Pandemic-weary travelers aren’t the only ones heading to the Caribbean these days. It’s pure luck, but you may actually stumble upon a nesting sea turtle while on your island escape in Belize. It’s unforgettable: baby turtles scuttle their way across sandy beaches and into the sea, on their way to face the wild. Or vice versa: majestic sea turtles come ashore quietly to lay their next clutch, using only their flippers to dip a teardrop-shaped cavity in the sand where 80-120 leathery eggs will lay for the next 6-8 weeks.
One day, the next generation of sea turtles will make the same journey back to the same beaches they were born on, though only one in every 1,000 survive to full maturity. Though all endangered, the Green, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead are the three sea turtle species found in the country, who nest from May through November. If you’re hoping to tick turtle nesting season (or to witness turtle hatchlings) off your Caribbean bucket list, here’s a handful of islands where your odds are best—and stay for every budget—in Belize.
As a reminder, always give sea turtles a safe distance. You are also not permitted to touch the turtles in any way, as it is illegal. Maintain a distance at all times that would avoid disrupting their natural habitat & nesting/hatching process. Look, but don’t touch!
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Seasoned beachgoers like to say that Ray Caye is the way much of the Caribbean used to be before mass tourism came along. Understandable, since there are less than 50 guests at any given time at Ray Caye Island Resort’s 20-room retreat with eight oceanfront villas—four of them newly built—which all boast panoramic ocean views and a private plunge pool. Humans love it, but resident sea turtles especially appreciate the kidney-shaped island’s powdery, white-sand beaches, lining the 7-acre caye’s coast.
Images courtesy Ray Caye Island Resort
Not surprising, given almost all its off-island excursions like snorkeling gives you an opp to get up-close and personal with loggerhead turtles—some of whom are 150 years. Being on the edge of the Gladden Spit and Silk Caye Marine Reserve can have those kinda perks; just this week, 122 live eggs hatched onsite! Turtle nesting season also overlaps with Ray Caye Island Resort’s shoulder season rates, which start at US$275 per night.
Images courtesy Ranguana Caye
As a picture-perfect 2-acre private island off the coast of Placencia, Ranguana Caye is the rustic island stay of your dreams. Right off the Belize Barrier Reef, the island offers three cabanas to make it all-inclusive, island-style; what they lack in luxury, they make up for in charm and location. But don’t just take it from me—their beach is a choice turtle nesting ground.
Book a stay on the island from August through October and get a chance to see baby turtles hatch! Plus, book 4 nights and get your 5th night free with their current limited-time offer. Enjoy your own private island, with a maximum capacity of 9 overnight guests, starting at US$150 per night.
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It’s a trek from Belize City at 55 miles east, but besides being the first in the country to witness the sunrise, you’re also spending the night at the country’s oldest site for wildlife protection. Waking to the sound of the ebb and flow of Half Moon Caye’s coral-ridden shoreline is a priceless experience found no place else; it’s unparalleled to experience from the inside of a tent or Hennessy hammock.
On the southern tip of the island, you’ll find remnants of its historic (fallen) old lighthouse and a demarcated beach, acting as important nesting grounds for all three of Belize’s endangered sea turtles. Co-managed by the non-profit NGO Belize Audubon Society, your soon-to-be camping trip to this protected area also supports its site conservation and biodiversity research. Nightly rates, including park fees, start at US$50.
Sea Turtle Fun Facts:
The average incubation time for most species is 60 days.
Sea turtles hatch throughout the year, but mostly in summer.
Hatchlings use a carbuncle (temporary egg tooth) to help break open the shell.
After hatching, the young turtles may take three to seven days to dig their way to the surface.
Hatchlings usually wait until night to emerge from the nest. Emerging at night reduces exposure to daytime predators. They leave the nest and head to the water in groups. Studies have shown that some nests will produce hatchlings in more than one night.
During the crawl to the sea, the hatchling may set an internal magnetic compass, which it uses for navigation away from the beach.
A “swim frenzy” of continuous swimming takes place for about 24 to 48 hours after the hatchling enters the water.
This frantic activity gets the young turtle into deeper water, where it is less vulnerable to predators.
There have been reports of swimming hatchlings diving straight down when birds and even airplanes appear overhead. This diving behavior may be a behavioral adaptation for avoiding predation by birds.
The obstacles are so numerous for baby turtles that only about one in 1,000 survives to adulthood.