The Best of Belize’s Island Getaways

by Vivian Roe
Tobacco Caye island getaway belize

Getaway – defined in the dictionary as ‘an art of escaping’. When I hear the word, I think of Belize’s islands. Specifically, it’s crystal clear Caribbean Sea, underwater adventures, the postcard-perfect beaches, and the laid-back lifestyle. And with over 200 islands dotting the Belize coastline, choosing which one may be the hardest bit of planning your getaway. Whether it’s castaway camping atop a natural monument or lulled asleep in rustic overwater cabañas, there certainly is an island fit for every traveler’s dream.

Tobacco Caye: Palm-fringed paradise on the reef’s edge

This tiny island, found 12 miles off the coast of Dangriga, used to be a trading post for fishermen where they could pick up supplies, including tobacco. While history easily gave the coral islet its name, the island has grown to much more than a trade outpost today. At just 5 acres in size, you can walk the whole island in 15 minutes or less. But what it lacks for in size, it makes up for in natural beauty. Perched atop the Belize Barrier Reef just behind the Tobacco Caye Range, this island is a mecca for those wishing to enjoy uninterrupted access to the reef.

Snorkel or dive directly from the beach before settling in for the night with one of the island’s three open-air accommodation options, which includes colorful over-water cabañas. Although basic, waking up to the views of the reef are simply stunning. After all, swaying coconut palms and calm, turquoise waters await you.

Half Moon Caye: Castaway camping on a natural monument 

If days spent traversing a nature reserve and nights spent camping under the stars sound a dream, then Half Moon Caye is for you. Located in the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll and 55 miles out of Belize City, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument is only accessible by a long boat ride; but the journey is worth it. Besides being the first marine protected area in the Caribbean, Half Moon Caye was also Belize’s first protected area in the country and makes up one-seventh of Belize’s World Heritage Site.

Half Moon Caye island getaway belize

Half Moon Caye Natural Monument. © Belize Audubon Society

The tiny 15-square mile island is surrounded by patch reefs for magnificent snorkeling, plus world-class dive spots like The Aquarium, Half Moon Caye Wall, and the famous the Great Blue Hole. The island itself was once a coconut plantation; its littoral forest showcases an ecosystem unique to the cayes. Whilst amenities are no frills, they’re comfortable. And the only locals you have to worry about bumping into are the rare white-phased Red-footed Booby Birds, hermit crabs crossing footpaths, and the seasonally-nesting sea turtles. The island operates a strict “no take” policy encouraging visitors to take only memories, and leave only footprints. However, waking to sea-spray at sunrise makes this mental souvenir one to keep forever.

South Water Caye: The perfect base for a blissfully secluded break

South Water Caye. © Duarte Dellarole Photography

Just 35-minutes by boat from Dangriga, South Water Caye is an idyllic escape in Southern Belize. The 15-acre coral island is found within the South Water Caye Marine Reserve (SWCMR); SWCMR is Belize’s largest marine reserve at 117,875 acres and one-sevenths of its UNESCO World Heritage Site. Practically atop Belize’s Barrier Reef, South Water Caye has vast marine fauna, coral mounds, and vertical dive drops just minutes offshore. While its location makes it perfect for day trips from nearby coastal towns, South Water Caye’s quiet and peaceful atmosphere is best experienced for an overnight (or three).

To truly experience the island, spend your days sunbathing in crystal-clear waters and lazy-ing in colorful hammocks; later, welcome the night stargazing. Besides, peaceful panoramas and fuss-free accommodations are the beauty of this Belize island getaway’s (welcomed) isolation. Not to mention, the reef is within an arm’s reach for all your snorkeling, swimming, or sunbathing needs. South Water Caye is perfect for travelers seeking solace over crowds, and relaxation over luxury. Whatever your ideal getaway may be, Belize has an island for you. Can’t choose? Don’t limit yourself! Maximize your Belize experience by island hopping.

Written by Vivian Roe for the 2020 Belize Gold Book. Feature photo courtesy of Duarte Dellarole Photography.
Article found on page 44 of the 2020 Belize Gold Book.

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