For the second half of our Central America holiday, my friends and I headed to the islands of Belize for some well deserved relaxation time after our action-packed week in Guatemala. Our plan was to take a boat from Belize City and spend a couple of days each on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, sunbathing, snorkelling and consuming our weight in Caribbean food and rum. Sounds like heaven right? It was.
But there was another reason I was so excited to get to Belize. 3 years ago I learned to scuba dive and fell in love with it, but living in England allows absolutely zero opportunity to go diving without a dry suit and at least a small chance of getting hypothermia. Belize on the other hand has some of the best diving spots in the world, the most famous of which is the often deadly Blue Hole. While I’m fairly amateur and had no intention of floating off into this likely death trap, I was itching to get my tank on and get out on the reefs of Hol Chan Marine Reserve. After checking out a few options, we scored a bargain deal by booking onto a whole-day snorkelling tour that would allow us to snorkel at three sites plus do one dive while the rest of the group went on a fourth snorkel. Just two of us and a guide without any clumsy snorkellers kicking me in the face with their fins – sounded perfect.
Our dive having been scheduled for the last site of the day, we started with guide snorkelling at three different locations. I’m not the biggest fan of snorkelling – I always swallow water and groups tend to be full of inexperienced people who can’t use fins and have no spacial awareness – but the tours were amazing; the guides were constantly pointing things out underwater and then surfacing to tell us what we’d seen, and the clarity if the water was incredible. I had a GoPro strapped around my wrist and I was so pleased at how well my photos came out.
The highlight of the tour should have been the final spot, where we were lucky enough to encounter a stingray and a large group of sharks having their lunch by one of the boats. However this part of the trip did raise a few issues for me – not only was one of the crew members feeding the sharks off the side of the boat, our guide proceeded to grab one of the sharks around its belly so the group could approach and stroke it. On my scuba dives it’s always been a golden rule to avoid touching coral and wildlife as much as possible, yet here was a guide practically wrestling a shark while it was trying to eat its lunch. It was a terrible example to set, because of course one of the snorkellers soon tried to do the same. The shark squirmed away, and I blew bubbles at the guy in a way that I hope came across as angry. Is that likely to have translated?
As I’d expected, the best part of the day was actually the dive. Amazed and delighted to find that it wouldn’t be necessary to wear a wetsuit, we strapped on our air cannisters and left our snorkel group behind to have some one-on-one time with the ocean. I find it hard to explain why I love diving so much; you see beautiful wildlife, it’s good exercise and you have so much fun, but for me it’s also my therapy, a sense of calm I can’t replicate in any other way.
The desire to experience this calm was one of the reasons I chose to leave my camera on board, so I don’t have any pictures to share from the last section of my day. But we had a gloriously tranquil 35-minute dive, quietly drifting under the groups of snorkellers on the surface, floating alongside turtles and swimming through coral caves. The cherry on top of cake came when we climbed back on board ahead of the snorkel group to find we had the boat to ourselves, as well as two huge cups of rum punch served by our cute dive guide. Life’s good in the Caribbean Sea…
Have you snorkelled or dived on the coral reefs in Belize? I’d love to know what you thought!