There are over 400 islands in Belize, ranging in size from Ambergris Caye (with its population of over 13,000 and its bustling capital of San Pedro, one of the five largest towns in the country), all the way down to places like Laughing Bird Caye, tiny scraps of sand and palm trees that cover an acre or two at most, and where you’re never more than a few metres from the sea.
Another island that falls into the latter category is Goff’s Caye. And unlike Laughing Bird Caye (which I heartily recommend visiting when in Placencia), Goff’s Caye is a short trip from Belize City. So it should be perfect to visit on a weekend. Unfortunately, it’s not included on any of Belize’s public water taxi’s schedules – they don’t stop there, as it’s completely uninhabited and not really on the way to anywhere. So a day trip requires you to go with a tour agency, or (if there are enough of you), you can pool together and charter a boat and driver. Which is exactly what my friends did a few weeks ago, and I tagged along.
The charter company is based at the Princess Hotel, one of the biggest and most expensive ones in Belize City – the only time I come here is to use their swimming pool, which non-guests can do, for a fee of course. Take that, Mr. Petty Jobsworth at the Radisson! They also have the only bowling alley in the country, a cinema that’s freezing cold and smells bad, and a casino that’s as close as you’ll get to Las Vegas in Belize (having been inside, my tip is to wait till you get to Vegas).
Not only is there a full boatload of people, there are all the supplies too – huge saucepans of rice and beans, tupperware containers of stew chicken, ice-cream tubs of potato salad, bowls of shrimp ceviche, bags of tortilla chips, a cooler full of ice, a five-gallon jug of water, a crate of beer, a crate of Coke, and several bottles of rum. Plus umbrellas, towels, snorkels, frisbees, and an inflatable shark. If we’re shipwrecked, we’ll be set for months.
The journey takes less than an hour, and as we’re inside the reef the whole way, the sea is calm and clear. We even have some dolphins for company. When we arrive, the first two things that are immediately obvious are a) how small the caye is, and b) how popular it is. It’s just a patch of sand and coconut trees, with a shelter, a toilet, and a barbecue. A large group of locals are already at the BBQ (so it’s lucky all our food is pre-cooked!), and there’s an equally-big group of tourists (or expats) gathered under the shelter, surrounded by some serious-looking Belizean men from the coast guard.
But it is a lovely patch of sand – the palm trees are swaying lazily in the wind, the sand is as soft and powdery as talcum powder, and the sea is sparkling stripes of green and blue. And overhead, there’s not a cloud in the azure sky. So no chance of rain; but it does mean that the Sun’s heat is ferociously beating down on us.
The caye is right on the barrier reef, and to the west and north of the island are some fine snorkelling spots. I have just enough stamina to eat, drink, and swim. But the assembled white people clearly have more energy than me – they’re all gathered here to take part in a one-mile swim across the channel to English Caye (the nearest island), as part of Reef Week, seven days of activities run by Belize’s chapter of Oceana (the international marine conservation NGO), to highlight the importance of the Barrier Reef to the country.
And while they thrash their way across the sea (escorted by the aforementioned coast guard), I eat, drink, swim, sunbathe, and (most importantly) exfoliate (back in February, I somehow picked up hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a viral infection that’s the human equivalent of foot-and-mouth in cows. And like a lame animal, I spent a week laid up in bed, unable to walk, and nursing the painful blisters that covered my feet. Nice, eh? So I make several circuits of the island, using the gently abrasive sand to slough off all the dead skin).
Walking around the pristine island, it’s hard to believe it receives several hundred cruise ship tourists every single week – yet despite the tens of thousands of people walking all over the caye every year, it’s remarkably clean and intact. And despite the equally-large numbers of people splashing and crashing into the sea, the reef around the caye is supposed to have some of the healthiest coral in Belize.
But eventually the heat gets too much, and I spend most of the rest of the day sitting under the shade of a coconut tree, or huddled under the umbrella, drinking rum and setting the world to rights with the rest of the old men (I’m at the age where I now have more in common with the 60-year-olds than with the 20-year-olds. Or maybe I’ve always been an old fogey?). And after spending all day surrounded by the white sand and reflective sea, everyone (even the dark-skinned Belizeans) is sunburnt.
But even with the sunburn, Goff’s Caye is a perfect place to spend the day – drinking a cold rum & coke on the beach, feeling the sand between your toes, and watching the shadows of the palm trees moving over the Caribbean Sea is truly the stuff of tropical dreams :-).