I did the 7 night "Glover's Reef and River of Caves" trip with Island Expeditions in April 2013. This was my second trip with IE - we had an outstanding trip in 2012 to Lighthouse Reef / Half Moon Caye (see my TA reviews), and in 2013 I took the opportunity of a last minute sale on the IE site to return for this Glovers trip.
This was another excellent experience, and a nice complement to the previous Lighthouse Reef / Mayan Extension trip. The first two days in the central part of the mainland provided a great opportunity to visit the Tropical Education Center (TEC) and the Belize Zoo, and to visit and river tube through one of the cave systems, and see the central/south jungle and agricultural areas en-route to Dangriga by van, and then departing by boat for Glovers Reef.
The Belize Zoo is more of a wildlife refuge / natural reserve than a "zoo", and the quality of the habitats and the care and commitment of the staff is exceptional. Island Expeditions has been active in Belize for decades, and staff we encountered noted that IE has been a key partner and ongoing supporter to both the TEC and the Zoo over the years. Both facilities are very active in community education and outreach programs including through the Belize school system, as well as in research. It was very rewarding to see IE's environmental and social responsibility commitment in action, and in a small way to be a part of and contribute to it. The Caves tube float trip was interesting and a lot of fun – the water level was at its low level this time of year so the float was quite leisurely. There was some hiking in the caves via headlamp to see formations and artifacts.
The IE base camp on Glover's Reef is located on the southwest caye ("island") of the reef system. The caye is owned by an extended Belizean family and has two principal occupants - the IE operation on a long term lease on one half, and the Isla Marisol resort and dive center on the other half. Note that there are a number of other cayes within the overall Glover's Reef formation, each with their own ownership and various independent operations.
Reviews by other travelers accurately and extensively describe the IE camp, staff, facilities, food, and activities. I am equally enthusiastic, but to avoid duplication I won't repeat those comments, and will instead try and add some additional perspectives. Fellow travellers in our group were a mix of couples and singles ranging from 30's to 70's; and the group was very harmonious, easy going, and low maintenance; all characteristics which seem to be typical of IE groups. The family of one of the IE partners was also along for the trip, and fit in well.
Morning yoga instruction, kayaking, snorkeling, etc are all standard features. The group did some fishing via hand-line trolling one day, and caught some barracuda and other fish which were baked for dinner one evening. In addition, for several particular weeks, a fly fishing guide Kelly Steigman from Washington State was staying at the island camp, and as a special feature he provided both fly fishing gear and some instruction to those of us interested in fly fishing in these waters, which was a lot of fun. No luck for bone fish, but we caught a variety of other small reef fish which we released.
I am PADI OW certified, and so I took the opportunity one day to skip the IE activities and instead book two one-tank dives with the adjacent Isla Marisol Dive resort. There were two diver guests from the resort in addition to myself, and the dives were on walls just 15 minutes away reached from an open panga-type boat. We returned back to the caye for the surface interval. The dives were spectacular in about 70 feet of water. Cost was $65 per tank so $130. My PADI OW certification card (mandatory) was confirmed, but little checking of experience/comfort level, so I initiated that dialogue with my fellow divers who were very experienced. We all had our own gear, so not able to comment on rental gear. DM had arrived a couple of months back from Florida. Dive support was pretty loose and bare-bones as far as minimal briefing, also didn’t notice any emergency oxygen or first aid equip on board. I set up/dismantled/washed my gear myself, no checkout of setup prior to water entry, no chalkboard to name specific aquatic specifies or communicate during dive, no refreshments or food pre or post dive. Perhaps things are handled differently with a larger group and/or with a different DM? Under the water was great, but IMHO if you are a certified but still novice diver, some caution and self-reliance is in order before deciding to proceed with this operator.
The Lighthouse Reef / Half Moon Caye location is more remote than Glover’s Reef. At Half Moon Caye the island is a large Audubon bird sanctuary, with the IE tent camp as the only occupant other than the Audubon rangers, so you have more of a sense of being on your own deserted island, and see a lot more frigate birds, boobies, ospreys, iguanas, etc than you do on Glover’s. At Lighthouse the snorkeling is a bit better, and you also get to travel to the Blue Hole and snorkel around it. However in the Lighthouse trip you don’t get to see the zoo, the TEC, nor the caves tube float. So the best solution is to make a couple of trips (or more!) to Belize as I did, first visiting Glovers, and then the next year come back and go to Lighthouse Reef and recommend adding on the Mayan World Extension as well.
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