Belize … a Cruising Destination

One of my favorite first year cruising updates to family and friends, summarizes what cruising Belize is all about!
Tobacco Caye, Colson Cayes, Bluefield Range, & Cucumber Beach Marina, Belize City

Hi all!  Winterlude is anchored behind Gilligan’s Island (actually Tobacco Caye).  The palms are swaying, the beach beckoning, the smell of a wood fire baking something delicious wafts over Winterlude with the light breeze blowing over the island — wonder what MaryAnn & Ginger are cooking this morning???  There are 226 square miles of just ISLANDS in Belize & our goal is to explore them all!!!

Winterlude anchored off Tobacco Caye, Belize

Reef End Lodge Dining Room … where we had fabulous fish balls for dinner.  “Restaurants” on the cayes are not generally open to the public.  We dinghied in in the morning & asked if we could have dinner at the resort dining room — they need time to make sure they catch enough fresh fish & make enough food!

Belize has 226 square miles of islands, all with totally different personalities.  When David & I first started reading the cruising guide, we were overwhelmed with the possibilities — it was impossible to keep them straight — where is Long Island — difficult when there are literally 10 different Long Islands, more if you include Middle Long Island, Long Caye…  It seems that every island over a couple miles long, is named “Long Island”!  There are also several Rendezvous Cayes, and at least 3 Water Cayes, not including South Water Caye that the locals call Water Caye.  Totally perplexing!  Right now we’re anchored at Tobacco CAYE – totally different from the Tobacco RANGE, where we spent two nights hiding from an intense Norther (30+ winds) earlier this week!  Tobacco CAYE is the perfect Gilligan’s Island.  Unfortunately, the anchorage is completely open from the north, west and south.  Luckily,  Tobacco RANGE is  nearby, a cluster of mangrove islands with a maze of good all around protection for a norther and lagoons complete with kamikaze pelicans, manatees & plenty of noseeums when the wind dies just before a norther!

Little girls playing in a hammock on Tobacco Caye
Jan relaxing at South Water Caye, Belize
Small island next to South Water — the Smithsonian has a research station here!

The barrier reef is the 2nd largest in the world (behind Australia) & it would be impossible to visit every island or cluster of islands. We’ve discovered that the Fly Range & Garbutt Caye hold nothing of interest for us, altho’ there is a lobster camp there, abandoned now that lobster season was over Feb 13. The Colson Cayes are look-alikes for Garbutt (read BORING) above water, but underwater have a great little reef for snorkeling, a small blue hole & alot of grass offering poor holding – the first place ever Winterlude drug anchor — our own fault, after several tries with our trusty Spade not holding we didn’t back down as hard as we normally do to set the anchor.  Now we know to hand set the anchor if it won’t set in turtle grass.

Look carefully, in the middle of the photo, you can see the blue hole at Colson Caye!
Swimming with the Sergeant Majors, Colson Caye, Belize

In contrast, the Bluefield Range is also a mangrove cluster, but lying within a mile or so of the reef.  It was magical — manatees playing in the lagoon where we were anchored, rays leaping clear out of the water to do their airborne aerobics, birds everywhere, a tiny “resort” on the end of one of the islands where each morning the resident Belizean opens the windows of the tiny blue wooden “rooms” built out on stilts over the water & every sunset, he closes them.  We never saw anyone else, much less any tourists, except his trusty black Lab!  While kayaking up to the other fish camp, where we were hoping to buy fresh fish, their dogs chased us away.  You can’t imagine my panic over these barking, mean dogs jumping in the water and swimming to chase our kayaks.  Suffice it to say, I’ve never paddled faster in my life!!! I NEVER expected them to jump OFF that dock!!!

The wind was blowing 15-20 daily & Winterlude was hiding inside the lagoon, playing with the manatees (altho’ I have yet to get to snorkel with one, despite trying several times), kayaking around the mangroves & hanging out.   We wanted to dinghy the mile or so out to Rendezvous Caye.  This particular Rendezvous Caye sits directly on the reef and like most islands on the reef, has crystal clear water, fabulous snorkeling & diving, perfect sugar sand beaches & a few coconut palm trees.  We never got there — unfortunately the cruise ship industry has discovered this gem & our idea of a tropical paradise these days does not include 500 sunburned cruise ship passengers!

Snorkeling the reef.

Days later, we dinghied to the reef with new friends, Doug & Rayene from sv Kristiana   Traveling out,  Doug gave us a eyes-on lesson in dodging coral heads & reading the water – prior to this, I never realized that a “sand bore” existed, much less what it looked like under water!  And NO clue that sand bores likely contain adult sized conch, prime for the taking in 4′ of clear water!  While David & I took our dinghy & snorkeled inside the reef cut and two close sand bores, Doug was busy spearfishing.  He got a hogfish, several yellowtail snappers & a small grouper — and Rayene fixed them for dinner, YUM!  Doug showed David how it was done & what he needed — unfortunately, in order to spearfish effectively, it’s important to be able to free dive to 30′ or so — David has been practicing, but we’re not there yet!  🙂 The next night, David & I had Doug & Rayene over for chicken on the grill & learned to play what is apparently the  cruiser’s favorite game — Mexican Train!  Who would have thunk playing dominoes with my Mom & Dad would be practice for the cruising life!

The snorkeling at the reef was spectacular!

After the Bluefield Range, we had to sail to the only marina in the entire country, Cucumber Beach Marina, 5 miles south of Belize City, to head back to the States for a week.  While in the marina, we washed down the boat, did the laundry with a “real” washer & dryer for the first time in a month (hand washing suffices in the meantime), restocked provisions & enjoyed visiting with Jack & Linda on NashOn and met their buddy boat, s/v Kiora with Mike & Sherrie for the first time.  While we were in the States, NashOn & Kiora journeyed all the way to the Rio Dulce, Guatemala — they’ll head back north through Belize next week, hopefully meeting up with us again in the southern Belizean islands.

NashOn & Kiora arrive at Cucumber Beach Marina, Belize City
Protected entry channel – straighforward & easy, lowest depth we saw was over 7′ – for Cucumber Beach Marina approx 5 miles south of Belize City..

One of the striking things about being back in the States after being on the boat for a couple of months, was our initial impression when we walked into the Miami Airport.  The TV monitors were blaring CNN Airport News, this murder, that murder, some judge’s family, Michael Jackson moondancing on top of his SUV & being 2 minutes late to his trial, so on & so forth … all depressing.  We don’t miss hearing the US News … but we DO miss hearing sports!  David’s going nuts with the Illini doing pretty well in NCAA basketball & us not getting to see them.  On the other hand, he did get to watch two Illini games while we were back — unfortunately, one of them was their first loss in 29 games – but we watched it with Billy at ESPNZone in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor — definitely a place we want to visit again, the Inner Harbor AND ESPNZone!  🙂

David relaxes with Sherrie & Mike from s/v Kiora and Jack Nash from s/v NashOn at the restaurant at Cucumber Beach Marina — good food, the fresh fish was delicious, of course and the Pirate Nachos were so good they kept running out!

The day spent at the reef with s/v Kristiana gave us the confidence to venture out to the outside reef islands by ourselves — to get here, you have to be willing to thread between many coral heads — you can’t just sail from waypoint to waypoint, it’s not the same as sailing the inside passage down the Belizean mainland!  So today we’re here at Tobacco Caye — who knows what the day will bring, we could stay here, we could venture out to Glover’s Atoll, 12 miles outside the reef cut here or sail 5.5 miles down inside the reef to South Water Caye.  That’s the beauty of cruising, you never know where the wind will blow you!!!  🙂

Fair winds & following seas!  David & Jan, s/v Winterlude, Tobacco Caye, Belize 16 53.989N  88 03.819W

Winterlude with our Passport insignia on the sail!
Sunset at Colson Cayes – watching the sun drop behind the mountains over the mainland from our anchorage at Colson was always spectacular!


  1. We have gone ahead
    and added a link back to your web page from one of my clientele requesting it.
    We hav used your web site
    URL: annd blog title: Belize

Speak Your Mind