Sailing bareboat among the Belize Cayes. You Better Belize It!
Tom said: Best sailing trip ever! Bonus: no shopping.
Sheila said: Lots of fun. Wish I’d been certified to dive then!
We’ve been fortunate to have experienced five sailing trips now (The Grenadines will be our 6th in 2016). Why is Belize the best? The British Virgin Islands had the best overall sailing environment and really caters to sailing. French Polynesia is tops for scenery and diving. Greece is best for food and culture. But Belize was our best overall experience – the sailing, the scenery, and the food were all good, but it was the people – both our fellow sailors and the Belize natives that made this trip the best all-around.
We don’t want to go to Belize, it’s dangerous and buggy
That’s what we initially thought when we were invited to join a group of friends for this sailing adventure. Our thinking was based on ignorance and very old internet reviews. True, if you go inland to the jungle areas at the wrong time of year, bugs could be a problem, but we were sailing off the coast in and around the islands of the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world. Also true, hanging out in Belize City might be considered risky, but the only part of Belize City we saw was the airport as we changed planes for our final destination. Belize was formerly a territory of Great Britain and used to be called British Honduras. It was granted full independence in 1981 and the natives speak English.
Most major international airlines fly to Belize City, but we found no compelling reason to linger there. A puddle jumper flight got us to Placencia with a brief stop in Dangriga on the way – it was an interesting and scenic flight, but not for the squeamish flyer (especially if you are sitting right behind the captain and you see the runways on approach – but hey, they do this twice a day, every day).
Belize vacationers often head to Amberguis Cay at the northern end of Belize and the city of San Pedro. We’d like to visit there sometime, but for sailing we were based in Placencia, about 100 miles south of Belize City. Placencia is on a sandy peninsula just off the Belize mainland. A lot of ex-pats are making the Placencia area their home or second home and we can see why.
Before sailing our group of 22 sailors stayed at Robert’s Grove Resort and Laru Beya. Both are wonderful! Our room was at Robert’s Grove.
Starting from Placencia, there are many islands to choose from for a sailing itinerary. All are flat, some are just made up of mangrove trees with no land to speak of, but most are idyllic tropical beauties consisting of sand and coral and dotted with palm trees – some are uninhabited, some have just a couple of residents, some have small resorts. All are just a few feet above sea level at high tide.
The second longest barrier reef in the world runs north/south just beyond all the islands
It dampens the waves from the Caribbean Sea, keeping the waters inside the reef to just a light chop. Smaller reefs and coral heads abound, so spotters are needed at times on the front of the sailboat to avoid them. Snorkeling was easy and available with a short swim from every stop. The diving was outstanding. We rented scuba equipment and did some diving on our own. For our best dives, a charter dive company from Placencia came out to meet our catamarans a couple times to take us to the better spots that we would not be able to find easily on our own.
Mooring balls are rare. Anchoring was sometimes difficult. Provisioning was almost non-existent except at Placencia, near the marina.
For our 10 day sailing trip, we did two 5 day loops, returning to base in the middle so that we could restock. Fortunately, we were able to get extra ice at some of the small island resorts. Islands (called cayes here) that we visited included Ranguana, Southwater, Tobacco, Tom Owen’s, Lagoon, Queen’s, and Nicholas.
Knowing that many of the islands were uninhabited…
…we planned for about half of our dinners aboard. Since our group was fairly large (3 boats, 22 people), and the few restaurants on the few inhabited islands were fairly small, we made the effort to make advanced reservations for specific dates. This was a little risky because they asked for large deposits in advance and you never know if the weather of some other factor can cause you to change your itinerary. Anyway, we were very glad that we took a chance with the reservations. The food was exceptional at all of our dinners and without the reservations, we would have found a restaurant with nobody home.
Tom’s magic act – watch dinner for 22 appear out of thin air
On day three of the trip, we arrived mid-afternoon at the first island where Tom had made reservations for dinner (and collected money from all our sailors from all over the world and made a large deposit in advance). The island (Ranguana) was one of those picture-postcard beauties with just a few small structures hiding in the palm trees. When we went ashore to explore, we found a completely deserted island. There were a handful of bungalows for guests, and what looked like a boarded up kitchen and a large lean-to with a half dozen picnic tables – but no people, no restaurant, and certainly no food. It was so isolated that hermit crabs had commandeered the pathways and we had to step carefully!
The sailors were looking skeptical and Tom was nervous
Then just before sunset, a large boat cruised in from the mainland and parked at the island’s tiny dock. We could read “Robert’s Grove” on the side of the boat! YAY! Emerging from the boat were the chef, servers, and a bartender. They brought several coolers full of food and drink, tablecloths, place settings, and smiles. Magically, the lean-to was converted to a true dining room, a bar appeared, and servers started pampering us. Choices were limited to red snapper or pork chops, but both were excellent and spiced just right. It really turned out to be our own private party and Tom went from goat to hero. We looked forward to our other reservations for the rest of the trip. On two more occasions, we were the only customers and the restaurant would have been closed without our reservations (the exceptions: Tobacco Caye and Southwater Caye where there are more residents, but still fewer than 100).
We love our wives!
On another evening, the guys conspired (with much pre-trip planning) to spoil the gals with an evening of pampering on a deserted island. The guys divided up the piece parts of the festivities and secretly packed some portion in their luggage – tea lights, flying paper lanterns, all the ingredients for s’mores and last but not least, lots of duraflame fire logs (since the caretaker had warned there is no firewood available on the islands). We were a little worried about getting those logs through customs, but except for one guy, we had no problems (and he had a brief embarrassing delay at the Belize airport and a good story to tell). The guys went ashore early, met with the lone resident caretaker of the island, tipped him generously for helping with the arrangements, then set up a nice fire pit area with a lighted winding path from the shore. The campfire was romantic and the s’mores were yummy and the ladies seemed to appreciate the effort. Fun games and stories ruled the evening. Alas, the wind was too strong to launch the lanterns, but we saved them for a future trip (French Polynesia).
To Tom’s delight there were almost zero shopping opportunities while sailing and very few afterward. If you are a collector of Christmas ornaments (Sheila) or other trinkets, you’re going to have to improvise. She picked up a few beaded keychains (frog and lizard) as “ornaments”. She also bought a beaded butterfly hair barrette for just a few dollars and gets loads of comments when she wears it.
How to extend your Belize sailing adventure?
Way too soon, it was time to head back to the marina and say our good-byes, but five of the couples had pre-arranged to stay in Placencia for a few more days and share a VRBO home (Vacation Rental By Owner).
Monkey River Jungle Adventure with Percy
We spent a good chunk of our post-sailing time just winding down, relaxing, and exploring the town of Placencia. There were many inland excursions available including a jaguar reserve, Inca ruins, cave explorations, and various jungle adventures. After consulting several locals and our VRBO hosts, we chose the Monkey River jungle adventure largely because we could catch a boat nearby rather than a longer trip by road. Our guide, Percy, was somewhat of a local celebrity here and has been featured in a couple of travel magazines. He was amazing at spotting well camouflaged iguanas, crocs, bats, and other critters. He actually dived off the boat to catch a 3 foot croc and looked genuinely surprised when he missed. We also saw lots of exotic water birds and turtles, but the highlight was a short jungle hike to see the howler monkeys with lots of tangled vines and a few interesting insects along the way.
A snack anyone?? Termites perhaps. Yes, Percy showed us the proper way to identify and capture termites for a quick bite. We were told they taste a bit minty and sure enough they do! Sheila has to take Tom’s word for it.
Belize sailing is excellent!
This trip was so much fun. A big part of it was the right mix of friends on the 3 catamarans that we chartered. Everyone was laid back, flexible, and easy to get along with, not to mention fun and interesting. You better Belize it!
Trip Date: April 2012