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Exploring Belize in the mid-80s

Slickrock’s first foray into Belize was in 1986, when I was running river trips in nearby Chiapas, Mexico. I had heard that Belize’s barrier reef would be an ideal location to run sea kayaking tours, so I drove over from Palenque with my friend Scott Davis and 5 sea kayaks to explore the reef and figure out a workable itinerary.

Our first adventure was with Belize Customs, where they impounded the kayaks and demanded $2,000 in duty to clear them. After several days of figuring out the system, I was able to bond the boats with the promise that I would take them back home after a couple of months.

I had found a contact through a friend who had a small sailboat we could rent, with captain, and we managed to find him and provision the boat for a week’s sailing down the reef to explore the islands. We dragged 3 kayaks behind the 28’ sailboat, and we planned to camp on the islands as we traveled.

Fishing boat that we rented

We launched at dusk, and slowly made our way out to the reef. Within a mile, we were suddenly surrounded by two patrol boats, which consisted of the entire Belize navy, who wanted to check us out. But, we were too small to board and they didn’t have any way to come over, so after much shouting they let us go.

We spent the next week going from island to island, sometimes paddling, sometimes sailing. We met a lot of local fishermen on the islands who were able to give us more information on what islands were better than others. We found that most of the island were mangrove swamps and not suitable for camping, but as we reached southern Belize the other islands along the reef were found to be ideal, sand covered with palm trees, surrounded by coral reefs. It was in this area that I decided to set up our itinerary.

(Click on images below to see full image.)

Queen Cayes kayaking, Belize Belize camping on the Belize Barrier Reef Camping on the Silk Cayes in Belize

After seeing these islands, we went to the coastal town of Placencia, then just beginning to experience tourism. There I was able to make arrangements to set up a base of operations and store equipment, and we were thus able to start advertising some trips for the next season.

Our initial sea kayak trips started in Placencia, and we paddled from island to island for 6 days (Bugle Caye > Laughing Bird Caye > Queen or Silk Cayes > Pompion Caye > Ranguana Caye), camping on these deserted islands under the palms, and fishing for our dinners. It was idyllic, but a bit rugged as we were at the mercy of the weather and sea conditions, which sometimes were so rough that we had to layover four days at a time on one island or another. And, after five seasons of these trips, the islands we used for camping began to see development or other kayak companies, on some cabins or private habitations were being built. At this point we discovered Glover’s Reef and made arrangements to move out there for our trips. It was an exciting beginning exploring these little-known cayes of the Belize Barrier Reef, but once we rented and later bought our own island, we never looked back!

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