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  • The Stuff of Divers' Dreams

    Belize's magical manta resort beckons

    by Rick Frehsee, Jul. 1997

    Belize is a diver's paradise of wide open territory and varied offshore destinations. Many major and minor island resorts are found on or near the Great Western Barrier Reef, island-fringing reefs and/or three huge and unique offshore coral atolls. More than 500 miles of reefs either parallel the coastline, encircle hundreds of offshore islands or form huge rings around shallow lagoons. A lifetime of discovery awaits divers visiting the 'little' country of Belize.

    While hundreds of truly spectacular sites exist among Belize's many offshore environments, the atolls offer the most pristine diving. Since it is the farthest from Belize City and other tourist centers, Glover's Reef Atoll is the least visited and most pristine.

    With this in mind it is easy to understand where the Glover's Reef mystique comes from; here is where the best developed and least known reefs are found. And, modern adventurers do not have to suffer while getting there. First you fly from Houston, New Orleans or Miami aboard a TACA Boeing 737 or 767 jet. Next you ride via van/taxi to a Belize City dock. Then you take a boat directly to Manta Resort on Glover's Reef. Once you land at Belize International, you are chauffeured by Manta personnel right to your island doorstep.

    What was previously a many hour long and sometimes arduous boat ride has been transformed into a scenic and speedy boat trip of just more than two hours. This is made possible by Manta's new transfer boat, the 55 foot, twin diesel powered Pelagic. Only a few cokes or beers after boarding you will arrive at the resort dock.

    Manta Resort, on a low, sandy, palm-crowded cay, is in a picture perfect tropical setting. Manta Lagoon separates the resort from a twin island, only swimming distance away, which offers the most beautiful views in the entire Caribbean. Below the shallow, crystal waters of Manta Lagoon, schools of Bonefish, Eagle Rays and Nurse Sharks glide by, night and day.

    Nestled among a palm grove (both of these southwestern cayes were former coconut plantations), the rustically handsome Manta Resort would be the perfect place for a pirate or a king. Along the beach is a string of individual wooden bungalows spaced for privacy and with a view of Manta Lagoon. Beyond the palm-lined lagoon, marked by a fringe of whitecaps, is the golden fringing reef that encircles the atoll.

    The mainhouse of the resort sits on posts over Manta Lagoon. A mahogany walkway runs from the island to this thatch-roof lodge, which is both the resort restaurant and bar. Around the mainhouse dock is a bevy of outboard powered dive boats; on the dock is a small dive center and wet gear storage room. The other significant building on the 12 acre isle is a rotunda style, post-mounted family suite.

    Glover's Reef, even above water, has remained a nearly pure wilderness. Seventeen miles long and 12 miles wide, it is a universe of diving all to its own. The 80 square mile lagoon, deeper than either Lighthouse's or Turneffe's, provides a seascape with more than 700 patch reefs. The emphasis for scuba divers is on the outer fringing reef, which encircles Glover's like a golden necklace. There are a few cuts through the outer reef, such as Long Cay Cut and West Cut, allowing access to and from the lagoon side of the atoll. Toward the southern end are Northwest Caye, Long Caye, Middle Cay and the two Southeast Cayes. Everything else is a panorama of sea and sky. Nearly the only sign of civilization is the fitting architecture of Manta Resort.

    The diving environment is generally spectacular; a nearly continuous wall mounted by pinnacles of coral. Inside, shallow gardens decorated by swaying seafans and huge stands of Elkhorn Coral beckon snorkelers and scuba divers. What might be a surprise is the diversity available via a short boat ride. Although the outer walls are perhaps the most dramatic, the pillars and pinnacles on the west side of the atoll are even more picturesque. Along the south and southeast are monstrous reefs and canyons leading to the drop-off. More common than on most Caribbean reefs are huge Nurse Sharks lying in sand channels or beneath ledges and log-sized Barracuda hovering in fissures or beneath overhangs. Visibility usually is in the 100 to 150 foot range.

    A map on the restaurant wall lists 27 named dive sites that can be reached within 3 to 30 minutes of the Manta docks. The area, however, is too new and isolated to have moorings. Drift diving is used at all sites to prevent anchor damage. Favorite sites include Gorgonia's Gallery, a steep wall lined with seafans; Masada, pinnacles usually harboring Nurse Sharks; Elkhorn Crossing, a sea garden with a museum-like display of hard corals; and Hole in the Wall, a quarter mile range of pinnacles and canyons.

    Most nondiving hours are spent in the Manta Lagoon Restaurant and Driftwood Bar, sampling local beer, fine wines and sumptuous meals prepared from local fruit and seafood. For the evening meal, there is a choice of two entrees. Resting, sunning and reading on the beach or in a hammock under a palm tree is always an option. Snorkeling or scuba diving in the beautiful Manta Lagoon is a fish filled spectacle, available night or day.

    For information and reservations, contact Manta Resort at (800) 326-1724, (310) 937-6468 or fax (310) 937-6473.

    Baskin in the Sun's Women Only Dive Courses: Baskin in the Sun, a premier dive operation in the British Virgin Islands, will offer special dive classes for women only in October 1997. The Five Star Dive Center, based on Tortola, will be offering PADI open water and advanced open water classes at reduced rates for women for two weeks. Lisa Mitchell, the owner of Baskin in the Sun and a PADI instructor since 1976 says, 'When I first got into diving, I was definitely in the minority. Now the number of women entering the sport is rising but women are still a minority. My goal is to introduce women to the sport of diving in a learning environment that's both comfortable and fun.'

    There are two different packages, the first is for two women and offers a double room and two PADI open water certifications for the price of one. The alternative is for single women, offering hotel accommodations, a PADI open water course and a free PADI advanced open water course. The double package costs $1,073 per room; the single package costs $986 per person.

    Baskin in the Sun already hosts the only all-women's PADI Instructor Development Course in the dive industry. It is held in September each year.

    The seven night packages are offered October 4 to 11 and October 18 to 25, 1997.

    For reservations please call (800) 650-2084. You may also contact Lisa Mitchell or Claire Abrehart at (809) 494-2858. Address e-mail to or find them on the Web at http://www dive