3 Routes
Highlights of the Area

We arrived in Belize City in the midst of a tropical downpour. Fortunately the airline was well stocked with umbrellas so the attendants graciously passed them out to anyone requiring one. Coming from a cold northern climate, we enjoyed the feeling of the warm rain. Our connecting flight to Ambergris Caye left the airport shortly after. The half an hour flight, on a Tropic Airs' 12 seater, brought us to the quaint town of San Pedro, under a clear blue sky. (Sit on the right hand side of the plane as you get the best view of Belize City, the reefs and outer islands). Our host, Will from Caribbean Villas, met us at the airport and whisked us off on a tour of the bustling metropolis (pop 4,000). Our motor coach that bumped along the yellow sand roads was an electric golf cart, the transportation of choice for the locals. Will pointed out a number of his favourite restaurants, mentioning their specialties and the best days to go. He introduced us to a dive operator, gift shop owners and other individuals along the way. We felt like we were part of the family. The town folk are conscious of the delicate balance between tourism and nature. There is a strong community spirit and you feel safe walking around the streets at midnight. Downtown is considered the party section with load music blaring in the evenings. However, we found everyone had hit the sack when we strolled by at 11:00 pm.

Our haven for the night (for alas we had only made time for one night in Ambergris) was the beautiful Caribbean Villas. Lying on the edge of town, this modern and well appointed hotel was just the spot for two harried parents, who had left their three children with the grandparents back at home. Caribbean Villas is ideal for couples with its romantic atmosphere and tranquil solitude. The rooms are comfortable and clean with a phenomenal view through the palm trees of sandy beaches and the ocean beyond. After relaxing out on the pier in an hammocks we came back to enjoy a soak in one of the hot tubs with the rain gently caressing our cheeks. We made a point of reading their guest books that numerous other visitors had taken the time and effort to write down their opinions and experiences. (Note: apparently, there are times when the bugs can get nasty so bring along some heavy duty spray.) We were very lucky and only had to contend with a tiny tree frog on our second story window sill.

Will and Susan, the owners along with their assistant, Beth, looked after every detail for us. At our request they arranged a snorkeling cruise with Alphonse, a local operator. He picked us up with our snorkeling gear at the dock, in front of the hotel, the next morning. Effortless! The jaunt, turned out to be one of our most memorable experiences of our whole holiday to Belize.

The 20 minute boat ride, with our fellow thrill seekers, across the calm, aquamarine waters, brought us to Hol Chan Marine Park. Note: Remember to bring along the $5 Belize access fee. The money goes towards preserving the park and paying for buoys and other aids to keep the reef from being damaged. The No Glove rules apply here, to keep people from inadvertently touching and thereby killing the coral.

On our first snorkel we came across a huge stingray, gracefully gliding below us, lobsters tucked in their homes and a spotted drum dancing on a very large brain coral. There was a green moray cruising through the eel grass, shrimp hiding in tube sponges and an octopus tucked away in its den. Then I had to come up for air! ;-) We swam over formations of stag horn coral and a variety of fire coral interspersed with sea fans and barrel sponges. Of the fish that graced us with their presence there was the a barracuda, a pufferfish and a couple of trumpetfish. There were numerous parrotfish, angelfish, groupers, triggerfish, goatfish, wrasses, butterflyfish, squirrelfish, gobies and damselfish. All of which we saw just snorkeling! We couldn't wait to go diving!

Our second dip, in the warm water, was at a place aptly named Shark Ray Alley. This is an experience not to be missed! The idea of jumping out of a perfectly safe boat into a tropical lagoon filled with sharks (albeit nurse sharks) was a bit daunting. Not being one to hesitate, I slipped into the five feet of water, while the others lingered in the security of the boat. (Shark bait!) A feeding frenzy didn't ensue so, with reckless abandon, they followed suit. These sharks were like gentle puppies. We started by gingerly reaching out to touch them as they glided by. But, quickly advanced to holding them and scratching their bellies. They're were a dozen swimming all around us, nudging, bumping, slipping through your legs (good for a shot of adrenaline) and just generally having fun. All the while there where eagle rays skimming the sandy bottom. The sharks felt like rough sandpaper but the eagle rays were like Jell-O. It was obvious through the rapport that Alphonse had with these creatures that he cared greatly for all of them and they seemed to like him. It was through Alphonse's patient care and feeding that this loving trust had developed. The sharks seemed to prefer his boat over any others in the area and would swarm around when he signaled them.

It was with regrets that we had to leave Ambergris Caye. There were lots of charming shops and restaurants we missed. Sunset dinner cruises and other interesting outings left unexperienced. To our dismay, we found out later, that some of the best boat tours to the Mayans ruins are run out of San Pedro. The experienced guides point out the Howler monkeys, manatees and exotic birds along the route. We could have stayed a week and still had more to see. This is one enchanting island that we will have a difficult time getting out of our "retirement" dreams.
Amandah Greene
November, 1997

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