The common belief that Madonna’s song “La Isla Bonita” is about Ambergris Caye in Belize is probably not true, but it is easy to believe it is when you see this quiet and secluded island just a short plane flight from Belize City. When our group climbed out of our small prop planes, we were taking the first steps to turning diverse strangers into a tight group of friends who just enjoyed being together while pursuing their primary common interest--diving.
From the hotel beach we could see our portion of the world’s second longest barrier reef just a few hundred yards off shore. The boat trips to the local dive sites took only a few minutes, so there were no long, tedious rides to endure and surface intervals between dives could be spent lounging by the hotel pool. The reef is comprised of spur and groove formations that usually begin at the 30-40 foot level and continue down the back reef zone. With water temperatures in the low 80’s and great visibility, divers were characteristically enthusiastic for the morning dives.
The highlight of the week may have been the all day excursion to the famed Blue Hole, where we descended straight down a limestone wall to the remnants of an ancient cave. For some, the remaining portion of the day was even more memorable, with two spectacular dives off Half Moon Caye. On the nature reserve where we enjoyed our surface interval, we ascended to an observatory that put us right in the middle of nesting red footed boobies and frigate birds.
Diving is not the only attraction in Belize, and we had a wide array of other activities available. The group decided to do a full day excursion deep into Belize, close to the Guatemalan border. There we visited ancient Mayan ruins, getting an excellent panoramic view of the entire area from the top of a pyramid. On our return trip, we stopped for a long, leisurely inner tube float down a river, with most of the trip spent inside a cave.
The city of San Pedro is only three streets wide, with most of the traffic coming in the form of golf carts with ATV tires. Scattered through those streets are excellent restaurants with unusual food preparations. Belizean cooking makes use of some unusual spices, and most of the group chose to take some home with them. The local hot sauce is famous, and Ambergris Caye veterans who could not come on the trip made sure to place orders with us. If you get a chance to try some, remember that it comes in three varieties, and if the label says “Fiery Hot,” approach it with care!