Scuba, Caye Caulker
Frenchie's is one of the dive shops on Caye Caulker. We used them for a night dive, and had a great time with our divemaster. However, we were a bit disappointed when they couldn't give us confirmations on our other dives, despite the fact that we had emailed them weeks before to set up these particular dives. They kept saying they had to hit a particular number of divers, which I understand from a business perspective, but with a short amount of time, they left us in quite a lurch. We went to Black Durgon Dives and had a terrific experience. Just a word to the wise.
Caye Caulker has a number of fantastic dive sites, and a few companies to outfit you to go out. We tried several, and recommend the great services of Black Durgon Dives. Run by local Belizeans (Cory and Sim), they pride themselves on their small group size. While other services would load 10-12 divers on a single trip (not to mention divemasters), Black Durgon caps it at 6 (our dive was only 5), giving you a more intimate experience (it is also nice because they can go with only 2 divers, whereas other dive shops required a minimum of 5-8 divers to do a dive). They also handle all of the main dive sites and reefs, and are very flexible when times are slow.
They also go out of their way to be accommodating. We wanted to do some snorkeling after the dives, and the boat captains offered (for a small fee) to take us out and let us snorkel for a couple hours, just my wife and I. Highly recommended, very professional, will definitely use again next time we're in Caye Caulker.
I did two days of diving with Frenchies on Caye Caulker. Their shop staff were extremely welcoming,took time to explain what the sites were like, and were flexible with payment (no problem..come back after the dive with your Visa card). The DMs provided very thorough briefings but were flexible enough to ensure we all enjoyerd the dives to the maximum. The regs looked a little overworked but performed flawlessly, amongst the best I have used in the past few years. The smaller boat was a bit exposed to the wind but the larger craft was great, providing sun and wind shade. I would haveno hesitation in recomending them or using their services again.
Great, personalized operation. After dealing with the horrible experience with Frenchie's, it was nice to be treated like an adult with Big Fish. We got a great local dive of the Caye Caulker Canyons and Caye Chapel Canyons (it took at most 5 minutes to get there by boat). Surface interval was spent swimming with the rays at Sting Ray Alley (a shallow patch of sand and sea grass).
Good, professional outfit that treats you like an experienced diver!
We went on three dive trips with Frenchies. A two-tank trip was to the local reef, a three-tank trip to the blue hole and a one-tank nite dive. They were generally quite good with the highlight being the blue hole. Dive masters were excellent and I think Aubel (sp?) runs a good operation. Nevertheless, saftey standards were a little below what I was used to.
Bob's life goals were to visit Bermuda on his own sailboat and then sail down to the Virgin Islands. When I taught middle school science, I learned about rain forests so one of my life goals was to see a rain forest. So first we visited Bermuda (by plane), next we went to the rainforests of Costa Rica, and then we chartered a boat in the Virgin Islands. And there I re-qualified to scuba dive and that became one of my greatest pleasures.
Belize has one of the most extensive reef systems in the world - second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Since I didn't think I would ever get to Australia, the next best thing would be to go to Belize and dive on that reef.
Belize Diving Services is the name of one of Caye Caulker's best and longest operating dive shops (It was established in 1978) and that was the one that the Belize Transfer Services sent me to. The shop is owned and staffed by Master Instructor Kathy Dalton and Master Scuba Diver Trainer Dawn Williams. I did two dives with Kathy and Dawn. I had a brand new underwater camera which took me a couple of dives to get used to.
Two other dive operations, Sea-ing is Belizing (which was also a bookstore and gift shop), and the Belize Dive Shop also offer certification courses and trips to Turneffe Islands. Paradise Down is Caye Caulker's newest scuba diving service. Another dive operation is Frenchie's.
PS - Bob did get to buy his dream boat, but we haven't sailed on it to Bermuda. We have visited both Bermuda and the Virgin Islands by cruise ship.
This operater do not offer Tsunami adventures (thank God), they offers bigger trips fex the worl famous Blue hole outside Belize, walldives, visiting several reefs, you have to sleep on the boat and it is only for divers, some people we met said that it was worth every penny - 200 US !!?? well, well - all inclusive. Yeah - not my kind of game.
Paradise Down is a dive company that is friendly and professional. They cater to all experience levels of divers. Beginning divers are well supervised, and advanced divers are allowed more freedom. I dove the 3 tank dive to the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye one day, the local reef at Caye Chapel another day, and another 3 tank dive at Turneffe on yet another day. The rides out to the reefs are long, but they are a fun group that helps you to have a great time.
We arrived for a day trip via speedboat from our cruise ship. The snorkle dive was pretty good, on the island side of the reef (2nd largest barrier reef in the world). I would guess that the reef is only 600 yards off of Caye Caulker. Lots of rays, nurse sharks and tropical fish. The guides do a pretty good job of keeping tourists off of the protected reef.
We checked out some dive shops -decent equipment, a variety of tours (including night and cave dives), and they are cheap $40 for a 2 hour dive!
The opposite side of the reef is where they take you - and the bottom drops straight off of the reef. They had great photos of the seawall - it looked spectacular.
Next, we checked out a little hole in the wall hotel. From the outside the place looked like a steady wind could blow it down. Actually, MOST of the islands buildings look like this. We were pleasantly surprised to see well-kept rooms with natural wood, finished floors. The bathroom was a shared affair at the end of the hallway. The rooms had enough room for you, and a very close companion with a shared suitcase. It was not the Ritz-Carlton, but for the price of breakfast at many Carribean hotels, you got a tidy place to lay your head - $40!
Back on the ship, we met some other people that visited this charming island. They hated it. Therein lies the paradox of Caye Caulker. If you are expecting cruise ship amenities or conceirge service, don't bother stopping. If you would like a break from being a tourist, think that sand streets are better than Madison Avenue, and are able to lower your standards enough to enjoy a more natural beauty, you will love it there.
There are a couple of nicer hotels just down the beach in the $110 range - I even heard about one for $25.
Like I said we were on a day tour, so we didn't see it all. But we heard some bad music, ate some crappy food and fell in love with it all. We will be back, with scuba papers in hand, but I think we'll cave in to commercialism and get that bigger room down the beach.