Imagine this: There is a great big, blue hole in the middle of the water off the coast of Belize. If you’re a diver, you know I’m talking about the place Jacques Cousteau once called the best scuba site on earth. It sounds counter intuitive: A deep, dark blue void in the middle of endless turquoise water. But the reality is that it was forged out of solid rock caverns thousands of years ago during the last ice age. Over time, water filtered through the rock and into great stone cathedrals, creating an underwater maze of mysterious spires. From above, the great blue hole is circular in shape – as if the ocean itself had an open eye.
If you go to Belize, you must see this for yourself. Everyone will ask if you’re been there. Boat excursions from the popular tourist destinations of Amergris Caye or Belize City leave daily with adventurers on board eager to discover this World Heritage Site also named the number one most amazing place by Discovery Channel.
Of course, there is plenty to do on dry land in Belize as well. From Belize City, take a quick flight on Maya Island Air to San Pedro, made famous in the Madonna song, “La Isla Bonita”. You can tour the island which is a web of unfinished streets and beaches. From Captain Morgan’s Resort, where we stayed, no cars could make it into town so you have to rent a water taxi or golf cart and hold on to your hat as the driver jumps the pot holes and flies over rickety bridges where crocodiles lie below.
If you like nightlife, everyone seems to start at Fido’s for live music and ends up at Jaguar’s night club. But skip the late night tourist trap and instead take a Jaguar paw cave tube ride through the ancient Mayan Nahoch che’en cave system and float by ghostly stalactites and stalagmites. If history is on your radar, leave the island and travel a short way to western Belize to the Guatemalan border. Here you’ll witness Xunantunich (meaning “Stone Woman”), the ancient Mayan ruins. Dating back to 800 AD, the site is divided into four sections with the “El Castillo” pyramid being the largest structure – once used as a Maya civil ceremony center.
All these sites are food for the imagination, but nothing trumps the great blue hole. I’m no diver, but I’m definitely not one to miss a “must-do” activity. Snorkelers are welcome so I jumped on board and hitched a boat ride out to the ocean to see what all the chatter was about. Peering into the rich sapphire water, I could only imagine what life lay beneath. The great blue hole – about 1,000 feet wide and 400 deep – is home to rare species of colorful fish and larger Caribbean reef and bull sharks. I gingerly got into the water; the captain warned me that the elevation could drop from a few to hundreds of feet deep in just a few steps. When you’re in the water, suddenly it seems as if the world has gone silent; your body relaxes and everything feels serene and calm.
But dunking your head in the water and taking a look through a snorkel mask reveals a much different pace of life. Fish of all colors and sizes jockey for position in the unmarked lanes of current; dodging and darting around each other in the underwater traffic. No fish seems to look the same. I watch a rainbow parrot fish sail past a group of striped black and white. Suddenly, I see a dark, long shadow about 50 feet in front of me. Is it a shark? I don’t wait to find out. I jerk my head up and reach for the captain’s arm to pull me out of the water. It might be a blue hole full or wonder and life under the surface to see, but sometimes it’s better to stick to your imagination.
Krisha Chachra is Vice Mayor of the Town of Blacksburg and a regular columnist and author who has traveled to over 40 countries in 6 continents and reported and hosted shows for public radio and television. Her columns are taken from her journals and personal insights from traveling nationally and internationally throughout her life. Her book about returning to Blacksburg, Homecoming Journals, may be found online or in local bookstores. E-mail her at email@example.com.