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Belize is a small country in northern Central America just a bit larger than the U.S. state of Massachusetts. To the north is Mexico and to the west is Guatemala. The western Caribbean fronts the rest of Belize. One of its most remarkable features, making this destination splendid for a Belize sailing vacation, is the Mesoamerican Reef that stretches approximately 350 nautical miles from the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula down along most of the Belizean coast.
Situated on Placencia Lagoon, sometimes home of the endangered manatee, Placencia Harbour is both picturesque and quaint. Fishing has been a keystone of the local economy for generations, and it's still important to the 600 or so people living in the village and the surrounding area. Walking the mile-long, pedestrian-only sidewalk meandering among the houses built on stilts is like stepping back in time, but modernity is making inroads in the form of several luxury beachfront resorts offering numerous amenities, including fine dining. The laid-back atmosphere of Placencia is a perfect way to leave the cares of a busy life behind and ease into a sailing adventure in one of the most serene and beautiful countries in the Western Caribbean.
Yachting in Placencia waters brings you to a delightfully picturesque village. A lovely, crescent-shaped beach lined with a long row of palms borders the small town. Beautiful flowers, thick stands of trees, and quaint framed houses on stilts add to the idyllic tropical setting. The people of Placencia are warm and friendly, making your visit even more pleasant.
MARINE RESERVES - SOUTHERN BELIZE
The wonders of a Belize sailing vacation unfold primarily amid marine parks. In 1996, the United Nations World Heritage Committee approved the Belizean barrier reef as a World Heritage Site, now formerly called the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. Four of the seven segments of the system fall within the realm of a Belize yacht charter: South Water Cay, Gladden Spit (Silk Cayes), Laughing Bird Cay, and the Sapodilla Cay. Gladden Spit encloses the Queen Cays and, like Laughing Bird Cay, is a strict no-fishing zone. Other areas in the cruising grounds are also designated as marine preserves, collectively encompassing a wide swath of Belizean waters. The undeveloped cays and the coral atolls are evocative of South Pacific islands, but instead of a long airline flight away, they're close to home. The extensive reefs, drop-offs, sand ridges, sinkholes, pinnacles, caves, and many other features of the ocean floor teem with colorful undersea life.
Part of Belize's World Heritage Site, South Water Cay is situated on the barrier reef on the north side of the quarter-mile-wide South Water Pass. Palms rise skyward from pristine beaches. On the east side of the cay, the barrier reef drop-off is close to the beach, providing an ideal location for some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Belize. South Water Cay yachting is not to be missed!
THE GREAT BLUE HOLE - LIGHTHOUSE REEF
Located in the center of Lighthouse Reef, an atoll about 60 miles southeast of Belize City, the Great Blue Hole is one of the most unique geological features on Earth. A circular limestone sinkhole about 1,000 feet across shimmers a deep blue (hence its name) because of its great depth, roughly 400 feet. Sinkholes proliferate in the cruising grounds of a Belize yacht charter, but the Great Blue Hole is the granddaddy of them all! The walls are sheer to about 130 feet down, and then the views change as gigantic stalactites protrude outward, remnants of when the hole was a cave formed from fresh water runoff during the last Ice Age that began about 15,000 years ago. Back then sea level was 350 feet lower. None other than Jacques Cousteau named the Great Blue Hole as one of the top ten best dive sites in the world. With the guidance of a hired skipper, you can explore this incredible bit of geological phenomena.
Designated in 1996 as one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites along Belize's extensive barrier reef and outlying atolls, Lighthouse Reef is home to one of the wonders of the world, the Great Blue Hole, an immense limestone hole 1,000 feet across in the seafloor with depths of more than 400 feet. The sunlight shimmers on the surrounding calm, shallow water that's as translucent as glass, revealing the rich array of oranges, purples, browns, and greens of the reef system within the embrace of the coral atoll. And then the color changes to a deep blue over the hole, accounting for the rather uncreative but descriptive name: the Great Blue Hole. Passing over the hole in an airplane it looks almost like a deep blue eye peering up from a turquoise sea. Gaining World Heritage status isn't easy. It requires a combination of factors to come together perfectly - the site must contain outstanding diversity of marine plants and animals, have exceptional natural beauty, and serve as a habitat for rare and endangered species. The Great Blue Hole clearly meets these criteria.
The scuba diving is amazing in the Great Blue Hole. If you're a beginner, diving into the hole, which starts at about 30 feet down, to a comfortable depth is like no other drop-off you've ever experienced. The walls are fairly sheer to more than 100 feet down. The surrounding reef teems with anglefish, butterfly fish, small groupers, and many other species. The occasional blacktip tiger shark or hammerhead are also in evidence among the elkhorn corals, anemones, and sea fans. More experienced divers can go deep into the hole to swim among the huge stalactites. The visibility is typically 200 feet. The dive masters running these tours know what they're doing, so even if you are a beginner, you are sure to have an experienced guide to take you as deep as safety and common sense allow. The snorkeling on the surrounding reef is some of the best in Belize.
When sailing in Belize waters on a Placencia yacht charter, you typically fly to Belize City for the short air connection to the Moorings base at Laru Beya Marina in Placencia Lagoon. Since the Great Blue Hole lies about 60 miles southeast of Belize City along the reef system, a guided dive excursion with hired skipper is required by Belize law when visting the reef. Planning a trip there while you're in Belize is as easy as building in an extra day for your sailing vacation. Many dive boats operate out of Belize City, so you'll have lots of choices. And, of course, Belize is also famous for its Mayan ruins. You may want to build in extra time for a whirlwind Mayan sightseeing tour as well.
MAYAN CLUTURE - INLAND BELIZE
The beginnings of Maya civilization date back to at least 2500 B.C., or perhaps earlier, and correspond roughly in time with the development of cities and the precursors to modern culture in Mesopotamia along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Middle East. The sophistication of the Mayan people is well known, and vestiges of their culture remain in the form of the pyramids and archaeological sites throughout Belize. Two popular excursions are visits to Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit. The Lubaantun pyramids were among the last built by the Maya, at about 730 A.D., and afford inspiring views of the Maya Mountains. Nim Li Punit, only discovered in 1976, is situated in the foothills of the Maya Mountains and is famous for its stelae, stone pillars or slabs erected in the ceremonial centers of Mayan cities.
Sailing in Belize waters is an experience of natural beauty amid deserted isles reminiscent of the South Pacific, where the snorkeling and scuba diving is second to none, the white-sand beaches beckon, and small, laid-back resorts perch on sandy cays studded with swaying palms. To be sure, Belize sailing takes you to one of the world's most beautiful and yet less traveled cruising grounds, but inland there are adventures too. The Mayan people called Belize home beginning at least 4,000 years ago, and probably much earlier. They built amazing cities of stone, some using the dry masonry style that didn't require mortar.They didn't need it, obviously, because the engineering behind Mayan architecture (with or without mortar) has withstood the test of time, allowing you to walk where the Mayans did thousands of years ago through streets, into buildings, and atop the great pyramids of the Americas. The Mayan ruins of Belize are inland, in the foothills and heights of the Maya Mountains, and they are truly spectacular.
Located 20 miles inland on a ridge in the foothills of the Maya Mountains, the Lubaantun pyramids are fascinating examples of Mayan culture. In Mayan, Lubaantun means place of fallen stones. At around 730 A.D., Mayan builders constructed immense stone platforms (pyramids without points) on which they subsequently built wooden buildings to serve many purposes. At the heart of Lubaantun is a ceremonial center with 11 major structures, all of which are situated around five plazas. Climbing to the top of the highest point at the site presents fabulous views of the nearby Maya Mountains. The Plains of Toledo are also clearly visible.
Nim Li Punit is another Mayan city. It's most famous for the 25 stelae discovered on the extensive grounds. A stela is a freestanding stone slab or pillar carved with intricate artwork often depicting religious figures or individuals, and it's an amazing sight. Nim Li Punit, which means the big hat, was named for a stela carved to form an enormous Mayan headdress. Throughout Belize you will find Mayan cities that will seemingly transport you back in time as you walk the plazas and admire the temples and pyramids. Planning an inland tour of the ruins is definitely worth consideration either before or after a Belize yacht charter.