Just simply forget lazing by the beach in Belize – dive into an action-packed holiday swimming with the ‘celebrities of the sea’ before relaxing at a retreat.
At first momentary look, jumping into shark-infested waters might not seem like the most reasonable thing to do. But in Belize, Shark Ray Alley is as essential as suntans and leisure.
Having been driven across the ocean in a tiny speed boat seems like i am seated on the edge of the boat, with my legs just a centimetre above the water. Below me are at least 40 sharks. I am not cage diving, neither am I just observing, I am about to be dropped, literally, into the middle of these predators, with only a snorkel.
LET ME TELL YOU THAT THIS IS NOT THE SCENE OF A HORROR MOVIE, BUT IS IN FACT MY FIRST STEP INTO A TWO WEEK TRIP BELIZE. LOLZZZZZ
Having landed just two hours earlier in the Belize capital of San Pedro I’d been convinced by a local fisherman to experience the delights of “shark and ray alley”, a reserve based at the southern tip of Ambergris Caye, a 20-minute boat-ride away. Which is why, right now, the 40-plus nurse sharks, nicknamed the ‘celebrities of the sea’ due to the attention they attract from tourists, weave slowly between my legs and analyse me with their lifeless eyes.
Within seconds of falling into the crystal clear, almost iridescent waters of the Belizean sea, I am hypnotized by the sheer stillness & smartness of shark life. Majestic, powerful, yet surprisingly gentle, these great beasts don’t seem to care about the tourist who has suddenly entered their world. Instead they swim around me, curious at first, before slowly slipping away into the dark depths below. But as the sharks depart, I am treated to another type of underwater life. Huge stingrays which have a ‘wing-span’ of up to 120 centimeters, swim directly towards me, allowing me to reach out and stroke them.
As I emerge from the depths, my guide points towards the horizon and tells me to follow him. Surrounded by the sharks, we snorkel 20 metres from the boat. Suddenly the ocean floor beneath me drops and I can no longer see the sand: We have reached the end of the reef and below is just an intimidating endless blackness. The guide points frantically in the distance and I squint as I see a huge shadow appear and then swim out into the ocean. It is only when we are safely back in the boat that the guide informs me I had just seen a bull shark – one of the most dangerous creatures in the ocean alongside tiger sharks and great whites. Sitting on the edge of the boat as we head back to shore, I convince my fellow snorkellers that the tremble in my voice is because I am cold. The truth is that my heart is still pounding.
When booking this trip, I did so with the idea of “celebrity” in mind. Not only did I want to swim with “the celebrities of the sea”, but I also wanted to experience the way the Hollywood elite might holiday. My first stop, nestled deep in the mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve was Blancaneaux Lodge. Having been visited by the likes of Cameron Diaz and Nicholas Cage you feel like one of the Hollywood elite from the moment you step through the doors.
My final destination is across the border and back into Belize at Coppola’s Turtle Inn. Once again I’ll be throwing myself into deep cold waters and coming face to face with the terrors of the deep, this time, in the shape of whale sharks.
During the full-moon weeks of April, May & June, the whale shark will glide through the waters giving divers and snorkelers the unmatched opportunity to share the ocean with them in close quarters. When you slip into the ocean & swim next to a whale shark, it’s the underwater equivalent of going on safari, then getting out of the Land Rover & running with elephants. All at once you feel fragile, tiny & insignificant yet empowered at having seen one of nature’s most elusive yet impressive giants.