Garbutt’s Marine and Fishing Lodge (tel. 501/604-3548), next to Joe Taylor Creek, at the entrance to Punta Gorda, is run by the Garbutt brothers, a local duo who grew up exploring these waters. They offer one of the most reliable ways to get out to the cayes and go sport fishing, diving, or snorkeling; they also maintain a few cabins on Lime Caye, and you can paddle up the creek in a kayak. Another diving option is Wild Encounters (tel. 501/722-2716 or 501/722-2300), operating out of the Seafront Hotel.
Reef Conservation International (ReefCI, tel. 501/626-1429, www.reefci.com) offers weekly and monthly dive trips to stay on Tom Owens Caye, a small one-acre private island in the Sapodilla Cayes with incredible snorkeling. The boat leaves Punta Gorda Monday morning and returns on Friday afternoon. While you’re there, you can take scuba certification courses or help with research projects, always in small groups. It’s worth stressing that not only will you be diving in the Sapodilla Cayes—the famous fishhook terminus of the Belize Barrier Reef, internationally renowned for its whale sharks, dolphins, and grouper spawning events—but you will also most likely be the only dive boat in the water, an extraordinary opportunity. Nondivers are also welcome. ReefCI offers various packages; there’s often a discount for walk-in travelers and last-minute bookings (up to 50 percent).
In addition to diving for fun, ReefCI customers have the opportunity to get involved in a number of projects, such as helping with the removal of the invasive lionfish and other preservation projects in the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve (SCMR). They also have the unique opportunity to get involved with the survey work, learn about the environment, and identify fish, coral, and invertebrates—and to combine this with recreational dives and other activities.
BlueBelize Tours (tel. 501/722-0063 or 722-2678, www.bluebelize.com) is owned and run by Dan Castellanos, a local fisherman, guide, and PADI dive master who specializes in fishing and snorkeling tours. You’ll have to catch him when he’s not staffing biological research or leading National Geographic and BBC film crews around the area.
Toledo Cave and Adventure Tours (tel. 501/604-2124, belizegate [at] gmail [dot] com or ibtm [at] gmx [dot] net, www.travelbelize.de) offers trips to to some of Belize’s lesser known attractions, including Yok Balum Cave, Tiger Cave, and all other Toledo Caves. Bruno, the German owner, also runs Sun Creek Lodge and offers countrywide tours and pick-up in Belize City.
TIDE Tours (tel. 501/722-2129, www.tidetours.org) offers numerous inland and sea trips, including river kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, exploring villages, cacao trail tours, and more. Kayak rentals are US$2.50 per hour. Also ask about multiday tour packages. This is the customer service branch of the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE, www.tidebelize.org), Belize’s only “ridges to reef” NGO. TIDE does much of the guide training in the area, helping to teach people sustainable, often tourism-related, skills. TIDE staff promote tours to protected areas and give presentations on their work in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, in Paynes Creek National Park, and on the Private Lands Initiative. They also do tours to archaeological sites, caves, and other inland attractions. Revenue generated from TIDE Tours is used for education and outreach efforts.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition