Cruising Our Way Down Belize – part 1

By April 18, 2023 No Comments

We had one of the most frustrating AND breathtaking beginnings in Belize.

We had just spent three and half days on passage from Cuba to Belize and sadly less than 12 hours of that had enough wind to fill a sail. We were doing everything we could to get inside the Belize barrier reef and anchored before sunset, but we were going to miss it by a little over an hour. I prescribe to the notion that you do not enter unknown harbors at night, but we really want to be done! The things going for us were the fact the St George’s Cay Cut was open and hazard free, it was a full moon, and there were no clouds. I told Lily we would try it, but if there were any issues we would have to spend the night in open water taking shifts until morning. Everything was looking perfect for our entry, but then the moonlight faded slightly. I turned to look, hoping the cloud was small and would pass quickly. I had to do a double take, because what were the odds we would be trying to sneak inside the barrier reef during a full lunar eclipse? Haha. We got anchored before losing too much moonlight, secured everything, and sat back to watch the celestial show before crashing for the night. What a way to start a cruise through a new country!

The next morning the first order of business was going to Belize City and checking it. We anchored in the river mouth and hailed the port captain on the VHF. They told us to meet everyone at the Fort George Marina fuel dock instead of going to each office, so we headed over in the dinghy and waited. After about 30 minutes almost a dozen various officials descend upon us like a flock of locust. They had me filling out this form and that form each government office needed and each of them said I had to pay for this and that. All told it cost us half an hour (yeah) and $450 (boo)…all in cash!

Time to get to exploring! Our first adventure was motoring through one of the Drowned Cay bogues, which is what they call the salt water creek like passages running through a mangrove island. It was fascinating to take Guiding Light through a mangrove island. We took turns standing on the cockpit top looking out over the expanse of mangroves. This particular bogue emptied out on the north side of Drowned Cay right next to a community of some sort that was being built. We scooted a couple miles north and ended up back at St George’s Cay, which at one time was the largest city, and capital, of British Honduras, as it was called before independence in 1981. In 1798 there was a 10 day battle where the Spanish Navy tried to take the island from Britain. Nowadays it is home to 20 or so private residents. You are allowed to walk around the path and there are a couple small resorts along with some cannons from the battle, but that is really all there is to see.

From St George’s Cay we had to sail through Porto Stuck in order to gain access to anything north unless we went outside the barrier reef. This was fairly easily done, but it can be tough to distinguish the shallow cut between the mangrove islands until you get to it. Once through the choke point it was a great sail to Cay Caulker and it turns out the sail was bottom of the list of reasons we loved this little island.

Cay Caulker is the type of island you lose track of time on. There are only four dirt roads going from north to south which may have official names, but everyone just called the Back, Middle, Front, and Beach Street. You will find some golf carts, but most people either walked or rode bikes around. We loved to simply walk around the island, but our highlights were getting cinnamon rolls at the bakery (see video below) and hanging out at the Lazy Lizard next to the cut between the north and south island to people watch. We took the dinghy out to the barrier reef a mile or so away and were greeted by dozens of nurse sharks and sting rays. It was amazing sitting in the shallow water with them all around you. One giant ray even came up and gave me a hug. Once you turn your engine off they move to the next new boat, because all the day boats feed them. Even after 14 years aboard the Guiding Light, it was an experience I had not had before and we loved it.

Continuing our northward trek we tried to stop and snorkel at Hol Chan Marine Reserve, but were told we had to have a local guide to stop. This was something we found in a handful of spots around Belize and defeats the purpose of having our own boat, so we grudgingly skipped the reserve and continued to San Pedro on Ambergris Cay. This is the northern most part of the country and another settlement, but bigger and busier than Cay Caulker. It was nice, but did not have as good of a vibe as Caulker. What I did find interesting is the only reason Ambergris Cay is an island is because 1000 years ago the Mayans cut a channel across the peninsula to have quicker access to trade and fishing. Our missed opportunity of not snorkeling at Hol Chen was quickly abated since we had a great time checking out the reef at the entrance to San Pedro Cut.

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