Belize is a scuba diver’s paradise. The little country offers scuba divers the second largest barrier reef in the world. The Belize Barrier Reef is second in size, only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The reef is offshore from most of Belize's 240 miles of coastline. The actual coast of Belize has many lagoons and marshes. There is not much scuba diving off the mainland shore; the best dive sites are out along the barrier reef and around the atolls and over 450 islands or cayes (pronounced “keys”).
Belize is warm and dive-able year round. Summer highs are in the mid-80s and lows in the 70's. Winter still offers highs in the low 80's with nights dropping only into the 60's. The tropical breeze near the coast and on the cayes and atolls ensures that the heat does not rise even get into the 90's. This is a scuba diving paradise with steep walls ideal for drift dives, flooded sinkholes (cenotes) and miles of abundant coral reef and schools of fish. The Blue Hole within Lighthouse Reef is the most famous of these sunken sinkholes. In 1971, Jacques Cousteau's ship the Calypso sailed into the deep blue hole and declared that it was one of the top 10 scuba diving sites in the world. The average water temperatures in the waters off Belize drop only to the high 70s in the winter and get up into the mid-80s in the summer. Even on a cloudy winter day, a wet suit will more than suffice for a determined diver. Cousteau was right when he declared this corner of the Caribbean Sea a diver's paradise. The visibility of the waters around the atolls and cayes is often greater than 100 feet. The colors and clarity of the Caribbean Sea off Belize is legendary. The waters seaward of the Belize Barrier Reef are the clearest and as you head towards the mainland the visibility gets less and less due to the many rivers that flow into the sea.
English is the official language of Belize. Belize was a British colony since the mid 19th century. The country gradually established its independence from Britain throughout the mid 20th century and was known as British Honduras up until 1973. While English is predominant, Spanish and Kriol are also common in Belize. Belmopan is the official capital of Belize, a city in the central area of the country about 30 miles from Belize City and the coast. However, Belize City, situated on the central coast, is the largest city in Belize and the stage for most scuba diving expeditions and flights in and out of the country.
A list of the best and most beautiful dive sites in Belize must begin with the Blue Hole. Nested within Lighthouse Reef offshore from Belize City and beyond the barrier reef, the Blue Hole is the largest underwater sinkhole in the world. It is about a quarter mile across and distinct enough in size, shape, and color to be seen from space. The deep blue of its eye sits in the center of the atoll and contrasts starkly with the surrounding light blues and whites of the shallow lagoon within Lighthouse Reef. Scuba divers have flocked here for decades and many divers are inspired to explore underwater Belize initially because of the allure of the Blue Hole. The place is a haven for marine life and is famous for the Hammerhead sharks that frequent the depths of the sunken wonder. There are other nearby dive sites around the hole making this an amazing day trip or live aboard destination.
The Turneffe Reef is another popular dive destination in Belize. The atoll is the largest in Belize and the western hemisphere. The popular wall dive known as The Elbow sits off the most extreme southern tip of Turneffe Atoll, due east of Belize City and only 13 miles from the Blue Hole on nearby Lighthouse Reef. There are many dive sites that ring most of the Turneffe Atoll. It is also famous for its biodiversity of healthy and protected marine life. The Giant barrel sponge grows especially large here; from rim to rim the largest specimens of the sponge reach nearly 2 meters across. The atoll is also home to the three varieties of sea turtles that live in the waters of Belize: Green, Hawksbill, and Loggerhead. The sea turtles never leave the water and are seen regularly near the coast, reef and atolls. The only exception is that the female sea turtles leave the water every few years to nest their young on the shores of Belize's many lagoons and mangroves forests.
The dive sites off the reef that parallels the eastern coast of Ambergris Caye should not be missed. The scuba diving and tourism industry is really thriving around the San Pedro area of southern Ambergris, and, luckily, ecological preservation has gone hand in hand with its development in the last several decades. Ambergris is home to Hol Chan, a protected underwater reserve. The famous Shark Ray Alley gives snorkelers the chance to swim with the harmless and beautiful stingray and nurse sharks that frequent the area. Tuffy Canyon is another dive site, among many canyon dive sites off Ambergris. Tuffy Canyon is a dive site north of the San Pedro, Hol Chan area of southern Ambergris and is popular for night dives and drift dives.
The most remote and most protected atoll in Belize is Glover's Reef, just south of Turneffe Atoll, and east of the barrier reef off the town of Dangriga along the southern coast of Belize. The southern atoll and its remote small cayes that line its oval shape offer amazing wall dives. The Wall off Long Caye is the most spectacular and popular dive site on Glover's Reef. The amazing part of this dive site is that you can swim to the wall's edge from the island shore.
The abundance of coral reef off Belize's shores is home to many fish, mammals and invertebrates. Only 1% of the world's oceans are inhabited by coral reef but 25% of marine species live on the world's coral reefs. The biodiversity of Belize is no exception and is very rich in endemic species, meaning species that evolved in the waters of Belize. The Whitespotted toadfish, sometimes referred to as the White-lined toadfish, is a notable endemic fish species unique to Belize. This grumpy looking black fish with white spots has tentacle-like protrusions growing from its chin. The toadfish can be found hiding out in reef crevasses or resting on the bottom. There are also several blennoid species that are endemic to Belize and can be seen skittering around the many reefs.
Flying into Belize usually involves flying into the International Airport just north of Belize City, formally known as Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport (BZE). There are direct flights from the United States and Mexico City and many other Central and South American countries. There is also Belize City Municipal Airport (TZA) that offers hop flights to the many small runways in Belize, some remote. The hop flights from the municipal airport are notoriously cheaper that the same flights from the international airport and you do not need a reservation. Most of the flights, especially the regular daily flights Ambergris Caye's San Pedro Airport (SPR), are first come first serve and ticket prices are the same with or without a prior reservation. These last minute flights are perfect and cheap to suit the easy Caribbean vibe and the adventurous spontaneity of scuba divers.
Visitors to Belize must present a valid passport that will not expire for at least three months. In addition, citizens from countries such as Japan and Switzerland are required to present a visa in addition to a passport when entering Belize. Citizens from the USA, Canada, UK and Australia are examples of countries that do not need a visa. For a list of countries that require a visa research Belize's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and tourism department.
There are many dive shops and dive resorts that serve the flowering industry of tourism and scuba diving in Belize. Some of the most popular and unique dive resorts are on Turneffe Atoll and Ambergris Caye.
On Turneffe Atoll, consider staying at either Turneffe Flats or Turneffe Island Resort. Both locations are on the atoll, and offer accommodations and dive excursions to the Blue Hole and many surrounding dive sites on the atoll itself.
On Ambergris Caye there are many dive resorts that are worth checking out. Most notably Tranquility Bay Resort offers a secluded experience for scuba divers to explore waters off the nearby beach or take a trip to the Blue Hole. Ramons Village Resort and its dive shops called Ramons Village Divers is the oldest dive shop in Ambergris. This experienced dive shop offers advanced (and beginners) training courses and amazing day trips to the best scuba diving northern Belize has to offer. For those who are just visiting Ambergris for the day or staying at one of its many hotels that do not have a dive shop, there are many dive shops to choose from. Ecologic Divers is a reliable dive shop in San Pedro that offers a great selection of boat excursions to the many dive sites off Ambergris and to Turneffe Atoll and the Blue Hole not far to the south.
Lastly, do not overlook Belize's most remote and most protected atoll known as Glover's Reef. A relatively short boat ride form Belize City or the coastal town of Dangriga to its south delivers you to the small private island of Long Caye on the seaward side of Glover's Reef. There sits the quiet Off the Wall Dive Center & Resort. This little paradise is a great place to spend a week and explore the famous Wall dive, swim-able from the small caye's shore.
Considering that the popularity of scuba diving in Belize has paralleled the development of ecological protection of both the Belize Barrier Reef and atoll system, the development and popularity of dive sites in Belize is only growing. The reef is near pristine in many places and the damage from over fishing is on the mend, at least in the sections of the reef that are being actively preserved. Scuba divers visiting Belize have the luxury of choosing resorts and dive shops that for the most part already understand the importance and self-interest in protecting and monitoring the reef.
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