You’d think, with the many travel misadventures I have under my belt, that I’d know not to buy paraphernalia for an attraction in anticipation of visiting it.
Moral of this tale: Never Buy the T-Shirt (or Hat) First. It’s Bad Luck.
In the Belize City airport, between my arrival from Roatan via San Salvador and my departure via smartcar-sized, four-person-including-one-really-freaked-out-lady-from-Texas plane to Caye Caulker, I decided to buy a hat.
A “Blue Hole, Belize” scuba diving hat.
I think you know where this is going.
Yep, between my not booking ahead and the rather apathetic attitude of the only dive shop I’d been told is recommended on Caye Caulker, I only managed one day of diving in Belize, to an ok-but-nothing-amazing reef off of Ambergris Caye (“Esmeralda”). I don’t really understand how I could have found out, once there, that when they said they weren’t diving Blue Hole until Monday, they meant “unless we don’t have enough people, which will probably be the case because we’re telling everyone else we’re diving it Tuesday.” I should have been clearer that I was only there for four days and would really like to get in on one of the dives to the outer Atolls and Blue Hole if possible. Seriously, they could have helped me out a little more.
Regardless, Caye Caulker is a great place to relax and kick back for some R&R. While there aren’t any spectacular beaches to speak of, the laid-back vibe and friendliness of the locals is charming. There are lots of great bars and restaurants, many of which serve overly-decadent piña coladas and have swings strung from the ceilings for seats! I love any country that combines cheap alcohol and ways for drunk people to hurt themselves. It’s just indicative of a place that knows how to have a good time.
Our guesthouse, the Jaguar Morningstar, was particularly charming. A short walk out of the center, its quiet leafy grounds provide refuge from the loud reggae-pop and late-night rabble on Front street. A huge private bathroom and hot water shower are particularly comforting after spending the day in the sea, either bathing with locals at ‘the Split’ (where the caye is bisected by a channel of ocean at the north end of town), on of the myriad of snorkeling / sailing / manatee-watching tours on offer, or diving.
A note on snorkel tours: unless you’re a complete newbie, don’t bother with the tours to the ‘local’ Caye Caulker reef. It hasn’t been a marine preserve for long so there’s really not much to see besides dead coral; the highlight was the last stop where we got to play with and touch stingrays and nurse sharks. I felt conflicted about this activity because they were obviously feeding the fish to keep them coming back; I touched the animals because (a) they didn’t seem to mind and actually ran into us on a few occasions, (b) I justified that these animals are already fed daily and (c) I am a bad, shallow person who deserves to be flogged. I was angry about missing the Blue Hole so I touched sharks and stingrays, all the while realizing the moral ambiguity of the situation. You can berate me if you wish.
For the record, it was pretty cool. The stingrays were rubbery and slimy, but not in a bad way. They felt…cuddly, like they wanted to be touched. The nurse sharks were more obviously just tolerating us for the sake of food. Their skin felt rough and snakey, and it felt dry even under water.
Hol Chan reserve by Ambergris Caye has been preserved for longer and has more to see: lots of soft corals, nurse sharks galore, and some hard corals all around 12-15″, which is encouraging to see – in future generations this site will be spectacular.