Close your eyes and imagine water as blue as turquoise. Sand shimmering like diamonds. Sunsets glowing like amber. Jungles glistening like emeralds.
No, it’s not a fantasy land of rare gemstones in a mystical story. This is Belize. Beautiful, colorful, friendly Belize on the Caribbean Coast.
You can come to Belize for relaxing beaches and peaceful hiking. You can come for fascinating history. And you can come to kayak around the heavenly coral islands scattered about the Caribbean Sea, only a few miles off the mainland. For more adventure, you can visit the Belize Barrier Reef, 25 miles off the southern shore from Placencia.
The Belize Barrier Reef is now considered the world’s largest coral reef system (190 miles long), with Australia Great Barrier Reef now ranking second due to coral bleaching. The reef is the top tourist destination in this tiny country, despite the fact you hear little about it compared to Australia.
Belize has so much to offer ocean-loving adventure travelers regardless of age, fitness, interest or confidence level — snorkel, SCUBA and kayak in the crystal-clear waters.
It is a breathtaking place to enjoy a day kayaking or a multiday adventure, whether you are a beginner or advanced with the paddle. Recently, a group of women, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, gathered to enjoy this beautiful kayak destination and each other’s company through Bainbridge-based Journey for Purpose.
Journey for Purpose is an organization that brings women together through empowerment excursions in the Pacific Northwest; Oaxaca, Mexico; and, for the first time, Belize.
Twelve women arrived in one of the best places to set out on a kayak adventure — the darling little town of Placencia. Located on the Placencia Peninsula, the town is the last village along this part of the southern Belizean coast, with access by boat, road or plane.
From Belize’s main airport in Ladyville (just outside of Belize City), you can take a 30-minute plane ride ($80 one way) or drive 2.5 hours on mostly good roads. Car rentals or hired drivers are both easy to find in Belize; the latter, however, will cost you plenty (about $170 one way).
No matter how you get to Placencia, do it. On your own or with a tour like Journey for Purpose. It is a quintessential Caribbean village with great food; colorful buildings; friendly people; and a large variety of offerings for snorkel, SCUBA, sailing and kayak escapades. Adventure businesses are primarily owned by locals but some are run by the many American and Canadian expats who make this village home.
One of the reasons this is a great jumping-off point for solo or small-group kayaking excursions is the dozens of tiny islands (cayes) scattered just off the mainland, some part of the National Marine Sanctuary.
Weather conditions create constant changes in the cayes. Some formerly large islands are disappearing into the sea while others are growing. Several have permanent structures with caretaker staff. Day visitors from tour boats or kayak tours arrive and spend the day. Group tours can bring camping equipment and spend several days for a fee at designated cayes.
Journey for Purpose enlisted the assistance of two local providers: Kayak Belize and Kenshan Tours, as well as experienced guide Eric Foreman of Sandy Cove Belize Tours. These operators can provide gear, transportation and food, as well as guide service, for day trips or overnight camping adventures.
Gathering in Placencia, the women of Journey for Purpose set out on their multiday group adventure, with the first order of business being a snorkeling day at Silk Caye, one of the area’s most popular snorkel sites and part of the Marine Sanctuary. The Marine Sanctuary system is part of the Belize Fisheries Department. Its creation marked the transition from a fishing economy to sustainable eco-tourism, an effort to protect the vulnerable and precious barrier reef. Snorkeling in the blue water off Silk Caye offered once-in-a-lifetime sighting of eagle rays, nurse sharks, leatherback turtles and many colorful fish.
Next stop was Laughing Bird Caye National Park (a World Heritage site), a tiny island with limited camping space, but just enough for the group for the first night. Named for the seagull-like birds (Larus atricilla) whose cry sounds like a female laugh, this beautiful little island is perfectly positioned for kayak access to other cayes. Part of the island is off limits in an effort to protect the bird’s nesting habitat.
After a night in the tents with a full moon watching over, day two dawned bright and sunny with incredibly calm waters. Perfect for a morning kayak to Moho Caye, about 5 miles away. After a warm and hearty breakfast prepared by the camp cook, the group set out with Foreman.
The weather and the kayaking were perfect, including a light wind behind, making the task easy and quick. But always on hand was a support boat for those tired or not up to the task.
Moho Caye is a privately owned island, with full-time caretakers. A tent area to the south is level and beautiful, but a bit of a walk to the restrooms to the north. During the day, other visitors come in private boats or on tours to the tiny island, but from 3 p.m. to 10 a.m., the island belongs solely to the campers. It’s a cross between “Gilligan’s Island” and “Castaway,” with nightly prodigious sunsets, as well as the rising full moon and swaying palm trees to lull you to sleep.
One morning dawned with a tremendous windstorm and heavy rain. Working together and with Foreman as an incredible guide, the women of the group battened down, waited out the storm as dry as possible, and, when it was over, chipped in to help put the camp back together.
The group used Moho Caye as a campsite for four nights. Between kayaking excursions to nearby islands, and swimming and snorkeling around Moho Caye, there were endless entertainment options each day.
Journey for Purpose’s signature “circle time” provided the women the chance to get to know each other, share and support each other and learn from each other in an unthreatening, inspirational and powerful group dynamic, surrounded by the exquisite beauty of the Caribbean. Daily yoga, beach art, games, songs, nature lessons, bonfire, group hilarity and solitary moments rounded out a wonderful and fulfilling adventure.
Unforgettable, beautiful and empowering. You better Belize it!