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Trip Report: Huracan Diving, Long Caye, Lighthouse Reef, Belize

Discussion in 'Belize' started by Banyan, Dec 21, 2015.

  1. Banyan

    Banyan Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: New York, NY
    143
    37
    28
    In brief: I dove with Huracan for one week in mid-December.I recommend staying and diving with Huracan, with some caveats. They appear to be having a few logistical problems that affected the quality of the stay, but those issues are resolvable. I was lucky with the weather: it rained the first and last nights of the stay, and otherwise it was gorgeous, clear and calm. The group was left in the water for an hour when the boat lost track of the divers, which I believe was highly unusual and not indicative of the dive operation.

    Stay:
    Huracan has a lodge with four rooms. A fifth room with outside doors was created while I was there to handle overflow guests. The overflow-overflow guests stay at Itza Lodge, which is a 20 room resort by the main dock that appears to be nearly always empty. The price includes lodging, meals, diving, and the ferry back and forth to Belize City, which takes 1.5-2 hours, depending on the weather. The lodge is located a few minutes walk from both the main 'sunrise' dock and sunset dock. There were never more than 7 guests at a time when I was there, though the owners who were visiting stated that they were booked solid through February and there was about to be a massive surge in visitors for Christmas week.

    I double-confirmed a diet request when booking, including on the written receipt, only to be served a meal I couldn't eat the first night. Fortunately, my diet could be satisfied just by going vegetarian. Several staff privately noted to me that there is bad communication between the booker and the lodge staff. If you have special dietary needs, or any special requests for your stay, I would double confirm with the booker, confirm at the marina before getting on the boat, and then personally tell the chef when you arrive on island. I do not trust the communication structure they have in place.

    The Huracan website states that power comes from solar panels; it does not state that the battery has ceased to function, so they have to run a generator all night long so guests can use their fans and lights. I stayed in the room closest to the generator and was unable to properly sleep due to the actual shaking of the bed and roar of the generator. Twice I woke up a member of staff and had them turn off the generator around 2 am so I could sleep. During the 'changeover day' (guests leave and arrive twice a week on Saturday and Wednesday), staff built a styrofoam housing for the generator farther away from the lodge to reduce the noise. I also moved into the vacated room on the other side of the lodge farthest away from the generator, and could barely hear it even at night. However, the couple who moved into my old room complained the next morning that they had trouble sleeping because of the generator noise, even in the new location. The owner commented that he had to special order a new battery from the U.S., and I do not know when it will arrive and be installed. When booking, I would check to see if the battery/generator issue has been resolved and, if not, request a room on the side away from the generator (towards the road).

    You can rent paddleboards and kayaks from the beachfront of Itza Lodge. The Huracan staff did not tell anyone that they had their own kayaks that staff could transport to the shore. The only reason I found out is because a guest was talking to the owner about renting Itza kayaks and the owner asked why they didn't use the lodge's for free. I don't know why Huracan staff wouldn't have volunteered that information, esp. since they actually directed guests to Itza. In any case, I recommend paddleboarding around the lee of the island, where I ran across about 5 rays in 5 seconds and tracked a baby nurse shark through the mangroves for a few minutes. There's no doubt that the island is beautiful.

    Otherwise, I thought the staff was amazing, going above and beyond in their efforts to make you feel welcome. Chef Dyron in particular made some truly delicious meals. I spent plenty of time reading books and watching the sunset at the back dock, which is what I wanted to do when I wasn't diving. One very minor quibble is that the owner wife was in the lodge. She is not a diver, a gossip and apparently bored much of the time, which means that you'll run into the lodge after a dive for a quick rinse and relaxation and she'll stop you in the hall, dripping salt water, to dish dirt on Itza or some aspect of the lodge. Some people might find that amusing; I was irritated that I was having to find ways to politely extricate myself from predatory chatting, rather than the no-nonsense diving and lounging I wanted to do.

    Diving:
    There are typically three dives, at 8 am, 11 am, and 3 pm. As no dive site is farther than 15 minutes, you typically return to Long Key for meals and lounging around inbetween. 3pm seemed a bit late to me, as the light was typically going by the time you were in the water, but you could probably request a 2 or 2:30pm dive to get more light. The first day seems to be reserved for the relatively shallow dives along Long Caye, no more than 4 minutes or so out of the dock. The second day is two dives off Half Moon Caye and the third off Long Caye. If you are in a Saturday to Wednesday segment, the first Half Moon Caye dive is to 100 ft to evaluate your ability to handle deep diving before the Blue Hole Dive on Tuesday. The remaining two dives on Tuesday seem to be open to guest suggestion, but likely include a "lion fish hunt", where you watch the guides kill lionfish that are delicious during dinner later that day. One of the two boats advertised on their website is broken, and a mechanic was on the island seeing if it was repairable when I was there.

    I have limited experience with Caribbean diving, but thought the diving was very good. A cold weather system had brought visibility down to 60-70 ft or so the first day, but it gradually improved each day afterwards. It was certainly better than the diving I've done out of Key Largo, and comparable to Cozumel. The coral quality is better than Cozumel, but it doesn't have the drama of Palancar Caves, for example. Half Moon Caye's wall is riddled with swim throughs that beckon at 40'-60', once the guides are confident that you are competent and won't stress if you disappear from view for a bit. There were sharks and/or rays on most dives and an assortment of pretty fish, gorgonians, fans, nudibranchs and shrimp to admire nearly all the time. A couple moments on walls I was reminded of Peleliu Wall, which is very good, though it's certainly a tier or two below that site. That said, there's very little to actually complain about in terms of dive quality.

    The main guides are an instructor and dive master, both of which were personable and have many thousands of dives in Belize. We did have an issue with the pilot-in-training, which eventually ended up with the divers being stranded in the ocean for an hour waiting for the boat to find us. With a very good pilot, you'll typically surface to find that pilot a few hundred feet away looking directly at you. Even with the relatively tame dives on Long Caye, the trainee pilot would be pretty distant and looking in the wrong direction until the guide used his in-line LP hose whistle and waved his fin in the air to attract attention. So during the lionfish hunt, which is not on a dive spot but along a shallow reef between Long Caye and Blue Hole, divers came up in two groups at 45 minutes and 70 minutes to find that the boat was moving away. I came up with the guide at 70 minutes, who immediately united the two groups of divers and set off swimming after the boat. After 53 minutes on the surface, or 78 minutes for the two divers who came up early, the guide reached the boat and we were picked up. This appeared to be a result of a few factors coming together: an inexperienced pilot, a unnamed dive site that the pilot didn't have much experience on, a snorkeler on the boat who was jumping in and out to swim in the shallows so the boat was following her rather than focusing on the divers, and the first two divers up not having any noise makers to attract attention even though they could clearly see the pilot walking about the boat when they first surfaced. To their credit, the entire staff seemed appalled, with one staff member announcing that it was a "frankly a f***-up", and the lodge gifting a few bottles of wine that night for dinner. The trainee pilot was not allowed back on the boat for the rest of my stay, which has the unfortunate side effect that Huracan now has difficulty doing proper drift diving, since the boat has to be tied to a buoy or anchored if the two main guides are in the water. I had forgotten my 3' SMB and spool at home, and had debated with myself about tucking my old 6' SMB in what I now refer to as my 'oh sh**!' pocket. (As in, if I have to open that pocket, I've just mentally cussed because things have gone pear shaped.) I don't think I'll ever go on a dive without an SMB after that experience; there's something comforting about having a large safety sausage to wave as your boat become a dot in the distance. Now I need to add a whistle and mirror to my 'oh sh**!' pocket.

    Conclusion:
    Huracan offers some very good diving from a beautiful and interesting remote island, with excellent customer service. I recommend quadruple checking any special requests to ensure that they reach the staff who will actually implement them and also clarifying the generator noise situation when booking. With those caveats, I recommend this operation.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2015
    Nils Barth, chavala and mselenaous like this.
  2. Downing

    Downing Loggerhead Turtle

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Portland, Oregon
    1,869
    602
    113
    Excellent report, thanks.

    Any topside photos that you can post would be much appreciated.
     
  3. Shasta_man

    Shasta_man Loggerhead Turtle

    2,473
    603
    113
    Thanks for the report.

    <<predatory chatting>> Nice, thanks, I'll use that.

    58 mins wait on the surface?!

    Regardless, my two cents is the 6' SMB always goes with you no matter what or who you are diving with.
     
  4. mmmbelows

    mmmbelows Regular of the Pub

    1,031
    573
    113
    I'll give you a lot of credit for your patience and ability to overlook unforgivable things. Your review was more than enough to keep me far away from them. A hour wait on the surface???? Deal breaker just for that. Too many other places to stay in Belize.
     
  5. tridacna

    tridacna ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: New Jersey
    5,890
    2,936
    113
    I'll take a GIANT PASS on this operation. Noisy generator? Hour in the water? You're an angel for tolerating all that and then recommending them. This one goes on the "Do not recommend to my customers list". Thanks for posting.
     
  6. Banyan

    Banyan Divemaster

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: New York, NY
    143
    37
    28
    I finally got my pics off my SD card. Here are a few, though I apparently never took a picture of the actual lodge building. I'm not sure if there's a gallery function on SB that will organize these better...

    On Long Caye, sunrise dock with Half Moon Caye on horizon: 2015-12-17 04.49.27__1450847464_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-17 04.28.16__1450847387_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-17 04.34.56__1450847415_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-17 04.47.00__1450847441_99.3.145.165.jpg

    Some room pics: 2015-12-12 15.25.22__1450847112_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-12 15.27.45__1450847148_99.3.145.165.jpg

    The walk to the sunset dock on Long Caye: 2015-12-13 14.55.43__1450847180_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-14 15.53.42__1450847309_99.3.145.165.jpg

    On Half Moon Caye: 2015-12-14 07.45.34__1450847205_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-14 07.57.12__1450847231_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-14 08.36.09__1450847259_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-14 08.46.23__1450847284_99.3.145.165.jpg

    On the boat: 2015-12-15 06.40.27__1450847340_99.3.145.165.jpg 2015-12-15 06.57.12__1450847364_99.3.145.165.jpg
     
    large_diver likes this.
  7. AWMIII

    AWMIII Divemaster

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Philly
    281
    105
    43
    I don't think most people have any idea how remote Hurican is. I doubt there are any other dive resorts as remote in this hemisphere. Couple the remoteness with being in Belize and it become very difficult to meet most American's expectations. However, a boat captain should be able to follow the bubbles inside that atoll. There are very few other divers and the surface is usually like a millpond. I have not stayed at Hurican, but I have been to Lighthouse Reef a few times. I always decided that the Aggressor seemed like a better deal since Hurican always seemed expensive.
     
  8. Stoo

    Stoo NAUI Instructor

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Freelton & Tobermory, Ontario, Canada
    3,079
    2,806
    113
    Thanks for the review... I am a few weeks away from returning to Huracan for the forth consecutive year. For my money, it's the best overall diving in the Caribbean.

    It sounds like you had more than your share of problems, and not insignificant ones. As AMWIII mentioned, this is a very remote location and is almost what I call "expedition" diving. One is wise to pack a sense of humour when one goes. None the less, failed batteries and "failure to locate" a dive group is a pretty significant issue. My wife and I tend to wander from the group, but we are both well equipped with SMBs and so on, but none the less, the boat really shouldn't be more than a few yards away.

    For the past two years, the resort was competently managed by Anna, who has now moved on to other adventures. It was my understanding that our last DM, Arthur, was going to be managing the place, but looking at his FB page tonight, I have a feeling that that may not be the case! Can you share any information in that regard?

    Regarding the Bernard's wife, I've not met her, but I'd be surprised if she was comfortable there. Bernard himself is without doubt, the most unlikely dive operation owner I've met in 35 years of dive travel. The food has improved by leaps and bounds since he hired Dyron and Bernard is an interesting guy to chat with!

    Anyway, I will pack extra SMBs, earplugs and perhaps a waterproof cowbell this year!

    (BTW, in the three years I've been there, they have never had both boats working...)
     
    Nils Barth and chavala like this.
  9. Stoo

    Stoo NAUI Instructor

    # of Dives: 5,000 - ∞
    Location: Freelton & Tobermory, Ontario, Canada
    3,079
    2,806
    113
    Just by way of an update to my last post, Arthur has confirmed he is still there, which bodes well... Nice guy and very "customer focused"...
     
  10. beluga2

    beluga2 Nassau Grouper

    105
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    I spent last week diving with Huracan. 20 new batteries arrived on the Wed.

    Diving was fantastic. You have very small groups and have first access to all the best sites.

    The food was amazing and the comfort level just cannot be matched on a liveaboard.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jan 24, 2016
    Nils Barth likes this.

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