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With the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere and three of the four major atolls in the Caribbean, including the famous Blue Hole, Belize is a diver’s paradise. The waters are teeming with marine life in all sizes and shapes, including 70 types of hard corals and nearly 500 species of fish.
Belize is ranked as one of the top three dive destinations in the entire Caribbean. Luckily, tourism has been slower to develop here, giving you the luxury of diving in unspoiled and uncrowded sites. If you time your trip with the full moons between March and June, you have the chance to witness whale shark as they come close to the reef to feed on spawn. At up to 60 feet in length and up to 15 tons in weight, diving with the world’s largest fish is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Diving in Belize can typically be divided into 4 main areas – the northern cayes, central cayes, southern cayes and offshore atolls:
The two major hubs for diving the Northern Cayes are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, where the barrier reef lies moments from the shoreline. Dive shops are plentiful and cover a variety of local sites, as well as arranging dives further afield to the offshore atolls. Top sites around the Northern Cayes include:
Mexico Rocks – A unique patch reef where the shallow waters and protected position inside the barrier reef makes this a great site for novice divers and those who like to do underwater photography.
Boca del Rio (Statue) – This site is named after the statue of Christ that can be found there at around 60 feet. At this site you will experience the spur and groove coral formations with deep and narrow canyons that are exciting to explore and have great visibility.
Tackle Box Canyons – If you like swim-throughs and tunnels this is a great site for you. Keep a look out for sleeping nurse sharks, moray eels and lobsters who like to make this terrain their home.
Esmarelda – An ideal spot for a second dive with spur and groove formations that are shallower than most. The fish life is prolific, with blue tangs, squirrel fish and schoolmasters among many.
Hol Chan Cut (Hol Chan Marine Reserve) – Probably the most popular site in the Northern Cayes for snorkelers and novice divers, the cut is 30 to 45 feet wide with a maximum depth of 30 feet. The most impressive feature of this site is the sheer variety of fish that congregate here. Expect to see bluestripped grunts, schoolmasters, jacks, southern stingrays, eagle rays, green moray eels, nurse sharks and even tarpon. Large groupers and turtles often hang out in this protected area and seem to like having their picture taken.
Dangriga and Hopkins are the perfect bases to explore the range of dive sites in the central area, with boat rides to the sites typically taking 30 minutes. The most notable sites are the marine reserves of Tobacco Caye and South Water Caye, which have small resorts and amenities making them excellent bases for a days diving.
Top sites include:
Faegon’s Bluff – The two reefs separated by sandy flats attract large shoals of sardines and needlefish, often trailed by prowling barracuda. Along with the gorgonian corals, you will also find mushroom and plate corals sheltering reef fish, in particular yellow stripped French angelfish and golden hogfish.
Fishy Point – The reef drops sharply from 60ft to a 100ft sandy plain where blue tangs gather by the hundreds to feed along the slope. Grunts, black groupers, snappers and moray eels all hide out in the overhangs.
Tobacco Cut – One of the very few shore dives possible in Belize, the site is located on the south side of Tobacco Caye and is a perfect place to do a night dive. Common encounters on a night dive here include octopuses, free swimming moray eels, squid and many others.
Eagle Ray Bowl – The ‘bowl’ shaped sandy plain attracts southern stingrays and eagle rays to feed and rest. There are a number of large gullies at the edge of the reef; on the east wall you can watch the passing reef sharks and turtles.
Off the sandy peninsular of Placencia boasts some of the best and quietest dive sites in Belize. The main attraction is the 13 mile long lagoon, home to almost all creatures found on the outer reef, including manatee and dolphins. At the most northern point, due to the seasonal spawning of cubera snapper between April and June, Gladden Split sees an exciting amount of fish accumulate including hammerhead, bull sharks, whale sharks, dolphins and shoaling fish. Throughout the year you can expect to turtles, moray eels, spotted eagle rays, stingrays, large grouper, dolphin, nurse sharks and the usual species of tropical reef fish.
Laughing Bird Caye, part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage Site, is a submerged atoll. On this island you can spot a wide variety of bird life such as brown pelicans, blackbirds, sea eagles, green herons and brown boobies, but the most famous are the laughing gulls that nest here and give the island its name. There is a system of patch reefs and coral ridges teeming with hard coral and sponges, plus dozens of reef species that feed on algae and each other. Keep an eye out for large barracuda feeding on the smaller reef fish.
Three of only four atolls in the Caribbean are here in Belize – Lighthouse, Glovers and Turneffe. The atolls formed millions of years ago on giant tectonic faults, where limestone provided perfect conditions for coral growth. The oval shaped masses of coral have central lagoons with water 10 to 30 feet deep and the ocean falls sharply to 1,000 feet or more outside the walls, making for spectacular dive territory.
There are just a handful of small diving and fishing resorts on the atolls, however they are also accessible from most tourist destinations, including as far north as Ambergris Caye.
The Blue Hole is one of the most famous dive sites in the world and an incomparable natural wonder. This atoll was once a dry cave, but rising sea levels over thousands of years submerged it, causing the dome to collapse and resulting in the perfectly formed 1,000ft diameter circular hole. The hole is believed to be 430ft deep and at 130ft you can witness the world’s largest known underwater stalactites, whilst nurse sharks circle below you.