Belize City floods

In an earlier blog we talked about the devastating drought that has affected all of Central America, including Belize. Well, the peak of the rainy season, Sept/Oct, has changed everything. This last week a slow moving tropical storm swept across Belize, creating torrential rains in the northern part of the country. It rained between 10″ and 23″ in various parts of the country, a huge total even for a tropical country like Belize. The storm was carefully watched as these kinds of disturbances often develop into hurricanes, but this storm simply dumped rain and did not further intensify.

Belize City was virtually shut down by the rains, which flooded large parts of the city. An extensive drain system is in place all over the city employing a canal system to channel water out to sea, but it was overwhelmed by the amount of rain that fell. All schools, most transportation systems, and a large area of electric power were all shut down for 3 days. Many old houses collapsed in the poorer neighborhoods, where residents commonly live in old wooden dwellings that slowly rot away over time until they simply fall over (wooden houses are commonly set up on posts to avoid flooding).

The following articles from the local Belize news give more info about the floods:
http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/120125
http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/120120

There is a good reason we are closed during this time of year!

We have already commented in a previous blog post about the developing El Nino weather pattern that is affecting the climate patterns across the Caribbean. The primary effect El Nino is having is to alter the upper level wind strength and that has been suppressing hurricane development in the Caribbean. So far there has not been a single hurricane in the entire Caribbean, which is very unusual since we are currently at the peak of the storm season.

Although this is good news for us at Slickrock and others with island properties in Belize, the El Nino has also been responsible for a devastating drought that has covered almost all of Central America, including Belize. The storm season is also the rainy season, and the rains have also been suppressed by the same weather phenomenon that has reduced the hurricane threat. Sept, Oct, and Nov. are actually the peak of the rainy season, but so far only meager amounts of precipitation have fallen.

Belize drought

The agriculture industry of Belize has been severely affected by the drought, as can be read about in this recent Channel 5 Belize article.

Belize windsurfing

Out on our Belize island we offer two wind sports: windsurfing and kiteboarding. We are open during the “dry” season, which is late November through May. The rest of the year it is too rainy to be able to offer adventure sport packages with reliably good weather. We can windsurf and kitesurf through our season, but it’s the windiest at the beginning of the season, late November – January. As the season progresses, it becomes less windy, hotter, and calmer.

The great thing about offering so many sports, is it is always the perfect time for something. If there’s no wind, go snorkeling! But if wind sports are your priority, you will want to join us as early as your schedule allows.

The picture above is from a few weeks ago. I’m still dreaming of the great wind that day!

The best time to visit Belize is the period of time known as the “dry season”. Speaking of summer, fall, winter, or spring is not that useful for Belize. Although there is little difference in temperatures between seasons in Belize, like all tropical regions Belize experiences extremes in precipitation amounts depending on the time of year. In the northern reaches of the tropics the climate patterns transition into dry season by February, and continue through May. The rainy season usually begins in June. This rainy season then transitions into the storm season (hurricanes) in late summer and fall. By November the process begins all over again.

On Long Caye, our island in Belize, the dry season presents a special challenge since we have to provide fresh water for our operation for drinking, cooking, and our wash stands. Like all remote regions of Belize, we collect all of our fresh water from our metal roofed buildings and store it in large vats for later use. We currently have 14,000 gallons capacity of fresh water between our 16 collection tanks, and although this sounds like a lot it is always a concern when we are hosting up to 34 guests a week and there is no rain for 2 months! We also have several wells on the island which brackish water, unsuitable for drinking, although we do employ it for the showers and dish washing.

Just getting these huge tanks out to the island are a trial, and we have to hire a special boat to transport them to the island. We have to choose a calm day to bring them out, here’s what they look like, arriving on the island.

water tanks on belize island

 

best time to visit belize is the dry season

The tanks are installed beneath our roofs with the water transferred by a gutter system. Our groundskeeper closely monitors our fresh water supply during the dry season, when we can expect 8-10 weeks with almost zero rainfall. He transfers water from tank to tank and purifies it as needed. The water stays amazingly fresh in the tanks for long periods at a time since it is pure rainwater with virtually no impurities or other organic content on which algae could grow.

belize dry season tanks

We do have two plumbed systems, one to the kitchen and one to the wash stand, but most of the rest of the tanks just collect water, which we transfer with portable pumps. The plumbed systems are pressurized with our 12 V pumps, powered by the sun and our photovoltaic systems.

island wash stand

earth wind map

My partner Cully is a weather freak. If I need to know what the weather is going to do, I ask him. He was working on our Belize weather web page and recently found this fabulous map of our planet’s wind. This amazing Earth wind map gives you a visual picture of the wind all over the Earth. The brighter the color, the higher the wind speed. Belize is located at the very bottom of the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula; you can move the map around with your mouse or your finger if you have a touch-screen. With a touch screen you can also enlarge the map to better pinpoint your location. Touch the map at any point to get an actual wind speed reading for that location.

Now this is one of the coolest things I have seen on the internet in a while!

The fact that we have so many different water sports out on Adventure Island means that no matter what the weather in Belize is like on a given day, there are always some of the sports that are perfectly suited for those conditions.

 If the winds are blowing but the surf isn’t up, the conditions are ideal for windsurfing and kiteboarding. If the surf is up but the wind is calm, it’s ideal for surfing, kayak surfing, and stand-up paddleboard surfing. If both the wind and surf are down, those are perfect conditions for sea kayaking, snorkeling and diving.

Planning a trip to Belize in the near future? Not only do we have some of the most extensive historical weather info on Belize and specifically out at Glover’s Reef, but if you’re like me, sometimes you just want to know what it’s like right now.

I just stumbled across this cool site that has instant weather info and an awesome, live webcam. Granted they’re both based out of San Pedro, Belize, but that island is only about 90 miles north of Glover’s Reef over open water, so it’s pretty close to the same weather we get at Long Caye.

Belize weatherWe just created a new webpage with a month-by-month description of the weather conditions in Belize. Storms, wind, dry and rainy season, and hurricane season are all discussed.

It’s good to know the weather as the season progresses, because it helps to choose your vacation date based on which sports you are interested in. Windsurfers and kitesurfers should look at January-February, snorkelers and divers should consider March-April, and surfers should focus on December-January.

We are closed mid-May through mid November because of weather. Visit our new Belize weather page to see why.

The rainy season in BelizeEvery year we are asked about whether traveling to Belize or the tropics is a good idea during ‘the rainy season’. Slickrock is not open during this time (summer and fall) and it is partly due to bad weather in Belize, although the weather in the summer (June – August) is often not too severe until hurricane season arrives in September (although it can, of course, begin earlier). The other reason we close our operation during this time is due to the general decrease in interest people have in going south for the summer.

The rainy season, which affects all tropical regions on the planet, is caused by the equatorial weather zone – a low pressure, rain bearing climate zone – migrating north or south depending on the season. In the northern hemisphere’s summer, this climate zone moves north, affecting the latitudes of Central America and the Caribbean. This weather pattern creates periods of intense rainfall and humid, muggy weather which starts in June and lasts until November. However, the rain patterns are not the typical daily rainshowers during the afternoon which mist people associate with tropical rainy seasons. Rather, Central America experiences a series of tropical ‘waves’ of low pressure which sweep ashore off the Caribbean. These waves bring in 4-5 days of intense rains, then clear out. So in fact Belize and its neighboring countries have long periods of good weather in the summer, interspersed with rain events of a few days. Central America in general does not get the equatorial daily downpours found in such places as the rainforests of the Amazon or Congo.

The fall sees the most intense period of Belize’s rainy season. More frequent and more intense tropical waves sweep ashore, and monthly rainfall totals are the highest of the year. The trade winds slack off and it gets extremely hot and humid. This is the time of the year when hurricanes become a threat, as tropical storms in the Caribbean are able to grow and intensify into monster storms due to the heat content of the sea and low wind shear.

As fall approaches winter, the equatorial climate zone retreats south and a drier, cooler climate moves in. The tropical waves cease and rainfall decreases, and by spring the dry season is firmly entrenched and we sometimes see no rain at all for two months at a time!

I’m going to Belize in 2 weeks! I have been invited by the Belize Tourist Board on a “FAM” trip. This is travel industry lingo for “familiarization”. I, along with a bunch of other travel industry professionals, are going on a somewhat insane itinerary: we will visit 27 hotels in 5 days! I wouldn’t call that fun, but many of these are places I have heard of for years but never gotten to, and I am looking forward to seeing them. We will be staying in San Ignacio, Mountain Pine Ridge, Placencia, Hopkins, and San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. I’ll be posting more about the trip when I get there.

But anyway, this has prompted me to start thinking about why I want to go. I talk about Belize all day, every day; but what makes it special? Here are my top reasons for traveling south to this wonderful Central American country:

Flying to Belize1 Belize is cheap and easy to get to. That is huge. If you have ever been on a 14 hour flight to Australia, you will know what I mean. Belize has all the exotic qualities of Tavaraua, Fiji, but it takes 70 hours to get to Fiji, and costs about $3000! Your flight to Belize is 2.5 hours from Houston, Dallas, or Miami, and it will cost about $6-800, depending on where you start out from, and what time of year you plan to visit.

And because of #1, we get to #2: You don’t have to take as much time off work because you can get there easily in a day!

3 It’s not crowded in Belize. Even though almost everyone has now heard of Belize (which wasn’t the case when we first started kayaking there in 1986) it remains relatively little-visited. Visitation numbers to Belize don’t come close to Cancun or Costa Rica, and there are many places like our island that strictly limit guest numbers. Just don’t visit Belize by cruise ship! Then you arrive with 5000 others all wanting to do something during the same 6 hour period,

Belize weather4 The weather is great in Belize when it is lousy in the US and Canada. During the peak tourist season in Belize (November – April) the weather is balmy. Temperatures in the mid 80s to low 90s, slight breezes of 12-15 mph, sunny with scattered clouds, and the ocean is 82 degrees! It’s truly everything you think of when you say “Paradise”. To find out more about Belize weather, visit our website.

5 You get to live your Gilligan’s Island fantasy: Beach huts, palm trees, white coral sand, neon-turquoise, crystal-clear ocean water, and tiny coral islands surrounded by colorful fish. If you visit our island when Charlie is working, you will also get to meet The Professor himself!

Xunantunich Mayan ruin6 Belize is an area steeped in culture. History lovers are in seventh heaven. The Mayan culture, both historic and modern, is easily accessible. You can stay with a Mayan family in a small village, or visit one of many Mayan ruins: Caracol, Lamanai, Xunantunich, Nim Li Punit, Altun Ha, Cahal Pech, and Lubaantun to name a few. And unique to Belize are the Mayan caves. Tours are offered daily to Actun Tunichil Muknal, Che Chem Ha, and Footprint Cave, or the more adventurous can visit Chiquibul Cave.

7 English is the official language and US dollars are accepted everywhere. This makes traveling in Belize very comfortable for American and Canadian tourists.

Snorkeling in Belize8 You won’t be subjected to 14 hour chicken-bus rides! Belize is small, only about the size of Vermont, so even though there is a huge variety of things to do in Belize, you don’t have to spend hours between activities. In one week it is easy to raft an underground cave system, surf a Caribbean wave, climb a Mayan ruin, snorkel amidst colorful angelfish, run a jungle whitewater river, windsurf in your shorts across 80 degree turquoise waters, hike into a Mayan ceremonial cave, and learn to roll a kayak. In fact, we have a trip just like that, it is called Belize Adventure Week.

9 You get to eat lots of fresh fish. Belize offers the opportunity to enjoy fresh-caught lobster, grouper, snapper, and hogfish. There are excellent restaurants all over the country taking advantage of nature’s gifts from the sea.

Belikin beer10 You also get to drink Belikin Beer, the beer of Belize! Yes, Belize has it’s own beer, and it’s good! Come to Belize and join us on the island where we have a fridge permanently loaded with unlimited Belikin! This is the only beer I know of with a Mayan ruin on the label. You’ll love it!