Harvest Caye cruise ship island
Plan for Harvest Caye

Norwegian Cruise Lines has been working on their latest project in Belize, a private island just three miles off the Belize coast right by Placencia Village. Their multi-million dollar remodel of Harvest Caye, will turn this tiny island into a cruise ship landing location for their cruises. This will be the first port in Belize that can accommodate a cruise ship actually pulling up to a pier to unload guests, from where they will be able to frolic at the Disneylandesque island facilities or take shuttles to the Placencia mainland to go out on land based tours or snorkeling to the relatively nearby Belize Barrier Reef.

Harvest Caye will have brand new manufactured beaches, a marina for shuttle boats, and water sport activities for cruise ship guests. From internet research, we believe the first ship to dock on Harvest Caye will be the Norwegian Pearl, arriving in Belize on October 26, 2015. It looks like the schedule will ramp up to 3 or 4 ships/week, all in the fleet of Norwegian, which secured a Belize government contract for exclusive access to southern Belize.

harvest caye map belize
Harvest Caye is only 3 miles from Placencia. This image is of Harvest Caye prior to remodeling it into a cruise ship port.

There has been a lot of controversy over the development of this island. Cruise ships have never been able to access the southern part of Belize, and now there will be thousands of tourists (each ship carries about 2400 guests and 1100 crew) inundating Placencia, increased bus traffic for land tours, overwhelming every restaurant, bar, and gift shop, which will all dramatically change the nature of the town. Placencia has developed as a tourist destination featuring a quiet, laid back, true “Belizean’ atmosphere, and now this will be lost with the huge crowds of cruise ship tourists arriving in town. Many environmental concerns were raised over the impact the development of this island would have on the surrounding reefs and water quality, not to mention the nearby Mayan ruins of Nim Li Punit and Lubaantun; but the approvals were given by the government despite resounding local opposition. For more information on the unsuccessful grassroots effort to stop the plan, visit southernbelizecruise.org.

cruise-ship-southern-belize

Placencia is already a popular tourist destination, with close to 50 hotels and lodges on the peninsula. In recent years, private home construction for (mostly) expat Americans has exploded. We feel badly for the locals as well as the new permanent arrivals. We live in a tourist town ourselves, and every local I talk to feels that Moab has been over-promoted. Such will be the case with southern Belize. We are grateful that this inundation of the big ships will not affect our island out at Glover’s Reef. Although our island is longer than a cruise ship, these Norwegian ships would tower over our island, housing almost 2500 guests, while our maximum on any given week is 34.

I have long been curious about the size of our island compared to one of these ships, and for this blog post I took the time to figure it out. Our island is about 1/3 a mile long (1760 feet), and although the ships that will visit Harvest Caye are not the largest cruise ships in the world, they are plenty big (965 feet long).

cruise-ship-belize
What a cruise ship would look like docked at our island, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef.

Belize Blue Hole

We follow Belize news closely, and we recently learned that there is a new mega resort being proposed on Northern Caye at Lighthouse Reef, where the famous Blue Hole is located. The new mega-resort is to be called the Puerto Azul Luxury Resort. Plans were unveiled at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in France, where the Italian developers showed off a model for a super high-end luxury resort they propose to build on this island, designed for clientele such as attend the Cannes festival. The entire island would be converted to clusters of very fancy villas and bungalows with a marina, beaches, pools, and other resort amenities. An airstrip would also be constructed to facilitate travel to the resort.

As expected, there has been an immediate outcry from protesters about the ecological impact of such a development, and it is unlikely that the project will be completed along its original plan. An EIS study is currently underway as the fist phase of the project, and it will take several years before a development of any sort would be able to proceed. Nonetheless, some sort of resort will undoubtedly be built on this island in due time.

This is just the latest mega development Belize is seeing. Work has already started on Harvest Caye in southern Belize near Placencia, where Norwegian Cruise Lines is developing a cruise ship port. And another giant resort on the coast is well under construction just south of Hopkins, called Sanctuary Belize, where 500 lots, condos, and a hotel are being developed centered around a marina, a golf course, and private canal system in Sapodilla Lagoon.

All these huge projects, along with the development of smaller resorts on many of the cayes in Belize, is changing the face of tourism in Belize from the small, intimate retreats the country is famous for into the larger, more industrial style places one finds at locations like Cancun. We find these changes to be upsetting. At least we know that our island will remain a rustic, eco-oriented resort with a limited number of guests on the island at any one time, a true Belizean experience!