The Belize scuba diving experience is closer than many people in the U.S. might think. Belize is situated in the heart of Central America, right under Mexico and next to Guatemala, and enjoys the welcoming waves of the Western Caribbean and the Gulf of Honduras.
Belize as a tourist destination remains largely undiscovered, and this is a part of its allure. This is what has allowed Belize’s Maya ruins to remain in good order (albeit still in ruins!), their rain forest to be pristine, and the Belize scuba diving jewel – the Belize Barrier Reef – to stay unspoiled for you to enjoy.
Belize scuba diving is all about the cayes (pronounced keys), the offshore atolls, and the barrier reef. The cayes are coral sand and/or mangroves islands that are found between the mainland and the barrier reef; also on the barrier reef, and surrounding the reefs of the offshore atolls. It may surprise you to know that the Belize Barrier Reef is 185 miles long, making it the longest in the Western Hemisphere.
With a subtropical climate, Belize scuba diving enthusiasts should bring casual, lightweight clothing, and for any trip inland something a little more protective. Temperatures in the winter months can be cool, so you will need to pack accordingly at this time of year. Having said that, the country has an average annual temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high humidity is thankfully tempered by the sea breezes.
What’s on offer with Belize scuba diving
Belize scuba diving offers something for everyone, no matter their skill level, from shore diving in shallow waters to the Blue Hole at over 400 feet deep. The barrier reefs offer the perfect environment for novice scuba divers, with sites such as Hol Chan Marine Park, which is a few miles south of Ambergris Caye, and has recently been expanded to include Shark-Ray Alley. A good number of Belize scuba diving sites can be tackled by divers of any experience, from novice to advanced, because there is so much diversity within them.
Although high winds can reduce visibility along the Barrier Reef to 20 to 30 feet, your Belize scuba diving experience should remain crystal clear on the lee of the atolls, where visibility is in excess of 100 feet. Generally, visibility is from 50 to 150 feet, although during “northers”, which are cold fronts which hit Belize during the winter months, visibility when Belize scuba diving can be reduced for several days. Water temperatures are pretty constant all year round ranging from the mid to high 70s to the low 80s. For this reason, a lightweight dive skin or a 1/16 inch shorty wetsuit would be ideal.
One of the best spots on the Belize scuba diving map is Ambergris, which is the largest and most popular of the offshore cayes. It boasts 25 miles of Belize’s amazing barrier reef, and it sits less than a mile from the shore. Here, the tranquil waters make the visibility very good, so that the dense coral and lush reef are a joy to behold.
Dive operators who operate in this Belize scuba diving area ensure that they offer a great variety of dives, including spur-and-groove reefs with deep canyons, swim-throughs, and reef cuts. Permanent mooring buoys and natural resource management initiatives, including the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, have thankfully kept anchor damage to a minimum.
The Blue Hole of Belize
A Belize scuba diving vacation would not be complete without a visit to the Belize Blue Hole – an astounding geographical phenomenon. In fact, this could be your whole reason for booking a Belize scuba diving vacation. World famous diver Jacques Cousteau declared it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world.
The Blue Hole is a part of the Lighthouse Reef system, and lies around 60 miles off the mainland from Belize City. It is an almost perfectly circular hole approximately one quarter of a mile across, and inside this hole the water descends to a depth of 410 feet. It is this depth compared to the surrounding ocean that gives these features their name.
Making this a part of your Belize scuba diving experience, you will see strange stalactites and limestone formations as you descend past 110 feet into the Blue Hole, and these formations become more intricate and intense the deeper you go. Down to 110 feet, the walls are sheer.
The diameter of the reef area encircling the Blue Hole stretches for about 1,000 feet, and apart from a couple of narrow channels, it completely encircles it. It is the perfect environment for corals to flourish, and these corals manage to break the surface at various places at low tide. This might be where the Belize scuba diving novice may want to spend some time before heading down into the abyss.
The hole itself is actually the opening to a system of caves and passageways that penetrate what is effectively an undersea mountain, and would have been above ground before the last Ice Age flooded it out.
Other Belize Scuba Diving Sites
Shark-Ray Alley & Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Previously mentioned, these are two very popular sites. In Shark-Ray Alley you are guaranteed a Belize scuba diving experience to remember, as you encounter stingrays and nurse sharks. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, on the other hand, comprises a narrow channel cutting through a rich and well-maintained shallow coral reef.
Great for a snorkelling break during your Belize scuba diving vacation, much less developed and less crowded than its more popular neighbor, Ambergris Caye. Many of the dive sites are a short boat ride from shore.
Turneffe Island & Lighthouse Reef Atolls
For many divers on a Belize scuba diving trip, these spots are unmissable, with the previously mentioned Blue Hole at the heart of the mid-ocean Lighthouse Reef atoll.
Glover’s Reef Atoll
Belize scuba diving here is spectacular and underexploited, with far fewer visitors than Turneffe Island and the Lighthouse Reef atolls.
A natural spawning ground for a variety of marine species and a world-renowned spot for diving with massive whale sharks, this is a mid-ocean site that Belize scuba diving enthusiasts will not want to miss.