by guest blogger Katherine Forbes

Northeast Caye
Sisters Katherine and Lisa with Slickrock guides Elmo and John on Northeast Caye during their first visit to Glover’s Reef

20 years ago, my sister Lisa and I travelled with Slickrock Adventures after learning about a sea kayaking adventure from a tiny ad in Outside Magazine.  At that time Slickrock was a much smaller operation leasing Northeast Caye as their destination island.  Lucy was our head guide, Elmo and John were her assistant guides, also our fishermen and cooks.  Our small group of travelers (about 15) stayed in tents on the beach with a few guests in small cabanas. Days were spent kayaking and snorkeling while marveling at the amazing underwater coral and sea life.

It was such a unique experience that 20 years later we decided to come back with our families.  With husbands and 7 children between us ages 10 to 16, we returned to Belize in April 2013.

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Katherine, Lisa and their families during the girls’ second visit to Glover’s Reef this April
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Sisters on Long Caye

What a wonderful surprise to see how much Slickrock has evolved over the years!  Not only have the accommodations improved, but instead of just offering kayaking and snorkeling, Slickrock now provides a wide array of activities like surf kayaking, surfing, windsurfing, paddle boarding, kite boarding, scuba diving and fishing.  No experience necessary, you can be a beginner and still enjoy everything!  And if you want a break from water sports you can explore the island, looking for hermit and blue crabs, trying to catch lizards, playing with the bunny and even learning how to open coconuts.  Perfect for everyone as there are so many fun activities to entertain all ages.

But what makes Slickrock really special is the “Eco-Friendly” resort they have created.  In this day and age where everything is excess, it was wonderful to live with simpler means for a week.  Composting toilets, a rainwater collection system used for all island drinking water and the use of only solar power is part of your unique experience.   Saving the pristine tropical environment is a priority to Slickrock and a great lesson on how an eco-friendly resort works.   Notably there is no cell, internet, social media, wifi, or TV on the island.  Everyone is unplugged which is an unexpected pleasure!  With all the activities to keep you busy during day and then evening volleyball, board games, hermit crab races and island educational lectures everyone had a fabulous time.  No one missed their cell phone, laptop or TV – not one bit, even the kids!  It was wonderful break from our digital world that has become such a constant in our lives.

If you are looking for a vacation on a beautiful tropical island with unlimited water sports, world-class snorkeling and scuba diving, delicious food while living “off the grid” then Slickrock Adventures is for you.  A fabulous trip for families and perfect destination to get away from it all!   We plan to go back again but not wait another 20 years!

It comes as no surprise to us that Lonely Planet, the world’s largest travel guide publisher, gave Belize first position in its recent list of Five Family-Friendly Destinations You Might Not Have Thought About. Adventure Island on Glover’s Reef in Belize is the perfect destination for a once-in-a-lifetime family-centered vacation. We offer special rates for kids 11 and under and we also have special discount vacation packages for groups of 4 or more.

Why is our eco-resort the perfect family destination? For one, it’s a private island, your kids are safe. And since we either kayak to our snorkel spots or swim right off shore, there are no long boat rides to wipe the kids out early or to complicate timely retreats to the cabana.

Adventure Island is easy and fun for families but it’s also an amazing educational experience. Not only will kids learn new sports like sea kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, kite surfing, wind surfing, kayak surfing, sport fishing, kayak fishing, paddle boarding, and board surfing, they’ll also have mind-expanding opportunities to learn fish identification, Mayan history, everything you ever wanted to know about coconuts, urchins and starfish at low tide walk, coral reef biology, shore birding, and hermit crab biology. We also have quite an international crew: Belizean Mayans, Belizean Garifuna, Belizean Creoles, plus Americans, Canadians, and Brits. Adventure Island is a cross-cultural experience of the highest order and your kids will make many new friends.

tropical bunny papillionThen again, many of our youngest guests seem to think one of the highlights of the trip is making friends with our resident bunny rabbit, Papillion.

 

Every November, in preparation for the coming season, Cully and crew haul boat loads of materials and equipment out to the island for the annual build-a-thon. This is when they perform annual maintenance, repair storm damage to buildings, and expand on or add to the ever-growing menagerie of structures that comprise the Adventure Island eco resort.

This year’s renovations included a major overhaul and expansion of the kitchen palapa. Below are the before and after pictures:

Before:

After:

Within the travel business, Trip Advisor, the travel recommendation site, is widely considered the most significant of the bunch. Travelers trust the user rankings and reviews for their honesty and integrity.  After many years on Trip Advisor, we are proud to announce that today we became ranked as the number one resort on Glover’s Reef.

Below is a recent review one of our guests wrote after returning from a week on our island:

“Best Family Vacation Ever”
Reviewed April 3, 2012
We just returned from the 9 day vacation at Glover’s Reef on Slickrock’s private island. My husband and I travelled with our two sons, ages 10 and 13. To put it simply the week was magical! All four of us had a phenomenal time. Our guide, Marc, took excellent care of us the entire time. We got to enjoy a variety of activities and we all learned something new. The evening lectures were both kid and adult friendly. The food was delicious. The beachfront cabanas, more than we imagined. Even the composting toilets, that scared me a bit at first, were clean and functioned great (no smell, incredible!). We highly recommend this trip to any active family that enjoys the great outdoors. It doesn’t get any better!

The  Slickrock water sports resort at Long Caye, Belize  is an impressive example of appropriate technology in action! The island is 35 miles off shore, outside the barrier reef. People live simply here, but they have quite an array of comforts.

Each cabana has a solar-powered light. The cabanas are oriented toward the trade winds for natural cooling breezes — no  AC here! — and no rumbling, smelly diesel generators to provide it.

The kitchen, the largest building at the resort, has it’s own 1000W solar array plus a 400W wind generator.  Since the sea breezes occur most of the time, the wind generator produces quite a lot of power. A bank of golf cart batteries store the power, which runs the house lights, iPod player, a chest freezer, and 2 electric refrigeration units — all on 12V power.  Cooking stoves  and a couple of older refrigeration units run on butane. The low voltage appliances do a great job, while just sipping power — they are designed to be super-efficient, plus have 4” of foam insulation, which is essential in the tropics. There are additional solar and wind systems on the Caye, which run more buildings farther from the kitchen.

Shower water is pumped up to an elevated tank, and flows to the showers by gravity. A 200 foot coil of black poly pipe on the shower house roof heats up in the sun, and a small pump transfers the heated water to the shower tank.

The drinking water at Slickrock is rainwater, which is caught on the tin roofs of several buildings, and stored in large polyethelene tanks. This is the traditional source of drinking water in the cayes.

Between rain storms, the tank inlets are covered. When a big rain moves in, they let the rain clean off the roof for 10 to 15  minutes, until the water runs “sweet,” not salty. Then the inlet covers are removed and the tanks fill. Wash water for dishes and laundry comes from shallow wells, which are fairly good during the rainy season, but become more brackish during the dry season. The wells are about 3’ deep, and water is just a foot or so down.

When you have a water table this high, septic systems are not an option. In the old days, folks on the cayes used outhouses, which tend to be smelly with hydrogen sulfide and methane.    Slickrock has a composting toilet system, which works well and quickly in the heat of the tropics. There is a big fiberglass tank under the toilet building, with large chutes coming up to the pottys. After you do your business, a cup of planer shavings are put down the chute, as a bulking agent. The tank has a vent  fan, and air is pulled through the mass of compost, keeping the organic action aerobic. Aerobic bacteria make water vapor and carbon dioxide, so the process is not smelly, to the amazement of many guests.

At the end of the season, after a rest period, the compost is removed and used to fertilize coconut trees. The compost looks like good potting soil, and is not obnoxious or smelly. The process has allowed the new hybrid coconut trees to thrive and grow quickly. Compost toilets treat the organic waste more thoroughly then septic systems, destroying  pathogens and even viruses well.

The resort is purposely rustic, and reminds many guests of their youthful summer camp experiences, with the addition of a chest cooler full of cold beers and sodas, largely made possible by renewable energy.

 

One of several solar panel installations that power our resort
Rain water barrels provide drinking water

As tropical resorts go, our Adventure Island on Long Caye occupies a rather unique niche in the travel industry because it is so remote, unpopulated and has been developed in such a low-impact, eco-friendly way. But it turns out we’re not alone — the Belize tourism industry as a whole is at the leading edge of what is now being called the move toward a more “sustainable tourism.”

Award-winning travel writer and Editor at Large at National Geographic Traveler in 2011, Costas Christ, has been named Belize’s Global Ambassador for Tourism and wrote this interesting article for Destination Belize:

When it comes to tourism, Belize has a very special history. Two decades ago, Belize hosted the first-ever World Congress on Tourism and the Environment, which helped to give birth to modern day ecotourism. It was in Belize that the world gathered to discuss the issues of tourism and protection of cultural and natural heritage—what today is popularly known as sustainable tourism: travel that helps to protect biodiversity, support cultural diversity, and improve the livelihoods of local people in tourism destinations around the world.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, sustainable tourism may be the most significant transformation in the history of modern travel. And Belize has played a key role in this global transformation—about how to have a great vacation and also give back to local people and the planet. The tiny country of Belize is proud of the big role it has played in helping to promote a new vision for tourism.

As an editor with National Geographic Traveler, I can say personally from my travels to more than 100 countries across six continents that, when it comes to rich cultural heritage, incredible nature on land and sea, spectacular beauty and a truly warm and friendly people, Belize makes my own top five list of the world’s best places to see and experience.

On a planet where one hotel increasingly looks the same as another, where pristine nature is increasingly rare, and where culture has often become homogenized, authenticity has become the real luxury in travel; and Belize is all about authenticity.

To share in Belize’s special sense of place, and to surround yourself with the country’s rich and vibrant cultural traditions, all you need to carry with you is an open mind and a smile. These two things are easy to pack and bring the greatest reward. For years, Belize has prided itself on being “Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret.” Now Belizeans have decided to let that secret out for others to discover and enjoy. And just as importantly, you can come be a part of Belize’s sustainable tourism efforts in protecting these treasures for future generations.

The other day someone at the office mentioned the term “ecotourism” and a debate ensued as to what exactly that term means now-a-days. So I decided to look it up on Wikipedia and was surprised to find that the description fit Adventure Island to a “T”.

Ecotourism is responsible travel to fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas that strive to be low impact and (often) small scale (as an alternative to mass tourism).

Fragile, pristine, protected: The government of Belize protects Glover’s Reef as a national Marine Reserve and World Heritage Site because it “is considered the prototypic atoll of the Caribbean. It is not only the best developed biologically, but also possesses the greatest diversity of reef types.”

Low impact: The facilities at Adventure Island are as green as they get. Everything is solar and wind powered, and water is supplied by rainwater catchments. Where most resorts use motorboats to take guests out to reefs for snorkeling, we use self-propelled kayaks.

Small scale: Our maximum capacity is 34 guests.

Adventure Island is the epitome of ecotourism.