Incredible experiences abound in Belize – world-class scuba diving and snorkeling, exhilarating zip lining tours, Maya ruins to explore, hiking in lush jungles and mangrove forests… and by all means, try them all – but don’t overlook the serene experience of sea kayaking on the surface of Belize’s calm, brilliant blue waters. Gentle tides and few currents give the globetrotter a chance to relax and connect with nature while taking in stunning views of life below the surface among the colorful coral.
Planning a trip to Belize’s beautiful cayes? Put sea kayaking on the top of your list of things to do in Belize, and read these travel tips for staying safe and having a blast while you’re afloat.
Whether you’re a well-prepared adventure traveler, or relying on an experienced guide or supplier, it’s imperative to have a few things along for the glide. You already have your camera, binoculars, and first aid kit, right? Stash these in a compact dry bag, along with sunscreen, some energy bars, a bottle of water (or two), bug spray, a flashlight, and your cell phone, and you’ve got your first gear bag for your kayak trip. Grab another, differently-colored bag (color-coding your dry bags will save you tons of time searching for what you need), and throw in your maps, the weather forecast, GPS device, whistle, flashlight, water pump, and anchor – now you’ve got a safety bag.
Aside from your gear bags, make sure you pack some snorkel gear (the reef is breathtaking), clothes you don’t mind getting wet, and an extra paddle. And safety first! Wear your life jacket constantly.
Location is Everything
Avoid crowded shorelines on the populated cayes and instead, take off from one of the pristine cayes on Lighthouse Reef Atoll for a serene journey with plentiful wildlife-spotting. You can also launch from Dangriga and Placencia – good mainland base points to begin your sea kayaking journey. Once out on the sea, silently slip past offshore islands with labyrinthine mangrove roots and watch the sea life dart in and out of the maze. Cross to the outer edge of the reef and you’ll run into sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and humongous fish going about their day deep below the reef wall. When your arms need a rest, stop for lunch on Half Moon Caye, or spread out a picnic on one of Long Caye’s pristine empty beaches.
As a National Marine Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Glover’s Reef features an abundance of aquatic species for kayakers to meet out on the open sea. The atoll stretches 20 miles long and 7 miles wide and, according to local Belizeans, shows off the colors of the barrier reef. Warm sunlight penetrates the crystalline water to illuminate the rainbow of coral below and flickers a kaleidoscope of color off the fish that make the reef their home. The 82-square-mile lagoon of Glover’s Reef Atoll is a best bet for families and novice kayakers – the water is especially calm and acts as a great practice place before you move on to other spots.
While the Belize Barrier Reef is a definite draw, it doesn’t have to be your only point of interest. Belize offers superb kayaking through the nature preserve on Long Caye! The future eco-resort Zophora on Long Caye will allow water-loving adventurers prime kayaking right off shore, providing spectacular views of the coral formations around Lighthouse Reef Atoll and the wildlife-rich estuaries and lagoons running through the nature preserve. Rays and shallow water fish slide through the water close to the shoreline, and you can experience it all from the luxury of your vessel. The best part about kayaking close to shore? You don’t have to worry about righting your kayak if you capsize. You can just stand up.
Don’t Tip Over!
The Caribbean waters average a pleasant 80 degrees, so tipping over definitely won’t spoil your fun; in fact, capsizing can be fun when it’s intentional. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared and try to avoid an accidental upset. Keep heavier gear bags toward the center of the boat. Uneven weight distribution in your kayak, a strong wind, or even the wake from a distant boat can all cause your kayak to go topsy-turvy. Rule number one for a capsized kayak: keep a mighty firm grip on both the kayak and the paddle. The paddle and vessel weigh very little and can blow away in the wind much faster than you can swim. Your next step: right your kayak. Be sure to stay calm. Remember these tips and don’t worry; panic, and you’ll lose control.
To properly right a flipped kayak and climb back into the cockpit, you must know how to Eskimo roll. You should try to practice this self-rescue tactic in a pool first, since you’ll be underwater when you need to use the skill. Remaining calm while capsized will work wonders towards getting you out of the water safely. To do the Eskimo roll, lift your torso up towards the water’s surface while remaining as close to the kayak as possible. Give your paddle one good swipe through the water and flick your hips in the same direction to force the boat right-side up.
Of course, the perfect cure-all is to just not flip your boat in the first place, but how easy can that be? Surprisingly easy, in fact. You’ll need to learn the high and low brace balancing skills. Basically, you use your paddle to recover from a shift in balance that could potentially lead to a capsize. Strong forward or reverse strokes with the paddle are sure to level your vessel in the water. Make sure you always wear a life jacket – not only will it be helpful in righting your boat, but it’s also required by the Coast Guard.
The world looks mighty different at sea level, and in a kayak you get to take a seat in the expansive blue and make your way through it. It’s fun and exciting, yes, but also very profound. You get to be close to the water, far away from development, observing Belize’s extraordinary reef and brilliant-colored fish with childlike wonder. Just you on the calm waters, going at your own speed, moving towards that distant beach of sun-warmed sand peeking out from a stand of mangroves.