Pelican Beach Resort was the brainchild of retired citrus farmer Henry Bowman Sr. (popularly known as "HTA"). Construction on the hotel began in 1969, and Pelican Beach opened for business in 1971 with 10 rooms and a restaurant and bar. At first, tours were only offered to the family's modest vacation home on the island of South Water Caye.
Dangriga (then called Stann Creek Town) was little known as a tourist destination. This soon changed as the enthusiasm of Henry Bowman Jr. and his wife Alice, coupled with their considerable management and cooking skills, coaxed a steady stream of researchers, student groups and families to visit.
A private airstrip built adjacent to the hotel was the main conduit for visitors, who were flown in from Belize City in a four seater Cessna 182. The airstrip was later donated to the town by Pelican Beach Resort and is now the Dangriga Municipal Airstrip, accommodating hourly flights every day. Other guests arrived via the Hummingbird Highway in taxis, buses and open-backed trucks.
At night, by the light of a beach bonfire, visitors shared the music and culture of the Garifuna people. By day they took tours to the offshore reef, the Mayan temples in the west and the rainforest in the south; or engaged in such popular activities as fishing, snorkeling and bird watching.
In 1972 a tropical storm led to a chance meeting between H.T.A Bowman Sr. and researchers from the Smithsonian Institution on the tiny Carrie Bow Caye, named after H.T.A.’s wife "Carrie Bowman". The scientists were looking for a suitable location to establish a marine field station and the one acre island of Carrie Bow, right atop the barrier reef and 14 1/2 miles off the coast of Dangriga, soon became that location.
Thus began the collaboration between the Bowman family and the Smithsonian Institution, which now spans over 3 decades and continues to flourish today. The areas surrounding the Carrie Bow Field Station, including the nearby South Water Caye, have been categorized as some of the most studied mangroves and coral reef in the entire Caribbean.
Pelican Beach's presence on South Water Caye began when the "Pelican's University" emerged as a base on the western side of the island for college students visiting Belize on tropical ecological tours.
The University, an old farmhouse from the Stann Creek Valley, was dismantled in sections and towed out to South Water Caye behind the "Merlin", a thirty year old, twenty-seven foot wooden hull sail boat that was the main means of transport to and from Dangriga and the cayes.
Students visiting Belize usually spent a few days in the southern rainforest, then travelled out and stayed in this dormitory styled building where they enjoyed plenty of good Belizean food and daily study trips to the nearby coral reef and mangrove habitats.
Pelican Beach also maintained a magnificent beach property at the southern end of the island belonging to the Sisters of Mercy, an order within the Roman Catholic church. In return for this maintenance, student groups were allowed to use the property for recreational purposes. In 1984, after the death of Henry Bowman Jr., the Sisters agreed to sell the property; and after a series of negotiations the Bowman family became the new owners.
It was at this point that a new generation of Bowmans came into the professional arena. Therese, the daughter of Alice and Henry Bowman Jr., and her photographer husband Tony Rath joined the Pelican team to manage and upgrade the facilities at both South Water Caye and Dangriga. Today, the entire property at the Caye is wind and solar powered in keeping with our promise to manage and maintain the island, in perpetuity, in a sound and environmentally friendly way.
At both of Pelican's properties and in the activities of owners, management and staff, there is an ongoing commitment to being responsible citizens. This is evidenced by ongoing voluntary participation and service in the following: