THE MESOAMERICAN REEF
Exploring the Western Hemisphere's biggest and longest barrier reef & islands
> 1 month of traveling across the Mesoamerican Reef in Honduras & Belize <
We still clearly remember how the idea was unleashed. It was one of those cold winters in Denmark, and we had arrived back from a fantastic trip to Sulawesi – actually, our third trip during three consecutive years to Indonesia – and we wanted to do some more island hopping and diving, but wanted something different from our beloved Indonesia and the SE Asian region. So, we turned our eyes to the western hemisphere, towards Central America. And there is was, in the atlas, in front of our eyes: the Mesoamerican barrier reef.
The Mesoamerican barrier reef – also popularly known as the Great Maya Reef – stretches over 1000 km from Isla Contoy at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula down to Belize and Honduras’ Bay Islands. It comprises several offshore atolls, several hundred sand cays, mangrove forests, costal lagoons and a few larger islands. It is the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Its Australian cousin, the Great Barrier Reef, is only double the size, yet the Mesoamerican Reef is in its own way more remarkable. It’s the proximity to land and the intimacy of its connection with inshore habitats that sets it apart from its Pacific counterpart. Here, the provinces of mangrove, sea grass, and coral reef are bound so tightly together by currents, tides, and mutual need that it’s really not possible to tease them apart. In many sections, the reef begins within a few hundred meters offshore and as much as 10 km offshore in others.
We did a tour of the Reef that took us to the three Bay Islands off Honduras – Isla Roatán, Isla Guanaja, and Isla Utila – onwards to the Cayos Cochinos Marine Park, and finishing in Belize’s Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Isla Roatán had splendid beaches and great diving. Isla Guanaja gave us that off-the-beaten track feel with probably the best snorkeling just off our doorstep. Isla Utila was the typical backpackers' haunt with sandy streets, cheap digs and cheap food. We might call it the "Koh Tao" of Central America. The Cayos Cochinos archipelago, placed in the middle of nowhere, 30 km northeast of La Ceiba, was our little gem. It has two larger islands covered with thick tropical forest and ringed by white sand beaches, as well as 13 smaller sandy cays. We found the surrounding waters and reef to be simply magical. Belize's northern cayes, i.e. Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, Hick's Cayes, Cay Chapel, and several others, was the sort of place where we'd string up a hammock on the beach, and dance the night away to a reggae beat. Next morning, we’d explore caves, canyons and coral gardens underwater and come face to face with nurse sharks and stingrays.
For more island hopping adventures in Central America, check our pages on the Corn Islands in Honduras and the Bocas del Toro islands in Panama. Additionally, in Central America we criss-crossed all countries, and climbing the wild Volcanos of Guatemala.