Belize: An Adventure Beneath the Surface

Photo: Great Blue Hole, Belize

Writer Summer Forrest

Photographer Garrett King

Adventure Logistics Questor Sapnu

After our 6 a.m. push off the dock, I sat at the front of the boat riding the waves as the sunrise warmed my skin. The ocean was a bit rowdy that morning on our Belize eco advenure, especially as we got a bit further out into open water.

“You’re gonna get wet!” our boat captain, Major, yelled from above.

This was my 20-second warning to either move my ass inside or stay there and fly off the boat. I moved—quickly. As I hugged the side of the boat with a firm grip on the red railing, the nose went up high and dipped down hard and fast, creating a huge wave of water over all of us as we held on and bent our knees deeply to absorb the shock. I can still see the wide smiles and hear the exhilarating laughter. This bunch of adrenaline junkies was stoked on the rush.

A couple hours later, we arrived at the Great Blue Hole for freediving—something I had never done before and felt a little scared to try. I’ve never been very good at holding my breath, and I’m a little intimidated by the open ocean—I don’t know what’s down there! Before we hopped into the hole, our dive instructors gave us a crash course on freediving techniques, safety, slowing down our breath and the pace of our hearts, and calming our minds—all great skills to hone in life in general. We practiced a bit on the boat, learned about “breathe-ups,” and took turns holding our breath as one of our instructors timed us. Then, it was time for the real deal.

ROAM: Belize: An Adventure Beneath the Surface
Alex floating above the sea grasses in the clear Caribbean water just off the dock of Belize Diving Service (BDS). BDS tallies up their fuel consumption each year and replants the same amount of sea grass. Photo by Garrett King

As it turned out, like most other scenarios in life that we build up in our minds as these big scary things, freediving wasn’t actually scary. Even into the depths of the 410-foot-deep hole! Quite the opposite—it was peaceful. Surprisingly, I was able to relax, take a look around, and be present and connect with my natural surroundings. It was empowering to retrain my mind in this way, when before I felt like I was suffocating.


Let’s go back—how did we get here in the middle of one of Mother Nature’s great wonders? Back home in Colorado, I was brainstorming what would become this adventure when a guy named Q was thrown into the mix. With an undying love of travel and adventure and curiosity as his compass, Q had hooked up with Belize Diving Services (BDS) and moved to the tiny island of Caye Caulker, where there are no cars and everyone is barefoot most of the time. This sounded like the perfect spot for the trip. I had a vision for an immersive, reboot of the mind, body, and soul through exploring all the wonders our planet has to offer, and Q was down to make it happen. We hopped on Facetime and threw together an epic plan in less than a week.

That said, typically, I prefer to travel without many plans. To me, having every detail locked down in advance doesn’t leave room for spontaneity, chance encounters, or unfiltered magic. At the same time, it’s always nice to have a well-connected local in your back pocket. This is where Q came in. I somehow then convinced a few spontaneous, adventurous souls to trust in the unknown and join us in Belize for a mix of freediving, scuba, nature, and connection.

ROAM: Belize: An Adventure Beneath the Surface
The crew: Garrett King, Questor Sapnu, Alex Lettrich, Summer Forrest, Shay Stevenson, Christie Martinez, Casey Creane. Photo taken by random dude on the beach. Camera set up by Garrett King

The four-day retreat that unfolded next was life-changing. Seven open-minded humans came in as strangers and left as a tribe. If you’re craving a meaningful escape, I’ve created a little cheatsheet that takes some the guesswork out of the equation.

Once you land, take a deep breath of warm, humid air. From the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport, grab a taxi to the Belize Express Water Taxi. Check your bags with the guys at the front—don’t worry, they’re legit. Head toward the water and purchase tickets to Caye Caulker. Then hop aboard the easy, 40-minute ride to the tiny island of Caye Caulker, located in the world’s second largest barrier reef. Sit up top to feel the wind in your hair.

Once on the island Caye Calker (pronounced “Key” Caulker), which is five miles long and 1.2 miles at its widest section, you’ll be greeted by your local guide in a golf cart as, with the exception of the occasional delivery vehicle, there are no cars on the island. I recommend immediately removing your shoes and staying barefoot for the remainder of the trip. Pretty much all the locals roll like this.

If you truly want to connect with your crew, staying in a shared house is the way to go. You just can’t experience the same level of random shenanigans if you’re staying at a resort. The beautiful oceanfront house above the BDS dive shop was perfect for us. Not only was it steps to the ocean and our fleet, it literally came with everything we could have needed or wanted. House staff. An incredible chef. Gorgeous views. Fresh watermelon, pineapple, orange, and mango juices fully stocked in the fridge at all times.

After dropping your things at the house, head to the dock for fresh fruits, ceviche, and drinks with your fellow travelers. Traveler’s Advisory: I would not advise eating half a habanero out of the delicious bowl of ceviche. I’ll admit, they do look bright and tempting, but they are evil. Trust me, your mouth will literally be on fire and you’ll spend 20 minutes swishing/spitting boxed milk. Feel the Belizean fire!

In our picture perfect world of social media, it’s easy to think the lives of others are better than our own. When the truth is, we all have hardships and challenges. I wanted our group to be on the same playing field. So our first morning together, we all met on the dock to play a game called My New Best Friend.

How it works: Partner up with someone you didn’t know before the trip, and share a recent challenge in your life and what you want to bring into your life, as well as the basic stats … age, hometown, current town, family, etc. Then come back together as a group and introduce your new best friend. Do this and watch all of the protective superficial barriers fall right off the dock into the ocean.

ROAM: Belize: An Adventure Beneath the Surface
Alex saying good morning to a little reef shark at Shark Ray Alley. Photo by Garrett King

We had the opportunity to visit the coral nurseries in Turneffe Atoll with the non-profit Fragments of Hope. Learning about these restoration projects firsthand and seeing the nurseries with our own eyes was fascinating and inspiring.

Yes, this—getting to the root of the problem. It starts with us. The foods we eat, the products we use, the processes and policies we support, the cars we do or don’t drive, the way we use and create energy. This all leaves me wanting to decrease my own carbon footprint more than I already am.

At 410 feet deep, the Great Blue Hole is the largest sea hole on the planet. Which means, it was once a cave that became submerged by rising water some 10,000 years ago. It’s 984 feet wide and almost a perfect circle, making it easily recognizable from space and one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders.

The fusion of inertia from our circling boat and the very fact that we were 100 kilometers off the coast in the middle of this gorgeous slice of Mother Nature made for one of the most memorable moments of our lives. It was more than worth the 4:45 a.m. wake-up call. If you’re in Belize, freediving in the Blue Hole should not even be a question—get in touch with the dive shop, BDS, and make it happen. You won’t regret it.

ROAM: Belize: An Adventure Beneath the Surface
Inspired by their friends at Pick Up One, they cleaned up Half Moon Caye a bit. Remember to pick up trash on your next adventure! Photo by Summer Forrest
ROAM: Belize: An Adventure Beneath the Surface
Summer’s first dive at Half Moon Wall. Reaching for the fishies. Photo by Garrett King

After freediving, we headed over to Half Moon Caye for lunch and a little exploring. As you approach this historical national park and protected island, you’ll pull up to a striking white pier. Stepping foot onto this gorgeous island is definitely like something out of a movie. White sand. Turquoise water. Lush green trees. Big-ass iguanas. Red-footed boobies—this caye supports the only viable breeding for the red-footed booby colony in the Western Caribbean. We danced and played in the crystal-clear water. We picked up trash. Then it was back to the boat.

Before pushing off, those of us who were new to scuba got our gear on and hopped in for an initial intro before heading over to Half Moon Wall for a dive to see incredible marine life and corals in gentle conditions. If I’m being honest, I was a little scared of this, too—all those gadgets; not being able to rise up to the surface too quickly or my lungs could explode! No big deal.

Shay knew I didn’t want to do it. A seasoned divemaster who’s sailed and traveled the world, he asked me why I wasn’t into it and I made up something about “not being interested.” We were all pretty much novices to diving, with the exception of Shay and Q, but everyone else seemed to be excited. I thought, maybe if I just stay back on the boat, no one will notice. Obviously I couldn’t do this—I was the one who brought all these people here in the first place—I knew I had to get in the water.

So with all my gear on, holding my belt and mask—I just jumped. Fast forward to our entire group gliding gracefully through this mysterious underwater world. I was completely stunned. I had never experienced anything like it. Watching my friends blend seamlessly with the animals was a gorgeous reminder of the beauty we miss out on when we hand the steering wheel of our lives over to fear. Our happiness—and literally everything we want in life—lives outside our comfort zone. I generally live my life by this motto, but we all need reminders sometimes.

After a couple days on the water, we were ready for some time on land. We hopped on the ferry and headed to the mainland of Belize to visit the Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) caves—that have been ranked as the number one on the list of “Sacred Places of a Lifetime” by National Geographic and were visited by the Maya around AD 300-900.

You’ve gotta get Gregory and George of the Jungle as guides—they were the best. When you arrive, get a coconut pineapple rum drink from Rasta Ryan for three reasons…

1) very strong rum and fresh pineapple juice
2) smash it on a rock and snack on the meat of the coconut as you walk through the dense jungle en route to the caves, where you WILL get eaten alive by mosquitos
3) but don’t worry, rub the coconut meat all over your skin as it’s a natural mosquito repellant

Our guides were hilarious and a wealth of information. In the jungle, we ate mint termites and discovered the health benefits of the different trees, leaves, and sticks. We learned about everything from enhancing male erectile function to curing foot funguses! Our planet is truly amazing and so abundant in everything we need. Inside the caves, they took us where most guides won’t take you. We army-crawled through tiny claustrophobic openings to see ancient (broken) pottery and sparkling white crystals that literally took thousands of years to form.

Get in touch with Q and he will take care of everything—the ferry to/from the mainland, transportation to/from the caves, the tour, lunch.

ROAM: Belize: An Adventure Beneath the Surface
Summer, the writer of this story, shifting her perspective at sunset on Koko King Beach; Photo by Garrett King

A couple evenings after returning from a full day of subterranean exploration, we took advantage of the dock outside our house to refuel and stretch. Overlooking the tranquil Caribbean water, it was almost impossible not to slow down and drop into a relaxed state. I led the group in some pilates flow and our little Alex even took the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone and led us through her first yoga class!

On our last night, three of us decided to take a late-night paddle boarding session. We ended up super far from the shore. It was so calm. And peaceful. The layer of fog was gorgeous… you couldn’t see where the horizon met the sky and it felt as though we were floating in the clouds.

The other half of our crew was waking up to swim with reef sharks so they were back home sleeping… the three of us were like children not wanting the trip to end. We were staying up late night way out in the ocean just talking about life and how awesome the journey is. It was very memorable. And then once we realized how far we had floated out, we thought we should probably turn back in!

I’ve been working on planning a trip like this for eight years and I almost cancelled this thing for fear I couldn’t pull it off. That damn fear again. We will always be able to come up with excuses and reasons for not doing something that we want to do in life. But the way I see it is we’ve only got one shot, and I don’t want my 85-year-old self to look back and regret not going after the life she could have had or the impact she could have made. If you want something enough—if that little voice inside your head just won’t shut up about it—trust your inner wisdom and pull the trigger.

As individuals, we have immense power. We have inclinations and intuitive thoughts that exist to serve us and the sustainability of our planet as a whole. If you’re feeling the itch for something, there’s a reason. Trust the little voice. Chart the path within your soul. And perhaps I’ll see you on the next adventure!

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