Belize Scuba Diving Packages, Snorkeling & Whale sharks|Splash Dive Center|Placencia Belize
It was great to be back in Placencia and to be diving with the Splash Dive Family during the 2011 holiday season. I arrived on Christmas Day, and despite it being a holiday here in Canada, I was warmly greeted at the airport by Patty who informed me that there was a boat out diving that day! I guess the reef never rests, so neither should the divers who visit it. It was wonderful to see the new Dive Center building getting better and better, with full dive retail items for sale, air/nitrox available on site and even lovely breakfast treats to greet the divers in the morning. The attention Patty and her staff show to all the customers, whether they are divers, snorkelers, or heading out on a land tour is fantastic! I have been diving in Placencia for many years now, and it is great to see Splash just getting better and better.

The diving was excellent, as always, and this trip I got to see a 15 foot Manta Ray! Manta rays are very rare in Belize, and many of the Divemasters in Placencia have never seen one in thier careers. But that is what makes diving in Belize so wonderful--you never, ever know what surprises you will see underwater! Along with the manta, I also got to see a hammerhead shark, heaps of turtles, nurse sharks, squid and all the hundreds of regulars of the reef (and my favourites, the trunk fish :-)).

During my time down there this Christmas, I did a day trip to the Blue Hole with Splash, and we were the first to arrive and had the whole site to ourselves--what a treat! The Blue Hole was full of reef and bull sharks, and there is nothing like looking up from the depths and seeing these amazing creatures in silhouette. Amazing way to start the day!

I am already preparing my trip down in April or May 2012 to dive with the Whale Sharks again! And we can't forget all the dolphins and other sharks that come to visit when the whale sharks make thier appearance!

Thanks Patty, Prince, Warren, Lennox, Dean, Brian, Mark, Max and everyone else for making my visit as warm and wonderful as always 🙂
Belize Scuba Diving Packages, Snorkeling & Whale sharks|Splash Dive Center|Placencia Belize
Normally I post trip reports right away while the details are still fresh in my mind. My only excuse this time is I've been really busy since I returned, including moving my office, selling our old house and buying a new one, dealing with our daughter's wedding and our son's move to Colorado and, well, life. In any case, here's my report on my trip to Placencia.

June is the perfect time to get away from Portland. Summer doesn't really start here until early July, sometimes not even then, so a June trip is a great way to avoid the last of the cruddy weather and hopefully come home to sunshine and warmer temperatures. The downside is this is the beginning of the raingy season in Belize, but the upside is prices are usually a little cheaper and the crowds are smaller. Plus, I have found the weather there in June to be quite good with warm days tempered by ocean breezes and the occasional super cool thunderstorms at night. It almost never rains during the day after around 9 o'clock.

This was my fourth trip to Belize in the last five years and the second straight year I went to Placencia, last time for two weeks but this time for three. My wife didn't come since we had so many things going on at home, so I was on my own this time.

I split up the trip by diving the first and third week and driving around the country during the week in the middle. I dove with Splash Dive Center again, a ScubaBoard advertiser, owned and operated by Patty Ramirez and Ralph Capeling, who occasionally posts on this board. One of the advantages to using the same dive operator is that you already know the staff, for the most part, and they already know you. There were a couple of new dive guides, both instructors, and over the course of my time there I got to know them very well.

Splash used to be located right at the tip of the village on the beach but opened up a new dive shop just outside the village right before I went last time. The new shop still looks great, probably the nicest dive shop I've ever seen anywhere. The dock was being resurfaced while I was there this time. They have three dive boats but were in the middle of getting a brand spanking new 42-foot Newton, which unfortunately didn't arrive before it was time for me to go.

Much has been written on this board lately about supposed unsafe diving practices by Belize dive ops, and by Belize I mean Ambergris Caye. This is absolutely not the case with Splash. On every outing the boat crew would give a general safety briefing and point out the radio, life jackets and oxygen. On every dive the dive master would give a dive briefing on what to expect on the dive, what to expect from him or her and what was expected of you. No one was allowed to go into deco, skip a safety stop or commit any other safety violations. I brought my own gear, but from what I saw of Splash's rental gear it appeared to be in good shape. The weather was always closely monitored at the shop, and there was a day or two where we either didn't go or started late due to the possibility of bad weather.

The typical dive boat would have four to six snorkelers and two to six divers. We would usually leave around 8:30 or 9 in the morning, ride out about an hour to one of the many cayes in the area, drop off the snorkelers and lunch, then go do the first tank somewhere in the area. Dives were usually 60 to 70 feet, sometimes more if we saw something really interesting, and would go about an hour. Temperature was consistently in the low 80's. Viz would range from very good to ok, sometimes on the same dive. After the first tank, it was back on the boat and back to the caye for lunch, usually freshly grilled chicken, potatoes, salad and watermelon. Hang out for a while, then out on the boat for the second tank. Afterwards, it was back to the caye to pick up the snorkelers and head back to the shop. We'd usually arrive around 3, beat but happy.

I chased Whale Sharks for a day without success. Not a big surprise since June is the least likely month of the "season" to see them but still disappointing. Chasing WSs is not a lot of fun, frankly. You spend the entire day on the boat. It's a long boat ride out, then you have to wait your turn to enter the park at Gladden Spit. Once there, you descend to about 70 feet and go like hell, stopping every now and then to do a Kumbaya group circle in hopes of attracting them with your bubbles. After a while, you give up and go like hell again until your air is low and then up you go. If you're lucky, you'll see a lot of fish, probably some sharks and maybe some dolphins. Then you leave the park so others can come give it a go. There are no nearby cayes so you have to have lunch and the SI on the boat before heading back in to try it again. I suppose if I ever actually saw a WS I'd feel differently but otherwise it's a lot of work without much payoff. Having said that, I'm sure I'll do it again.

Before I started my first week of diving, Ralph, Patty and I went to Punta Gorda to attend a Mass at what has to be the prettiest church in all of Belize. I'm not much of a churchgoer, but I always enjoy going to church in a different country. This time the service was in English, which makes it a lot easier to follow along, lol. Afterwards, we drove into the Toledo District and hiked into the jungle to go swimming in Blue Creek Cave. Ralph and Patty wanted to check it out before they started offering it as one of their tours so they could adequately describe to anyone interested. We stopped in Blue Creek Village and met up with a guide. The trail up the creek started out easily enough but soon we were clambering over boulders and balancing on rocks. Hard enough to make it interesting but not so rugged as to scare off the average hiker. Once we reached the mouth of the cave, we stripped down to our bathing suits, put on headlamps and swam inside. There's an underground waterfall about 100 yards upstream. We made it to the waterfall, then floated back down.

During my week in the middle, I rented a pickup truck and drove all over the country, with an eye towards buying some property but also just to check out the interior. One day, I went up the Coast Hwy to visit Hank (Hank49 on this board) at his shrimp farm. He gave me a tour and an everlasting appreciation for shrimp. Afterwards, I continued up the Southern Hwy to Gales Point in hopes of spotting a manatee but was told the water was too murky due to runoff from the nightly rains. I visited Spanish Lookout, a Mennonite settlement that looks like a typical small town in the heart of the US, to talk to a builder about buying a pre-fab house. It was getting dark so I decided to stay the night at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel, which I highly recommend if you go to SI. I took a dip in the Blue Hole, the small one off the Hummingbird Highway. I spent two days and a night in Punta Gorda, looking at land and a few houses. Somewhere in all of that I visited the Garifuna village of Hopkins to check out Hamanasi, a dive resort that gets very high marks here and elsewhere. I was a little surprised to see that Hamanasi is right next to a rather large development of condos but the landscaping gives it a very private feel. Nice place. And I spent a morning walking around the Lubaantum ruins, discovery site of the famous "crystal skull." I also went zip lining at a new place just off the Southern Hwy near Hopkins. Can't say I enjoyed it, though, as it turns out I have quite the fear of stepping off a perfectly good ledge way up a tree. I managed to make it through all the zips but it will be a cold day in.. well, you know. As much as I enjoyed soaking up the vibe that is the interior of Belize, by the end of that week I was glad to return the truck to Barefoot and get back to diving.

I had three different dive guides over the course of my two weeks of diving. Lennox, whom I already knew from the year before, and new (to me) Nedia and Mark. All three were excellent, once I broke them of the practice of pointing out Lion Fish, which are unfortunately plentiful. I prefer to go very slowly and just observe the action, and all three were willing to let me do that. On one dive, it was just Lennox and me and we probably covered less than 50 feet in an hour. We were laughing afterwards as we were passed by two different groups of divers while we were down there. I dived with Nedia only a couple of times since she was the designated "Discover Scuba" instructor and often was busy with that. Her students always raved about her afterwards. I dived almost exclusively with Mark my second week. He and I really hit it off. One of the advantages of diving with the same guide(s) over time is that you settle into a routine with each other. Each had his or her way of doing things plus I have my preferences and once these things meshed everything went very smoothly.

I have nothing but good things to say about Splash. Patty and Ralph do a wonderful job of running the place, and over the course of four weeks total of diving with them I've seen a lot of satisfied divers come and go. There was a large group from Idaho diving with them my first week and they raved about Patty at their farewell dinner. In the interests of full disclosure I should say that over the course of my two visits there we've become pretty good friends. But I think that anyone who spent time with them would agree that they are two of the friendliest people you could ever hope to meet, and they really do care about keeping standards high and making their guests happy.

In case you can't tell, I love Belize, warts and all and there are plenty of warts. I hope to retire there someday, probably in the PG area where the dirt is cheapest. Placencia is a great jumping off point for both diving and checking out the mainland. I still have a few things on my bucket list to see, like ATM and Caracol, saved for next year.

I'll post some photos of the trip later. I posted a lot of photos of Splash and Placencia last year so this time I'll post photos of the interior.
Belize Scuba Diving Packages, Snorkeling & Whale sharks|Splash Dive Center|Placencia Belize
I cannot say enough good about Splash in Placencia, Belize. First of all, when I made a reservation for a refresher course from my home in the States, I got prompt, accurate, helpful information. In our emails, I mentioned that I'm a writer who does detective fiction and one of Splash's owners, Ralph Capeling, promptly set up a dinner that included a writer friend of his. I had a lovely evening during said dinner and Ralph refused to let me pay my share even though he was doing me a favor!

I'm a beginner, so the other owner, Patty Ramirez, set me up with my own instructor and dive master, Pablo. Pablo picked me up on time on dive day in a new air conditioned van. Then he took me to a local doctor for a quick exam (blood pressure, heart, breathing, medical history) because I'm a senior and Patty is incredibly safety-minded. When we got to the dive center I was suprised to see the nicest, most modern and convenient set-up I've ever seen in all the Caribbean; and that includes the American Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, St. Martin, Martinique, Turks and Caicos, and Bonaire.

Pablo took me through some preliminary safety training and then we boarded the Princess Taia, a gorgeous dive boat, I think a 60' Newton. The skipper gave a a safely rundown regarding the boat and introduced the whole Splash crew.

During my refresher course and dives, Pablo took incredibly good care of me. No amount of praise is excessive. I got scared a couple of times and he just grabbed me securely by the BC and calmed me down with the look in his eyes and with soothing hand gestures. I never had to surface, mainly because I had developped such trust in him.

On Ranguana Caye, Splash employees cooked us a delicious BBQ chicken lunch with watermelon for dessert. We rested a bit then went out out for our afternoon dive. I saw lots of marine life, though was dismayed to see that the reef didn't look as healthy as it did 25 years ago, which was when I first dived Belize. Less colorful and fewer fish. But thanks to Pablo and Placencia I still had a lovely time.

There's a lot out there about unsafe diving practices in Belize. Splash is a HUGE counterpoint. The care, professionalism, constant attention to safety, and first rate equipment could not have been better. Did I tell you they have fresh water showers on the Princess Taia?

So for friendly, fun, safe, professional diving, CHOOSE SPLASH PLACENCIA! And no, I'm not on Patty's payroll!

The Princess Taia crew served us more delicious watermelon on the trip home and Patricia was waiting for us with juice and cookies.