photo of Belize in January

Yesterday I came across an article with a title that spoke to me – Why you might want to push your holiday vacation to January. This is something I recommend all of the time. Traveling to Belize in January is a great idea. It seems everyone wants the same five dates during the winter season, which means that during this time our island is completely full, and flights are jammed and tend to get delayed because the whole system is maxed out. This article makes some good points, like that flights are cheaper and hotels can be cheaper, although some of their points are a bit strange “It can be healthier” or “Cruises are cheaper” (who cares? Cruises are the absolutely worst way to see any place.) But this article gave me the idea to do my own version. So, I’ll start out like they do, and go from there.

How does 15-20% off the price of your plane ticket sound? How about Belize private island packages put on sale? These savings and more could be yours – if you push your Belize vacation to a few weeks past the holidays.

We are only open five months a year – December through April. This is because of the weather. We are on a tiny island out in the middle of the ocean, so the weather really affects us. You know what else really affects us? When our guests don’t have the best vacation of their lives. This is our goal and we almost always achieve it. We are good at what we do, which is keep the fun non-stop for everyone joining us on our private island and jungle packages that we offer in Belize. So if we offered a longer season, we know there would be a much higher percentage of days of non-stop rain, rough boat rides, and days we can’t do any of the sports because of high wind. So we are only open during the absolute best window of weather during the year. This takes care of most of the bad-weather issues.

During this time frame both Christmas and Spring Break are extremely popular times to travel, with the time around President’s Day coming in third. This means that early December, all of January, and mid to late April are some of the best times to go if you can swing it, because they are within the good weather window but do not coincide with a holiday. Here are our reason that January travel is a great idea.

1. Flights are cheaper

It just makes sense that they are. As flights fill, the airlines raise the rates on remaining seats. Flights to Belize for Christmas or Spring Break (which actually lasts 4 weeks) fill extremely early. A good deal on a ticket during other times will be around $500 (or even less if you get a really good deal). A good deal at Christmas would be around $900. And I have seen Christmas tickets go for as much as $1400 per person.

2. Flight delays are less common

Because airlines overbook all flights, and also because at Christmas the weather is worse in the U.S. (where most Belize travelers come from), the bad weather plus full flights means more things can go wrong. When you are late for our trip or get bumped off your flight, you might miss the boat to the island. This means you have to charter your own boat, which costs $700 for the boat, and $80 per person to fly to where you meet that boat (our boat goes directly out of Belize City, but a boat you charter would go out of Dangriga.)

3. We put trips on sale in January

When we have a date with no one signed up and it’s getting kind of close, we will discount it 10-15%, so that everyone on that date paid the same lower rate. If you sign up for our newsletter, we send you a notification when new dates go on sale. We never put holiday dates on sale, but I know from experience I will undoubtedly be discounting January dates in a few weeks. I don’t know which dates yet, but sign up and you’ll get the email too.

4. Our groups are smaller in January

During holidays, our island fills. This varies per group (depends on how many singles, how many couples, how many families of three, etc.), but in general our maximum is 24 on a particular trip and 34 on the island. If the trip was full, there would be four guides for 24 guests, for example. But if we had 8 guests, there would be two guides. You can see with smaller trips you will get more individualized attention.

5. All other Belize destinations have openings then too

Most of our guests use our trip as a nucleus for a longer stay. They might arrive early by a couple of days, and maybe even stay longer at the end. We provide recommendations for other things to do in Belize on our website. In January, even the places that are usually really hard to get into (like the Macal River Jungle Camp at Chaa Creek) will probably have room as well.

6. You are really helping out Belizeans by traveling in an off time

Most Belizeans work in the tourist industry and most of them are paid by the day. If there are no guests, they don’t get paid. This really concerns them. Travel in the mini-off season of January and help them out, they will love you for it!

[photo by Kathe O’Donnelly]

learn to kayak in Belize

On our island in Belize we have all of the sport toys you can imagine: sea kayaks, surf kayaks, surf paddleboards, long distance paddleboards, beginner, intermediate and advanced windsurfers, fishing kayaks, surf boards, rolling kayaks, and kitesurf gear. It’s hard to say which sport is the favorite, but it might be sea kayaking. We use the kayaks to access snorkeling spots, and sea kayaks are very stable and do not tip over easily. Plus the water is 80 degrees. This is the perfect place to learn to kayak.

When you arrive on the island you get complete instruction in all sports. The sea kayaking orientation is the most comprehensive. We cover fitting the kayak to your body, operating the rudder, where to stow your snorkel gear on the deck of the boat, how to hold the paddle, forward, reverse, and turning strokes, getting in and out of the kayak for snorkeling, and rescuing your buddy if they in fact do tip over. This takes one full morning, and once you have completed this session, you and your buddy can paddle anytime you like as long as we give you the OK (occasionally we veto a plan if we feel it isn’t safe in current conditions).

Many of our guests try out many of our kayaks, we have 11 different types of boats, and report back to us that they went home and bought a kayak! Add sea kayaking to your sport repertoire this winter! This is the perfect place to learn sea kayaking.

We sure are getting a lot of calls from Canada lately, and we just found out why. Slickrock stars in a feature article in Westworld Alberta magazine called “Sun, Scenery, and Serenity“.

“While many private islands make a lot of noise about forgetting the outside world, this one means it. The Robinson-Crusoe-style haven promises to go easy on the environment, with just 15 rustic cabanas, composting toilets, solar-powered water pumps and no AC (who needs it, when you’ve got cool Caribbean breezes?), while offering guests the opportunity to learn windsurfing, kayaking, stand-up paddling, surfing and scuba – just a few of the activities on the menu. Of course, on this adrenalin-pumped getaway there’s also the prospect of indulging in some good old hammock time.”

Glovers Reef Atoll

Now that the season is in full swing and I am on the phone all day talking about Belize and our island, I am reminded how people searching the internet for Belize vacation trips just don’t understand what it means to go to a very remote part of the globe. Everyone wants to go to an exclusive location with no one else around, but they all expect it to be easy to get to. Guess what: if it’s easy to get to, there will be a lot of other people there. The harder a vacation spot is to travel to, the less people you will find when you arrive!

Our island, Long Caye at Glover’s Reef (pictured at left, above), is 35 miles off the shore of Belize, and is due east from Dangriga, Belize, which is about 50 miles south of Belize City. If you travel from Dangriga to Glover’s it’s a 35-mile boat ride. If you go directly from Belize City as we do, it’s a 65-mile diagonal route. Glover’s Reef is an atoll out past the Belize Barrier Reef (see our blog post What is an Atoll? or our Belize maps page on our website), so the first part of the boat ride is inside of the Belize Barrier Reef and the second part of the ride is outside the barrier reef. Regardless of whether you start in Dangriga or Belize City, you still have to do this open sea crossing to get to the atoll. It’s far, and it can be rough, and few private boats or really any boats at all that don’t own an island at Glover’s go out there. Glover’s Reef Atoll is the most remote ocean location in the entire country.

This is why if you want to go to Glover’s Reef, and you don’t want to charter you own boat (at a cost of approximately $650 US) you have to go on the days that the ferry to your island destination is scheduled to go. We operate our boat two days a week, on Saturday and on Wednesday. Some facilities at Glover’s only offer trips once a week. Our boat is based in Belize City, and the price of our travel package includes this boat ride. The price is based on a shared boat between 2 groups. The just-arriving group goes out on the same boat that takes the departing group off the island. Because of this, the boat must leave Belize City first thing in the morning to make the 3.5 hour ride out there, get unloaded, get reloaded, and get back to Belize City before dark. No international flight arrives that early, so you have to arrive the night before and stay in Belize City so that you can get up early to catch that boat ride.

If the boat you are using is out of Dangriga, you have to get there first; by bus, private vehicle, or plane. The roads in Belize are also rough in spots, so getting there by vehicle takes a while. Don’t be fooled by the term “highway”, such as the Western Highway or the Hummingbird Highway. We have seen some improvement to the roads in Belize since we first started guiding there in 1986, but this is still largely a rural road.

Ferry to Long CayeWhen joining any tour company that accesses a remote island by boat, make sure lifejackets are required, and make sure that the boat has more than one engine (if a single engine fails, you are in trouble). If the boat is covered, you will be much more comfortable in bad weather, and the larger the boat, the better. Our boat is a 41-foot, fully-covered, triple-engine outboard. We purchased Batfish in 2004, and have upgraded the engines and hull several times. We haven’t regretted this purchase for a minute since then. The importance of having the right boat for this kind of crossing cannot be over-emphasized.

So when planning your vacation, don’t purchase your air tickets and then look for a package to a remote island. Do it the other way around. Decide where you want to go and who you want to go with, and base your schedule on theirs. It’s the only way to join a company who offers trips to the least visited parts of this amazing planet.

We have had 2 hurricane scares this hurricane season, and both have left us fairly unscathed, much to our relief. When you own an island resort in the Caribbean, you don’t look forward to hurricane season. Each July we start to get nervous, and don’t feel completely relaxed until November 1, when I proclaim hurricane season officially “over”. Only 4 more days to go!

Tropical storm Matthew passed very near our island on September 25, with sustained winds of 40 miles an hour. The most profound change was to the small sand bar just off our caye. Past guests will remember this sand bar because we conduct snorkel orientation just off this small bit of land. Well, this sand bar is no more! Damage during that storm also included damage to our surf dock, damage to the foundation on 2 cabanas which need to be re-cemented, and sand moved around and lots of seaweed washed up on the beach.

Hurricane Richard passed on a similar track, within 50 miles of our island, on October 24. This Category 1 storm had sustained winds of 75 mph. We were very surprised to learn that the damage from this storm was not as bad as the damage Matthew caused. In one instance we actually gained beach by cabana #6 that has been gone since 1998!

Our kayak beach by the sea kayak palapa lost a lot of sand with Matthew, as the storm surge washed away a lot of the beach, exposing roots. Richard put the sand back! (see photos.)

I will be posting other before/after shots over the next few days.

Belize beach before 2010 hurricane seasonSlickrock's kayak beach after MatthewLong Caye kayak beach after Hurricane Richard in 2010