When you live out on an island for weeks and even months, you get obsessed by some pretty interesting stuff. This last March we met a Pygmy Octopus living just a few feet from our shore. I got to see him several times, but by far his best friend was Elora Kooistra, the island dive instructor. She became totally infatuated with him, she named him Egbert, and took hours and hours of high-quality videos of her interactions with him.
A couple of our guests first found Egbert when they were snorkeling right in front of our kayak beach. He was living in a conch shell about 20 feet out. They showed the rest of our guests and guides, and one whole afternoon about 15 people were out there watching him in about 6 feet of water. Our kitesurf instructor Lauren Bibby and our island manager trainee Kyle Lowis, who were best friends with Elora, went out the next day with Elora to see if he was still there. When I came along the three of them were taking turns holding their breath while snorkeling with a GoPro filming Egbert while one of them stood on the other person’s back so the camera-person could stay down while snorkeling to get long, uninterrupted shots.
Then Elora decided it made way more sense to do this with scuba gear, so she would weigh herself down with a bunch of dive weights and take a scuba tank and in this way she could hang out with Egbert as long as she wanted. This went on for weeks. Eventually Kyle and Lauren reached the end of their shift so they left the island, but Elora and I stayed on and Elora continued to visit Egbert every day. For a while she lost him when he moved to another shell, but she hunted until she found him again.
She would take raw fish to him. He would fight nearby Damselfish over the treat. He would also grab Elora’s hand, and he learned to open a jar with the fish in it, and other entertaining past times. Elora got it all on camera. Every night she would bring her phone down to our dining hall and show me the latest clips of Egbert. It was super fun.
Recently an animal-lovers website made a video using Elora’s clips and it has gone some-what viral! (3 million views!) Check it out.
Glenn Boer joined us this December and he just sent a great video of his trip to our island, combined with his trip extension to nearby Guatemala. The first 3 minutes is about our island an includes the boat ride to the atoll, his cabana, paddling near the island, a kitesurfing lesson, and snorkeling with underwater footage! A fantastic montage! Thanks Glenn.
We have a lot of sports on the island, but the one we do every day and sometimes twice a day is kayak snorkeling. This is something you can’t do everywhere in the world, so often even kayak instructors have never experienced it. There are over 900 patch reefs at Glover’s Atoll where our island is located. They offer fantastic snorkeling, but there is no land near the patches. So we paddle up to them, the guide jumps out and secures his or her boat, and then ties everyone up to each other, making a long line of kayaks like you see in this photo.
Often, the water is over your head, and so you must be able to get in and out of your boat without tipping over. This is the trick we teach you on your first full day on the island. Everyone has to demonstrate they can do this before going on a kayak snorkel expedition. You wouldn’t want to paddle a half mile from the island and jump out and then not be able to get back into your kayak! It’s also quite a gear shuffle, getting your lifejacket, hat, sunglasses, and paddle off and stowed, and getting your fins, mask, and snorkel on. We teach you the whole process. First you test it out near the island, and then we go kayak-snorkeling that afternoon to practice what you learned. It’s my favorite sport. The number of creatures we see is amazing!
For adventure lovers, Belize still remains somewhat of an underrated destination. In 2009, only a surprising 231,249 travelers visited this tropical paradise. Competing with the other great adventure destinations, it’s easy to see why Belize can often be over looked.
However, once you’ve experienced a taste of what this unique, vibrant and diverse culture, it’s guaranteed that you’ll never want to leave. With a whole plethora of exciting activities on offer, a beautiful and historic landscape and a near-perfect climate, there are endless reasons why you should book a trip to Belize right now and consider never returning!
Belize Adventure Diving and Snorkeling
Probably one of the most famous diving landmarks in the world is located just off the coast of Belize. The Blue Hole is a unique geographical feature, where a sinkhole has formed in the center of the Lighthouse reef. The result is one of the top scuba spots in the entire world; with endless tropical sea life and crystal blue waters, it truly is not to be missed.
Beginner divers can also find a paradise in Belize. There are numerous scuba and snorkeling lessons and courses available, and organized tours can take you out to help you find the best spots for marine life. Once you’ve taken your first dip, you’ll be hooked automatically.
It’s not just under the water that makes Belize a hotspot for adventure lovers. The weather and location make it the ideal place for watersports of all time. Whether you’re looking for a serious adrenaline rush or just a bit of fun in the sun, Belize is the answer. All over the beautiful coastlines there are watersport schools that offer lessons and equipment hire for a reasonable price.
Whether you’re a beginner or expert, you can go windsurfing, kite boarding, surfing, kayaking and paddle boarding—to name just a few! The views are beautiful, the water is warm, and there’s endless fun to be had. It’s no wonder why so many people struggle to leave.
There is also plenty of fun to be had while staying dry on this beautifully varied set of islands. With its lush jungle canopies and thick rainforest, there are plenty of hikes available that will fulfill any traveler’s thirst for adventure. With numerous national parks and nature revelations all over, there’s no shortage of choice.
Head to the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve to see the only true pine forest in all of Central America and one of the best waterfalls worldwide, or visit the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary for epic tropical trails and the largest concentration of wild cats on the planet. Whatever you decide will make a fulfilling day out, and you’ll always know there’s more to pick from!
Somewhat surprisingly, there’s a massive caving culture in Belize. The cayes, islands and intricate waterways have left a labyrinth of picturesque rock formations that are incredible to explore. Hokeb Ha Cave and Tiger Cave are only accessible by swimming through a cool pool of water, but once inside, the stalagmites and stalactites makes you feel like you’re on another planet.
Kayak caving is also extremely common in Belize. You can take the boats up smaller streams and water passages to gain access to the many caves on the island. Doing this is a novel spin on your generic caving excursion and allows you to explore the island in a truly unique way.
The Mayan Ruins
You can’t talk about the highlights of Belize without covering the Mayan Ruins. Many of the best-preserved ancient Maya sites can be found in this country, nestled away in the thick jungle and luscious countryside. These awe-inspiring centers of culture and history are dotted all over, and many require long treks to reach. However, for adventure lovers, nothing is comparable to arriving at your destination and uncovering these stunning ancient buildings through the canopy of leafs.
Top spots include Tikal (in nearby Guatemala), the ultimate Mayan city; Xunantunich, a hilltop castle and the most easily accessible; and Lamanai, which is usually accompanied by a river safari. They are truly beautiful sights, both historically and aesthetically, and the thought of having them right on your doorstep can make it very hard to consider leaving Belize!
With endless amounts of fun, excitement and stunning attractions, Belize may not be the most popular adventure destination, but it’s definitely that sort that makes you want to stick around for longer. After experiencing all it has to offer, the only thing left is to gain access to Skype to ring your loved ones and let them know you’re not coming back! However, you’ll need to have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to do so because all VOIP services are blocked in Belize, and a VPN will help you get around these regional restrictions.
If this list isn’t enough to convince you contact Slickrock Adventures with any questions about making Belize your next vacation destination!
Jess Signet is an avid traveler and enjoys writing about her adventures. Knowing there’s more to the world than the bubble she lives in makes her want to travel even further.
[photos: Kenny Stein, Keith Fialcowitz, Henry Georgi]
Our on our island in Belize my absolute favorite underwater creature is the octopus. We see them at low tide in our tide pool, and also when night snorkeling. Occasionally you will see the Common Octopus during the day, but that is rare. Mostly we see the Caribbean Reef Octopus, which is typically nocturnal.
Octopus can take many shapes, including the ability to squeeze through almost any size hole. The only hard thing on their body is their beak, which is quite small. The rest of them are all skin tissue, so they can fit almost anywhere by readjusting their shape to fit the space. It is wonderful to see an octopus ooze across the sea floor. I have also seen octopus turn into a Frisbee and spin away from us, into a hole in the coral.
Most of our snorkel trips from the island require a paddle or swim out to nearby reefs, where we see an incredible array of coral and fish on a regular basis. However, sometimes there are incredible discoveries right under our noses if only one takes the time to explore. Witness these shots taken of some of the marine life found right under our dock on the island! We have seen lots of other creatures here, including sea horses, eels, sharks, and rays. But if you get really close to what is growing on the dock posts, you will see stuff like this every time. So you don’t need to travel far to see the amazing sea life at the atoll, it is right there in plain sight a few feet from shore!
Click on each image to see it full size. All photos were taken by our kitesurf instructor, Jasmine Ardeshiri.
I have been teaching snorkeling for years now. And when I first started going to Belize in 1986, I wasn’t even a strong swimmer. Belize is the perfect place to learn because the water is warm and clear and there are small tides and few currents. However, some people still experience fear and have many problems feeling comfortable under the water breathing through a tube.
We teach beginners to snorkel, and will work one on one with you if necessary. But there is a new product out there I just found out about that might be the answer to your problem. This is a full face snorkel mask where you don’t have to breathe through a tube. It’s called an Easy Breathe Snorkel Mask. I have not tried it myself so I cannot give it a personal recommendation, but it’s a very ingenious design and I imagine it will be the answer for many people.
I recently returned from a trip to Maui where I was able to snorkel several times during my visit. While it was great to see new species of coral and fish, I was struck by how much better the diving and reefs are at our Glover’s Reef island in Belize. I had always imagined Hawaii and most of the Pacific to have much better reef ecosystems that we commonly see in Belize, but I found the opposite to be true. I know that many areas in the Pacific enjoy phenomenal coral reefs and abundant marine life, but my observation is that Hawaii is not one of them.
What most amazed me was the lack fish we saw. In Belize we commonly see thousands of fish on every snorkel we take, but on the reefs around Maui we probably saw less than a hundred per session. This may have been because we picked areas that simply didn’t have abundant fish life, but I suspect that overfishing and pollution from the heavily populated land areas have caused the marine life to suffer. Out at Glover’s Reef we are protected from overfishing and far from the mainland.
First and foremost, the climate is fantastic. Not to mention diving off the world’s second largest barrier reef. And the many eclectic cultures, mixing freely, reflect the history of the region as it has been passed like a plaything between the worlds. Amazing fauna and flora, wildlife, a zoo with a biologist’s dream of creatures all native to the country. And even real touch-it-if-you dare ruins from long lost cultures? Yep. Sure, loads of other countries have got these things. Very few have got them all, all within an afternoon’s travel, all under the same high jungle canopy roof. And more. The possibility for adventure is almost limitless.
Belize is situated in a geographically rich area but amidst a politically fraught arena. The words “Central America” can conjure some of life’s less pleasant images but all this has seemingly passed Belize by. Not for Belize the troubles of Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west or Honduras to the south. Belize is a tourist’s paradise.
So you like your adventure extreme?
If you’ve ever seen a giant turtle on land they can seem ungainly, awkward creatures. Definitely not built for speed. But should one come up to you to say hello while you’re a meter or two underwater, and they do, then the difference will take your breath away. You may have set out hoping to see a shark or a barracuda, and you might, but it is the speed and elegance of this once-delicacy – mock turtle soup tells its own story – that is true nature in its truest form.
As close as 300m off shore in places in the north is the Belize Barrier reef, a World Heritage site, and Belize boasts a third of its 900 km, second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The statistics boggle the mind. Over 100 species of coral, 500 species of often very colourful fish. Some 90% of the reef as yet unexplored. Then 70 km off the coast is the Great Blue Hole, 124m deep, an almost perfect 300m in diameter circle of deep blue sea made famous by the legendary Jacques Cousteau.
If you like your water sports less extreme, the opportunities to take the kids snorkeling are almost limitless. In the almost countless places the reef pops above the still surface of the Caribbean, the cayes in this part of the world (pronounced ‘Keys’) provide easy access from sandy beaches into the peaceful translucent aquamarine sea.
Want to keep your feet on terra firma?
Should you prefer your adventures away from the water, solid ground provides a multitude of activities. The capital of what was once called British Honduras, indicative of its colonial past, is not actually Belize City but Belmopan (the state assets were shifted inland owing to the risk of hurricane damage to the coast), located on the stunning and beautifully named Hummingbird Highway (yes, these astonishing birds are one of about 590 species in the country, of which two are endangered, fancy re-tweeting that?) almost half way between the border and the coast, just off the less-prosaically named Western Highway, just down from the Zoo. There aren’t many zoos in the world that can list such a range of animals that are native to the country the zoo is located in, down to the Belizean rattlesnake that unless you can get to Miami in a hurry you don’t want to be bitten by.
Continue on down the Western Highway almost to the border with Guatemala to see one of the most stunning sites on earth. The Mayan Temple of Xunantunich is thought to date from before its period of growth and importance in AD600. The result is a truly great cultural monument that reveals insights into one of the world’s great cultures, pre-Spanish Colonization.
And further afield there’s more
But what else? What if you don’t want to stay in one place? Belize’s coastline gazes out onto the Caribbean. Is there a greater place to relax? If Belize is the ultimate do-it-yourself destination then the Caribbean is the ultimate let the “tour operators take the strain” destination. The Cayman Islands, the Bahamas, the West Indies. Redolent of sun, sea, sand, and history. With a multitude of carriers flying into many of the islands and cities, modern jet travel has made the 700 islands the go-to destination for today’s sun seekers.
So take your pick, water activities or toasting in the sun. The laid back easy paced life of the Caribbean, trekking and camping in the jungle and a biological history that attracted Darwin. Thick jungle or pine ridges, stunning waterfalls, Mayan history and culture. Geo-politics, Spanish and British colonialism. A traveler’s paradise, a holidaymaker’s dream. As a destination it is second to none and its variety of activities outstanding.
This is a freelance article sent in by site reader Sally Burns
Octopus and squid are my favorite sea creatures. How can they not be? They are completely fascinating and utterly mysterious.
I am a Belize snorkel fanatic, and even though I have been snorkeling at Glover’s Reef since 1993, I still get to spot wondrous creatures and amazing underwater events that I have never seen.
And the most wonderful of all is seeing an octopus. No matter what they are doing, it is incredible to behold. I have witnessed an octopus, when disturbed from his privacy while he was successfully looking exactly like a rock, instantly turning into a flashing Frisbee, whirling away from me to ooze into a crevice in the coral. So imagine my joy when I received via email a link to this fabulous octopus video! You have got to watch it, it will blow your mind!
And allow me to point out, PLEASE don’t order octopus or squid in a restaurant or buy them in the fish market! Let them live!