Belize

June 4

Huatalco to Belize City and thence to Ambergris Cay

We landed in Belize City to clear customs, which were noticeably friendlier and more Caribbean in spirit than the Mexicans had been. It was necessary to spray some insecticide in the airplane and close it up to kill disease carrying mosquitos, but after that things went very smootly. Aero Taca, the largest El Salvadoran airline, is in the business here of assisting private aviators. For a small fee, paid on departing the country no less, their agent took care of all our needs and greased the skids.

Finally, a country with officialdom that treats tourists nice!

Belize City from the air. It's very green and is surrounded by jungle. Not a very large airport for being the biggest in the country, but it isn't a big country.
We're on final here.
And now we've made it. There's an American 727 here and a Piper Aerostar, and that's about it. The temperature seems a little less severe than Mexico had been--it's starting to feel like the Caribbean at last!

 

We flew on from Belize City to Ambergris Caye at an altitude of 1000 feet. There's steady traffic along this route and little air traffic control, so we kept a sharp eye out. There were many uninhabited cayes to be seen as well as the beautiful Caribbean green ocean and lots of water traffic.

Here's a good shot of the island of Ambergris Caye, where we will spend most of our time in Belize. Not much above sea level, and not much at all. The white line at the top is the surf pounding on the barrier reef, which runs from Cozumel, through Belize, and on to the Roatan/Utila area. It's the largest barrier reef outside Australia's Great Barrier Reef, and is the reason why we are here.
Here is a little closer view. You can see the colorful houses and get more of a sense of how flat the island is.

A somewhat blurry shot of our final approach--sorry the camera focused on objects in the airplane. This was our most difficult landing and takeoff of the trip because we are travelling at our greatest gross weight with 4 people and their baggage aboard. To facilitate, we are only carrying about 1/2 fuel.

Timoteo is demonstrating proper short field landing technique, bringing the plane in on the propellor. I suspect we're in the ugly high-drag part of the power curve at this point. He drops the wheels precisely at the far end by chopping power. After a brief stall warning blip we settle immediately and the brakes are thrown on hard. We manage to stop in plenty of time. This is what being a 5000+ hour pilot with lots of Navajo time will do for you!

Our first view of the accomodations near the airport is far from encouraging. It always takes a bit of time to get used to the third world.

We're directed, somewhat informally, to park on the grass near the island's FBO cum shuttle service. The owner seems to be an ex-pat American, and the operation looks prosperous. He's got a fleet of turboprop Cessna Caravans that seem to be in constant motion. Our parking spot is fine, provided it doesn't rain and sink our heavy plane into the mud. As a precaution, we unloaded all the bags on the asphalt tarmac.
Our friend has some competition both large and small. I can't place the big twin turboprop, but the smaller plane is of the Cessna 206/208 variety. This stuff is directly at the end of the runway, so if you can't stop, you'll plow right through these planes and on into the center of town.

Here is a shot of what passes for an airline terminal taken from the front porch of our hotel. You can see an island rickshaw, the ubiquitous golf cart, and the rare few cars on the island here.

Here we are at our hotel, the SunBreeze Beach Hotel, which is across from the terminal. They just sent some bellmen over with the luggage cart and loaded up our things.

The SunBreeze is a cozy little hotel. It curls around a little pool and is right down on the beach. There are two nicer hotels, but they aren't as close to town and they're quite a bit more expensive. Given that they still aren't world-class, I would definitely stay here again. We only paid $75/night to stay here for double rooms. Rooms here are similar to the Bay Islands Beach Resort, where I stayed in Roatan.

Hotel Dive Operator

Here's a shot of the hotel taken from the air, shortly after we took off. As you can see, it's adjacent to the airport. You can make out the hotel pool, and the small building where the bar and attached Italian restaraunt are. You can also see the numerous docks. The scuba operators will come pick you up from your hotel dock.

There is an operator right at the hotel, but we didn't use them. They were kind of unfriendly when we asked where the best snorkeling was, and I had gotten a good recommendation from Amigos del Mar. We visited Amigos, and found them very friendly and professional. Alas, conditions did not permit us to dive with them. In a fit of desperation we went with the hotel operator. They were okay, but a little disappointing. The divemaster was a young lady who seemed very full of herself, and had modelled her style after the original scuba nazi. She was more intent on testing everyone's knowledge than in actually helping anyone. She managed to get one friend mis-weighted, so he literally had to be towed through the dive by two other's like a parade float. Needless to say, I was disappointed we didn't get to dive with Amigos del Mar.

To make the long story shorter, Tropical Storm Allison destroyed our scuba activities in Belize. Most diving is outside the barrier reef, but close to it, and we could see 8 to 10 foot waves there. The wind blew hard day and night. On the last day, the hotel operator was willing to take us to a shallow spot inside the reef near Shark and Ray Cay. We did one shallow dive that was pretty good. They warned us two divers had gotten sucked out to the surf and one rushed to the hospital in shock the prior day--not what you like to hear from the scuba operator. Visibility was terrible for the area--about 50 feet. Despite the poor operator and conditions, I managed to see 2 stingrays, 4 moray eels (the most in a single dive in the Caribbean), a very pretty scallop (I think they call these razor clams though), a big crab, and many cleaner shrimp stations.

I can see that under ideal conditions Belize would have awesome scuba diving. I plan to go back someday to sample it. We also did a snorkel and got to pet some stingrays and a nurse shark. On the snorkel we saw 4 nurse sharks, 4 frisky stingrays (similar to Stingray City in Grand Cayman), blue tangs, parrot fish, and a range of hermit crab sizes.

BTW, the only interesting snorkel from shore is off the end of the pier with the thatched hut you see in the photo above. There's some artificial fish shelters and a fair amount of fish there. You have to stay up under the pier to avoid the boats, but its pretty cool. We saw lots of grunts, angelfish, triggers, puffers, and others I can't remember. Like Roatan, you have to swim out a ways to get past the eel grass.

A Visit to Town...

 
All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.