has some of the most pristine, unspoiled, natural beauty you will find anywhere in the world. The ocean waters of Belize offer a unique and wonderful cruising experience with the world’s second largest barrier reef, literally hundreds of sun swept tropical islands to explore, and three major offshore atolls. The barrier reef provides over 130 miles of protected waters from the ocean swell and a reef that is teaming with fish, coral, and creatures. The coral forms colorful, surreal landscapes with jutting heads, sand bottom canyons, arches and spires that offers great snorkeling and diving for both the novice and the more experienced.
Exploring the Belizean Waters
Whether your interest are fishing, diving, snorkeling, or sailing the islands for a week or a day here is some information and stories to start you on your island adventure.
Belize Charter Catamarans
If you are familiar with the Bahamas or the Virgin Islands, Belize will seem vast and untouched. No crowded anchorages, no competing for access to moorings, no making reservations to hole up in a protected bay. Belize offers a diversity of cruising grounds from the more developed Ambergris Caye to an endless string of uninhabited tropical islands and white sand beaches in the south.
Chartering a Belize catamaran is the ultimate way to sail Belize and explore some great sites at your own pace on your own private yacht. The barrier reef offers not only unlimited dive locations, but also great protection from the large open ocean swells. Most people find this a very comfortable place to cruise and it is certainly not without its challenges. Navigating is easy and you nearly always are within sight of an island. The challenging part is learning to read the shallow waters and recognizing coral. There are very few navigational markers and the cruising guide provides a good guideline but does not replace local knowledge and good light at your back so you can see the tricky spots. Going with a crewed yacht charter or hiring a captain is your best bet to enjoy the sailing while letting someone else worry about getting through the coral heads. Catamarans are the most popular vessels while sailing Belize due to their shallow draft through the Belize islands. Below are a few catamaran charter companies located in Belize.
Belize Sailing Vacations is based in Belize City and offers full service luxury crewed charters on multiple catamarans for varying budgets. This is a family run business with over 10 years operating catamaran charters in Belize. The Wilson family will provide you with the ultimate Belize charter catered to your special interests and desires. Rates vary depending on the catamaran and range from $795 per night to $1,295 per night. Contact Belize Sailing Vacations, Cliff Wilson, Mile 5.5 Western Highway, Belize City. Toll free telephone 866-873-1171 or in Belize 501-664-5300. email here.
Tortola Marine Management (TMM), located at The Palms in San Pedro. TMM has a small fleet of catamarans (sail and new motorized cats) for bareboat and skippered chartering. Rates vary depending on the boat and time of year, but range from around US$2,200 to more than US$6,000 a week, not including provisions or a US$20 per-person sailing fee. Skippers are an additional US$100 per day. Contact TMM (Belize) Ltd., Coconut Drive, San Pedro, tel. 501-226-3026, fax 501-226-3072, e-mail email@example.com.
Crewed Charters, based in the United States Virgin Islands, says it offers just that in Belize. Contact Crewed Charters, 5100 Long Bay Road, St. Thomas, USVI 00802, tel. 800-522-3077 or 340-776-4811, fax 340-776-3074, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Corpus Christi Sailing Center and Captain Christopher Day offer a few group sailing cruises in Belize, mostly sailing from or to Isla Mujeres in Mexico. Rates are around US$1,050 per person for a week's sail. Tel. 512-881-8503
Sample Itinerary for Sailing Belize
Sailing Belize offers approximately 3,000 square miles with literally hundreds of islands and three major offshore atolls. I have been sailing here for over 10 years and have not seen all the islands or everything that Belize has to offer. Belize offers such a diverse experience depending on your interests and time. The northern portion of Belize offers some great diving, snorkeling, and beautiful islands to explore along with the local culture and nightlife of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. The southern portion of Belize offers the same great sailing and diving with more of a remote or off the beaten path experience and no big towns (with the exception of Placencia). While sailing Belize’s southern cayes you will find postcard perfect islands with maybe one dive shop and a small resort or with no inhabitants at all. Click Here for more details on additional sample itineraries and islands to visit while sailing Belize.
In addition to sailing Belize, you can also visit two other countries within a 100-mile radius that offer completely different cultures and experiences. The Rio Dulce, Guatemala is a rainforest river system that offers a completely different environment from the cayes of Belize. This includes sailing between towering limestone cliffs, riverbank hot springs, flocks of parrots and giant macaws, howler monkeys and lush tropical vegetation. Rio Dulce offers a variety of interesting activities including, hot waterfalls, horseback riding, birding, and visits to the fabulous Maya ruins at Tikal. The Bay Islands, Honduras is just another hop away and equally as diverse and interesting. This is a great SCUBA diving destination and each of the five islands has its’ own personality. Sailing is fun and there are many sheltered bays and coves.
Belize Dive Charters
With the second largest barrier reef, Belize is renowned for its excellent diving and snorkeling in pristine waters. Dive charters are available in many different forms from liveaboard dive boats to day trips from almost any beach resort in Belize. You can also rent dive equipment from your catamaran charter company or you can arrange a trip with a local dive shop and be picked right on the boat from any location. For optimum safety and specific locations, we encourage you to dive with the local dive shops.
Liveaboard dive boats are an option for those seeking a diving focused vacation. The two best-known operations are Peter Hughes Diving with its 120' Belize Wave Dancer and the Aggressor Fleet, with its similarly sized Belize Aggressor III. Per-person rates shown include a seven-day trip with around 5 1/2 days of diving, food, drinks and airport transfers. Port charges about an additional US$45.
- Peter Hughes Diving, 1390 South Dixie Highway, Suite 1109, Coral Gables, FL 33146, tel. 305-669-9391 or 800-932-6237, fax 305-669-9475, e-mail email@example.com. Rates US$1595 to US$1695
- Aggressor Fleet, P.O. Box 1470, Morgan City, LA 70381, tel. 800-348-2628 or 504-385-2628, fax 504-384-0817, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Rates US$1,695.
Day trips to the islands are available daily from your resort or local tour operators. There is a wide array of activities available from snorkeling, diving, fishing, manatee and bird watching. Below are some of the operators found in Ambergris Caye offering day tours on the water.
The Winnie Estelle is a former freighter (or "island trader") now doing day trips and some charters The Winnie Estelle, an island trader motor sailor based in San Pedro, sometimes does charters along the Belize coast. Contact Roberto Smith at 501-2-62394, or at the Blue Hole Dive Center, San Pedro, tel. 501-2-62982, e-mail email@example.com.
The Sirena Azul (Blue Mermaid) has a sunset sail, and is also available for snorkeling and charters. The 40 foot traditional style sailboat is made out of hardwoods found in Belize, including Santa Maria, Bullet and Mahogany. The boat has a unique style with its cabin shape and wide beam. Beto Munos says it was the largest wood sailboat ever built and launched in Sarteneja. The boat capacity is 20 people plus 2 crew.
For boat transportation around Ambergris Caye, the Coastal Xpress leaves from San Pedro many times a day going north and returning every hour or so. For further details and their schedule, click here.
Belize Fishing Charters
Belize offers some diverse and world renowned deep sea and fly fishing. While fishing in Belize, it is possible to fly fish every day of the year. Belize Tarpon, Permit and Bonefish get top billing but over 25 other species can be caught the on fly. These species include shark, several species of mackerel and jacks, tuna, sailfish, dolphin, barracuda, grouper, snapper, redfish, snook and wahoo. Utilizing poling skiffs and local guides, you can get to the most productive Belize fishing areas at the most productive times to help you land the fish of a lifetime or even that sought after Grand Slam. Fishing guides and trips can be booked from your catamaran charter service, through local tour operators and local fishing lodges. The Belize River Lodge near Belize City offers a liveaboard fishing boat, a 58" Hatteras. Tel. 888-275-4843.
Also check the companies listed in our fishing section, click here.
Belize Sailing Stories
The following provides more information and stories about sailing in Belize. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments and I will be glad to help out in any way. See you soon!!!!
Cliff Wilson, Belize Sailing Vacations, Toll free from the U.S./Canada 1-866-873-1171, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Click here for a story on sailing a small catamaran by Josh Adams from Sail Magazine.
- Click here for more information and reports from liveaboard trips.
- Click here for one woman's story on sailing the Belize atolls on a catamaran from TMM.
- Click here for a story on sailing to Belize from the North Carolina.
- Click here for a story on sailing from Miami to Cuba.
- For more on sailing and the tides, click here
- Click here for more information on general Belize weather patterns.
- Click Here to learn more about cruising outside the reef to one of the atolls.
- Click Here for a link to Freya Rauscher's Cruising Guide of Belize and Mexico’s Caribbean Coast, including Guatemala’s Rio Dulce.
Click here for our old boat and charter page, which has a few other stories, among them "What's in a boat name?"
Click here for information on Belize's lighthouses.
Belize Sailing Lessons and Regattas
Sailing lessons and the opportunity to try racing are free. To find out how to participate, call Paul McCarthy, the San Pedro Sailing Club Training and Equipment Officer at 610-0773 or stop by his place of business – Sailsports Belize on the Beach at Caribbean Villas. The club is an affiliate of the Belize Sailing Association, a national NPO. These Sunday youth regattas owe profuse thanks to Paul McCarthy for deftly and tirelessly monitoring the exciting “LeMans starts” and then the safety under sail of all the young skippers.
Regattas like ours are as entertaining to watch as they are to sail. All spectators are welcome. Food and refreshments are available, and the races provide onlookers with highly colorful and sometimes dramatic entertainment in a setting that is no less than stunning. Many photos of this day’s event are posted on the San Pedro Sailing Club’s Facebook community page, for friends and family and anyone else interested to go to and enjoy.
Click here for regatta (racing) results.
The Basics of Sailing, The Sailing Circle
Visitor / Guest Water Safety Tips
Ambergris Caye relies heavily on boats for transportation not only around the island itself but for inter island travel, mainland travel, transportation of cargo and of course tourism. When Swimming or snorkeling on Ambergris Caye please
BEWARE OF BOAT TRAFFIC and follow these safety guidelines:
1) Swim/snorkel between docks and in designated swim areas when available.
2) Do not attempt to swim out to the reef.
3) Consider not wearing jewelry when snorkeling or swimming.
4) If any vessel is heading in your direction signal to make yourself visible.
5) Use a life vest or diver down buoy for visibility when snorkeling or swimming.
6) Touching coral, plant life and dock posts may cause extreme allergic reactions.
7) Always have someone watching when snorkeling or swimming at night.
8) Do not dive from docks as there could be shallow water or obstructions under water.
9) Pay attention to the wind speed and direction when kayaking away from shore.
10) A kayak and/or paddle are useful to make yourself visible while in the water.
11) Your belongings should not be left unattended on the beach or dock.
We want your vacation on Ambergris Caye to be a memorable and enjoyable one so please be safe while exploring our natural wonders.
Ambergris Caye Is Your Sailing Destination
With its beautiful beaches and excellent location, Ambergris Caye is the largest of over 200 cayes that lie off the coast of Belize near its border with Mexico. In addition to the sights contained on and around the island itself, it also sits less than half a mile from Belize’s Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world.
It’s surrounded by a whole host of deserted islands to explore, scuba diving options for all skill levels, and some of the world’s best fishing. The wealth of options makes Ambergris Caye a great central hub for enjoying a number of aquatic adventures. And there’s no better way to get from one attraction to the next than on a chartered sailboat.
Sailing Conditions and Options
The area around Ambergris Caye is cooled by trade winds throughout most of the year, so it’s not as hot as you might expect. The Barrier Reef provides relief from the large swells of the open ocean, so the sea is generally quite calm. In fact there’s only one place on the island, Mar De Tumbo, where the waves actually crash onto the beach due to a small cut in the reef.
Navigation is also made easier by the many islands that serve as landmarks. A few of the other cayes may have places to pick up a few necessities, but San Pedro is the best option for stocking up on provisions.
Boats, ranging from catamarans to crewed yachts, can be chartered for almost any length of time, including day cruises. While a week is enough time to enjoy almost everything the waters have to offer, adding a few extra days onto your trip gives you the option of exploring the island’s interior as well.
San Pedro Town
San Pedro, the only town on Ambergris Caye, offers great options for lodging, as do a few towns on the surrounding islands. You can also sleep aboard the boat for the ultimate sailing experience. Local restaurants serve up the freshest seafood, including lobster and conch. You can also try the spicy stewed chicken, served with rice and beans cooked with coconut milk, that serves as the national dish of Belize.
San Pedro’s seaside is dotted with piers, cafes, and gift shops. Its vibe is laid-back, and T-shirts and bare feet are perfectly acceptable everywhere. The stores sell most of the same foods you might buy in the U.S., plus fresh tropical produce and plenty of Belikin beer.
Within a few minutes of leaving Ambergris Caye, you can reach a number of exotic locations to fish, swim, or dive. Zaak Ba Ajo Lagoon is a great spot for snorkeling. Nearby San Pablo offers breathtaking sunsets that are intensified by their own reflection on the smooth-as-glass surface of the lagoon.
You can fish anywhere in the waters off the coast of Belize without a license. Commonly caught species include snapper and barracuda. There are also too many great snorkeling and diving spots to name. However, some of the more popular are Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a five square mile underwater park; Shark Ray Alley, with its nurse sharks and stingrays; and Mexico Rocks, which has excellent visibility and shallow water.
Mooring buoys are available to prevent boats’ anchors from damaging the reef. For safety reasons it’s also advisable to dive only with an expert skipper or dive master on board, or else to dive with one of the local dive shops. Their expert knowledge can also help you get the best possible diving experience.
A Few Challenges
While the waters around Ambergris Caye are relatively calm and easily navigable, it can be difficult to read the shallow waters and recognize coral in the water. While local charter companies offer directions and guides to help you have the safest possible excursion, just know that you can’t simply set the boat on autopilot and head to the galley to mix yourself a cocktail.
Sailors are also advised to steer clear of the outer reefs. They’re far more dangerous and much less charted. In fact many areas are simply labeled with the warning of “numerous coral heads or patch reefs.” Because search and rescue efforts in Belize aren’t particularly well organized, your best bet is to stay in the safer waters.
What Are You Waiting For?
Whether you’re looking for smooth sailing through crystal clear waters, diving or fishing off the coast of a deserted island, or even a place to dock and explore some ancient Mayan ruins…the waters of Ambergris Caye have it all. This sailor’s paradise is one place you won’t want to miss.