Travel Feature: Reminiscing Marine Life of Belize

Belize is an ideal destination for snorkeling adventures because of the extensive shallow water coast, more than 380 km of mainland shore, with hundreds of secluded remote island cays that dot the shorelines. Most are coral islands, which have emerged from the sea over time, or mangroves, which are low lying, jumbles of bare rooted, salt resistant, shrubs that survive in the fluctuating levels of shallow intertidal waters.

From Belize City, our first night near the airport, is at the luxurious Black Orchid, a picturesque riverside resort, with gorgeous floral gardens, a cute pool and delicious cuisine. The Hummingbird highway takes us past rural villages and into the mountainous jungle, of mostly Cohune palms. Our first rainforest trail, located just off the main highway at the Guanacaste National Park, leads us to a cave and a delightful, hidden away waterfall.  This eases us into our next walk, complete seclusion jungle habitat of the Jaguar Reserve of the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary.  The unique trees found in a Central American rainforest are so unfamiliar, yet the diversity of foliage is impressive.  Although we don’t see any wild jaguars, it’s intriguing to know that dozens thrive here in the surrounding jungle.  Returning to civilization, we are later enchanted by the manicured garden pathways at the Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge which have magnificent rainbows of blooms, flaunting showy tropical flowers like ‘colourful eye candy’. 

Maya Beach, on the long peninsula near Placencia, is an ideal base location for departing on snorkeling day trips. Our delightful beachside house is ten metres from the white sand shoreline and just outside our room, are fifteen-metre-tall palms, and a mesmerising view looking out over aquamarine waters at the charming little thatched roof cabana, built off-shore, out on the wharf. A three-minute walk away, just beyond the kayaks, is the fabulous Bistro restaurant and garden pool, also shaded by impressive palm trees.

Silk Cay

This morning’s brilliant sunrise promises a great first adventure out by speedboat, beyond the horizon to a remote island called Silk Cay. With twin 250 hp Yamaha engines powering our ride, the hour-long journey gives us ample time to anticipate our water activities. When we finally arrive to the small island, with palms, surrounded by an alluring turquoise ocean, I can hardly contain my excitement to start exploring the undersea wonders of this Marine Park.

Wearing mask and fins I submerge and gently kick, propelling from behind, away from shore and into deeper water. As I float out over a giant submerged coral island, at a depth of three to ten metres below me, there’s a panorama of attractive displays; pastel colours of soft coral Common Sea Fans and fingering Gorgonian, to Sea Whips and Sponges that all gently wave in the shifting currents, as they grow towards the surface. Hard corals jutting up from the seabed include huge grooved and gnarled round bumps, known as Brain coral, long irregular length spiky points of Staghorn coral and unbalanced hand-like prongs of Elkhorn coral.

I’m fascinated watching everything going about its daily life of moving around, scouring the sea for nourishment. Most fish swim as loners, some in schools (groups), while others like Butterfly fish, travel in pairs. The tropical fish I encounter are Blue Chromis, Blue Tang, Boxfish, Butterfly fish, French Angelfish, French Grunt, Jellyfish, Lionfish, Parrot fish, Sergeant Major, Surgeon fish and Wrasses.

Another day we sail to snorkelling hotspots by Catamaran and are thrilled to discover an island of nesting Pelicans and Frigatebirds, plus swim with Manatee, Green and Loggerhead Sea turtles, Spiny Lobsters and Stingrays.

Monkey River

Our trip to the Monkey River, accessed by ocean and through an extensive maze of mangroves is thrilling, especially spotting crocodiles wading along the shoreline in the murky river currents and watching all the birdlife; Anhinga, Cormorants, Egrets, Herons, Hummingbirds, Kingfishers, Osprey and Tropical Kingbird who dwell in this isolated rainforest river habitat. We see Bats, sleeping on the underside of trees, Iguanas sunning themselves on overhanging tree branches and basilisk lizards camouflaged in shoreline grasses.

Our venture into the jungle, searching for Howler Monkeys is exhilarating. From the river’s edge we walk straight into impenetrable undergrowth, while our guide clears away dead palm branches, slashing right and left with his two-foot machete as we go. Stalking through the dense understory, our goal is to glimpse the Howler troupe somewhere out of sight up in the forest’s canopy. Hearing their throaty hollers all around sounds fierce and intimidating, which contributes to my already tentative speculation about what I’m mingling with in this dense tangle of foliage, with twisted bending vines that all resemble snakes. Miraculously we survive, the bugs, torrential downpours, and slippery mud, returning safely to our boat, beached up on the riverbank. Returning home, we’re rinsed off a bit, racing through a turbulent storm coming across the ocean as we zig zag thorough the islands of mangrove bushes at high speed.

Mayan Ruins of Lamanai

Our last day in Belize we take a 45 km speedboat trip up a river to visit the magnificent ancient, excavated Mayan ruins of Lamanai, examining five huge temples, several which are over 33 metres in height. We climb to the summit of two, carefully ascending the steep stairs with narrow steps and no handrails, to see the view and try to appreciate how Royal members of Mayan society lived over two millennium ago.

Before departing, I do a final beach walk in my bare feet, and a farewell kayak atop crystal clear light green waters, soaking in the beautiful scenery along the oceanfront. Thanks to knowledgeable guides and friendly locals, it has been a privilege to explore and experience fantastic adventures along the rapturing shores and islands of Belize.


Author: LivingSpaces

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