Situated on the east coast of Central America in the Caribbean Sea, Belize is well-known for its Barrier Reef which is the world’s second biggest barrier reef after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. With a coastline that stretches over 380 kilometres, the impressive barrier reef and over 450 cayes to explore, it’s understandable why Belize is considered a diver’s paradise.
The coastline of Belize is made up of lagoons and a predominantly marshy landscape whereas the Belize Barrier Reef offers the crystal clear waters you’d expect from the Caribbean Sea. This rectangular shaped country is bound in the north and south by the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers respectively which can lead to reduced visibility closer to the marshy coast. With its abundance of marine species and a range of diverse ecosystems in such a small area (Belize is roughly the same size of Wales or El Salvador), Belize forms part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Belize is definitely one of the best diving locations this world has to offer with long stretches of pristine coral reef, schools of tropical reef fish, exciting cenotes to explore as well as steep walls for drift diving enthusiasts.
Aside from world-class scuba diving, Belize is known for its beautiful beaches, luxurious eco-lodges and dense jungle areas complete with historically significant Mayan ruins. Originally part of Guatemala, Belize has an interesting history and strong ties to both the Caribbean and Latin America.
Best Diving Destinations in Belize
The Blue Hole
Not only does Belize boast the second largest barrier reef after the Great Barrier Reef, but it is also home to the biggest known underwater sinkhole known simply as the Blue Hole. Although there are hundreds of dive sites to explore along the barrier reef, the Blue Hole is one that is not to be missed. In fact, it is so big that it can even be seen from outer space! The highly acclaimed Jacques Cousteau declared the Blue Hole one of the world’s top 10 diving sites in 1971 and scuba divers have been flocking to visit this beautiful site ever since.
Located off the shores of Belize City in what is known as Lighthouse Reef, the Blue Hole appears as a deep blue centre in the middle of the atoll surrounded by the much shallower and lighter blue waters of the Lighthouse Reef lagoon. Stretching roughly half a kilometre across, this Blue Hole is the reason that many divers choose to explore Belize in the first place, so ensure that this site of natural wonder gets added to the top of your Belize diving list. Marine life is also in abundance in the sites surrounding the Blue Hole, and the Blue Hole itself is well-known for sightings of hammerheads.
Light House Reef is an atoll that lies east of the barrier reef. Diving accommodation can be found on the atoll itself and the reef provides some remarkable diving. The dive sites are mainly scattered around the edge of the reef and while offering differing highlights most sites have a shallow reef section that sits above the main reef wall which is also a dive feature. (the wall dropping into the depths of the ocean). The specials of the diving include coral caves and caverns (from the spur and groove reef structure), hard and soft corals, sponges, as well as large pelagics, such as turtles, eagle rays, nurse sharks, etc… and a large variety of marine life.
In addition to the great reef/wall diving that light house reef offers, it also has a blue hole. In the middle of the atoll fringed by very shallow reef, the blue hole is a cenote/sink hole that drops down to a depth of 126 meters. The walls of the blue hole are overhung and stalagtites have grown from beneath the overhangs. The floor of the blue hole opens into a cave system.
More not-to-be-missed dive sites are situated parallel to Ambergris Caye’s east coast and offer great drift dive and night dive opportunities at sites such as Tuffy Canyon. A protected underwater reserve known as Hol Chan is situated near Ambergris and is home to the well-known Shark Ray Alley. As the name suggests, divers are likely to encounter sharks and majestic stingrays in this area and will not be disappointed by the variety of marine life in this reserve.
Ambergris Caye laying only 1km west of the barrier reef is the normal destination for divers wishing to dive the barrier reef. The main tourist center on Amgergris Caye is the town of San Pedro. The barrier reef consists of a spur and groove reef structure with caverns, caves, cuts and tunnels through the reef. Many of the dive sites are part of a protected marine park and marine life is more prolific because of this protection. Typical marine life to be seen includes, spotted eagle rays, groupers, snappers, jacks, hard and soft corals and sponges.
Turneffe Atoll is the largest of the atolls, and the closest to Belize city, giving it the easiest access. It is also the largest atoll in the western hemisphere. This giant atoll is surrounded by magnificent dive sites and is only 20 kilometres away from the Blue Hole, making these sites an easy addition to a day diving trip for those that have time to explore more than just the Blue Hole.
The diving is concerntrated at the southern end of the atoll on both the east and west sides. The dive sites on the west side of the reef don’t drop off into deep water as sharply as those on the east side of the island, thus allowing plenty of diving for new/returning divers to feel comfortable in. The western dive sites have plenty of sponges, crustasians, corals and marine life to explore and good night dives can be had in these safe conditions. The eastern dive sites are generally characterised by splits, tunnels, rifts running through the tops of the reef walls, with the walls then dropping into the deeper water. Schools of fish inhabit the rifts/splits with large corals and sponges living on the outer walls. The steepness of the wall drop off also provides the opportunities to see large pelagics such as nurse sharks, green turtles, barracuda, eagle rays, grouper along this side of the atoll.
The Elbow is one of the better known sites on the Turneffe atoll and is a great wall diving experience. The Elbow offers some of the biggest barrel sponges you will ever have seen, with some of these sponges stretching almost 2 metres across. The waters of Belize are extremely bio diverse and are home to many protected species including three of the world’s sea turtle species. These Loggerhead, Green and Hawksbill turtles are regularly sightings in the waters of Belize and their placid nature makes them ideal subjects for underwater photographers. The turtles make use of Belize’s marshy coastline with its mangroves and lagoons to lay their eggs.
South of the big Turneffe atoll lies Glover’s Reef, a remote and protected atoll that offers impressive wall dives with many small cayes. One such site is known simply as The Wall and can be reached by swimming from the shore of the island.
Glovers Atoll named after the pirate John Glover is the least visited and most prestine of Belize’s dive sites. The atoll contains an 80 square mile lagoon surrounded by fringing reef. The reefs, step down to the outer walls which then drop off into the depths of the ocean. The wall diving is spectacular and commences as shallow as 40 feet. Typical marine life to be found on the atoll includes, nurse sharks, bone fish, grouper, moray eels, queen trigger fish, large parrot fish, manta rays, eagle rays and juvenille spotted drums.
Belize Barrier Reef
A little known fact is that only about 1% of the world’s waters contain coral reefs, but a massive 25% of marine species make use of these coral reefs for accommodation, food and hiding spots. With its barrier reef and masses of coral, Belize is no exception and as such is home to many marine species, many of which are found only in Belize. The white spotted toadfish is one such creature that is endemic to the area and enjoys hiding on the sandy seafloor or in the cracks and crevices of the coral reef. Although underwater photographers are unlikely to get this grumpy-looking fish to smile for the camera, its odd appearance is certainly one to add to the log book.
When to Visit Belize
Scuba divers will be pleased to note that it is possible to dive throughout the year in Belize. In the summer months, water temperatures are likely to be in the range of 26-30°C whereas the winter months will see only slightly cooler temperatures of 24-26°C. Air temperatures are similar throughout the year, although winter nights might see a drop in temperature to around 15°C thanks to cooling tropical breezes.
Visibility is second-to-none in these Caribbean waters, with the exceptional colours and marine life clearly visible up to 30 metres away. Jacques Cousteau was definitely on the right track in 1971 when he acknowledged Belize as heaven for scuba divers.
Getting to Belize
Belize is relatively easy to get to, with an international airport welcoming direct flights from many Central, South American and North American destinations. This major international airport is located in Belize City, the largest city in Belize. Belize also has a smaller municipal airport with quick and easy hopper flights to smaller runways in more remote destinations. Typically cheaper than flying from the larger international airport, travellers looking to save some money and explore more of Belize might want to explore this option. These hopper flights also appeal to the spontaneous traveller as tickets do not need to be booked in advance and are on a first-come, first-served basis.
When entering Belize, citizens of certain countries will need to obtain a visa. Travellers from Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom will not need a visa to enter, but will need to present a passport that is valid for at least 3 months. Visitors are advised to check visa requirements before planning their trip.
Where to Stay in Belize
Thankfully along with the increasing popularity of scuba diving comes increasing environmental concerns and Belize has done well to develop its eco-tourism habits with eco-resorts and great preservation efforts. Previously a victim of over-fishing, many resorts and dive shops play a large role in assisting with the monitoring and protecting of these beautiful reefs.
Some of the most popular resorts for divers are located on Ambergris Caye and Turneffe Atoll with private beaches, daily dive trips and the option to include the Blue Hole in any of your dive trips.
Due to Belize being a British colony, English is the official and most widely spoken language, so arranging dives and booking accommodation should not be a problem for English-speaking travellers. Spanish and Kriol are also commonly spoken.
Dive shops all over Belize are able to offer reliable service, dive training to advance your qualifications and equipment rental. Divers will be spoilt for choice when it comes to daily boat excursions but are advised not to miss the area’s most popular and top-rated site, the Blue Hole.
For those looking for an exclusive vacation away from the crowds, look no further than Glover’s Reef atoll, just a short boat ride away from the town of Dangriga. Glover’s Reef is the most remote but also the most protected atoll in Belize. Long Caye is a private island nearby which offers exclusive resorts and the chance to explore the famous dive site known simply as The Wall from the shore of the caye.
The country of Belize lies south of the yucatan peninsula on the caribbean sea. Belize is a true tropical paradise and has many attractions for all holiday makers, including Mayan ruins, 4000 species of flowering plant, 250 species of native orchids, 700 species of native trees, and 550 species of birds. Nearly one third of belize is a conservation area and Belize is also the last refuge of the jaguar. But, for scuba divers the main attractions are the barrier reef (the second largets in the world), and the offshore atolls of Glovers Reef, Lighthouse Reef and Turneffe atoll.
The official language of Belize is english and the belize dollar is the offical currency, although US dollars are also in wide use throughout the country. The largest city is Belize city, although no longer the capital.