Caye Caulker snorkelling, Belize
“It’s my first day sailing a boat,” Captain Rob says as we get on board. “But don’t worry, I’ve read the manual.”
We all laugh. It’s clearly not the first time Captain Rob has sailed.
It’s also clearly not the first time he’s made this joke.
But I get the feeling that, although he’s been doing this for years, this is not a job that gets boring. Every day is different and you never know what you’re going to find when you get to our destination.
We’re setting off from Caye Caulker, here in Belize. It’s a small island, on the Belize Barrier Reef that’s been formed by over many years by the sediment remains from the coral and animals in the ocean.
Caye Caulker isn’t as developed as the nearby Ambergris Caye, which has luxury hotels and a population of about 15,000 in the main city of San Pedro. But there are other cayes in the area that hardly have any development on them.
So, with a population of about 2000 and a fair amount of accommodation options, Caye Caulker fits somewhere in the middle.
It’s got a laid back feel along its main streets (that you could probably walk the length of in about 15 minutes). Casual restaurants with cheap fresh seafood, beach bars with cold beers, and there’s even morning yoga at the cafe across from where I’m staying.
Some people come here just to chill out – and I completely understand that. There are places to swim, lots of options to eat and drink, and the sunset each evening has the kind of colours that make you consider staying for another one.
But the highlight of Caye Caulker – what most people will explore at least one day of their stay – is the Belize Barrier Reef.
I’ve come to Caye Caulker on my Mayan Discovery tour with G Adventures and, as is the company’s approach, there’s flexibility built into the itinerary.
For our full day here, you can choose to do whatever you want (or nothing at all) but most of us are keen to see the reef. This is how we’ve ended up with Captain Rob taking us out on his boat, away from Caye Caulker itself and to the best nearby snorkelling spots.
Underwater, the sea life explodes and there’s movement in every direction.
Schools of large fish gracefully swim past me, their colours and patterns glittering in the sun breaking through the surface.
Smaller fish, seemingly alone, dart about between the rocks with sharp glints of vibrancy.
Nurse sharks rise up from their resting place in the sand and circle around me in a way that would seem threatening if I didn’t know they were harmless.
A pack of stingrays glides past, their wings slowly flapping and their tales sticking out behind.
And amongst all of them is their world – the Belize Barrier Reef, with its landscapes of corals and rocks, healthy and strong.
I’ve written previously about the reef from a previous trip to Belize, and I don’t want to go over all the background again. If you’re interested, I would suggest having a read of that story.
But what’s important to know is how impressive the reef is – and how it’s been protected so well.
It may not be as famous the Australia’s Great Barrier Reef but the Belize Barrier Reef is actually the second largest in the world.
It stretches for about 300 kilometres down the coast of the country and then joins up with a longer reef system that goes further north and south.
Scientists have estimated that there are about 100 coral species on the reef and at least 500 types of fish. And there are lots of other animals here like turtles and manatees.
This is such an important natural area that UNESCO has designated it as a World Heritage Site, giving it special protection status.
Although there was a period of time when the Belize Barrier Reef was not being look after very well and its health was seriously under threat, there has been an effort in recent years to fix that. And it has worked.
The government of Belize has actively worked to protect it, implementing small and large-scale projects that have all had an impact.
One of the most meaningful things the government did was bring in a new policy that bans any oil drilling in any of its offshore waters!
This environment campaign has also had an effect in Belize of instilling a newfound sense of pride in the reef amongst the population. In a similar way to how Australians see the Great Barrier Reef as part of their national identity, the Belizeans now see the Belize Barrier Reef as a representation of their patriotism.
It might not be expressed in so many words, but I can definitely feel it on this day trip with Captain Rob and his crew. All three of the guys who are with us are locals and they talk about their reef and their country with such passion.
And how could you not love it? When you get to spend all day on the water – and in the water – you really are constantly surrounded by one of the world’s natural wonders.
Plus, to see the water so clean, the coral so healthy, the animals so abundant – it must make you realise how farsighted the politicians and the population were to make the effort to protect this.
Sure, Captain Rob’s joke at the start of the trip might get used every morning but there’s nothing else that would get boring about this. The Belize Barrier Reef is an absolute treasure and there’s a new world to discover under the surface every time.
I travelled on this tour with the support of G Adventures in my position as a G Wanderer. All the opinions expressed are my own – I truly believe G Adventures is one of the best tour companies that you can use for a trip to Mexico and Central America.