When people research Belize and our beautiful Ambergris Caye, the pictures they look at are taken in broad daylight, which makes sense, of course. Even in the winter months, these photos show off the vibrant colors of the beaches, the jungle, the sunsets, the blue skies and even bluer water. It’s a visual paradise, and one that our guests simply can’t get enough of. These are the colors of life!
But there’s another fascinating face to Belize for those who love to look up at night, and that’s the amazing starfield that stretches from horizon to horizon once the sun has completely vanished. Being so far away from the light pollution of large cities, the night sky in Belize is positively breathtaking. You don’t need an expensive telescope to take it in.
The air is clear and still, which makes the starfield absolutely transcendent. One of my most cherished memories – which I get to re-live nightly – is that some stars have color to them. They are not uniform points of white light. The absolute blackness of the sky allows your eyes to perceive differences in tone, with a little bit of yellow, blue or even red faintly tinting their shine. The stars mesmerize us when are sitting out on the front porch after dark.
The planets are easy to spot because they appear brighter than the stars, and they don’t twinkle (unless they’re close to the horizon). Bonus Trivia Fact No. 1: Stars twinkle, and planets don’t. Why? Because of the refraction of light in the earth’s atmosphere. It has nothing to do with the stars themselves. Planets are close enough to the earth to usually not be affected by this.
An added bonus to planet watching is, the longer you stay here in Belize, the easier it is to watch them move across the sky. Every night, they will be in a slightly different place as they pursue their own orbits around the sun. Bonus Trivia Fact No. 2: The word planet comes from the Greek word for wanderer, since planets seem to wander across the fixed backdrop of the stars.
One of the most wonderful things to see in the Belizean night sky is the Southern Cross. It’s easily recognizable, like Orion or the Big Dipper, but the best part about it is, this is a constellation that can only be seen in or near the southern hemisphere. Your friends back in North America can’t see it. It’s one of the benefits of travel! There are dozens of apps available for phones and iPads that will help you find planets and constellations and the whole experience of laying back in a beach chair and staring up at the sky while being caressed by warm breezes is not to be missed.
The Mayans Studied the Stars, Too
If starwatching is something you’re interested in, be aware you’re not the first. The Mayans, whose history stretches back thousands of years, and whose temples are treasured monuments that you can visit during your stay, studied the stars very closely. Inscriptions and writings show their careful attention to labeling and tracking planets and stars, which helped them predict seasons for agriculture, and also helped them navigate. It is great to be reminded that we people of the 20th and 21st centuries are not the only ones with science and math at our disposal. The Maya and many other peoples of centuries past were just as intelligent and creative as us, and they used the tools they had to do remarkable things.
The Ocean at Night
When you want to take a break from stargazing, there is something else that is extremely beautiful about night on Ambergris Caye, and that’s the ocean. During the day, its crystal blue waters speak about its vibrancy and the life inside. The night ocean does the same thing but in a different way. The black ocean of the night is huge. It looks huge and it feels huge. Yet the constant lapping of the waves reminds you that it is alive, a presence. You can feel its enormity and you can sense the creatures within – large and small, as they continue with their lives. The ocean at night is far from desolate, even though it is just one color: black. Perhaps it’s because physically, humans are 75% water. So many people feel compelled to get close to the water as often as they can. There’s something immensely soothing about its mass.
Every once in a while we see the cruise ships float by on the other side of the reef. At night they are lit up like Christmas trees, and the way they seem to appear and then fade away is another special ocean experience. So together, the night sky and the night ocean deliver yet another amazing and transformational experience to visitors who come to Ambergris Caye, something that touches our busy souls and says, “take a moment and breathe in, with all of your senses, the timeless presence of sea and sky at night.” It’s truly a gift, and one that will remain one of my greatest memories. Hopefully yours, too.