reef First Half, Fri – Wed (flying out Thursday), 6 nights, $1675 US pp
Package includes 1 night in Belize City before the trip, 1 night in Belize City after the trip, and 4 nights on the island for sea kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, kitesurfing, windsurfing, surf kayaking, board surfing and fishing.
December 18 – 22, flying home no earlier than the 23rd January 1 – 5, flying home no earlier than the 6th Adventure Island at Glover’s Reef Second Half, Tue – Sat (flying out Sunday), 5 nights, $1525 US pp
Package includes 1 night in Belize City before the trip, 1 night in Belize City after the trip, and 3 nights on the island for sea kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, kitesurfing, windsurfing, surf kayaking, board surfing and fishing.
December 29 – January 5, flying home no earlier than the 6th Belize Adventure Week Full Week, Sat – Sat (flying out Sunday), 8 nights, $2825 US pp
Package includes 1 night at a beach lodge, 2 nights at a jungle lodge, and 1 night in Belize City – one in the middle of the trip and one on the last night, and 3 nights on our private island. In the jungle we go ziplining, waterfall rappelling, whitewater kayaking, underground kayaking, and exploring Mayan ruins, and on our private island we go sea kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, kitesurfing, windsurfing, surf kayaking, board surfing, and fishing.
December 29 –January 2, flying home no earlier than the 2nd Belize Adventure Week First Half, Sat – Wed (flying out Wednesday), 4 nights, $1595 US pp
Package includes 1 night at a beach lodge, 2 nights at a jungle lodge and 1 night in Belize City. We go ziplining, waterfall rappelling, whitewater kayaking, underground kayaking, and exploring Mayan ruins.
On our island, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef in Belize, we go snorkeling every day. Belize is located on the Western edge of the Caribbean Sea, and we have all of the Caribbean fish that dwell in other parts of the Caribbean. All of our guides know their fish, and when we take you snorkeling we are pointing out all of the various species and sub-species during the snorkel.
Every night on the island someone from our staff does a short talk on something interesting like the history of Slickrock, or the underwater geology of Glover’s Reef, or, the #1 favorite, Reef Fish Identification. During this talk we introduce many of the fish we see on a daily basis. One of our motivations for giving this talk is if we can get you to recognize the common stuff you always see, like Sergeant Major, French Angelfish, Queen Angelfish, Black Durgeon, Yellow Head Wrasse, Dusky Damselfish, and many others, then you will know it when you see something rare. Also, during the talk we introduce different fish behaviors so that you not only learn to notice exactly what the fish looks like, but also, just what are they doing anyway?
One of the most interesting fish in the Caribbean Sea is the Yellow Headed Jawfish. This is a long, thin fish that has a bright yellow face which fades to white on the rest of their body. They are hard to spot because they are so lightly colored that they blend into the white coral sand bottom. Also they spend their time hovering above a small tunnel that leads to their underground home, and as soon as they are disturbed, they back down into the hole, which makes them even harder to see.
When you do see one you might wonder how did they find a hole so perfectly round? The answer is they didn’t find it, they built it! The next obvious question is, how does one “build” a home when you don’t have any arms? Good question! The answer is – with your mouth!
Our island, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef, is 35 miles off the coast of Belize. Several years ago we had our first Sargassum seaweed invasion. Although we have been located at Glover’s Reef since 1991, we didn’t even know about Sargassum until just a few years ago. This season I guess the invasion is so pronounced that it is now in the news, and prospective tourists are avoiding parts of the Caribbean that report bad instances of the weed piling up.
So just what is Sargassum anyway? It’s another name for brown algae. It has berries within the mass of foliage, and these are filled with gas, and they keep the seaweed afloat. It travels in huge masses, like islands floating at sea, some as large as several acres! Experts believe the Caribbean Sargassum originates off the coast of South America. It is named after the Sargasso Sea, a region in the Atlantic that is almost as large as Australia where the weed collects. The Sargasso Sea is located just north of the Bahamas and covers about 2 million square miles of ocean. It’s the only sea without fixed land boundaries, its limits are formed by bounding ocean currents. Sargassum is not only found in the Atlantic however, it thrives worldwide.
There are many reasons to hate the stuff, it wrecks the visual appearance of the otherwise pristine white coral sand beaches. It’s yucky to walk through, whether on land or in the water. And when it starts to decay, it smells like a dead animal.
There are some good things about it too, although none of them are good enough for us to keep it around when it arrives. They are home to, and a source of food for a huge variety of sea life. It is edible for humans too, and utilized as a treatment for many ailments in Chinese medicine.
We are lucky in so many ways, and one of them is the Sargassum situation. For one thing, the wind blows mostly from the east (known as the trade winds). Our main beach faces southwest, which is the leeward side of the island, so the seaweed blows right by us for the most part. On the windward side of the island where our cabanas face, we have breaking waves as well as wind on that shore, so nothing sticks there either.
If it’s stormy and the wind switches it blows from the north or northwest, and then we do get a massive pile of Sargassum right on our beach. We have to wait until the wind switches back to deal with it, because otherwise as soon as we got rid of it, it would be right back. But once the wind switches (usually a day or two after it starts) we then clean it right up. Again, we are lucky. We have a system using our motor boat engines to create a swift current along with people in the water with rakes to rake it all away so that it flows away with the east wind. Last spring we experienced the worst batch of Sargassum we had ever seen. It was piled about 40 feet deep out into our lagoon! (That’s double the amount in the photo below.) Three of us got rid of it in about 3 hours of good, hard labor. Our group paddled through it leaving the island on the way to Middle Caye at about 9 am, and by the time they got back for lunch it was all gone. They couldn’t believe it. I was one of the three who magically cleaned it up, and it was actually fun, and we were so proud of ourselves. It’s so great having an island, you can just deal with stuff completely because it’s such a finite area.
We have been working and living on and off in Belize for 32 years now, so we have a lot of experience helping people plan their trip. If you follow this advice, your vacation will be such a success that you’ll be planning your return before you even leave the country!
You need a passport, but you probably don’t have to worry about a Visa.
Your passport cannot expire less than 6 months prior to your travel to Belize. So when you decide to visit this Caribbean paradise, check the expiration date on your passport right away. You might be due for a new one.
As long as you are a citizen of the US, Canada, or the UK, you will be handed a Visa to fill out on the plane. Citizens of other countries need to check with their consulate to see what they need to do.
Special documents required when traveling with minors
Children under 18 traveling without both biological/legal parents might be required to show proof (in the form of a notarized letter) that the parent(s) not present agree to allow their child to travel to Belize. Believe it or not, you actually may be denied onto your flight to Belize if you neglect to bring this paperwork.
We have trouble convincing people of this for two reasons: First, we think Belize might be the only place in the world that has this requirement. Second, sometimes this rule is enforced and sometimes not; it depends on how conscientious your ticketing agent is.
This rule is actually a 2010 Belize law. However, no one in Belize asks for these documents. But since it is official Belize law that appears on the computer screen of the ticketing agent, the airline may dutifully require that you produce these documents. Sometimes years go by and we hear nothing about this, and think it’s not required anymore. Then suddenly a guest will call, panicked from an airport, telling us that they are being refused boarding. A notarized letter from the parent(s) not present is usually sufficient, although once someone was required to produce her divorce decree. It does seem to vary, and we do not have access to the wording of the requirement, and it might even vary from airline to airline. So our advice to all mixed family groups is to bring proof that you have permission from the other parent to travel to Belize with your children.
Don’t change your money.
Belize is a cash society, and they take US dollars throughout the country. In fact, everyone prefers US dollars and you will almost always get Belize dollars in change. The official exchange rate is 2 Belize dollars to 1 US dollar, but when you try to change your money back, the exchange is much worse. So always use the Belize dollars you get as change before cracking open another US $20.
Carry a lot of cash
You need to bring most or all of your cash needs with you because getting cash is a hassle. Some ATMs have a limit as low as $200 BZ, which won’t last long. To get cash from a bank, you have to go during open hours which are short, and lines are long.
If you are nervous about carrying a lot of cash, get a slim waterproof money belt and wear it under your clothes, keeping a small amount that you plan to spend that day in your regular wallet or purse.
Avoid Belize City
Belize City just isn’t that great. There’s not much to recommend it to tourists, so you should spend as little time there as possible. You can’t completely avoid Belize City because that is where all international flights originate. If yours arrives late or departs early it may end up making the most sense to overnight in Belize City one night at the beginning of your trip and one at the end. Know the good neighborhoods and make sure your hotel or other rental is located in one of these.
Don’t book cabs in advance for a Belize City drop off
Many people are nervous when arriving in Belize City the first time, and they make arrangements for a cab to meet them at the airport. But then, what if your car driver is late, or doesn’t show up at all? The cab drivers waiting at the airport are fine, and the rates are the same either way. If you don’t have one driver you are beholden to, you can just grab the first cab that you see. If you are catching a cab to another part of the country, then this advice does not apply. You would want a reserved driver for a long, expensive ride to another part of the country.
Be aware that people will always recommend their relatives
The families are large in Belize, and Belizeans are very loyal to their family. Let’s say you have the greatest caving guide in the world. When you tell him you are next going to another part of the country for the rest of your trip, he invariably will then recommend his cousin as who you want to guide you for the rest of your stay. His cousin might be great, but he might not. They will always make recommendations of family over any other trait, so take those recommendations with a grain of salt and don’t lock yourself into days with one person you haven’t met.
Support the locals
If you have a choice of taking a Mayan ruin tour with a big company, or hiring a guide right at the ruins, we recommend you do the latter. It will be cheaper, and your money will go directly to the guide in full. Some activities that have special transportation or equipment would require a tour company, but just be aware that it’s nice to spread your money around directly to the workers if you can.
Bring your own lifejackets
Although lifejackets are required in Belize, they are not required to be worn, just on board. Therefore, the captain keeps them tucked away so they stay in good shape so that he will never have to replace them. Therefore, you could be on a long, remote boat ride, and if you didn’t insist on a lifejacket you might not get one, and possibly there could be none on board at all. There are compact lifejackets that would be easy to travel with, it just might save your life. And definitely definitely bring lifejackets for your kids as the captains likely have no kid sizes.
Don’t assume the weather will be perfect
Whatever island, lodge or tour company you choose, the photos on their website are going to show Belize at its finest. That’s logical and what you would expect. But remember, it’s the tropics. It could be astoundingly hot, or it could rain for days. It could also be “cold” (about 60 degrees). Be sure that you are packed for the extremes and that you intend to gracefully accept whatever weather comes your way.