Harvest Caye, Belize’s first island cruise ship port, was supposed to open in October of 2015, then pushed back to March of 2016, and is now planned to open next November. Located about 3 miles offshore from Placencia in southern Belize, Norwegian Cruise Lines has been developing this island into a cruise ship port of call for the last two years.
Cruise ships will be able to pull right up to a large pier on the island, and guests can take the day enjoying the island’s activities or travel to Placencia for other tours and sightseeing. The cruise ships will have an enormous impact on tourism in southern Belize, since each ship will be adding 3-4,000 tourists into the mix of tours every day they arrive in the area, currently estimated at four ships per week. Tourists who choose to stay on the island for the day can choose between renting a private beach villa, ziplining or BASE jumping from the lighthouse, swimming up to the pool bar, renting a kayak or paddleboard, and of course, lots of shopping.
The project is not without controversy. It is expected to create employment opportunities, however, not everyone is confident the development is all positive. Recently the Government of Belize was fined $50,000 in a Supreme Court decision due to their approval of the project without following proper procedure. There was a lot of public opposition that was ignored during the planning stages, and NCL, the cruise ship company responsible for the development, hasn’t done enough to prepare a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for its plans on Harvest Caye.
The project faced stiff criticism from the very beginning by many within the tourism industry as well as others, and now with the island development close to finished, many of those critics are still convinced they will be vindicated. Critics have pointed to the 2011 Belize National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan, which was endorsed by the Government of Belize for its strategy to avoid cruise tourism in the south.
Issues with the endangerment of the manatee population, destruction of nearby corals, destruction of lobster habitat, and negative affects on local fishing have all been mentioned. And apart from environmental concerns, critics argued that the economic return wasn’t worth it as the estimated 1000 jobs that will be created will be seasonal, unskilled, and low-paying.
I just want to remind everyone that Belize has a lot more to offer than canned activities like BASE jumping from a fake lighthouse. I hope you will not patronize cruise ship companies, and instead spend a week in Belize at one of the hundreds of local lodges that offer real discovery and relaxation. To see a list of recommendations, visit our webpage Other Things to Do in Belize.
For more information on the Harvest Caye project, please see this excellent article: