Sailing to Southern Belize
I still feel as though I’m on a boat – I guess three days of constant sailing will do that to you. But I’m actually on the front porch of a guest house I’m staying at in Placencia. I’ve got a huge bottle of water, my feet propped up, and a borrowed copy of Eat, Pray, Love that I’m taking to the beach tomorrow. My original plan was to fly from Belize City to Placencia. I asked the hostel manager of the place I was staying at in Caye Caulker for the best way to get to the airport. He looked at me quizzically and told me, “You know that for the same price of a round-trip flight to Placencia, you could do a three-day sailing trip from Caye Caulker?” I was sold. The tour company had great reviews on TripAdvisor, the timing worked out, and I was seeking adventure after a week on a beautiful, but somewhat sleepy, island.
The trip cost $350USD. In hindsight, $350 was a steal for the amount of food, alcohol, snorkeling stops, and overall miles travelled. It was the best value for a trip like this. I paid my deposit, packed my bags, and showed up at the dock at 8am on Thursday.
Three glorious, tanned, sun-filled days later, this trip is one of the best travel adventures I’ve ever had.
Day 1 – to Rendezvous Island
We left at 9am after our bags were loaded and we got a briefing from our captain, Chris. He introduced the rest of the crew: Ellio, Jacob, and Dane. We set sail (I was mesmerized every time they dropped the sails down) and after two hours, came to our first snorkeling spot. Dane was a great guide and super passionate about any kind of marine life – he pointed out all different kinds of coral, fish, and even seagrass.
Snorkeling was how we framed our days on the boat, since Chris usually stopped the boat for a morning snorkel and then an afternoon snorkel. It was the perfect way to cool off (it was hot) and it was incredible to snorkel parts of the barrier reef that were untouched by tourists, as they are not easy spots to get to. I saw jellyfish, nurse sharks, eagle rays, parrot fish, pipe fish, pufferfish, lobster, and starfish, as well as so many different kinds of colorful coral. I loved every moment of it and snorkeled every time we stopped.
After lunch came the free rum punch, which was flowing throughout most of the afternoon. The crew did a great job of putting safety first, though, so the rum wasn't available until after the last snorkeling stop.
At around 3pm, we came to a tiny island with palapa huts. As we pulled in closer, I realized that this was the island we were staying on for the night. We couldn’t believe it. It was completely uninhibited, except for one caretaker. We set up camp (I needed help with my tent…) before jumping back in the water to cool off again.
Dinner was at 7pm and we were floored at the massive meal Jacob had cooked for us: curry potatoes, pasta salad, fish of the day, and steamed vegetables. We were literally having a feast on this deserted island after a full day of sailing.
After the sun set, the group continued chatting after dinner. I stepped away to refill my water bottle and when I looked up at the night sky, I was stunned. I had never seen so many stars in my life. There were no lights on the island, save for one generator that shut off early, and the lights in the far distance came from Belize City. There was nothing that outshone the stars in the sky. This was, probably, one of my favorite moments from the trip.
After a long day, the heat and swimming soon got to everybody. We were tucked away and sleeping in our tents by 9pm.
Day 2 – to Tobacco Caye
I woke up at 5:30am as the heat from the sun started seeping into the tent. (I still have yet to understand why I can manage the early wake-up times when I’m travelling but can’t seem to roll out of my own bed in Indy past 10am.) I grabbed my journal and jotted a few thoughts down as I watched the sun rise over the ocean. As others started waking up, we packed up our tents, ate a hearty breakfast, and were back on the boat by 8:30am.
Time on the boat passed easily, despite the heat. I think it helped that we went snorkeling and swimming often. There were also plenty of snacks. I spent most of the time chatting with others and taking cat-naps near the front of the boat. I was also super paranoid about putting sunscreen on – I went through an entire bottle of SPF 50!
There were two fishing rods at the back of the boat that constantly had a line out with fake bait. Occasionally, the line would catch and a crew member would jump back there to reel the fish in, which would be our dinner (super fresh catch of the day!). Barracuda, Snapper, and Grouper were the most common fish caught. Once the fish was on the boat, though, Elio or Dane would grab a large rock and bash the fish’s head in to properly kill it, then spend the next half hour cleaning and gutting it. I could never look and often moved to the front of the boat to escape the smell.
At around 3pm, we anchored at another tiny island called Tobacco Caye. A few families live on Tobacco Caye, so it wasn’t uninhibited, but it was still quite rustic and small. You could hear the generator running until they shut it off late at night. There were two bars, one owned by the local and the other owned by a German. There were also a handful of dogs that roamed the island.
Like the night before, we set up a camp and relaxed as we waited for dinner. Jacob didn’t disappoint – it was a full meal of shrimp kebabs, barbeque chicken, grilled barracuda and snapper, steamed vegetables, and pasta.
A group of us went to go check out the local bar, but we soon returned to our camp site to finish the rum punch. At around 11pm, after much of the group had gone to sleep, six of us followed Dane out to the boat on the dock. We climbed on board and scrambled in the dark to the front of the boat, leaned back against its cool exterior, and looked up the night sky. We star-gazed and pointed out constellations for a good hour before sleepily crawling into our tents for the night.
(As a quick note, I really appreciated that this trip wasn't a boozy, wild affair on the high seas. Sure, there was rum punch, but alcohol wasn't in excess and it wasn't like college spring break all over again.)
Day 3 – to Placencia
Day three was our final day at sea. Unfortunately, there was little to no wind, which meant there was no cool breeze hitting the front of the boat. Chris had to use the motor instead of the sails (the sails flapped uselessly in the non-existent breeze). The lack of wind also made it very, very hot on the boat. There was limited shade, so many of us were quiet and sleepy for most of the day.
We did stop twice to snorkel and swim, which helped, but the beating sun meant that we were dry within minutes of stepping back on the boat.
We managed, though, and by 3:30pm we were pulling up alongside the docks of Placencia. Overall, we had travelled 86 miles by sail boat. We took a big group photo, exchanged contact information with the new friends we had made during the trip, and gathered our bags to continue our separate ways.
Highlights of the Trip
There were so many good moments!
The people I met. The nineteen of us were a melting pot, traveling for different reasons and all from different parts of the world: Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, America, and Canada. I was the only solo traveler. The rest were couples or groups / pairs of friends travelling together. Thankfully, everyone was super friendly, so I never actually felt like a solo traveler. The first couple I met was Holly and Corey, both from Melbourne, Australia. We loved having conversations comparing the US to Australia (I now know a lot more about Australia’s government, education system, and kangaroo population!). I also got to know a great group of Kiwi’s (New Zealanders!).
Spearfishing. Okay, well, I didn’t go spearfishing, but one of the stories that we couldn’t stop laughing about was the fact that Corey accidentally speared a parrot fish (you know, that pretty, rainbow-colored fish that is vital to the coral ecosystem?). He gave the poor thing a proper burial, though.
A shooting star. Holly and I spotted a shooting star streaking across the sky on our first night on Rendezvous Island.
The last snorkeling stop. This stop had a few of my favorite under-the-sea moments. Large orange and red starfish were scattered across the ocean floor. I spotted a jellyfish the size of a half-dollar, transparent against the ocean backdrop but with pink-ish dots that glittered when the sun hit it. Chris said they call them "watermelon jellies." A few minutes later, I spotted a pufferfish sitting silently on the sandy floor, its large eyes bulging from the side of its small head. Then, as I swam near a large coral formation, I saw what I thought could be an eel. As I swam along the coral, I realized what I thought was an eel was actually a large tail… then I saw a dorsal fin… then finally the head of a rather large nurse shark. It had tucked itself under the coral, probably for an afternoon nap. After a snorkeling stop as successful as that one, I was content to get back on the boat.
The crew. Chris was laid back, easygoing, and super accommodating as the captain. Dane called me Ali throughout the whole trip and kept telling me I looked just like his sixteen-year-old niece (still not sure if that as a compliment or not). Ellio called me Alice and kept poking at my sunburn. Jacob was shy and quiet, his English not too strong, but he put so much heart and hard work into the meals that he cooked for us that I appreciated him even more.
Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip with better people. Many of the quieter moments – like the stargazing, falling asleep in the shade of the sail, and genuine conversations with new friends – are the ones that will stick with me the most.