Over the past December holiday break, I went exploring in Belize with a few friends. There were 9 of us this year, and this was our 4th big trip together for 7 of us, and the first trip for two others. Sean Safdi, whom I planned the trip with wrote an excellent report of the trip, which I’m re-posting below. Additionally, I’m including links to all of our photo and video galleries, as well as related websites.
Photos from exploring Belize, December 2009
Keep reading for videos and Sean’s full Belize trip report…
During the trip, we recorded a daily video log – a daily report of what we were up to and how we were feeling. Here are the full videos, days one through eleven in Belize. We tried to shoot the video during the end of the day, and in different locations each time. The footage was shot on a tripod with the Canon SD-780is Camera. A few of the clips have a little too much wind noise, which was hard to filter out since the camera only has a small built in mic with no windscreen.
Anyway, enjoy the videos – we definitely had a lot of fun making them. The player below has a playlist of all 11 of our daily video logs!
Video Log Day: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
During the trip I also shot a couple clips of our activities.
To get from Belize City to Placencia and back, we flew on a small Cessna Caravan plane, operated by Maya Island Air – Here are videos from some of our flights. I talked to the pilot beforehand, and got him to allow me to sit in the co-pilots seat. I (unfortunately) didn’t get to actually fly the plane, but the pilot did give me a good rundown of all the flight controls while we were waiting to pick up passengers in Dangriga. Shot with the Canon SD-780is digital camera.
While we were sailing in Belize, we did a number of dives with Avadon Divers, operating out of Placencia. The Avadon dive boat would come pick us up from our catamaran at the cay we were currently anchored at, and take us out to the dive location. We loosely coordinated our sailing route with Avadon ahead of time, and used our Iridium Satellite phone to update them on our location while we were at sea. The diving was great, and we did three full days of diving – 8 dives overall. The highlight by far was diving the blue hole. We started the dive at the lip of it, and descended down to about 140 feet, where the circular lip opened up into a wide, deep, flooded cavern, with huge stalactites hanging down from the ceiling. Since we were diving so deep, bottom time was only a few minutes, and the decompression was fairly long. Swimming through the stalactites was dramatic, and we saw a bunch of large sharks swimming directly below us. Diving with Avadon was a great experience – their boat was clean and well rigged, and the staff was fun to dive with – and very knowledgeable. Shot on the Canon G10, with Canon underwater housing, rated to 130 feet – although it survived about 10 minutes at 140/145 feet.
Sean Safdi’s Belize Trip Report, originally posted on Travel Talk Online.
Just returned from another wonderful sailing and scuba diving vacation with the Moorings, this time out of Placencia, Belize. I’ll provide some of the highlights of our trip as well as a link to my photographs at the bottom.
We arrived in Belize on December 23. Our crew of nine flew to Belize City from around the United States, and we flew together from Belize City to Placencia on a Cessna Caravan from Maya Island Air. Highly recommend Maya Island Air – flights within Belize are very informal and you may find yourself stopping at one or more tiny airstrips on your way to your final destination, all part of the fun of it. Ask if you can sit up front with the pilot.
The Moorings base in Placencia has recently relocated from the South Water Resort to a new location several miles out of town. The new base is very nice although less convenient for restaurants and shopping in town. The new location is also located deep inside Placencia Lagoon, necessitating an approx. 30 minute motor through the lagoon to reach open water. Overall it is not a bad location, and the shoreside facilities are more than adequate. I recommend that if you plan to stay on shore before or after your charter you consider staying at the South Water Resort or another location closer to Placencia town. Placencia is a fun and funky town to walk around, stroll down the famous sidewalk, and enjoy some good restaurants. We stayed at South Water Resort the night after our charter.
Our first night we slept aboard our boat at the Moorings dock. This trip we chartered a Moorings 4000 cat. Normally we go the monohull route, but the thin water in Belize really makes a cat the obvious choice. Many times you will have only several feet of water under the hulls. The water shoals rapidly and at times unpredictably, and the charts (paper and electronic variety) are not accurate. It was a little unnerving, particularly at first, watching the depth sounder bounce from 70 feet to 8 feet and back again all the time. If you CAREFULLY follow the instructions and sketch charts in Rauscher’s excellent cruising guide you will be fine. Navigation skills here are critical, and you also need good light and a bow watch to read the water colors in places.
The 4000 cat overall was a great boat. Coming from the monohull world, we really enjoyed the spacious salon and cockpit. The cabins did seem a little small for a cat. Systems worked, fridge stayed reasonably cool, overall a fine boat. We did have one issue with a broken throttle cable later in the charter that was quickly resolved by Moorings mechanics. Of course being a cat two things are definitely true – the boat is highly maneuverable under power and not so great heading upwind under sail. I’m also not a big fan of having all the lines run back to the helm. Gets a little crowded when you have many people wanting to help out with the sailing.
This trip we also did something unusual for us and provisioned through the Moorings. Moorings recommended this because provisioning options are not great in Placencia to begin with, combined with our arrival right before Christmas. Overall I was satisfied with Moorings provisioning, but I would always recommend to provision on my own if at all possible. Moorings always seems to provide tons of certain random items (4 or 5 jars of olives?) and not enough of the real staples. We supplemented their provisioning with additional items purchased after we arrived. I would, however, always recommend provisioning beverages through the Moorings – you can’t go wrong, and it beats having to carry cases of beer and soda and gallons of water all over town.
We conducted the chart briefing the evening of our arrival, and the boat show the following morning before we left the dock. Chart briefing was detailed and overall well done. It helped that we had done or research and extensively planned out our route prior to arrival. Moorings basically confirmed my route and made a few minor course corrections. One thing I was a little disappointed of was their recommendation for a last night anchorage. At the chart briefing Moorings suggested Lark Cay as a possible last night stop. I don’t recommend it! After motoring around Lark Cayes for about half an hour I could not find anything less than about 50ft depth. There are in my opinion much nicer options within a reasonable sail or motor, such as Wippari Cay, South Long Cocoa Cay (our choice), or even the Placencia town anchorage.
After finishing up at the Moorings dock, we departed for our first night’s destination – Wippari Cay. Wippari Cay, like many of the more popular anchorages, had two mooring balls. The Mooring balls are free and we found them to be in good condition (but you should always check). We arrived too late to snag a mooring ball but found the holding to be good on a sandy bottom. Moorings recommends, and I second their recommendation, using a secondary anchor off the bow at most locations. We found the wind to be very shifty, ranging all the way from northwest to southeast, and two anchors will limit your swinging room.
From Wippari Cay we moved north to South Water Cay. South Water Cay is a beautiful location right on the edge of the barrier reef! Navigating to South Water Cay from the south can be a bit tricky. We went through the Blue Ground Range, carefully reading the water colors and meticulously following the instructions and waypoints noted in Rauscher’s guide. The water is extremely shallow in places, but if you trust the guide and your instincts you will be fine. It is well worth the long journey north to South Water Cay. Here we had dinner ashore (one of the few places you can do this in Belize) and visited the small resorts and research station on the island. You can find good snorkeling here along the barrier reef – we found good snorkeling at most of our anchorages on this trip.
From South Water Cay we headed north, sailing inside the barrier reef up to Tobacco Cay. Tobacco Cay is fun and funky – many young people camping on the beach and partying late into the night. This is another beautiful location right on the barrier reef – highly recommended. We managed to pick up a mooring ball here.
From Tobacco Cay we looped back south down the inner channel to Lagoon Cay. Lagoon Cay is a mangrove cay with an interesting lagoon and some pretty good snorkeling around the edge of the island. There are two mooring balls located here. Nice quiet anchorage.
From Lagoon Cay we headed south down the wide open Victoria Channel (enjoy sailing in the inner channel and Victoria channel when you can – there is not much deep, open water in Belize), then headed east back into shallow water to the Queen Cays. Queen Cays are magnificent tiny specks of sand with beautiful blue water. They remind me of the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines or maybe Sandy Spit in the BVI. This is a marine park and the rangers will collect a small fee on your arrival (there are a number of other marine reserves where you may have to pay a fee as well). By the time we arrived at Queen Cays, a norther had blown in with wind and small chop on the water. Not ideal, but still this was a great location and we found decent protection tucked up behind the southern cay. There is great diving and snorkeling to be done around here. We placed a geocache on the middle cay.
From Queen Cays we headed south again to Ranguana Cay. Ranguana is a beautiful small cay with a small resort. There are mooring balls here, but we arrived too late to snag one. We had difficulty setting our anchor in the hard bottom, but eventually got it done. I always recommend putting someone in the water for a close visual inspection and to help set the anchor by hand if necessary. Easy to do in Belize with the clear, shallow water.
From Ranguana we headed back east towards Placencia. Our plan was to anchor at our final location for two nights, so that we could have one full day to dive the blue hole and lighthouse reef atoll. After rounding beautiful Colson Cay (looked like a great day stop if you have time) we headed into the aforementioned Lark Cays but could not find a suitable anchorage. After finding nothing in Lark Cays, we headed out to South Long Cocoa Cay. We were not disappointed with this decision! South Long Cocoa Cay is isolated and quiet, with just a single small local fishing camp (we purchased fish from the fishermen here, as well as at south water cay). There is a single mooring ball that was already taken, but we had a relatively easy time anchoring. You do need to come in very close to shore to anchor, as the water shelves up rapidly from 50+ ft to 5-10 feet immediately offshore. We spent two nights here to facilitate our diving, discussed below, before returning the boat to the Moorings on January 1.
DIVING: Out of our 9 crew we had 7 experienced divers on board. In addition to snorkeling pretty much everywhere, we dove three days on this trip with Avadon Divers out of Placencia. I highly recommend Avadon! Get in touch with them before your trip and they will help you plan out your route to coordinate with the best diving opportunities. They’ll meet you at the anchorage, take you out on a 2 or 3 tank dive in the morning and early afternoon, and get you back with enough time to move to a relatively nearby anchorage. Avadon is a bit expensive, but they have a large boat (stable and never full) and provide first class service. They also have delicious and plentiful food! It is almost worth the cost for their lunches alone! Hot lunches every day and fresh fruit snacks between all dives.
We met Avadon at South Water Cay for a 3 tank dive, Queen Cays for a 2 tank dive, and finally a full day dive trip to Lighthouse Reef Atoll and the Blue Hole. All of the diving was great, but the day trip to the blue hole was really special. This is truly a full day excursion as lighthouse atoll is quite remote and approx 3.5hrs motor from the Placencia area. The water at lighthouse is spectacular! Beautiful hues of blue and green meet the deep blue of the open ocean seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Our trip to lighthouse atoll included 3 dives. The first dive was the world famous blue hole!! Diving this giant crater is really an experience. The dive is short as it is deep – approx 130-140 feet. The water is clear, almost like diving a fresh water cave, and we saw several reef sharks lurking in the distance. After the blue hole we headed out for a reef dive and then lunch on shore at half moon cay, a beautiful island and also a bird sanctuary (take the nature walk and visit the observation tower). One final dive, and then a long boat ride back to our anchorage, arriving well after dark on new years eve. Ringing in the new year in style!
After returning our boat to the Moorings on Jan 1, we checked into our hotel in Placencia (South Water Resort) and then departed on a half day tour down the Monkey River. I highly recommend touring the Monkey River (can be done in half day) or perhaps even going for a full day inland excursion to the mayan ruins if you have the time. Inland Belize is in many ways just as spectacular as the cayes. After traveling by boat down to Monkey River Town, we headed upriver, observing many unique birds, crocodiles, and yes many many howler monkeys! Great fun and a great way to wrap up our trip to Belize.
As previously mentioned – Placencia is also a fun town to explore for a day or two. You can walk everywhere, and there are an interesting mix of locals and expats and other folks just looking to get away from it all. Recommend Omar’s and Wendy’s for delicious creole cuisine. Don’t miss the gelateria! We found a geocache here in Placencia and added Maple Longarms, a travel bug that we first picked up on Anegada in the BVI, later placed in Tahiti, picked up once again after he returned to Colorado, and now will continue his adventures in Central America.
Overall: Belize is great! It feels remote, but you can still find a good mix of inhabited and uninhabited cays, as well as opportunities to both moor and anchor. There are some shoreside dining opportunities, but you should be prepared to be mostly self-sufficent for the length of your charter. Navigation was stressful at times (I’m paranoid and overly cautious) but it was also fun and challenging. You will definitely improve your navigation skills here. If you go – go with a cat for Belize! Moorings, as always a wonderful experience. Yes you will always have minor issues with any boat in charter, but the Moorings customer service is fantastic and they are always there to help out. We’ve been chartering with the Moorings for years, all over the world, and always enjoy the consistent quality (even with the slightly older club line boats).
Until the next adventure, wishing everyone fair winds and following seas!
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