Belize Land & Sea-Hidden Valley Inn & Belize Aggressor-Oct. 14-24, 2015
This was a trip long time in the making and not without changes even at the last minute. We had 10 join us for the land adventure from Oct. 14-17, 2015 staying at the Hidden Valley Inn in the mountains of the San Ignacio area of Belize and another 8 joined afterwards when we boarded the Belize Aggressor for a week of diving from Oct. 17-24, 2015. It for sure was an AWESOME trip and one I would very much like to do again.
We arrived on Oct. 14th with sun but that didn’t last long. Our guides (for the next 3 days) from the Hidden Valley Inn (HVI) were waiting for us and they were the best. Freddy had been with HVI for 16 years and Rudy for 9. The ride is about 1.5 hours on paved road and then 1 hour by dirt and in fact most all the interior of Belize is graded dirt roads.
Once at the resort we could see we were staying at a top notch place and besides our group there were only 2 other couples there, after all the resort only had 9 cottages. The resort is in the San Ignacio Mountains on 7200 private acres of land and is in a forest setting. They are well known for bird watching, hiking and yoga retreats plus people like us visiting to do fun things like learning about the Mayan ruins, zip-lining, canoeing in a cave and more! The rooms all where very spacious with fireplaces and wood stacked and ready to go which worked well to dry off our wet clothes. They also had a big lobby and bar with fireplaces that everyone seemed to enjoy along with a beautiful pool and Jacuzzi. The meals were excellent and we had our own waiter and helper the whole time along with our very own table for 10 always set-up and waiting for us to enjoy another wonderful meal. Dinners were 4 courses and with all the food I was starting to think we were on a cruise.
The 1st day we went to the Rio Frio cave which is a cave with one of the largest openings along with a stream running through it. Afterwards we left to check in for our military escort to the Mayan ruins of Caracol where we spent several hours learning all about the Mayans and how they lived along with the history behind the ruins. It really was awesome to see the ruins in person not to mention we had excellent weather while there. Speaking of the weather up till this day we had some rain off and on and by the evening the sky decided to let loose so had we not gone to the ruins the day we did we never would have made it because the roads were very muddy and slippery the following day. After the ruins we went to the Rio Pools for some fun & games trying to swim in the pools. It was more like slip and fall or slide on your butt but it was still LOTS of fun. I lost my GoPro and found it and then lost it again and never did find it. Maybe I will get lucky someday and get a call because my name and telephone number are on it but chances are it will belong to mother earth now.
The 2nd day and our last full day at HVI we went to the Barton Creek cave for canoeing. The cave is 8.5 km long but you can only go back about 1.5 km without getting stuck. National Geographic has studied this cave sometime back. It was way cool and when done we made a last minute decision to add some zip-lining into our full schedule of activities. Freddy our guide said “no problem” and he took care of it like it was all planned. We zip-lined at Calico Jacks with more excellent and very knowledgeable guides. I have to say the guides are what really made the trip extra special. They not only lived in the area but were very educated and wanted to share as much about the beautiful country they lived in with anyone who would listen. Now one thing about Calico Jacks-I have only zip-lined once before in Roatan and when I did I thought it was great but Calico Jacks operation made the one in Roatan look like maybe it wasn’t so safe after all. You don’t know till you have something to compare with. The next stop was a quickie at the Butterfly farm due to weather and hunger pains. It was another fun stop and also very interesting.
Once back to HVI everyone sort of kicked back and relaxed and after dinner we did a night hike but that wasn’t something that turned out so good especially walking along a trail that wasn’t the best in the night in the rain. Learn and live! Sorry to say the next morning was time for us to say good bye but not quite yet to Freddy and Rudy our guides. They still had us for the rest of the day. We made a stop for some gifts and then off to the Belize Zoo. It rained off and on but when we arrived to the zoo it really let loose and didn’t stop. Our group rented every umbrella the gift shop had and there still wasn’t enough for everyone. Too bad it was so rainy because more of the animals would have been out. After the zoo it was time to head to Belize city to start the next part of our adventure on the Belize Aggressor and meet up with the other 8 people who would join us for the week diving.
After our 3 days at the Hidden Valley Inn doing the inland adventure we boarded the Belize Aggressor where another 8 people joined us for a full boat of 16 divers and 2 non-divers. The day we boarded the heavy rain, lightning and thunder started and because of it we stayed at the dock till the next morning. It sounded like a fire hose blasting us all night and my only thought was-what will happen during the week. We were chased away from a few places during the week because of the weather but in the end I have to say it turned out really great!
We were told at the end of the week that we had 14 inches of rain from that storm and I am so glad we were on the boat and not in town where they had quite a bit of flooding. In fact the last day of our trip a few of us did another trip to the Altun Ha Mayan ruins and you could still see where the water hadn’t dried out yet.
The first day we traveled further out and worked our way in during the week. You would think staying on a live-aboard you might go a bit stir crazy but it just never even got close to that because there is always something to do like fiddle with your dive gear, work on your camera or pictures, nap or there is always another meal, snack or drink waiting for you. In fact I don’t think I had much free time at all unless I sat out some of the dives. Truly what you always hear “Eat, Sleep & Dive” is 100% completely right on the money!
Speaking of money, how does the higher cost of a live aboard vs land based dive resort compare? I always tell people that a 2-3 day trip around the Channel Islands is by far the best value and I would have to say it is the same on a live aboard. I have been to many land based dive resorts and a typical package might include some meals and 2-3 dives then the bar bill and extra dives all cost more plus most of the time you need to be back for scheduled meals which seem to make the dive sites all close by or you miss meals. Sure you do get to be on land (great for non-divers) and do some land activities which is always fun but in my opinion the diving sometimes suffers.
Sooner or later you will want more and that is where the live aboard trips come in. On the live aboard you have the ability to travel in style and walk out your room to the dive deck and dive some of the best places you can. Some places like the Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye and the reefs in that area are about a 2 hour ride from a land based resort making night dives out there impossible but not on a live-aboard. Life is good when after the night dive you have the steward bring you a hot chocolate with some rum in it and then another staff member is handing you a hot towel to dry off with. All meals are excellent and even the captain is serving you some nights as well as the other staff. All the staff on board prides themselves with making sure you have the best time EVER. If the weather gets bad you can travel someplace else to get some good diving in instead of being land locked which is always a possibility with today’s weather patterns. Want to learn something new like nitrox or get better with your pictures-no problem because there is always help close by. Of course you went on that live-aboard trip to dive and with 4 day dives and a night dive every day you will get in all the diving your body can handle. Bar bills you can forget because wine & beer is all part of the trip and if you brought that bottle or two of something special then you can enjoy even more at no cost. Now I will agree the rooms are a bit smaller but then who really needs to be in them while on a dive vacation. The next time you book trips PLEASE consider a dive live-aboard and once you do I think you will find out how nice and how great of a value they are.
We usually did 2 dives in the morning at one location and would move to another to do 2 more day dives and a night dive. We had 5 people that did all the dives during the trip and received Iron Diver awards with medals from the Capitan and we had 2 people learn to be nitrox divers. The dives we did where Painted Wall, Southeast Cut, Long Caye Ridge (one of my favorites), Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye Wall (my favorite), Silver Caves, Black Beauty, Front Porch and Sandy Slope. For night dives we had blood worms real bad at Long Cave Ridge which I did not like at ALL but the others we didn’t have any problems with them. My favorite night dives where at Half Moon Caye Wall and Front Porch. Water temp was about 82 degrees and visibility was very good on most dives.
Our crew was Captain Chris, Chef Yanice, Steward Randy, Engineer Fermin, DM/Instructor Ken & Jerome. Even though they all had a title they ALL pitched in and helped to get what was needed done and they ALL took excellent care of everyone. Of course we had a SUPER FUN group and we know we made their job easier. Would I do this trip again and that would be YES in a heartbeat. What would I do differently and that would be to stay at the Hidden Valley Inn for 1 more night and enjoy the surrounding beauty of the back country of Belize.
By Ken Kollwitz