eneath the thickly layered Belizean jungle full of molting iguanas, giant hawks and invisible biting insects lies a shallow cave. Caves are inexplicably enticing. Maybe in a primal way, because not all that long ago in the evolutionary chain, caves were our homes, providing nature’s best shelter. Or maybe it’s that they’re dark and mysterious and capable of creating awe in our minds. Whatever it is, I paddle into the limestone orifice created by the Macal River in Central Belize. As I near the walls, rocks crumble off the wall and flutter near my face. I shift my balance so as not to fall off my standup board. The rocks are actually bats, lots of small, bouncy-ball sized bats, with extremely good camouflage, flicking above my head. Yet another surprise from a country full of them.
"Belize is the perfect beginner's paddling trip, providing both friendly standup paddling opportunities and unique travel experiences."
Traveling to standup paddle is a must. If you want to get into paddling for the first time or go deeper on your standup journey, take a trip. We recommend Belize. You’ll paddle until you’re blistered and your toes cramp while fighting the wind off an island 55 miles from the mainland, you’ll do things you never imagined (paddling on an underground river past a human skull embedded in limestone) and feel things you’ve never felt (the flutter of the wind off bat wings) and eat things you’d never eat (conch shell fritters) and experience different cultures (like the excellent ethnic drumming of the Garifuna people). Then you’ll go home with fantastic stories and strange memories. That’s the beauty of travel: the contrasts of a place you visit make day-to-day life at home seem beautiful again, and not as monotonous.
Belize, a tiny speck of a country nestled between Mexico and Guatemala on the Caribbean Sea, is easy to get to and easy to get around once you’re there. They also take American dollars (at a rate twice as much as Belizean currency); English is the national language and people are generally very friendly and want to promote tourism. These things all add up to an easy trip.
And there is water everywhere, prime for paddling. There are rivers of it. These rivers go into caves, meander around in flat marshlands, pour forth from the soaking green rainforest and encase the Belize Barrier Reef—at 185 miles in length, the second largest in the world—in the sublime Caribbean Sea. Best of all, the water is warm and welcoming.
All of these ingredients lead to one conclusion: Belize is the perfect beginner’s paddling trip, providing both friendly standup paddling opportunities and unique travel experiences. And for more seasoned paddlers, there’s plenty of ways to challenge yourself. Here, we tell you what to bring, where to go and how to do it in style.