“If it’s good enough for Jacques Cousteau, it’s good enough for me,” I thought as we headed out to Belize’s Great Blue Hole, one of the truly great wonders of the natural world.
Cousteau led a Calypso expedition to the Blue Hole back in 1972 and debunked local myths that it was bottomless or home to strange monsters of the deep. Instead, he discovered a place of extraordinary beauty and what was to become one of the most highly regarded diving spots in the world.
And the beauty is that it is in Belize, which makes it accessible, affordable and a friendly, pleasant experience.
We left Turneffe Flats Resort early for the boat trip out to Lighthouse Reef. It was a beautiful morning with the sea breeze just stirring up a light chop that we fairly skipped over through Turneffe atoll and then onto Lighthouse Reef and the Blue Hole.
Nothing quite prepares you for the Blue Hole. I’d seen photographs and videos of dives there but it was still impossible to not be awed by the dramatic change as the water goes from the crystal clear, turquoise hued shallower water of the reef to the deep blue immensity of the Blue Hole.
Almost perfectly round and some 1000 feet (.4km) across and over 450ft (137m) deep, it makes you instinctively reach for the diving gear. We were part of a scuba party, but the Blue Hole is equally magnificent for sightseeing and snorkelling, as the rim is a perfect habitat for corals and the fishes that inhabit them. Given the brilliant colours and more abundant life found in these shallower depths I plan on returning someday for a strictly snorkelling adventure.
But the scuba diving was mind boggling enough for now. You slowly descend down almost perfectly vertical and smooth walls broken by coral ledges at 69, 161 and 299 ft (21, 49 and 91m). It is here that you see the giant stalactites and stalagmites and remember that you are in what was once a giant cave on dry land way back in the Pleistocene period. Believe me – this, and the 200ft (61m) visibility gives you a completely new take on time, space, and your place in it all.
And it’s not over once you leave the Blue Hole. After surfacing we took the quick, incredibly beautiful run to Half Moon Caye to dive the impressive Wall, which features an astounding, colourful array of corals as well as an abundance of fish and marine life. After a delightful lunch on Half Moon Caye, home to Red Footed Boobies said to be found only here and on the Galapagos, we headed over to nearby Long Caye to check out “the Aquarium”. You quickly understand how this renowned dive spot got its name. The coral formations are simply breathtaking, and are home to the most impressive variety of fish I seen in my years of diving. There were even turtles and some friendly dolphins who seemed to enjoy the human company as much as we enjoyed theirs.
The trip back to Turneffe Flats was one of those blissfully tired runs where body and soul are perfectly satiated, as if by some fantastic, otherworldly massage. The salty air and pure water paved the way to a long delicious seafood dinner and then the best sleep imaginable, with rustling palm fronds and the lapping of the Caribbean providing background music to drift off to. It was a perfect day, a perfect dive, a perfect location with perfect people. So that’s why they call this Paradise…
We discovered Turneffe Flats through an Inland and Island Package in conjunction with the Lodge at Chaa Creek, and it turned out to be the perfect combination of rainforest expedition, ancient Maya temple exploration and then eagle rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins, moray eels, and this diving experience of a lifetime. To be able to do and see so much in a week seems improbable, but then again, this is Belize.
Jacques Cousteau never had it so good.