VACATION GUIDE TO BELIZE BAREBOAT & CREWED SAILING CHARTERS
Caribbean Sailing at its Best ...
Elaine Lembo, editor of Cruising World magazine, recounts here sailing experience in Belize: “We’d go ashore to picnic and explore on remote islands where, four centuries earlier, British pirates, whose ships had wrecked on the reef, camped out and plundered Spanish galleons. … There are things I still miss about Belize, like sailing for hours with relentlessly consistent, perfectly positioned Trades in sparkling waters – navigation mostly line of sight, air so clean the oxygen makes you giddy.” Belize offers spectacular sailing grounds with the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, 3 offshore coral atolls, hundreds of islands and great fishing, snorkeling and diving. Compared to popular sailing destinations like the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands, Belize is still relatively undiscovered. Many times you won’t see another sailboat for days and you'll have anchorages all to yourself.
The barrier reef parallels the coastline for 185 miles, providing calm protected waters for smooth sailing. Along these crystal clear waters there are over 200 islands. Some are nothing more than tiny mangrove islands with seabirds while others are large islands with fun towns. Each island offers something different. Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize with San Pedro Town offering a variety of beach bars and restaurants. You'll also find the most famous diving and snorkeling site in Belize here, Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Caye Caulker is a laid back village where you can grab a cold drink at a beach bar. Caye Chapel has an 18-hole golf course if you want to tee off. St. George’s Caye is where British colonialists won an important battle against a Spanish armada. You'll see the old canyons from this war lined on the shoreline. Randevous Caye is a beautiful deserted island with a sandy beach and a dozen coconut trees. BluefieldRange is a cluster of islands with 2 fishing camps where you can buy some fresh seafood from the local fishermen. Tobacco Caye & South Water Caye lay right on top of the barrier reef where you can do some excellent diving or snorkeling. A typical week charter might take you to about 10 different islands.
If you navigate outside the Barrier Reef you can visit one of Belize's 3 coral atolls. Turneffe Islands Atoll has a central lagoon with miles of saltwater flats renowned for bonefish and tarpon. Glover's Reef Atoll is a UN World Heritage Site and has some of the most pristine coral reefs in Belize. Lighthouse Reef Atoll, the most remote of the 3 atolls, is home to the Blue Hole, a 500 foot underwater sinkhole. Here you'll also find Halfmoon Caye, named for it's beautiful beach shaped like a halfmoon. One other option if you are sailing south is to go up the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. This beautiful jungle river winds through rainforests and mountains. Along the river you can visit waterfalls, so some horeseback riding or even have a little cultural immersion in one of the local indigenous villages.
There are plenty of activities to fill your days. One of the most popular is snorkeling and diving, after all Belize does have a lot of coral reefs. You can snorkel pretty much anywere, just jump in the water with your fins and mask. Some of the larger marine parks are better appreciated with a snorkeling guide. So for example you can randevous with a snorkeling guide at Tobacco Caye and snorkel the South Water Caye Marine Reserve. Likewise, there are dozens of dive shops along the coast. You can randevous with a dive master who can take you to dive some of the local sites. For experience divers you can even rent your gear and several tanks and do some self-guided diving on your own. Fishing is also a fun activity. Dropping a line off the side of the sailboat is sure to land a fish which you can then land on your dinner plate. These types of meals are called "catch of the day" where you eat what you caught that day. If you're into more competetive fishing you can randevous with a fishing guide who can take you fly fishing on the flats or trolling along the reef. Watersports are another fun way to enjoy the waters. You can rent a kayak, windsurfing board or kitsurfing board and take it with you on your trip. Sailing is also incredibly relaxing, you don't have to do much to have a good time. Just enjoy the breathaking scenery, read a book or grab a cold drink.
The tropical weather is mostly sunny with steady winds. Winter brings in a few cold fronts with accompanying squalls while summer brings Trade winds with occasional tropical waves. Generally the weather is excellent most of the year. Navigation can be quite tricky. The cruising charts are out-dated and sailors unfamiliar with the waters need to keep an eye on their depth-finder and have a bow watch to avoid coral heads and shallow bottoms. Most charter boats in Belize are catamarans, whose shallow draft is easier to maneuver than monohulls. TMM & The Moorings are the 2 big charter companies in Belize and they mostly do bareboat charters. It’s important to note that bareboats cannot go outside the barrier reef, so if you plan to visit Belize’s coral atolls, you need to hire a captain. However there are also several privately owned sailboats that specialize in crewed charters. Crewed charters are a great way to sail as the captain and crew often go to great lenghts to insure you have a good time. Your entire itinerary can be completely personalized for you. You can plan what anchorages you want to visit, what activities you would like to do and even what type of food you'd like to eat.
Where to Go
Belize’s entire coastline offers good sailing. Destinations include many islands within the barrier reef, 3 atolls beyond the reef and even Guatemala’s Rio Dulce. Below is a list of various charter companies for you to consider with information on their fleet, possible courses you might set and the type of charters in which they specialize.
Ambergris Caye: TMM Yacht Charters, one of the largest charter companies in Belize, has quite a large fleet of catamarans and a few monohulls and powerboats. They primarily do bareboat charters although crews are available. You can set your course to explore the northern islands and return to Ambergris Caye or set a one-way course south and pay the additional drop off fee for the sailboat. There are also a several day tours aboard sailboats from the island.
TMM Yacht Charters: TMM is one of the largest charter companies in Belize. They have a fleet of about 40 yachts, mostly catamarans with a few monohulls and powerboats. They primarily do bareboat charters although crews are available. They are based out of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye.
Aubisque Catamaran Charters: The Aubisque is a 47-foot Lagoon Catamaran. It’s spacious and well-appointed. They offer all-inclusive crewed charters with captain and cook with great service. On board equipment include fishing rods, snorkeling gear and a variety of watersports equipment. They are based out of Belize City. They can customize your itinerary based on your personal preferences and can include any destinations off Belize’s coastline including the atolls and Guatemala’s Rio Dulce.
Caye Caulker: Ragamuffin Tours has a handful of traditional Belizean monohull sailboats. They offer all-inclusive 3 day sailing packages with a crew to Placencia (one way) and Lighthouse Reef Atoll (round trip). Included activities are island hopping, camping on islands, fishing and snorkeling. Meals are often the seafood caught fresh that day. The prices for these packages are a great value as well. They also offer a sunset cruise which takes you out around the island for a few hours.