A Pristine Wilderness, Jam-packed with Spectacular Diving
by Rick Frehsee
Let''''''''s dream a little dream together: You and I are looking for a dive adventure. What we want is a whole new area to explore and we want the best resort in that area. We would love to have an island all to ourselves (if that''''''''s still possible) but we don''''''''t want to live in a tent. We don''''''''t need shopping, gambling, nightclubs, etc., but we want to live comfortably and eat good food. We want a reliable dive operation and great diving. We want a memorable, affordable adventure and we don''''''''t want to travel halfway around the world to get it.
If you are sharing this dream, I have found the reality; Lighthouse Reef Resort, Belize. This comparatively remote, out-island retreat offers unforgettable, pristine diving and barefoot on the beach tropical living. The island even has its own airstrip. In short, Lighthouse Reef Resort is a modernized version of adventurous, Caribbean-like-it-used-to-be diving.
The diving and lifestyle at Lighthouse Reef Resort are so good that, quite frankly, I am surprised space is available there at any time. However, off the beaten track, it is simply not that well known worldwide. Though almost full during the summer months, there is space available during the winter, spring and fall.
Lighthouse Reef Atoll is known by experienced divers as one of the very best areas in the Caribbean. Before the establishment of Lighthouse Reef Resort, the only way you could get here was by boat from the mainland or from another island in between, a distance of many miles, much of it in open sea.
Lighthouse Reef is nearly 20 miles long and 4 to 6 miles wide (this atoll by itself is about the same size as many diving islands). It is roughly oval-shaped, surrounded by a nearly enclosed ring of coral reefs and a few sandy islands, with a shallow emerald lagoon on the inside. There are more than 50 miles of wilderness reefs and walls and hundreds of dive sites. All this and just one little dive resort at the northern tip.
Lighthouse Reef Resort is a charming retreat perched at the fringe of a white sand beach on palm crowded Northern Caye. The well-maintained private airstrip is just behind the resort. The property contains about 1,500 feet of beachfront, with seaside cottages nestled among palms. There are five cabanas and six villas. The cabana interiors are all similar; the villas vary slightly in appointment and configuration. One villa, the beach suite, has a bar, kitchenette and living room with a separate bedroom and bath.
The social focus is a handsome Caribbean style mainhouse with a dock. Inside and extending to an outside deck and outdoor grill is the resort restaurant and bar. A second dock, to the west, reaches out from the dive shop and gift shop. The property extends over 15 acres of north facing beachfront and includes, according to a recent survey, nearly 500 coconut palms.
The self-contained resort features a complete dive operation with two mid-sized custom dive boats, cottage style living right on the beach and a restaurant that serves excellent food, featuring local seafood and combinations of island and continental cuisine.
The dive operation is run by instructors and local experts (there are 23 full time employees at the resort) out of a small but well equipped dive shop. The two dive vessels are a 30 foot custom vessel with an overhead and a 26 foot custom vessel with a flybridge. The dive schedule is flexible and normally combines morning and afternoon diving with one or two all day picnic dives.
As has been suggested, the potential dive area is extensive and nearly unlimited. The typical site is a shallow coral garden bordering a usually steep drop-off.
Only minutes from the resort dock is a site called the Abyss, a double lipped wall that begins in only 40 feet of water and extends beyond the limits of sport diving. Along the western side of the atoll, still close to the resort, are numerous spectacular wall dives. These include Captain''''''''s Choice and Black Coral Forest; two sites that feature beautiful combinations of cascading corals and intricate sponges. These western drop-offs often begin in only 25 to 40 feet of water.
Two exceptional breaks from the usual program occur weekly, weather permitting. The first is an afternoon tour of scenic Sandbore Caye, only minutes away by small boat. Sandbore has a small population of a few salty Belizean fishermen and a lighthouse keeper. The 80 foot steel frame lighthouse offers a breathtaking view of the island and the lagoon.
A very special outing is the picnic day on Halfmoon Caye at the southern end of the atoll. We first stopped at the Great Blue Hole, the world''''''''s largest ocean hole, nearly 800 feet in diameter and more than 400 feet deep. Inside, beneath the lip of the hole at a depth of 110 to 130 feet, is a field of stalactites, some 30 feet long. Later, we dived a special site on the outside of Halfmoon Caye Wall, an area known to have some of the best wall diving in the entire Caribbean. In more than 150 feet of visibility we swam through coral labyrinths decorated with every shape and color of sponge imaginable.
After lunch, we visited the frigate and booby bird sanctuary at the western end of Halfmoon Caye. In the afternoon, on our way back, we stopped for a dive at Silver Caves. Here we photographed huge Barracuda and a very cooperative Hawksbill Turtle that stayed with us for nearly 15 minutes.
A Lighthouse Reef adventure begins with a direct flight to Belize from several U.S. gateways aboard a TACA 767 or 737 Boeing jet. From Belize International you will fly directly to the resort via Maya Airways. The usual stay is a one week, Saturday to Saturday dive filled package, including three meals a day.
For information or reservations, call (800) 423-3114, (941) 439-6600, fax (941) 439-6667 or e-mail LARC1@world net.att.net.