Belize offers the best of two adventures: jungles, mountains and rivers, combined with a Barrier Reef, offshore coral atolls, the Great Blue Hole and vertical drop-offs Some dive destinations are easy to figure out - Belize isn't one of them. The total land area is comparatively tiny - only about the size of Massachusetts. But offshore Belize is vast, with 170 miles of nearly uninterrupted barrier reef (the longest stretch of reefs in the Western Hemisphere) and, farther offshore, three immense coral atolls (three of only four true atolls found in the Caribbean). But, within the limits of a one-week vacation, I was looking for even more. I wanted to sample the two worlds of Belize - diving and inland adventure. The country's interior is packed with outdoor adventure, an eco-tourism parade of great yawning limestone caves, fast- and slow-moving jungle rivers and a myriad of Mayan ruins surrounded by rain forests. I selected a package that included both adventures - four days of diving at Blackbird Caye Resort in the Turneffe Islands Atoll and three days at the Royal Mayan Resort and Spa in western Belize. This is Belize's only dive resort/inland resort combination under single ownership. After being met by a van at the international airport and then transferred by resort boat from a Belize City dock (about 45 minutes), I arrived at the Blackbird Caye Resort. Blackbird is a small but complete island-style dive resort on the eastern side of Turneffe Islands Atoll. The social focal point is a beachfront thatched-roof rotunda with a restaurant, bar and lounge just behind the resort dock. There are 15 guest rooms strewn along the beach in bungalows and cottages, with individual variations in tropical decor and bed arrangements. A second bar on the beach is open for happy hour and evenings. All rooms have air conditioning, ceiling fans, potable hot/cold water and electricity. Dockside is the main dive boat, a 41-foot custom Bradley Wayward, powered by twin 200-horsepower outboards. The main transfer boat and long-run vessel is Big Bird, a 48-footer powered by twin diesels. The access to excellent diving is assured by the resort's position: miles of fringing reef parallel the shoreline about 500 yards offshore. The largest of the three Belize atolls, Turneffe, is known for its marine life, which is nourished by the numerous mangrove islets that surround the atoll. The diving within five to 20 minutes from the resort is arguably as good as any around the 12-by-20-mile atoll and includes shallow reef gardens (also perfect for snorkeling), reef pinnacles and a continuous sponge and black coral-lined drop-off that begins in about 75 feet of water. Visibility averages about 80 feet. The four-day stay at Blackbird included an all-day trip to Lighthouse Reef Atoll with a dive in the Great Blue Hole, a beach picnic on scenic Halfmoon Caye and diving Halfmoon Caye Wall. The Royal Mayan is an interior resort located in the Cayo district of western Belize, which is reached via resort vehicle from Belize City after returning from Blackbird (about a three-hour drive). On the way to or from the Royal Mayan, a stop can be made at the Belize Zoo, a park that features jaguars, tapirs, toucans, etc., housed in environmentally conscious enclosures. The resort is on the apex of a hill that was once viewed as sacred by the ancient Maya. The Royal Mayan's leitmotif is the magnificent view from the resort's observation deck - a sweeping panorama of quaint farming villages and rain forest-carpeted mountains pierced by the Mayan pyramid at Xunantunich, only minutes away by road. Other Mayan sites, including Cahal Pech, El Pilar, Caracol and Tikal (Guatemala) are also accessible. The single-building resort includes a handsome Maya- and rain forest-inspired dining room, upstairs bar, air-conditioned guest rooms with fan, phone and cable TV and a complete gym and spa (sauna, whirlpool, massage and outdoor pool). Birding, trekking, cave exploration, horseback riding, canoeing, mountain biking and more are available. The Royal Mayan's individually served meals are excellent. Meals at Blackbird are served family style and are very good. Blackbird is sun and sand, charming and laid back. Royal Mayan is informal but more upscale, especially the spa, which will provide restoration and rejuvenation after an active day in the bush. The combo package works well due to a friendly staff and the organization offered by single ownership. Belize may be the easiest destination to combine quality diving and inland adventure thanks to Blackbird/Royal Mayan. For reservations and more information, click on the home page below. For general information about visiting Belize, click on the Tourism home page below.
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