Twilight had given up on the low clouds to my back and the sea beyond the light of the marina was a black featureless space except for a faint set of lights. I was sitting on the slowly rolling stern of a cruise ship tenderer, I looked again to the east and verified what I was seeing. The cruise ships were sailing into Belize. This boat and many of the others docked here at Cucumber Beach Marina would be busy tomorrow.
The next morning at sunrise I awoke to the drumming sound of diesel engines and shouted orders. The tender boats sailed out of the marina towards the two cruise ships anchored offshore Belize City. By mid-morning the dozens of tender boats will have transported anywhere from a few hundred to a couple of thousand tourists to the heart of Belize City and other points of interest. Tourists, from diverse backgrounds and cultures who have but one thing in common. They all want to experience something of Belize and they have about eight hours to do it.
Sound impossible? No, relax. Slow down, sit back and enjoy, as the Belize tourism board has coined it, “Mother Natures best kept secret”. My job is to let people see what Mother Nature has created in Belize while flying and floating above it all.
I fly for the only helicopter tour company in Belize. Astrum Helicopters. If you have flown in a tour helicopter before, perhaps in Hawaii or the Grand Canyon then you are probably already hooked on the experience but Belize is special. From the minute you lift off you are experiencing the beauty of nature. Birds like the snowy egret, giant egret, parrots, buzzards and herons all lifting off the waterway below as the helicopter passes over Belize City and offshore to the Cayes (pronounced Keys).
The first Cayes we visit are part of the Manatee Preserve and as we slow to a hover over Swallow Caye the Manatees can be seen floating and feeding in the waters below. A cow and calf, groups grazing together or solitary swimmers moving along the sea bed to greener pastures. They are oblivious to us and we leave them to their dinner. On several occasions we have seen dolphins in the midst of the Manatees, swimming under and leaping over the sea cows like cattle egret playing in a pasture. The dolphins are doing what they like to do best, showing off and having fun. The manatees I suspect, are unimpressed.
Passing low over the lagoons of Drowned Caye there are often crocodiles and shore birds. My favorite scene is the coral pink spoonbills standing in the turquoise and green shallows. We leave the first inhabitants of Belize behind us as we pass by picturesque St Georges Caye. St Georges was the first Capitol for the non-Mayan residents of what was to become Belize. A couple of minutes past St Georges lies the second largest barrier reef in the world. The reef is about 175 miles long and this particularly lovely section is known as Gallows Reef. Cameras are capturing the multi hues of blues, greens, white sand and white surf against the coral that seems to change color with the changing light. It only takes a minute to spot the first stingrays flying in the shimmering azure waters. Once a persons eyes calibrate, the stingray sightings come fast and furious from either side of the helicopter. We cruise down the reef getting gradually higher till we have a beautiful panoramic view along the reef. Its a changing view you could never tire of admiring. Several more Caye’s pass below us as we slide along side and above the cruise ships anchored offshore. Some photos are definitely in order and who knows maybe a chance to tell a few shipmates that you saw them poolside while you were flying above in your helicopter. Good fun. But all good things must come to an end. Its usually during the last few minutes of the trip that most people ask about any other flights we have.
Where to begin? If you enjoy Mayan ruins would you be interested in flying over to two of them and landing near one of them? From the lagoon side helipad you can take a boat or an airboat to the ancient Mayan city of Lamanai, have an expertly guided tour followed by lunch in a gorgeous jungle lodge and then we fly you back to catch your ship that same day.
How about getting away from the coastal beauty and heading to the mountains and jungle? Rivers, lagoons and about 23 and counting waterfalls. Some waterfalls that plunge over 1500′ to the jungle below!
These same jungle rivers have resorts and outfitters that can take you on guided kayak or tube rides. With the helicopter sitting quietly on the helipad you cruise down the river with your guide who points out many of the birds you hear and see moving in the trees. From the light and shadows of the jungle river you slip under the rock ahead into the first cave. Helmet lights and flash lights create a floating cavern diorama. Enjoy the ride, have fun, we will get you back in time for your ship but you may not want to leave.
Just imagine what you could see with a week or more here? Come back again. The only tough decision you will make in Belize, is ,where do you want to go today?