Honduras & Belize: Unexpected Encounters and Nature onboard Ponant’s Le Dumont- D’Urville. Part III

Written & Images by Chloe Hambidge

Part III- Placencia, Half Moon Caye, Blue Hole.

Sunday November 26th 2023, Placencia, Belize

Back where it all started, after covering all bases in Honduras, we woke up in the vibrant Placencia. Once again hooked at the term ‘wildlife’ I woke up early to embark on a Wildlife Lagoon cruise, boarding a local boat with three knowledgeable guides. We were offered water and rum punch (I’m sure it was 5 o’clock somewhere) and before we knew it we were flying through mangroves and into the depths of the lagoon. To commence our wildlife spotting on a high note I saw the biggest iguana I have ever come across, perched a-top a palm tree bathing in the sun. Hard to spot and camouflaged amongst its leaves, its hard to imagine how such a calm creature can clammer to the tree tops. After circling the lagoon and its kaleidoscope of biodiversity we sailed beneath regal bird species until we reached the main attraction. We were signaled to their arrival with the unveiling of what looks like a pig snout surfacing through the water, followed by a big cloud of a shadow. Charmed straight away by their playful movements, we came face to face with manatees and their chubby presence as they bobbed all around us. It became a game as they were appearing all around us, manatees are rightfully protected in this area of Belize so we made sure our motors were off to properly enjoy the delight of their peaceful and well-natured company. Placencia’s sumptuous lagoon is known for being home to manatees, saltwater crocodiles, dolphins and many species of tropical fish.

Seemingly entering a whole new side of Belize, it appears we stumbled upon a slice of civilization that we were grew foreign too since embracing the beauty of Honduras. Despite thoroughly enjoying my seclusion and immersion amongst the most picturesque havens I’ve even seen- included those from travel brochures, Placencia seems to be the place where colours come alive.

Placencia seemed to be a good luck charm for us as we reached the final days of our trip, as we left the ship via zodiac it was a normal journey flying through the waves until I saw something behind us dancing in the waves. As the week went on I became increasingly friendlier with our expedition staff, it’s impossible not too with all their knowledge and desire to create the best possible experience for you. I pointed and got their attention straight away and there was a good 3 minutes of them thinking I was mad until we saw what had caught my attention. Dolphins seemed to surround us from every angle diving from the depths of Placencia’s deep blue depths. We came to a stop to properly appreciate them whilst the expedition staff shared facts and stories about these intelligent and friendly creatures. It wasn’t left on us how special this moment was as they frolicked underneath our zodiac and right up to the edge of our seats. After a good 15 minutes of watching in awe as the played below us, we started up our engines and slowly made our way to Placencia, but our new dolphin companions had other ideas as they followed us and put on the most magical spectacle we’ve ever seen. Propelling themselves through the momentum of our waves, the dolphins escorted us into the harbour dancing and prancing through the air, we were all mesmerized and truly speechless as we truly couldn’t believe our luck.

With a warm welcome from Placencias underwater world, this was mirrored as soon as we stepped into the village. Surrounded by a gorgeous blanket of emerald peninsula tucked into southern Belize, we were spoiled with 16 miles of sandy beaches. This former fishing village distills its Afro- Caribbean ambience in an unspoilt Eden of brightly-coloured traditional houses and enchanting landscapes. We were bathed with these upbeat grooves straight away from local bars, a suitable soundtrack for the villages eye-catching ambience. A veritable natural sanctuary on land and in the sea, there is one main walkway which ultimately leads you to an opening which is the treasure at the end of the rainbow- the beach, but what meets you throughout your walk is the true gold. We were met with a kaleidoscope of pastel painted sheds all packed with hand made souvenirs ranging from anything to beaded jewellery made from real gem stones to perfectly crafted hats telling a story through painted illustrations. Each shop as vibrant as the next, it was a parade of what makes Belize so special with ice cream stands and fresh coffee shops tucked amongst the sand to break it up.

Begrudgingly going back to the ship, Placencias brilliance seemed to have followed us onboard. Ready for dinner we indulged in some drinks (the Creole mocktail making a much needed reappearance), we watched the local troupe of Warassa Garifuna as they were welcomed onboard and performed a special slice of Plancencia in front of the backdrop of Le Dumont D’Urvilles infinity pool. The deck was decorated palm tree leaves from the island as the troupe performed on their drums with Garifuna dances. Its just another way Ponant delivers an authentic exploration experience.  We finished the evenings blasting all the best of Queen in the Blue Eye with the underwater flying by us before our very eyes and a glass of our favourite beverage in tow.

Monday November 27th 2023, Half Moon Caye, Belize

As our last day snuck up on us, we came face to face to what some people consider the piece de la resistance in Belize; the elusive Blue Hole. A natural monument in Belize, you will truly believe it when you see it as we were notified by its presence straight away by its almost iridescent blue glow. Down in its patchwork underwater kingdom you can see corals, sponges, sea turtles, leopard rays, eels and groupers.

Located in the tropical green crescent of Half Moon Caye which stretches across crystal clear water, it’s the oldest protected marine and ornithology area in Central America. A lucky dip of natural bliss you can enjoy beaches lined with coconut palms, but also an incredible underwater landscape that can be unlocked with fins, mask and snorkel. On this voyage all excursions are included apart from the Blue Hole Snorkelling Adventure priced at $270. This location is rightfully protected, meaning for us to have the privilege of exploring these waters we have to go with local guides and get permission to enter its waters, which is why Ponant charge for this excurison. Although, from shared stories from my fellow passengers, it was a small price to pay to get to witness this natural phenomenon for themselves. I felt like I’d had my fix of snorkeling so decided to make the most of Half Moon Caye on ground level where I could admire the puzzle pieces of blue and turquoise for myself.

Many guests onboard were avid divers and snorkelers so they were up early doors to discover the Blue Hole which made for a very laid backed day for the rest of us onboard. Providing shuttles to and from the beach all day, it felt like my natural calling to have a beach day reserved for relaxing and strolling around in my last moments in paradise. With beaches like powdered sugar, I strolled the whole island which never faultered to provide spectacles to gawk at. With red breasted boobies circling right above our heads and swarms of hermit crabs strolling from path to path it’s important to always have one eye open, which is perfect so you don’t miss a thing. These patchwork waters are almost illuminous, guiding you on your wanderings on this seemingly deserted island paradise. It may feel deserted as you sail into its blissful epicentre, but when amidst its flourishing depths that’s when the try biodiversity comes to life.

Hanging on for the final zodiac I wanted to be embrace every part of this little island, and my patience was rewarded. Just as we were about to sail back to our home at sea we were met by a family of nurse sharks. Patiently circling the wooden pier, we were transfixed as they floated just below our fingertips. Meant to be feared, we couldn’t comprehend how their friendly nature could be menacing as they surrounded us for 10 minutes. Almost blending into the pale blue water, these shadows seemed to be as intrigued in us as we were in them which led me to ask if I could swim with them. I had never seen these animals in the wild before and to get up close and personal with them would be a bucket list memory cherished for life. In typical Ponant fashion, the expedition team met my eagerness, or insanity to some, with a yes and in no time I was suited and booted in my snorkeling mask to swim alongside these majestic creatures. I slowly approached them in the shallow waters as they lay on the seabed seemingly for show, with their infant attached at the hip. It seemed like an act of serendipity as this wildlife allowed us to swim alongside them. It was as if they were patiently waiting for us to join them. I will always be thankful to Ponant who are dedicated to do whatever they can to make their expedition cruises special to each and every person in their own way.

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