Tobacco Caye Paradise features six private overwater cabanas. // © 2017 Debbie Olsen
Feature image (above): Guests can see the reef during a sea kayak tour. // © 2017 Debbie Olsen
On the first day of our Island Expeditions’ Paradise Islands Lodge-to-Lodge kayak trip near the tiny Belize island of Tobacco Caye, our guide, Omar, demonstrated how to roll a kayak. He then asked each person in our group to attach the kayak spray skirt, which prevents water from entering the boat, and deliberately capsize in 3 feet of water, in case such an event was to occur later.
In that moment, I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for an adventure kayak trip — not to mention, I’m somewhat claustrophobic and have poor swimming skills. Still, when our turn came, my husband and I attached the skirts and flipped the tandem kayak. After a slight panic attack under the water, I managed to safely detach the skirt and swim to the surface. A few bruises were the only evidence of the fact that I had been flailing like a maniac underwater.
Things got better after the wet exit drill. We used the afternoon to test out our snorkel equipment off the point of Tobacco Caye. As the island is about 3 acres in size, walking from one end to the other takes only a few minutes. The water was clear, allowing us to see many different species of colorful fish; a pair of eagle rays swam right by us, flapping their spotted pectoral fins.
Back at our hotel, Tobacco Caye Paradise, I enjoyed a rainwater-fed shower and then rewarded myself with a short nap in the hammock on the deck. The rustic lodge is not your typical all-inclusive Caribbean resort, but its off-the-grid, overwater cabanas are comfortable. The sound of the ocean lapping on the shore lulled me to sleep.
As evening approached, we sat on the dock and watched a small mongrel dog named Delilah eye a pair of giant southern rays swimming below her in the crystal-clear water. The rays had been drawn in by a mollusk fisherman who was cleaning his catch beside the dock. Soon, the sunset painted the whole scene with shades of pink and orange, and we headed back to the lodge for a delicious grilled fish dinner.
The next day, we paddled to another section of reef, anchored one kayak to the ocean floor and tied the rest of the kayaks together — something we would repeat many times during the five-day trip.
Our explorations centered on traversing South Water Caye Marine Reserve, the largest marine reserve in Belize at 117,870 acres. Fishing restrictions and a variety of protective measures have allowed marine life to flourish here. We witnessed a kaleidoscope of color through our snorkel masks: coral in shades of purple, red, tan and orange, surrounded by fish. Our two local guides knew the names of all the creatures below and above the water, taking care to point them out to us on guided excursions.
On day three, we loaded all our gear in the hatches of the tandem kayak and made our way to the larger island of South Water Caye. Since the wind was blowing, we attached sails to the kayaks to make the journey easier. The water was rough as we traveled across the open ocean, and one of the other kayaks had capsized. Our fellow tour-goers performed the unplanned wet exit like pros, and not long after, we were all on our way again. With the wind in our sails, it took about two hours to traverse the 6 miles to South Water Caye.
Over the next few days, we took day trips to two other islands, snorkeled through the reserve, saw a variety of marine life — including a nurse shark — and received a lesson in paddleboarding. It turned out that adventure kayaking was right up our alley, but since Island Expeditions offers this trip as either a sea kayak or a motor-assisted stand-up paddleboarding trip, we’re thinking we’ll try the latter next time.