We were standing opposite an extremely laid back, tall gentleman who introduced himself as Charles. He was our pilot for the flight and after explaining a few safety precautions he proceeded to organise us in the plane – the two tallest at the back, two in the middle and me as co-pilot. If he knew beforehand that I could just about drive a car let alone a plane, he may have reconsidered his decision!
The plane was not exactly high-tech, the seats were covered in a heavily worn sixties floral pattern and the seat belts looked like they had seen better days. I was getting a little nervous but Charles’ relaxed approach made us all feel comfortable and as we got to the start of the run way we were all really excited.
The asphalt run way is just over 800m, fairly short compared to most runways, with a drop to the ocean if you don’t make it. We had nothing to worry about as Charles took off perfectly and we started to the see the land disappear beneath us and turn into the beautiful Caribbean sea. My words and photos do not do it justice but the colours were just breathtaking – the various blues and greens interjected with white and yellow depicting oddly shaped coral reefs and large strings of sargassum.
The flight to the Great Blue Hole was around twenty minutes long which allowed us to marvel at the sea beneath us. About half way into the flight, just as we were starting to get comfortable, Charles turned around to everyone asking if they were ok – everyone responded “yes” with great big smiles on their faces. The second the word yes came out of our mouths, Charles suddenly dropped the plane about ten feet (maybe an exaggeration) and we all shrieked like schoolgirls! I instinctively grabbed the co-pilot handles and then realised that probably was not the best idea so I grabbed the door instead. That’s when the door pushed open just a tiny bit (still on a latch) but what felt like a few centimetres – at that point I really did think I was maybe going to fall out! Charles thought it was hilarious, obviously playing this trick on all his guests – I knew this wasn’t just going to be an ordinary fly over.
As we neared the Great Blue Hole you could barely distinguish it from any of the other dark blue patches in the sea however the closer we got, the clearer it appeared. A perfectly formed, dark midnight blue circle surrounded by a turquoise rim. It was as if someone had dipped their ink pen in the ocean and it had left a perfect dot that had bled at the edges. It reminded me of a largely dilated pupil looking up at us, it’s secrets hidden beneath it.
Surrounding three quarters of the hole was a white, green and brown coloured reef with two openings that allowed the boats to come through. We were lucky enough to go early in the morning and there were only two small white boats breaking the perimeter of the deep blue ink spot.
We did two circles of the hole on one side; Charles did another stomach churning turn with the plane on its side, to then circle the hole on the other side. We then proceeded to do a low fly by, the wings nearly skimming the boats floating on the surface of the water – we could even see the divers about to go down and they waved to us. They were like tiny white paint splashes on the pristine blue ink.
Flying away from the Great Blue Hole, we flew over an old ship wreck – a British cargo ship that had washed up on the outskirts of the Lighthouse Atoll. You could still see the remains of old containers and cabin quarters – it was amazing to see it still so intact.
I thought the flight back would be a relaxing cruise back and I could take my hands off the sides of my seat for the fear of another stomach churning turn. I was right; I would take my hands off the seat but only for Charles to tell me to fly the plane. At first I thought he was joking but then he really insisted I fly! I nervously put my hands on either side of the “wheel” and he promptly took his hands off and laid back. I was petrified. Now, I know he would never have let anything bad happen but I suddenly felt that everyone’s life was in my hands – I do tend to have an active imagination! I tested moving the control just slightly left and the plane really did move – this man was crazy letting me do this! I continued to fly whilst Charles pretended to text on his phone, sleep and do anything that was not keeping an eye on me! Eventually my hands got so sweaty I handed back the controls and Charles flew us safely back.
Once we were back on solid ground, the rush of adrenaline continued to surge and we were all so excited at what we had just experienced. My hands were still slightly shaky but it was an experience we will never forget.
As much as I try to describe how amazing it was seeing the hole from above, nothing will really do it justice except if you do it yourself. So for now, my words and photos will have to suffice!
The Great Blue Hole 100km off the coast of Belize City at the center of the Lighthouse Atoll (accessible from Caye Caulker or San Pedro) is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO and has been listed in many top ten lists for diving and most amazing places on Earth. It is the largest underwater sinkhole of its kind at 300 metres across and 108 metres deep.