Belize: The Reef and More by Heather & Roger Kinley

Some people come into your life, they leave footprints on your heart, and you are never the same.
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We came with no more expectation than to feel the warmth of the sun for a few weeks… We left almost five months later feeling we were saying goodbye to brothers and sisters.

Those who call Ambergris Caye home come from varied racial, socio-economic backgrounds and geographic regions. By luck or design, we stayed at the Corona del Mar, a small, beachfront hotel that was owned and operated by an island icon, Woody Canaday who has since passed away. Everyone we met had a story – and over time, an incredible tapestry of tales was woven. Although the island has grown, a diverse mix of hotels, restaurants and bars are now part of the culture and can meet any budget or style. The majority of streets are still made of sand. Hotels are no higher than three stories, and there are no franchises in sight. Golf carts are the main form of transportation, although tourists staying in the vicinity of San Pedro can easily walk or take occasional taxis.
From the beginning, the Belizeans welcomed us with open arms. We were invited to their homes, fished the blue-green waters with them on their days off, cooked together in the evenings, shared milestones, and we were honored to get a glimpse of their lives. We heard in detail the devastating effects of Hurricanes Mitch and Keith. Many of Corona del Mar’s employees and their families took refuge at the hotel – some returning to find their homes destroyed; others grateful they were spared.

People take many paths to Ambergris Caye. Some are running away from life – others are running to it. Longtime expatriates like Woody, who came to the island 30 years ago, had a vision that the nearby reef – the second largest in the world – would beckon those who wanted to explore life beneath the ocean. And he was right.
While on Ambergris Caye, the reef offers snorkelers and divers alike an underwater experience right out of a Jacques Cousteau documentary as a myriad of fish, coral and sea life abound. And there is nothing like having your first encounter with nurse sharks as they swim alongside you, oblivious to the reactions they cause. Intellectually you remember being told they are not dangerous, but the very sight of them makes even the bravest’s heart beat faster. Our trip took place before Steve Irwin’s tragic death, so with just a bit of trepidation, we took the opportunity to also stroke stingrays and marvel in their grace. Snorkeling in various places along the reef, spearing lobsters for lunch, enjoying fresh conch ceviche, and barbequing red snapper were as much a part of our day as having morning coffee. It all seems like such a dream.
Are you ready to pack your bag? If so, go to Ambergris Caye with a sense of adventure and no expectations of it being Hawaii or Acapulco. Be ready to experience an island that is unique, a little wacky, but a special place like no other.

Top 5 Touristy Things To Do:
Snorkel with stingrays and sharks at Shark Ray Alley
Experience a day of snorkeling north of the Cut along with a beach BBQ (see contact information below)
Join throngs of tourists at the weekly betting bonanza at the “Chicken Drop”
Take a day trip to the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha on the mainland
Visit neighboring Caye Caulker by water taxi and get a taste of what Ambergris Caye was like 20 years ago

Top 5 Things Guidebooks Don’t Always Tell You:
Sip Belikin beer at the beachside bar, Cannibals. It’s a great place to meet people from around the world, and to see passengers get on and off the water taxi
Enjoy the Burrito special at Mickey’s Restaurant on Middle Street every Wednesday
Play horseshoes with locals, (and wanna be locals) every Sunday afternoon at Crazy Canucks
Spend an evening listening to island musician icon, Dennis Wolfe. Ask him to play the perennial favorite, “Another Gringo in Belize”.
Take time to talk to the locals that work at your hotel or in your favorite restaurant.
At a time in our lives when traveling away from the beaten path was our goal, we found islanders on Ambergris Caye had a generosity of spirit that touched our souls and who reminded us that simplicity can indeed bring happiness.

As they say on the island, “It’s Unbelizeable”!