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Belize - Our Experience

By Sue Richards last modified Oct 22, 2009 09:02 PM

Published: 2009-10-22 21:02:58
Countries: Belize

December 2008

Punta Gorda

We anchor off Punta Gorda for immigration and customs clearance into Belize. It is a simple process here with all services available on the town dock. It costs us $25US for quarantine clearance, we have to declare all stores on board particularly meat, cheese, vegetables and fruit. We visit town to get cash from the ATM and have lunch in a local restaurant, fried fish, rice and beans. We buy frozen chicken to cook tomorrow. Returning on board the wind has piped up and the anchorage is now decidedly choppy so we head out and anchor in the shelter of the Mojo cays.

Ycaccos Lagoon

These are just mangrove islands but we spend a comfortable night here and move just a few miles the next day, there is a cold front coming soon and we know we can get good shelter nearby if needed. Next day we head to Ycaccos lagoon and feel our way in only grounding on mud once to a totally sheltered mangrove lagoon with good holding in about 2 metres. Totally deserted here but we spend 2 nights here as the cold front blows through before leaving again going aground on soft mud and then head to Placencia.


This is a small town on an island joined to the mainland by a causeway and bridge which gets washed out in times of heavy rainfall. Ashore there are grocery, hardware, a small chandlery and lots of restaurants and souvenir shops.

We spend time here trying to fathom out why our SSB radio will not function, it is inconvenient as this is our source of emails and weather information while cruising. I check all connections and replace the aerial wire, which is showing signs of corrosion, I discover soldered joints which have failed and repair these but still it wont work, we check the copper grounding in the hull, eventually after several days I substitute the aerial wire connecting radio to aerial tuner and suddenly it works, it has taken about a week of frustration to solve this problem. I only wish I could solve the autopilot problems just as easily.

We spend a few days here during a dull and showery period.

Ranguana Cay

We try to escape the anchorage and head for Ranguana Cay a delightful Attoll about fifteen miles away and have a fine sail all the way there on a broad reach, only to find the anchorage there is untenable with short 2-3 foot waves which break over our bows. It is to late to go anywhere else but we cannot stay here either so we make the decision to sail back again to Placencia this time close hauled arriving after dark and anchor safely at the back of all the other yachts there.

Pelican Cays

Next day we head north and this time anchor in a well protected but deep (60 feet) bay amongst the Pelican Cays. It is pretty here but totally isolated and we are on our own. Next day we plan to head north to Southwater Cay and wake to a beautiful clear morning, but by the time we have had breakfast and hauled our anchor we head out to find wind blowing 20-25 knots from the north and do not fancy a hard slog to windward. It begins to rain so we head for shelter, this time in Sapodilla lagoon 8 miles away on the mainland.

Sapodilla Lagoon

This anchorage with a deep enough entrance is well protected with good holding and we spend a comfortable night here while the weather blows itself out. Next day we set off again for Southwater Cay, sailing through a short period of blustery rain before emerging into beautiful sunshine at last and suddenly find the water takes on a beautiful blue colour again.

Southwater Cay and Tobacco Cay

We arrive off Southwater Cay and pick up a mooring just off the island in about 6 feet of crystal clear water. We get our first chance to snorkel since we left the Rio Dulce and explore the reef at the islands south end. Not brilliant but nice to get back in the water. Next day we move 6 miles north to Tobacco Cay, another beautiful spot and spend another day here.

Belize City

The next day the wind is good from the southeast and we head 35 miles north to Belize City and Cucumber Beach marina to do some much-needed maintenance.

We think that while we are in Belize City we will go shopping and visit a chandlers to see if it is possible to buy or order a new wheel pilot. We arrange a taxi to discover that when he arrives the driver wants $50 to take us shopping. We decline saying this is exorbitant and go to catch a bus at the marina gate the five miles into town. We are offered a lift which we gratefully accept do some shopping at the supermarket and catch a local bus back. The fare is $1US for both of us.

We leave Belize city with a brisk NW wind, the legacy of the cold front which passed through the day before, and head east towards the offlying atolls.

Lighthouse Reef

We anchor behind Spanish Lookout Cay for one night and then on the remaining NW wind head out to Lighthouse Reef the next day. The wind dies and we motor most of the way in flat calm seas. Anchoring off the west side in about 2m of water we have some trouble setting the anchor but eventually it grips and we spend a comfortable night.

Water here is crystal clear and snorkelling over the reef is really good, the only disadvantage being water temperature - it is cool and we can only stay in for about 30 minutes at a time.

Half Moon Cay

We move the boat and follow the transit into the lagoon to anchor off Half Moon Cay. Water is shallow and there re patches of coral. Despite being on the transit line and in 2.5 m of water, keeping a bow watch we still touched coral. Ashore on Half Moon Cay which is a nature reserve we walked to the viewing platform overlooking a Pink Footed Booby and frigate Bird nesting site. Frigate birds are amazing in their courtship displays, the males inflate a large red pouch the size of a large red balloon on the underside of their necks and then sit around hoping to impress a female mate. The Pink Footed Boobies were mainly sitting on their nests and you only saw their pink feet as they changed over incubating duties. There is a charge of $10US each for visiting the cay.

The Blue Hole

Next day we head north and thread our way through shallows and coral heads to find the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is a sink hole formed when the roof of limestone caves collapsed and sea levels changed. This is the largest Blue Hole in the world being some 500 feet deep and 300 yards in diameter.

We entered through a gap in the surrounding reef rim and picked up one of two available mooring bouys. Snorkelling around the rim visibility was not great and the coral was unimpressive. There were some fish but not many, we did see a shoal of Midnight Blue Parrot Fish however. We didn’t stay very long thinking the mooring not too secure and limited swinging room in the 20 knot trade winds blowing across the reef.

We sailed back the way we came and crossed the reef to anchor again off the west side of the atoll in company with friends aboard their Catamaran. We again touched coral on our transit line. This time the anchorage proved to be rolly with swell coming around from the North so an uncomfortable night. Next day we were challenged by park officials who insisted on collecting $60US for our brief visit to the Blue Hole, we did protest this fee but were threatened with fines being imposed upon the boat if we refused to pay. We felt it was very poor value for money and just a tax imposed upon visiting yachts.

Turneffe Islands

With the wind back to the east we sailed back west to the Turneffe islands and anchored inside the reef for a squally night. Holding not great in thin sand over rock. Next day we head up the east side hoping to find a sheltered anchorage within the reef.

Here we discovered the inaccuracies of our chart, sailing along in what is shallow protected water with good visibility and 2.5 – 3M of water we suddenly come to a grinding halt having hit a coral outcrop and find we are surrounded by coral. Dropping our sails we find that we drift clear and we anchor to inspect the damage which fortunately is slight and can wait until our next lift out for repair. We also fail to find a sheltered anchorage as the wind works around the island producing an uncomfortable swell. We give up and head back through the main ship channel to sheltered waters behind Belizes barrier reef and a fine sheltered anhorage in the drowned cays.

Cay Caulker

Heading north we sail in ideal conditions to Cay Caulker anchoring in the sheltered lee of the island, holding really good in soft sand patches amongst the eel grass. We just hang out in Caye Caulker for a few days, not really a very attractive place but a stop on the back packers trail, lots of dive and snorkel trips offered but expensive. We did one snorkel trip but did not find it very good at all.

San Pedro

We take the boat to San Pedro planning to check out and head for Mexico on Christmas Eve. Holding is poor in the anchorage and we heave to and set the anchor and put out a second anchor as well. Sue stays on board and I head to immigration. Eventually the official comes back from lunch but there is no customs available, so after waiting 3 hours I arrange to return at 8.00am the next day.

Now customs is there but immigration is not, after 2 hours customs disappear presumably for coffee break and 10 minutes later immigration appear. It is another hour before customs return. All told checking out has involved 6 hours of waiting and has taken nearly 24 hours. It is now too late to leave and the wind has increased making the reef pass too rough with breaking waves across the entrance.

The anchorage in San Pedro is very choppy, rolly and with lots of boats speeding past close to our boat. So we buy some extra food for Christmas and head back to shelter in lee of Cay Caulker.

Cay Caulker for Christmas

We spend a quiet Christmas here waiting for the winds to change so we can leave. The forecast looks favourable a couple of days after Christmas and we try to leave via Long Cay pass leaving at first light, but instead of 15-20kn winds and 4-6 foot seas find 25kn of wind and 10 ft seas. After a couple of miles and taking some big waves across the boat we turn around and return to Cay Caulker for another few days.

The weather looks better for New Years day so we head to San Pedro on New Years Eve ready for an early departure on New Years day.

This time san pedro is calmer and we spend a quiet New Years Eve aside from 20 minutes of fireworks at midnight. We leave through the Reef pass early new years day and head to Xcalak in Mexico.

We are glad to leave Belize having not really enjoyed our time here and would not recommend it as a tourist destination.

Roy and Sue Potter
SY Vindomar