"To the sea and then right"
If the pilot asks you ten minutes after take-off where you want to go, there is a good chance that tourism has not yet conquered this country. When I, as the only passenger, replied that I wanted to go to Dangriga, he flew a wide arc and then went in a completely different direction. We touched down on a bumpy runway in the middle of nowhere and I was asked to get my luggage out of the hatch in the back myself. When I asked where the town of Dangriga was, the pilot pointed in one direction and said, "To the sea and then to the right." He turned and flew away.
An adventure with a bumpy start
Thus began my visit to this dreamland of Central America, which I didn’t know much about beforehand. In the world's second largest coral reef off the coast of Belize lies a Blue Hole (deep ring-shaped and vertical cut in the reef down to a depth of 125 m), which almost every diver knows about and is usually disappointed by when they dive it. But I was there for the freshwater biotopes in the rainforest and organised a local as a guide. The next morning, a "taxi" tried to take us into the jungle, but the road was so muddy on some uphill sections that we had to switch to a four-wheel drive vehicle. Make sure you pay attention to your travel times, otherwise your trip can literally get stuck on the first car ride. With the 4WD, the drive into the rainforest worked out and at the end of the trail, my guide and I continued on foot. Around noon it occurred to me that I hadn't given any serious thought to food. Of course, my guide didn't have the rations in his small backpack for two people on an all-inclusive holiday. That’s the last time I’ll forget to pack food! But he was kind enough to share his dry wheat pita loaves during our 3-day stay. On the plus side, I lost a few kilos and found that two tortillas, 15 cm in diameter and as thin as a crepe, provided enough food for a day.
Without a good guide, a walk in the rainforest of Belize is deadly. It really does all look the same! We found fresh jaguar tracks and with my rudimentary Spanish I asked if the jaguar was nearby and dangerous. My tortilla donor explained: the jaguar would be somewhere nearby, just a few metres away. But he would probably be lying flat on the ground and we would therefore not be able to see him. Very reassuring, because Belize is home to the largest jaguar population outside of South America!
Snorkelling in the creek
I went snorkelling in the first major creek with a depth of more than one metre. Belize was one of my first rainforest destinations and I was simply blown away by how beautiful a simple stream in the rainforest can be! Sandy bottom, some branches in the water, no underwater plants and yet a very interesting fish fauna. I could observe characins, swordtails and cichlids at my leisure. When insects fell on the water surface, the characins were the fastest. When a swordtail, whose mouth shape is ideal for eating at the surface, realised that an insect was floating there and wanted to move in that direction, it had already been eaten by the characins. So the swordtails had no choice but to eat the algae growth from the branches in the water, just like growth eaters in Lake Malawi.
The snorkelling was an incredible experience. Part of this was definitely because I was the only person there. When I took off my diving goggles and drifted in the stream, I heard the sounds of the rainforest and came across some animals I wouldn't be able to approach on land because of their large flight distance. Yet a head in the water doesn't seem to worry them. Peccaries (skunk pigs), toucans and larger lizards were within reach next to me on the bank. A creek has the great advantage that you can always find your starting position again, as long as you stay in the main stream when you come to a fork.
Thus I returned to my guide - asleep - without a hitch and we marched through a seemingly endless forest until dusk. After a sumptuous dinner (1 tortilla and water) we were able to spend the night in a hut. What a luxury!
All three days followed a similar course, only the rivers changed and the animals at the rivers. One day we met a photographer from National Geographic whose photo equipment was being carried by 4 locals. He had been looking for a particular species of hummingbird for two months and had four weeks left to find it. What patience they must need….
A dream for any aquarist
When I think back to my Belize trip today after many stays in the various rainforests of Central America, it seems like one of my most intense experiences. If you can manage without your luxuries for a while, can pack a few provisions and just want to spend some time in unspoilt nature with "your" fish, Belize is the place for you! And the country is safe too - unlike some other states in Central America.
Tourism has increased greatly in Belize in recent years and so has crime, at least in the tourist centres like Belize City. If you have any problems, you can contact the tourist police (+501 227 1440). Hurricanes occur from June to the end of November. There is right-hand traffic and a German driver's licence is sufficient. Arrival airport is usually Belize City.
If you can spare the time, you can fly from Frankfurt to Belize with American Airlines with two stopovers for €650-800. Overnight stays in e.g. Dangriga are available for €43-700. A meal in a simple restaurant costs about US$ 5 and the tortillas from the locals are free...