Belize has three of the four atolls in the Caribbean and Turneffe Atoll is the closest. From San Pedro we sailed 25 mile SE to the northern end of the atoll, where there is a way inside the encircling reef and spent the day snorkeling the reef and the night anchored by ourselves at Rendezvous Point. The next morning we sailed 20 miles in protected waters on the west side of the atoll and entered through Blue Creek to anchor in the middle of the southern end of the atoll for a few days. While it was heavenly we did have to get back to the mainland, so we set sail nine miles to the NW towards English Channel. On the way we stopped for lunch at English Cay, which lies just south of the entrance to this deep, natural channel that leads to Belize City. This small sandy island has seen every large ship on its way to the county’s largest city pass by it and ashore we walked around the buildings that house various officials, climbed the light tower for an impressive view of the barrier reef, chatted with the keeper and his puppy, and of course snorkeled.
In Belize you can only get 30 days stamped into your passport. In order to stay longer you either need to exit the country or pay $100 for another 30 days. With this in mind, and 4-5 days before my niece joined us, we docked at Cucumber Beach Marina five miles south of Belize City, so we could take a bus to the Guatemala border and spend a few days seeing the Tikal Mayan ruins. If you go to Tikal stay at one of the three hotels on site and enjoy the sunrise tour from the top of the great temple. It was beautiful with the mist and howler monkeys…you could almost see the X-wings lifting up to attack the Death Star (nerd alert – this was the site for the Yavin 4 scene in the original Star Wars: New Hope :)).
We spent another two nights back in Belize at the border town of San Ignacio in order to check out the ATM Cave. This is another Mayan ruins, but totally different than any other. You start off wading and swimming deep into a cave. Then you climb up roughly 20 feet to a large cavern where you are shown over 100 years’ worth of ceremonial ritual ruins including hundreds of pots and at least five human remains. We also saw the Xunantunich ruins, which don’t have the size or importance of Tikal, but is a fantastic representation of a typical Mayan city and the best one in Belize. Plus, you get to ride a hand drawn car ferry across the river to get to it.
Once back aboard the Guiding Light with my niece aboard we showed her a few of the highlights we had already seen and then continued our travels south at Bluefield Range where we saw a couple manatees. We wanted to show her Rendezvous Cay, but this is another place you have to come by local tour boat. Instead we snorkeled several nearby patch reefs and the barrier reef before sailing 20 miles farther south to Tobacco Cay. This perfect little island is quite similar to Water Cay five miles to the south. They both are sandy islands sitting directly on the barrier reef. In fact, at one point on Water Cay we were only a couple hundred feet from the reef drop off. The islands are parceled off and you will find a combination of residents and small resorts on each. They both have a good cut out through the barrier reef and snorkeling is excellent when it is calm enough to go on the outside. If it is not calm enough to stay overnight in the lee of either island you can go less than two miles from either and find shelter at Tobacco Range or Twin Cays (we did not find them, but this is supposedly a good spot to see manatees and crocodiles). Both Tobacco and Water Cays are wonderful, but we preferred Water Cay.
Since my niece’s time was coming to an end, we headed to Placencia…What a find! What started out as a little fishing town on a peninsula has turned into a hidden gem for those in the know. From simply walking up the mile long sidewalk, which originally served to connect all the fishing huts back in the day, to the beach on the southern tip, you will find plenty to do here. Between the anchorage and the lagoon there is all around protection and we were able to drop her off at the airport with a 100 yard walk from the dinghy. We even did a tour into the jungle to see waterfalls and tube a river at Cockcomb Jaguar Reserve. But for us the highlight in Placencia was gelato at Tutti Frutti. Yummy!!!
A day or two after my niece flew home we checked out of Belize in order to secure the boat for hurricane season. Checking in or out at Placencia is a hassle because the custom and immigration offices are next to a private port. Instead of going in, anchoring, and dinghing right to the offices you have to take the dinghy across the lagoon and take a taxi through the town of Independence. It is much easier to clear at Punta Gorda further south, but this is an open roadstead and should only be done in settled weather.