Second only to Australia's Great Barrier, the active attractions of the 180-mile reef system off Belize's Caribbean coast are self-evident: crystal-clear waters, a massive array of tropical fish, and vibrant coral formations all make up a near-unexplored, magical undersea world. For sea kayakers, the presence of the Belize Reef has an added benefit: It transforms what would be choppy waters into a smooth-as-glass paddler's playground that extends up to 35 miles off the coast, affording unobscured views of the aquatic wildlife and access to your pick of deserted cayes.
The Glover Reef Marine Reserve, some 20 miles off the coast, is one of the best places to experience Belize's complex and varied underwater ecosystem. Just don a mask and peer below the surface to see elkhorn and brain coral, feather plumes and sea fans, angelfish and parrotfish, and countless other vibrant distractions. In the middle of Light House Reef, divers can drop 135 feet into the caves of the world-renown Blue Hole, an enormous indigo spot, as seen from the sky, that was formed in an ice age 12,000 years ago. Underwater visibility reaches as far as 200 feet, and the reef system itself stretches from the southern tip of Mexico to the Gulf of Hondurasrest assured, you won't run out of places to explore. But, should you long for variety, Belize is more than up to the challenge. For the kayak-bound, Ranguana Caye, Laughing Bird Caye, Long Caye, and the other isles scattered across the coastline may epitomize your definition of paradise. Turneffe Atoll is sport fishing at its best, the mainland is literally covered with Mayan ruins, and the country's heartland offers endless opportunities for mountain biking, rainforest treks, and river kayaking. On Turneffe's northeastern side, divers can check out four sunken ships on the reef.
Two options govern most sea kayaking trips: base camp or expedition outings. Base campers typically hole up at a coastal town or on an island and spend each day exploring a different part of the neighboring reef system. Expedition kayakers embrace a more self-sufficient approach, traveling with hammocks (and tents, should the weather turn rough) and basic camping equipment, fishing for their own food, and sleeping under the stars. Expedition outings allow for greater exposure to the less-popular parts of Belize's coast and easily foster the tempting illusion of being stranded on a deserted isle (with the comforting reality of having a sea-faring vessel close at hand). Most days require three to four hours of kayaking, and stronger paddlers have their pick of secluded coves and islands to explore. Both types of kayaking trips are best taken with regional outfitters. Independent kayaking in Belize can be undertaken, but access to some of the best parks and atolls is hard to manage unless you've got a local contact.