If following the crowds isn’t your thing, booking a cruise-ship shore excursion may seem like an exercise in futility. Lynn Langway explores how to break away from the masses and arrange an independent shore excursion.
At midpoint on a Caribbean cruise, more than a few passengers may be ready for a shore excursion that features something other than beaches and blenders.
That’s how my husband and I felt on a recent one-week cruise to the Western Caribbean.
After enjoying the snorkeling and shopping and yes, slurping some mammoth margaritas in previous ports, we wanted to break away from the crowd when the ship anchored off Belize City, Belize.
Lucky for us, we’d previously arranged an independent day trip to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary with the Belize Audubon Society.
Belize, a small Central American nation bordered by Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, is celebrated for its barrier reef. But it’s also a paradise for birders; more than 550 species of birds, some threatened with extinction, have been recorded here.
Crooked Tree, one of nine national parks and preserves that Audubon co-manages with the government, is one of the best places in Belize to see rare birds and mammals in the wild–and it’s located just 30 miles northwest of Belize City.
If you like birding, don’t miss Lynn Langway’s Birding South Africa: “Soft” Adventures & Safaris in South Africa
Our excellent adventure began with a short stroll from the dock to Audubon headquarters, where an expert staffer whisked us off to the sanctuary, a 36,000-acre spread of lagoons, wetlands, savannas and rainforest. Naturalist Derrek Hendy led us on a hike through rolling fields and along boardwalk trails where big yellow butterflies fluttered across our path, a brilliant red flycatcher posed on a fencepost, and a large orange iguana eyed us from a tree.
Over lunch at the Bird’s Eye View Lodge—a tasty rendition of a local specialty, spicy chicken with peas and rice cooked in coconut milk—Hendy told us of Audubon’s efforts to educate local children and farmers about the value of conservation. After a full, fascinating day, another Audubon staffer drove us back to the dock with plenty of time to catch the next-to-last tender—and spot a few more hawks we’d never seen before.
Find more adventures in our Eco-Travel section
During our breakaway day, we’d admired a total of 52 different birds, ranging from the well-named magnificent frigatebird, with its 8-foot wingspan, to the tiny rufous-tailed hummingbird. We’d learned something about the local culture and environment. At $130 per person for seven hours, including lunch, our excursion worked out to slightly less than the ones we’d arranged through the ship—and as Audubon members, we were delighted to contribute to such a worthy cause.
But you don’t have to be a card-carrying conservationist to get back—and give back—to nature on your next cruise. Several established organizations that maintain Caribbean preserves will arrange a guided tour upon request and for a fee. But remember the following caveats, or your cruise may leave you out to dry:
- Check that your ship permits passengers to make their own arrangements.
- Make sure the ship will dock close enough and long enough to allow you to get back to the ship on time.
- Let the cruise staff know where you’re going before you disembark.
Organizations that may be able to arrange guided shore excursions include:
- The Audubon Society,
- Bahamas National Trust,
- Panama Audubon Society
- Puerto Rico El Yunque National Rain Forest,
- Cayman Islands (several trails, great for beginning birders)
By Lynn Langway for PeterGreenberg.com. Lynn Langway is an award-winning editor, writer and journalism teacher. Visit Lynn on the Web at www.lynnlangway.com. Photos courtesy of Jerry Edgerton.
Related links on PeterGreenberg.com: