Many years ago I set a goal to be married and have babies by 30 and upon my 30th birthday I gave myself the rest of the year to find that “one”. As my 31st birthday came and went I realized setting a dream that involved another person was completely the wrong idea so I started to focus on doing something that makes my mind, body and soul happy like my dream to live somewhere I would never have to see snow again. Enter Belize.
Upon arriving in a country that has only found its independence 33 years ago, I found home right away and with the help of locals I have been learning how to survive as if I lived here my whole life. As I fall in love with the country and its people I want to inspire others to step out of their vacation norm and explore a whole new world.
Anytime I have travelled to a warmer climate I am ready to head back home around day 5; back to Starbucks, fast food, full service gyms and the ability to connect to my friends and family with WiFi. Perhaps those material items are not important to you, but being able to ask for directions in your own language probably is and as most of us have learned, Spanish rules the all inclusive vacations. But let me welcome you to Ambergris Caye, Belize, a true slice of heaven and only a 2-hour plane ride from Miami. Here, everyone knows English, cable is much cheaper and includes more channels than you could ever watch, WiFi is everywhere and tracking in sand is your only major concern.
I have been lucky to have been able to live on this island for the past 3 months and did not know such a heaven could exist. Cuba, Dominican, Mexico, all beautiful but none of them felt like home to me. Belize has changed my mind about living in what we would consider a 3rd world country. For the next few months I want to share and show you what Belize has to offer, starting with what Belize is best known for: Scuba Diving.
Since a young age I have been in love with all things ocean, wanting to be a mermaid at the age of 4 and a marine biologist the age of 6. I never did grow up to train dolphins but I still love the ocean and all its wonders. On my first day on the island I went swimming off the beach from the house I rented. I was in awe. I have done snorkeling in Cuba and DR but never have I seen so many different fish and so close to shore. I was hooked. I intended to get certified and go explore every diving spot Belize has to offer. Granted there are hundreds of spots and even more untouched so I may be here for a while. My first trip to Hol Chan provided to be an adventure. I must admit I was timid to swim with so many sharks in the water, but in I went and wow! The colours, the fish, the eels, the sea turtles, I can’t even explain the beauty you will find by the reef. From there we went to Shark Ray Alley and this is where I knew I was home. I didn’t wait for anyone else and jumped in the shark infested water. By infested I truly mean infested. The sharks come right to the boats when they arrive and know there is about to be a feeding tube full of fish dropped in the water. On our day, we had roughly 15 nurse sharks ranging in size from 4 feet to 10 feet. Mantra and Sting Rays also joined the party. These beautiful fish are very comfortable with the divers and are used to having lots of people around and if you are lucky you can have them come and lay in your arms or if you are brave enough rest on your head. I held a 8 ft nurse shark and was even able to (with help) put it into tonic. What an amazing experience.
If you are considering a trip to Belize and are considering an amazing scuba or snorkeling experience I have a recommendation for you: Amigos del Mar, owned by Changa Paz, was one of the first pioneer dive shops to open on the island and has since grown into one of the top shops. Located right in town with daily dives and snorkel trips you are sure to find just want you are looking for and have a great time doing it. I sat down with Changa to talk about his life on the island and what makes Amigos del Mar the spot to visit.
SV: How long have you been living in San Pedro?
CP: I was born on the island, right around the corner from here. The island and the town have grown and changed so much since then.
SV: I noticed quite a lot of new construction around the island. What about the reef? Do you find that you are running out of new spots to dive?
CP: There are so many areas of the reef that have never been touched. You can find areas where no one has been for years and years and the marine life is alive and active. With 185 miles of reef to explore you will never run out of spots to dive.
SV: Do you ever get tired of diving every day?
CP: I slowed down on the diving and have been very busy focusing on building the business because I want to be 70 and still be able to enjoy diving.
SV: Most individuals who come to the island are not certified to dive and would rather just snorkel, would you recommend getting certified and what makes diving so much better than snorkeling?
CP: Easier. It is easier to dive than to snorkel. Once you learn the skills with diving all you need to do is breath in and out, with snorkeling you have to learn how to blow from the snorkel, if water gets in you need to learn how to blow it out, if you want to dive down under you need to be able to blow out the water without sucking it in but with diving you have the regulator. In snorkeling it is a pain to blow out the water but with the regulator it is easy. If you can breath in and out of your mouth you can dive.
SV: How long does it take to get certified?
CP: Depending on the student you can have your open water in 3 days. Not everyone will learn at the same speed but we make sure that all our students are comfortable and walk away happy.
SV: Even though you are surrounded by water daily, there is much more to Belize than just diving. I understand you have another business doing local tours of the mainland, what would you recommend someone who does not like being in the water try out?
CP: Oh there is so much to do! You can spend the day at the Actun Tunichil Muknal Caves, cave tubing, zip lining through the jungle and climbing the Mayan ruins is also very nice. The mainland has so much to offer.
SV: I’m going to have to try that for my next article! So now we have dived and we have ziplined and explored but I want to know what is it you like to do on a day off? What relaxes you?
CP: HAHAHA I don’t have a day off. To make a day off I’d have to run away from the country of Belize. We are very lucky to be so close to other beautiful countries like Mexico, so getting away would be easy if I did not have a business to run everyday. I was also a fishmen before tourism so I do enjoy taking a boat to the Turneffe Islands and enjoying a day of fishing.
SV: As you know there are many places in the world to explore so why Belize?
CP: I have traveled to many places but what makes Belize different is the amount of experiences Belize has to offer. Not just Belize but even the small town of San Pedro. One day you can dive a local spot, the next you go to the mainland to zip line, the 3rd you do the Blue Hole. Every day can be a different adventure, but every day you will return before dinner and still have the nightlife of the city to enjoy. Elsewhere you are stuck, maybe you can only dive and there is no mainland tours. It gets boring after a while. My country is small but has so much to offer.
SV: Speaking of The Great Blue Hole, should this be the 1st site to see?
CP: When we take groups to the Blue Hole they expect to see a lot but what you need to do is a local dive 1st and then do the Blue Hole, even do the Blue Hole a few times. You will see sharks and fish but the real experience of the Blue Hole is the walls that have existed for years, that used to be above the water and it really makes you think of how much the world is changing.
SV: What would you say has been your best memory from running Amigos del Mar?
CP: Everything has been good. It was a good experience from the beginning to how I have it right now. Learning more, growing more, seeing the changes on the island. It is amazing for me that we started with mahogany boats and now everything is fiberglass. How we started with a 17 ft boat to a 62 ft boat. It is very exciting for me to see and watch the growth, it keeps you going.
SV: How can someone book an adventure with Amigos del Mar?
CP: Easy, they can visit us online, send us a quick e-mail, or just show up on the island and visit the shop, we are open every day and here to help you have the best vacation you can.
In my next article I am excited to write about the Blue Hole and my Scuba Diving experience.