I’ve been to scuba heaven and it’s in Belize.
Like most divers, I’ve heard great things about scuba diving in Belize, but for various reasons first travelled further afield to places like Tonga, the Cook Islands and Australia. They were all superb, but what a surprise to discover that the absolute best diving to be found anywhere, and I do mean anywhere, is in the tiny little Central American country of Belize.
For sheer beauty, natural attractions, variety, lack of crowds and quality of support, you just can’t get better than the Jewel, as Belize is fondly referred to by locals. And a Jewel it most certainly is, with as many facets as the Hope Diamond but nowhere near the price tag. In fact, Belize offers some of the most affordable Caribbean scuba diving vacations anywhere.
Belize is unique to Central America in that it sits on a beautiful stretch of the Caribbean Sea and is protected by the second largest barrier reef in the world, after Australia’s. And no offence to the Aussies, but the Belizean Reef is definitely more alive and colourful. Plus, with fewer crowds, rules and regulations, it is also much easier to access and explore.
We flew direct from Dallas, had a very painless connection from Belize International Airport to San Pedro on lovely Ambergris Caye and after a most relaxing night refreshing ourselves from non-existent jet lag (hell, it’s only three and half hours from Dallas), were up bright and early to begin one of the best weeks any diver could wish for.
We had decided to take the first day easy with some nearby dives, exploring Hol Chan Marine Park and Shark Ray Alley and what an introduction to the Caribbean and Belize’s Great Barrier Reef they were.
Next stop was Turneffe Islands, at 30 miles long and 10 miles wide the largest Caribbean atoll, and chock a block with excellent diving spots, especially at the Elbow, off the southern tip. During our stay at Turneffe Flats Resort we averaged three dives a day and were constantly amazed at the abundance of marine life such as eagle rays, sharks, turtles, dolphins, moray eels, and large schools of permit, jacks and snapper. Our guides told us whale sharks are sometimes seen as well.
But the real adventure began at Lighthouse Reef, 25 miles of stunning beauty and a wonderfully diverse ecosystem. There are plenty of great dive spots throughout the reef, but nothing could compare to the Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau and the Calypso documentary. It’s hard to put such an extraordinary experience into words.
We finished our Belize scuba adventure with a day and overnight at Glover’s Reef , a bit larger than Lighthouse Reef with some different diving along living coral reefs breaking the surface and dramatic drop offs. A beautiful night dive off Long Caye under a full moon put some delicious icing on the cake.
After a full week of diving we barely scratched the surface of Belize’s dive possibilities, and no wonder, – the seven marine reserves and hundreds of cayes could take a lifetime to explore.
Other divers and people we met along the way all agreed that Belize must rank as one of the best, most unspoilt scuba diving spots on the planet. If you take into account affordability, ease of travel, sheer natural beauty, a warm and friendly English speaking population and generally wonderful weather and average Caribbean sea temperature of 83° F (28°C), Belize scuba holidays are probably as close to perfect as you can get. There are now a number of professional dive shops and tour operators out on the cayes, reef, and coastal towns such as Placencia, with PADI and NAUI certification available in a variety of beautiful locations.
Ambergris Caye operators Ramon’s and Caye Dive Resort supply Nitrox, and there’s a hyperbaric chamber in San Pedro as well. In fact, I was happily surprised at how professional and competent Belize dive shops are.
Another great thing about scuba diving in Belize? You can finish your trip with a couple of days in pristine rainforest wandering around ancient Maya cities and temples. Breakfast on a sparkling Caribbean beach at Turneffe Flats and then dinner at the Lodge at Chaa Creek surrounded by a jungle alive with fireflies and exotic sounds was a once in a lifetime experience and the perfect ending to the perfect dive holiday.
They say heaven can wait, but not for me – I’m going back to Belize next year.