Beautiful Belize

(© Ian Plant) With most U.S. destinations overflowing with photographers these days, many shooters are beginning to look elsewhere for locations that are (as of yet) not completely covered with a thicket of tripod legs. Belize in Central America makes a wonderful and relatively easy destination for U.S.-based photographers, for several reasons: Belize is just a short flight away from Miami, is relatively inexpensive, easy to get around, and best of all, English is the official language. Oh yeah, the scenery isn't bad either!

There's plenty to see and photograph in Belize, including ancient Mayan ruins, scenic waterfalls, dense rain forest jungles, abundant wildlife, the second largest barrier reef in the world, and deserted tropical islands which give new meaning to the word "paradise." I'll highlight two of my favorite areas in this blog post, and save a few others for another post.

Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, located in the mountains in the western part of Belize, looks almost more like the highlands of North Carolina than tropical Central Amercia. Much of the area is covered in pine trees rather than thick jungle, although as soon as you drop down into the valleys things begin to look more steamy. The area is famous for its caves and waterfalls. Rio Frio Cave is a giant cave open at both ends that you can hike in, making it an easy photo destination. To learn more about the story behind my image of Rio Frio Cave, click here.

The Rio On Pools contain a number of small waterfalls and cascades, making it a great place to explore and find an original image. Some of the other waterfalls in the Reserve are very scenic, but were less to my liking because the compositional opportunities were limited to one or two distinct perspectives. Rio On proved to be much more fertile ground for creativity. To learn more about the story behind my image of the Rio On Pools, click here.

Another area I really enjoyed was Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, located on the barrier reef offshore of Placencia. You'll need a boat or kayak to explore the offshore islands; plenty of tour operators can get you out to the reef for a day of photography and snorkeling. I spent a few days in the backcountry exploring by kayak, and also hired a boat for the day to get out to one of the more remote locations, the Silk Cayes. I have a story behind this image that is not entirely true . . . if you are looking for some comic relief, click here.

You'll need a waterproof camera or an underwater housing if you plan on doing any photography of the reef. I spent several hours photographing sea turtles, a magical experience. It was a choppy day, and none of the commerical tours braved the rough waters, so it was just me and the turtles. To learn more about the story behind my image of the turtle, click here.

I'll put up some more Belize images and location suggestions in my next post. Until then, start planning your own Belize adventure!

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    There are still plenty of relatively unknown astounding or sublime spots in the US. The difference is that they’re typically reached by hard work on foot or offroad or otherwise discovered ‘in passing’ while doing something other than practicing photography. At times, it’s the journey (discovery) not the destination (photography for your typical audience).

    Some say that they’ll always stop to snap a good shot from landmark locations such as tunnel view in Yosemite. Sure I’ve stopped there too – it’s a nice predictable snapshot which could turn out great if conditions happen to be right. But many times I drive past such spots because I don’t want to be trapped in group think and the herd mentality, and frankly even those extra 15-20 minutes saved could lead to more unique, personal discoveries nearby…

    Thanks for chiming in JDB – you of course speak the truth. I was being a bit theatrical for dramatic effect – but you are right, one doesn’t need to travel overseas to find fresh perspectives. Still, new locations are pretty cool . . .

    Great stuff, Ian. I spent a lot of time in Belize two decades ago, inc. shooting in Rio Frio cave with Kodachrome… e.g. WAY before HDR. But it is great to see this terrific little country in the hands of a master. Well done.

    I admire your photographs. Wife and I spent 3 enjoyable weeks in Belize and Guatemala via Blount small-ship cruises last February. Very few opportunities to photograph without fellow travelers in the way, but I saw enough to intend to return for a less-structured visit. Your images reinforce that intention.

    I notice that in your photographs that include moving water, the exposures were long, to smooth the water. Many other outdoor photographers do that as well. For me it has the opposite of the intended effect; i.e. it makes the water appear static. Do you ever photograph moving water without this technique?

    Hi John, I usually aim for a shutter speed that will blur the water without completely doing so – I like to keep some texture to the water to imply motion. I don’t often shoot water with a high shutter speed to freeze the action – the water ends up looking like ice rather than moving water. Thanks for your comment, I hope you get back to Belize again!

    I’m so glad I found this site…you have some amazing shots of Belize! My wife and I have been here for a little over two months now, and there is SO MUCH to see! Especially in the Mountain Pine Ridge, where I have been to numerous waterfalls, a couple that are not on any “tourist” destination maps and require local knowledge to get there, along with a thorough hike through the rainforests.

    Check out my website to see some shots as I am currently uploading my Rio On Pools shoot and will link to your page and photos!

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