These are *my* opinions.
trip_report 6K ]
Trip to Belize, May 4-12, 1996
Keywords: Caye Caulker, Turneffe Islands, Belize, Hol Chan, Frenchy's,
Cayo, San Ignacio, Tikal
A friend and I traveled to Caye Caulker for 5 nights (the diving
portion) and to San Ignacio to do a bit of touring. I'll mention a few
things about transportation, lodging, and highlights in each area,
obviously with emphasis on the diving portion.
My main guide was "Adventuring in Belize", a Sierra Club book. I
recommend it highly.
Caulker is a few miles SSE of Ambergris, inside the barrier reef. The
town is small, about 800 permanent residents, almost no motor vehicles,
no paved roads, and only relatively simple restaraunts and hotels. The
most pleasant places to sit are on the windward (east) side of the Caye,
and businesses are concentrated there and near the Split at the north
end of the "town". We met a lot of very friendly, gentle people. So
smile, say hello, and be polite: your friendliness and courtesy will be
We flew Continental, which allowed me to meet my out-of-state friend in
Houston before proceeding to Belize City. I carried my computer,
regulator, camera and prescription mask on, checking the rest of the
luggage. On time, no lost luggage. We took a Tropic Air flight (about
US$35 each), a 10-minute hop in a single-engine plane, to Caye Caulker
to avoid the hassles of getting to the swing bridge in Belize City
proper (US$15 cab ride) and riding the water taxi (US$15 each).
We stayed in a "standard cabana" at the Tropical Paradise Hotel. It was
nothing special, and hot water was only occasional. It did have a good
eastern exposure, and the breeze kept the non-airconditioned cabana
comfortable enough. About US$30 a night. I think several places might
have been better -- Tom's Hotel had nice porches, and Shirley's Rooms
looked very nice ... though they are a long way (1/2 mile?) from the
I didn't find any remarkable restaraunts, but found several serviceable
enough places. Meals are fairly cheap, about US$3 for breakfast and
maybe 4-5 for a simple supper ... 9 or 10 if you get _real_ fancy. Beer
is $US3 or $US3.50 per Belikin, which is a perfectly serviceable
tropical brew. Several nice places to tip a Belikin...just look around.
My friend was doing her open water referral with Frenchy's Diving, so I
dove with them too. Overall, I was pleased with how helpful they were,
I thought the divemasters were reasonably competent, and their prices
were fair. On the other hand, they did not have oxygen or radios on
all of their boats, which I would have preferred. All fills were to a
full 3000 psi +/- 100 psi, they were helpful getting in and out of the
water (taking cameras, weight belts, etc.). All their boats are small
and fast, with entry by back roll. Once they knew I was okay, they let
me set my own profiles pretty well ... I had several shallow dives over
an hour (my buddy and I both had computers). I dove no deeper than 100
feet ... didn't want to, on this trip. The DM known as Alex (or Sandy)
was the most patient and he really enjoyed diving. He swam nice and
slow, let me wander a bit ... all he wanted was a hand signal when you
were down to 1/2 tank.
Due to intense plankton, visibility hovered around 60 ft. Not great,
but perfectly acceptable to me.
They went over to Hol Chan a couple times. IMO, a wasted trip. I'd
dived there before (inside and outside the reef), and I thought that
Caye Caulker had dives that were just as good and not as much of a ride
(and US$5 cheaper).
The Turneffe Islands Trip was great: US$80 for a three-tank trip, which
is pretty reasonable considering it involved a (rather rough) 1hr + boat
ride each direction. Our first dive was on***roach Caye wall, which
is a gorgeous drop-off. We encountered several massive schools of
creole wrasses (swam right through a couple) ... many thousands of fish
in each. Also saw an eagle ray, a loggerhead turtle swam right up to
us, and saw spotted filefish, barracuda, and all the usual suspects.
The middle dive was on Rendezvous Wall, and there just wasn't much
happening there ... I barely remember the dive. The last dive was on a
shallower mini-wall just north of there, and it was fabulous: huge
trumpet fish, honeycomb cowfish, spotted trunkfish, rays ... and 65
minutes of bottom time! Oh, and Turneffe has some of the lushest sponge
populations I've ever seen.
Also had a nice dive at Caye Caulker Canyon (about 50 minutes at max 82
feet), where we saw a HUGE loggerhead, schools of jacks, and some very
nice stands of staghorn coral.
My last dive was a night dive inside Caye Caulker reef. We saw a lot of
good stuff ... but it was too sandy (I think) for octopus and morays to
be real happy there. But many kinds of shrimp and urchins, lots of file
clams, an Atlantic Deer Cowrie (I think), a gigantic porcupine fish,
lobster ... you know, a night dive. 95 minutes long.
They gave me a package price: 2 2-tank Hol Chan dives, 1 2-tank Caye
Caulker dive, 1 3-tank Turneffe dive, and 1 night dive for US$215 ...
pretty good, I'd say.
I should have tried harder to get to Turneffe twice. Given another
chance, I will work with the other dive operation (Belize Diving
Services) to get there at least twice next time.
We took the 8am water taxi (US$15) back to Belize City. It was a really
nice ride, and took under an hour in the small open boat. From there,
it was a short cab ride (US$5) to the bus station, where we caught a bus
The bus took about 2 or 2-1/2 hours, and cost just US$3. We stayed at
the rather stylish San Ignacio Hotel (US$50; pool, well-appointed, no
a/c in our room; nice balcony). It's just up the hill from town, and
much quieter than the downtown lodgings. They can be noisy until quite
The town of San Ignacio is nice, but seemed very noisy after Caye
Caulker. We had fun going out to drink, and had a good time at the Blue
Angel Club with a group of Belizean soldiers. Again, everyone was very
friendly and helpful.
THe trip to Tikal was a bit pricey (Windy Hills Tours, US$75), but it
was well-run and I think worth doing. The jungle at Tikal was as
interesting as the ruins, almost. It's a lot of riding (2-1/2 hrs each
way) and I think I'd consider an overnight trip next time.
One of our new friends took us up to San Antonio by bus the next day,
and that was pleasant enough (for the company), but not much of a tour
in itself. There were no buses running back, and not much traffic.
After walking a small fraction of the 10 miles back, we were elated to
hop in the back of a construction truck that dropped us back at the edge
of San Ignacio.
We took the bus back to the outskirts of Belize City, where we grabbed a
taxi to the airport. Everything was on time, no lost luggage.