With the longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, which is also the second longest in the world, plus some stunning outer atolls, it is no wonder that Belize offers some of the best diving in the Caribbean. Here’s a selection of some of its top dives…
1) Ambergris Caye
There are plenty of dive resorts and a busy nightlife in the most northern reef. The area is where various species of grouper, including black grouper and red hind, gather in thousands to spawn. Day boats will venture further south to the top spots in Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Reef.
2) Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Belize’s oldest marine reserve was established in 1987 by Janet Gibson, a local biologist who has done much to drive marine conservation in the region, and is currently director of the Belize Wildlife Conservation Society. Shark Ray Alley, where fishers used to clean their nets, still attracts foraging sharks and rays, despite the practice ceasing when the reserve was formed.
3) Turneffe Atoll
This large, offshore atoll spans 48km by 16km and has scores of great dive sites. It is often the first stopping-off point for the liveaboards out of Belize City, and also the place for your final dives on the return. Watch out for the endemic and rare white-spotted toadfish. The Spanish conquistadors thought it to be the site of the Fountain Of Youth. More recently, some argue that it was the inspiration for Peter Pan’s ‘Neverland’, as an infamous pirate captain retired there in the early 18th Century.
4) The Great Blue Hole
Sitting at the heart of the furthermost atoll, Lighthouse Reef, this giant marine sinkhole is at the top of many bucket lists. Cousteau listed it as one of the world’s top five dive sites. However, don’t get too excited – this is not the most exciting dive, even if the setting is stupendous. In fact, most divers find it a bit dull. The borehole is 318m wide (1,043ft), so you have no sense of it being a circular hole; rather, it appears to be a foreboding, steep wall. It goes straight down to 120m. There is little fish life, a few stalactites, and you hit a thermocline, with the temperatures dropping a few degrees to 23°C. The temperature change is dramatic and is probably the most interesting thing that will happen on the dive. Of course, many get whacked by nitrogen narcosis as they descend.
5) Lighthouse Reef
The oblong, 35km by 8km (22mile x 5mile) atoll offers some of the best diving in Belize, if not the whole Caribbean. Discover vertical coral walls, intricate patch reefs and plenty of sharks. Vast gorgonian fans feed in the gentle currents that sweep the outer walls. Hordes of creole wrasse, bright purple as juveniles and with vibrant yellow patches on their rear as they mature, crowd the reefs. Hawksbill turtles chew on Day-Glo sponges. Unusually large cowfish with their distinctive, protruding horns, amble around. And all the while, you stand a good chance of bumping into whitetip or blacktip reef sharks, with the occasional bull or lemon shark to add to the fun.
6) Glover’s Reef
The most southern of the three atolls is home to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s research centre, which has hosted more than 200 scientific and research expeditions in the past 20 years. On the northeastern edge of the atoll is a large spawning site for the endangered Nassau grouper. The atoll is one of only two remaining viable sites for the fish, which has been overfished to near extinction across the Caribbean.
The south of the country is far quieter than the north. It is another area famous for its spawning sites: countless numbers of jacks and snappers gather there around the full moon in March and April The ensuing egg fest at Gladden Spit attracts an impressive number of whale sharks to hover up the spoils. Worth timing your visit for the event.
The best way to experience the diving in Belize is by liveaboard. Aggressor Adventures runs two boats out to Lighthouse Reef – Belize Aggressor III & Belize Aggressor IV. For full details and itineraries go to