Belize has many dive areas. We began diving at Turneffe Atoll about 26 miles off Belize City back at the end of the 80’s naming dive sites and having Belizean fisherman show us dive spots. In 1990 we certified many of the Belizean fisheries department while working on a unique all diving cruise ship. The diving is varied all the way down the coast and has everything from big critter diving, a world famous blue hole, fabulous sponge life and even a whale shark season. Inland, the country boasts everything from piney woods to unsurpassed birding to black water rafting and Mayan ruins. You can spend a lifetime in this tiny central american country and not see or do it all!
First Thoughts on Belize
We began exploratory diving on Belize’s outer atolls back at the end of the 80’s naming dive sites and having Belizean fisherman show us their secret spots. In 1990 we certified the first ever group of the Belizean fisheries department while working on a unique all diving cruise ship. The diving across Belize is varied all the way down the coast and has everything from big critter diving, a world famous blue hole, healthy reefs and even a whale shark season. Inland, the country offers up everything from piney woods to unsurpassed birding to black water rafting and Mayan ruins. As a country, the infrastructure is fairly simple but the roads are good. As former British Honduras, Belize didn’t get involved in the debilitating civil conflicts across Central America in the 70’s and 80’s and hasn’t fallen prey to dictatorships or debilitating drug crime like some of its neighbors. It is the only country in Central America where English is the official language.
Why We Think Belize Rocks … or Doesn’t
Because it’s wild. You can stay on an atoll 30 miles offshore or inland in the jungles of the Cayo district and still feel like you are “out there.” It hasn’t been over run with 3000 passenger cruise ships. The reefs and fish populations on the outer atolls are still healthy – a rare sight in the Caribbean. And inland is every bit the adventure capital including world class Maya ruins. Belize, as a rule, is safer than many of its neighbors.
Things that Rock
- still a feeling of wildness
- still has big fish and sharks and other pelagics
- healthy reefs
- Robinson Crusoe feeling on out islands
- amazing adventure in interior – black water caving, sanctuaries, beautiful rivers, interesting Amish and Menonite communities, birding, excellent lodges
- very easy access/direct flights to Belize City
- great visibility on outer reefs
- has Central American, not Caribbean feel
Things that Don’t …
- Belize City is run down but has charm. Some areas may be dangerous at night
- Must get away from coast for best diving
- Don’t expect great beaches
We have dived extensively across much of the country, islands and atolls. Early on, many of the dive sites had no names; we just stopped and jumped in. The entire area has some of the best diving in the Caribbean.
Much of Belize’s coast is lined with mangroves and there is significant run off from numerous rivers. What this means is that there is little to no diving immediately off the coast and the farther out you get from the coast, the better the diving is. The near shore areas and mangroves especially fulfill the role of fish nursery which is one reason Belize is so fishy. We recommend getting out and staying out on one of the three atolls as opposed to Ambergris Caye. You avoid the long boat rides and have much better diving. Belize has the second longest barrier reef in the world – only behind the famed Great Barrier Reef off Australia. And like the Great Barrier Reef, it is not a single reef but rather a series of reefs, islands and atolls that stretch down the Belizean coastline.
The Diving Areas of Belize
Placencia – this is on the mainland, near the southern tip of the country and is accessible by puddle jumper from Belize’s international airport (1 hour flight). Placencia is not built up at all, with most roads still dirt. We dived the barrier reef down here and just found it mediocre with little fish life, no pelagics and good but not great reefs. The closer dive sites are still too close to the mainland and are heavily silted with lower visibility. You can reach Gladden Spit from here.
Ambergris Caye – This is the most popular diving area in Belize and is an island that is about a 30 miles offshore and adjacent to the barrier reef. It has about 70 accommodations options and while it started with the backpacker set, its gone upscale now as well. We have found it to have good, but not great diving. The Hol Chan Marine reserve is a 5 square mile reserve off limits to fishing. The increase in fish population here is not only due to the reserve but also to routine feedings from dive operators that bring in stingrays and nurse sharks.
Belize’s Outer Atolls – Belize has three of the four only true atolls in the Caribbean – Turneffe, Lighthouse and Glovers. These atolls undoubtedly offer the best diving in Belize and some of the best in the entire Caribbean with healthy reefs, abundant fish life, sharks, abundant grouper and good visibility. Lighthouse Reef/The Blue Hole is easily the most well known dive site made famous by Jacques Cousteau, the blue hole is a magnificent sink hole a quarter mile across and over 400 feet deep. The dive is a “bounce” to about 130 feet, if you want to keep it as a non-decompression dive, to see the limestone formations and stalactites. Often Caribbean reef sharks accompany the divers up and down the hole. Some of the dive operators have attracted these by feeding. Turneffe Atoll has large mangroves and sea grass flats which are the nurseries for reef fish – and thus thriving fish populations. The atolls are far enough offshore that they are not subjected to runoff from the land and don’t appear to be over fished.
Gladden Spit – This deserves a special mention as around late spring/early summer around the full moon, whale sharks comes into an area called Gladden Spit which can be reached from Placencia and Hopkins. The whale sharks come in to feed on the spawn of spawning aggregations of grouper and snapper so you have to time this one.
Our Favorite Things to Do “Out of the Water” in Belize
We believe in Surf and Turf – checking out the best of underwater AND on land. It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving. Don’t miss it.
- Dive Dive Dive, Scuba diving in Belize is our favorite thing to do!
- Horseback Ride in the Piney Woods. Just a short two hours drive from Belize City are the piney woods. You definitely don’t feel that you are in the Caribbean here. Trails are perfect for an afternoon ride to a waterfall.
- Visit Tikal. Famed Mayan ruins of Tikal are located in Guatemala but you can get there from Belize in half a day. Covering over 222 square miles of jungle with over 600 structures, it is definitely worthy of it’s UNESCO World Heritage listing. Just getting there from Belize is an adventure in itself! This is every bit as good as and historically significant as Pompeii.
- Go Birdwatching. We are certainly not expert bird watchers but are avid amateurs while traveling in places like Belize. Heading inland to Chan Chich provides amazing birding.
- See the Red Footed Booby Colony. Many of the dive boats now stop at Lighthouse Reef on their trip out to the blue hole but it’s still a very cool thing to see. Once on the island it’s a short walk to the viewing tower. This puts you just above the canopy to see the nesting red footed boobies and the huge Frigate birds. Worth seeing if you are out at Half Moon Cay.
- Explore the City– The daytime vibe in Belize City is fun! It’s full of people. Get on and ride the local bus. One time we rode it all the way to Mexico. What an experience! Dine at local restaurants but at night, it’s best to cab it!
- DRIVE. This is one of our favorite things to do in Belize. Rent a car, get a map and just explore the country. Drive inland to the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary. Don’t plan on seeing jaguars, chances are a million to one but look for agouti, howler monkeys, coatamundi and over 300 species of birds. It is a beautiful country with pretty good roads so get out there!
- Black Water Tubing– There are a couple of ways you can do this but the fun way is to Abseil (Rappel) into the awesome limestone tomb to experience the adrenaline rush. Then you clamber and slide through squeezes, zip into the black water filled abyss and scramble up waterfalls in your pursuit of daylight.
- Mangrove/Manatee Snorkeling- snorkeling through mangroves is amazing. Within the root system is a nursery of juvenile fish, interesting sponge life and tunicates. Out at Turneffe Atoll, you can also spot manatee in the area.
- Belize Mayan Ruins and Monkeys– Travel to Lamanai and Xunantanich, two of Belize’s great ruin sites and observe black howler monkeys.
Spring time is a good time for diving in Belize as winds and seas are normally calm. Summer brings the heat and generally lower visibility. The winter months of Dec-February, “northers” can blow in bringing strong wind and can keep you out of the water for days at a time. Belize is inside the hurricane belt and is hit on average of once every six years or so – generally in the fall. March thru June bring whale sharks to the Gladden Spit area.
Overall – Our Take on Belize
Belize is a big winner as far as we are concerned and we’ve been going there for 20 years now. It hasn’t sold out. With 50% of the coral gone in the Caribbean and fish populations dwindling, Belize still has vibrant reefs, healthy fish populations and good pelagic life. When you get on an out island, you can take your shoes off and lose them for a week. Inland, adventure has a number of flavors and its still a little rough around the edges – in a good way.
Sharkman and Mantagirl give Belize 2 Fins Up
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