Ty Sawyer  /  Sport Diver
The moonlit dock off Chabil Mar
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updated 6/20/2006 3:05:45 PM ET 2006-06-20T19:05:45

“Don’t worry,” the pilot said as I loaded my bags into the single-prop plane on a dirt strip in the middle of the jungle. “The tail’s still off the ground — we’re good.” One nervous hour later I arrived at the airport in Placencia.

For the previous week I’d been chasing crocs, sneaking up on kingfishers, herons and cormorants and dodging fruit bats that were using our jungle path to navigate through the thick undergrowth. For our full jungle immersion, we’d settled into the Lamanai Outpost Lodge, nestled right on the shore of New River Lagoon, next to (surprise!) the famous Maya ruins at Lamanai. The week was a blur of deep green adventures: taking airboats and canoes along the water’s edge in search of sea eagles and green iguanas, watching leafcutter ants with their heavy loads wind along the branches of a tree, jolting awake at first light as a troop of howler monkeys skirted the treetops in search of breakfast.

At the ruins, we trod upon the same steps as Maya kings up to the tops of temples that rose high above the jungle canopy. At times it felt like we’d landed in the middle of an expedition to a dark void on some ancient map. So it was in perfect Belizean bushwhacking style that we boarded a twin-prop plane and took off from a dirt runway hacked from the grip of the jungle.

When we landed in Placencia, the world seemed positively crowded with people compared to the remote jungle. This small, laid-back village in southern Belize provides access to both the reef and the jungle. The fall is the start of the dry season, when cooler air arrives and the dive conditions are best. It’s the perfect time to explore the world’s second-longest barrier reef and the lush rain forest that spreads out to the west of the sea. After climbing out of the twin-prop plane we were picked up and taken via a golf cart to Chabil Mar Villas.

The villas are pretty swanky, and after a full week of trekking around in the jungle they were like home. I even had the choice of cooking in the full kitchen or having my meals brought to my veranda.

Although lounging by the pool or taking a swim off the beach sounded enticing, at that point the sea was calling. The next morning I was off to the reef.

Ty Sawyer  /  Sport Diver
The south end of Belize's famed Barrier Reef is accessible from Placencia.
Water-bound, we took a 45-minute cruise over to the reef in a small but thrillingly fast dive boat. We slipped in over a wall covered in orange elephant ear, stovepipe, azure vase and barrel sponges. A giant green sea turtle swam along the wall, and in the shallows the hard corals hid juvenile spotted drums and eels. Like most of the Belize Barrier Reef, the site was wrapped in clear, silky water and the seascape was lush with marine life.

The next morning I embarked on the popular Monkey River adventure. We started up the river through a maze of mangroves, where we spotted a few manatees and some green iguanas. After passing Monkey River Village we looked for crocs and some of the hundreds of tropical birds that call Belize home, but my favorite part was the monkeys. We hiked back along a trail in the jungle that led to troops of howler monkeys. They produced such a deep, menacing sound that had I not seen them, I would have sworn they were full-grown silverback gorillas — not a bad finale. On the way back to the villas we stopped in town, a true creole fishing village, to have a local lunch.

Ty Sawyer  /  Sport Diver
A howler monkey comes in for a close-up at Lamanai Outpost Lodge.
If you don’t make it to Belize in the fall or winter, there’s always spring — that’s when the whale sharks come out in full force. Gladden Spit is one of their favorite hangouts during the months of April, May and June; snapper spawn in the area around the full moon of each month. And no visit would be complete without a visit to the iconic Blue Hole.

I know I’ll be back, because divers are, by nature, explorers. We love a good adventure — both above and below the water — and Belize is one of those places that can keep adrenaline rushing through your veins no matter what time of year it is.

Special thanks to Chabil Mar Villas (chabilmarbze.com) and Lamanai Outpost Lodge (lamanai.com). For more information on diving Belize, visit tflats.com, mayanprincesshotel.com, peter hughes.com, aggressor.com, turneffelodge.com, ramons.com, sunbreezehotel.com, reefci.com, gooddiving.com, journeysendresort.com, blue marlinlodge.com, belizediving.com, reefrain forest.com, islamarisolresort.com, cayeresorts.com, hamanasi.com and travelbelize.org. For jungle adventures, visit howlermonkeylodge.bz and jaguarpaw.com.

As the official publication of the PADI Diving Society, Sport Diver is the magazine divers turn to each month to find out what’s going on in their world. Sport Diver is the ultimate source for up to date information on dive culture, equipment, travel, training and PADI Diving Society activities.

© 2012 World Publications, LLC

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