By Erin De Santiago
Travelers love Belize for its world-renowned scuba diving, rich Maya history, and a myriad of adrenaline-pumping adventures. However, not a lot of people realize Belize is also an ideal destination for sailing enthusiasts and luxury travelers who want to explore this mesmerizing country by water.
You can visit some of Belize's most-beloved islands, along with more remote destinations, aboard your own chartered yacht. Hop on board and relax as you're whisked away to some of the most gorgeous islands in Belize. While you're sailing, your private chef and captain take care of your every whim.
I had the pleasure of spending five days on a luxury catamaran sailing along some of Belize's more intimate islands while en route to Guatemala's Rio Dulce, a mecca for boating enthusiasts in Central America. At the end of each sailing season, Belize Sailing Vacations takes their fleet to Rio Dulce so the boats get a little pampering and are ready for the upcoming high season. The journey to Rio Dulce typically takes place in August, with the boats returning in October as the Atlantic Hurricane season draws to a close. While you can book an itinerary to Rio Dulce on your own—provided you have around 10 days or more—this once-a-year deal is a spectacular opportunity for sailing enthusiasts who want to visit both Belize and Guatemala.
Sailing the Belize Barrier Reef
I spent my week aboard Doris, a newer 50-foot Lagoon 500 catamaran. She has three nearly identical cabins available for charter guests, while the fourth cabin is reserved for crew. Each stateroom is spacious and sleeps two adults comfortably, has air conditioning, and its own en-suite bathroom. While you won't need to be in it, the galley is open and features all the necessities you'll need for a week or more on board. There is ample seating for four to six adults inside, and the outdoor table holds six to eight comfortably. There are only six guests allowed on charter for most of the boats, while one boat (Satori) holds up to eight passengers. This means larger groups would typically need to charter two boats, however this can also be a fun adventure as well, as the boats tie up in tandem in the evenings.
All your meals are prepared by one of Belize Sailing Vacations' talented chefs and can include a variety of local seafood and Caribbean-inspired dishes. If you have a particular request or are celebrating an event, let them know in your reservation request so they can prepare something special.
Typically, you'll start your day with a healthy breakfast while your chef/fist mate is tidying up the cabins and making all your beds. You can chat with your captain and discuss where you're sailing next. For regular charters, there is more flexibility on islands you can visit, but in our case, we were on a schedule since we were headed to Guatemala rather than back to the marina in Belize City.
The rest of the day is pretty much up to you—sit in back with a good book or head up to the front of the boat and lay on the trampoline where you can really take in the beauty of Belize's tranquil waters. When it comes to activities in each destination, there is plenty to choose from. Each catamaran is equipped with snorkel gear, kayaks, a paddleboard, and fishing rods, all of which are included in your charter. Your captain is typically trolling for the day's catch while the boat is underway, and many of captains do spearfishing at selected destinations as well. If you're visiting during either conch or lobster season, expect to enjoy local specialties like conch ceviche and lobster tail for dinner at least one night of your charter.
When it comes time to go exploring the islands, your captain will take you on the catamaran's private dinghy back and forth if the boat is anchored rather than docked at a pier. For guests who are unsteady on their feet or may have mobility issues, this might present a slight challenge. But, you'll want to at least try to get off the catamaran as every island in Belize has its own unique charms. Even if you aren't a drinker, belly up to the local bar and listen to the bartender's tales. Some of the most interesting people you'll meet in Belize are the caretakers and bartenders who live on the more remote cayes.
Some captains and first mates are licensed tour guides who can take you on a private snorkeling trip that easily beats out any public group tour. If you're hoping to do some scuba diving during your charter, Belize Sailing Vacations doesn't have dive equipment or any "liveaboard" type facilities like some diving specialty companies do. They can, however, arrange trips with local dive operators who will take you on a private dive or scheduled group trip, for an extra charge.
As the sun sets, hop back on board and enjoy dinner and drinks with your friends and/or family, and crew. Drinks are included in your charter package; however, wine is served at dinnertime only. If you're an oenophile like me, look to bring in a couple of bottles from the duty free, as wine selections in Belize tend to be rather limited. Spend the evening enjoying time with your travel companions and getting to know your crew. They are a wealth of information about Belize and the best things to see and do in the country. Some captains, like Ruben and Danny, were born and raised on Belizean waters, so their stories and knowledge are unsurpassed. If you happen to be anchored off the coast of Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye, it's worth heading into town at night to listen to some live music or grab a drink at one of the popular beach bars like Palapa Bar (Ambergris Caye) or Lazy Lizard (Caye Caulker).
Islands You Can Visit
Depending on the charter company and the itinerary you choose, you have the option of sticking to the more northern islands with Belize Sailing Vacations or keeping south with Moorings. Longer charters provide more flexibility in allowing you to see both northern and southern cayes. This is perfect for travelers who want to experience the best of Belize. Popular island stops include:
Ambergris Caye: The largest of Belize's islands, Ambergris Caye is located in the northern part of the country. San Pedro is the only town on the island, and it is home to a high concentration of restaurants and beach bars. Scuba divers love Ambergris Caye for its proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef and countless dive sites within a short boat ride away. Longer trips to places like the Blue Hole are possible as well if you are on charter for multiple days here.
Caye Caulker: Caye Caulker is a short sail away from Ambergris Caye and has a more laid-back atmosphere, with some people noting its more authentic "Belize" feel. Caye Caulker is also more popular with backpackers and budget travelers, so expect a more casual vibe all around. Caye Caulker is a great place to wander around, do some snorkeling, try local cuisine, or spend the day across from the split at the new Koko King beach area.
Silk Cayes: Located east of Placencia Village, the Silk Cayes are small, deserted islands that offer superb snorkeling and stunning white sand beaches. This is a great spot for spotting eagle rays, stingrays, and brightly-colored reef fish.
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