Glovers Atoll Reef is an 80 mile square ring of brilliant coral off the shore of Belize. The water in the atoll is shallow and has over 700 colourful coral patches. To the east of the atoll the ocean drops sharply down to 15,000 feet at the end of the Caiman Trench which is one of the deepest in the world.
There are 5 small islands along the edge of the Atole the furthest from shore is North East Caye which is taken up entirely by Glovers Atoll Resort. One of the primary reasons we picked Belize for this trip was Glovers.
Glovers Atoll Resort is not a 5 star get away and it gets some negative reviews most likely from people who go there thinking that is what you get. We loved it!
Glovers has three types of accommodation. You can camp, you can stay in the dorm or you can stay in a cabin. Some cabins are on land others are built right out over the water. We paid the extra to be over the water. It was worth every penny. There is no power except in the main building, you are 40 miles from land, there is no store, and no WiFi. You can make your own meals (which most people do) or you can get meals in the main building. Meals have to be booked in advance. Think of it as camping and you will love it.
The Lomont family who own and run Glovers Atoll Resort have a catamaran which takes guests out to the Island from their on shore guest house in Sittee River. The boat goes out on Sunday morning and comes back on Saturday (although it was doing an extra mid-week trip when we were there in peak season). You need to be ready to go with everything you need for the week including drinking water at 7:00 AM on Sunday morning.
We opted out of staying at the Guest house in Sittee River because it is very isolated and a bit buggy (more of a concern as the mosquitos carry malaria, zeka and dengue fever although its very rare) and we wanted to spend New Year’s Eve on the beach. We went by on Saturday to make sure everything was booked for Sunday and then headed back to the Abacus Cabana in Hopkins where we were staying.
With the help of Clayton from the Abacus Cabana we found someone to take us and all of our supplies to Hopkins for 7:00 AM New Year’s Day. A bit of challenge because of the timing and the washed out roads between Hopkins and Sittee River which required a four wheel drive with a lot of clearance. The driver told us tales of crocodiles in the flood water on the way there. He said there was a three foot crocodile in the drainage ditch by his house. I am not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that we heard the stories after we waded through hip deep water with our bikes the previous day!
We arrived at Glovers Guest House without incident and met the other people we would be spending the next week with. It felt like we were off to Gilligan’s Island. There was a Spanish couple who immediately noticed my Ironman tattoo. He shared that doing one was a goal for him. A German couple and an older Austrian couple who spent a lot of time together over the course of the week. A younger couple from Colorado. He spent all week opening coconuts we dubbed him “coconut Pete”. A family of four from BC. A girl from the US who had been working as a volunteer on a farm and a group of three from New Mexico who arrived late.
The guests and the staff worked together to load the boat and we were off. The trip starts down the Sittee River which was surrounded by jungle and had lots of birds. We stopped at the marina where they sold highly over priced pop and beer.
The actual ocean crossing was pretty smooth (although I am told it is not always that way) our captain Willy was pretty relaxed. Evert, the 9 year-old from BC, filled me in with fun facts on the crossing. Including the fact that only 5 people a year are killed by sharks but over 130 people a year die when they are hit in the head by falling coconuts. I am not sure if that was supposed to be reassuring as we were about to spend a week on an island on a reef covered in coconut trees.
We saw flying fish on the crossing. Evert was very excited and told me we had been waiting for years to see some of those!
When we arrived on the Island Becky gave us a tour. Composting toilets, outdoor showers, the main building and a coconut opening station with a lesson on how to open green and brown coconuts. She assigned everyone their huts and gave us a briefing on the local fish.
The main building at Glovers has an eating area and you can arrange to get your meals served there for an additional cost but the huts all have 2 burner stoves and a basic set of pots, pans and dishes. Most people including us bring their own food and cook their own meals. You can buy some basics on the island but what is available is very limited.
The kitchen boat goes out every day and you can order fish/seafood which they return with fresh each night. We paid $7 US a pound for fish filets we watched them filet. The fish is all caught by handline. They also bake banana bread ($7US) and bread ($4 US) on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
You can rent snorkeling equipment, kayaks, and fishing equipment. They also do diving and certifications. There is a $30 B park fee for the week which the park staff stop by to collect and there is an additional park fee if you want to fish.
The Island is very small. It’s part jungle and part palm trees, all sand no shoes required except on the back side of the island where there is washed up coral rather than sand.
They will take you fishing or diving if you ask and pay but if you don’t ask for anything they will just let you be for the week.
Our over the water hut had a big deck over the water, a double bed and a set of bunk beds, 2 hammocks, a table and a stove. We brought supplies but we did not bring a cooler so anything fresh needed to be eaten at the beginning of the week. The onions lasted so did the tomatoes, the green peppers were rotten before we even got there! We had beans, rice, Tang (which comes in many flavours in Belize), rum and apple cinnamon oatmeal all the way from Canada. If I had it to do again I would bring jam!
We also brought candles which I would highly recommend because the kerosene lamps provided were pretty useless. We brought 5 gallons of water which was almost enough. We ended up buying some at the end which you can do but you pay a premium.
The wind blows all the time so bugs were not an issue over the water. The wind also kept our cabin cool although we did have to close some of the doors so our stuff did not blow into the sea.
We spent the week snorkeling, which was excellent, there are 100’s of patch reefs and several are so close to the island you can just swim to them. We saw lots of fish: parrot fish, tangs, angel fish, bone fish, jacks, Atlantic rays, lion fish, stone fish, moray eels, sunfish and flounder. The Lion fish are toxic and invasive. The government asks everyone to report and kill them but they do look cool. We did not see any sharks while we were snorkeling but there were lots around.
There fan cord anemones and sea urchins and a fair amount of colour on the reef but it seems a little damaged.
We rented a kayak to explore. Anchoring was a bit sit and miss because of the waves and the current. I also managed to lose a paddle at one point but we tracked it down again.
The atoll is surrounded by a “dry reef” which you can actually walk out on for 9 miles. Dry means “dead” not dry but we walked about 1 km our using sticks as poles and crossing water mid-thigh deep. We found snails and at one point I almost stepped on a flounder.
The owners encourage everyone to help out by collecting plastic which has drifted into the ocean and on to the beach. They provide sacks you can fill. We each picked up a sack or two. The amount of plastic and garbage floating in the ocean is alarming and rather depressing. There were lots and lots of flip flops and running shoes mixed in as well. It really makes you realize how bad the plastic really is. Disposable plastic water bottles in particular. We have been to so many places where you can’t drink the water and literally everyone is using disposable water bottles.
You are also encouraged to pick up the huge palm leaves and take them to the pit where they are burned. I learned that the brown coconuts on the ground are good for meat but only the green ones still on the trees are good for the milk. It all sounds simple but if you want coconuts you have to get them from the trees and open them, You can eat all the coconuts you like at Glovers but you have to open them first. I got one open over the entire week we were there. If I had to live on coconuts I would starve!
The daily entertainment is the return of the kitchen boat each night at about 5:30 or 6:00pm. Will the owners son, guts and filets the day’s catch. He throws the guts into the water and the sharks and rays some from far and wide. Most, but not all, of the sharks are nurse sharks which are not dangerous. The sharks and rays have been stopping by for dinner for many years. Will told us he fed them by hand as a child until his mother caught him doing it. The frigate birds and bone fish also come to feast.
The kids on the island and some of the adults tried catching bone fish from the dock. One of the kids caught a shark by mistake and will had to go it to rescue it.
We rented a kayak and paddled to Middle Island about 3 miles away. Paddling inside between islands is pretty calm but if you accidentally go past the dry reef the ocean floor drops off very quickly to 2000 ft and even in a kayak there are only a few places where its deep enough to cross the dry reef .
Middle Island is home to the park rangers. There is a research station, lots of Iguanas, a labeled nature trail and as much of the island is a mangrove swamp there are lots of bugs! Don’t go without bug spray. We ate lunch on a picnic table at the end of the dock with a thatched roof. There was a family of Ospreys in a next on the roof.
We had a family of Ospreys by our hut as well and we watched them hunt each morning. Other entertainment included Conch races which are very slow going and hermit crab races. We tried leaving new shells out for the crabs but we did not get any takers.
Bottom line on Glovers: We loved it but definitely best suited for independent travelers who are happy to get away from it all and are not looking to be entertained by people. The fish, coral and birds where all the entertainment we could ever ask for.