Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Belize
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving can be done on the reef, around small Islands or at the Great Blue Hole. These activities are usually combined but can be done separately. Each tour offers 2 to 3 dives. However, in between dives you usually stop at the nearby cayes for surface intervals, lunch and a short break. Dives at the local reef includes wall dive (drop offs), canyon dive (swim through) and faro dive (ocean bottom).
The Great Blue Hole
The Blue Hole, a giant sinkhole off the coast of Belize, is known as the world’s largest Sea Hole. It lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef, and is a popular spot among recreational scuba divers. The Blue Hole is widely known for its crystal-clear water and several species of fish, including Midnight Parrotfish, Caribbean reef shark, and other juvenile fish species. Other species of sharks, such as the bull shark and hammerheads were reported there, but are not regularly sighted.
The Great Blue Hole is circular in shape, 1,043 feet across and 407 feet deep. It was formed during several episodes of quaternary glaciation when sea levels were much lower. Analysis of stalactites found in the Great Blue Hole shows that formation took place 153,000; 66,000; 60,000; and 15,000 years ago. As the ocean began to rise again, the cave was flooded.
Diving at the largest Blue Hole in the world is off the chain! Thousands participate in this amazing dive every year. This particular dive includes diving in a natural aquarium under the sea.
In 2012, Discovery Channel ranked the Great Blue Hole as number one on its list of “The 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth”.
Laughing Bird Caye
Laughing Bird Caye on the other hand, is an all-time favorite inner reef caye that is perfect for snorkeling. Situated only 11 miles off the coast of Placencia, Laughing Bird Caye stands on an extended ridge of reef known as a faro. A faro is a narrow atoll on a continental shelf, also known as a shelf atoll. The caye got its name from the laughing gulls that once inhabited the island. However, due to growing human presence, they moved to nearby cayes for breeding.
Due to the uniqueness of the Caye, the Faro, and the abundant and diverse marine habitats and life, the Caye was declared a protected area in 1981 under the National Parks System Act. On 21 December, 1991, Laughing Bird Caye National Park was declared. Finally, in 1996 the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System was inscribed on the World Heritage List with Laughing Bird Caye National Park designated as one of the premiere protected areas within the World Heritage Site.
Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes
Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes is a protected marine reserve in the central part of Belize’s Barrier Reef. The reserve covers approximately 25,980 acres lying 22 miles off the coast of Placencia. The spit has a short sloping shelf that drops off steeply at 40–2000 meters in depth within 6.2 miles of the reef. The reserve contains some of the healthiest parts of the reef system due to its elevation and good water quality. It is becoming the next famous spot to snorkel due to its encounters with huge sea turtles, sting rays and nurse sharks.
Gladden Spit is also known as a massive spawning site for many different tropical fish species including the cubera, mutton and dog snappers which produce tons of spawn. Spawning occurs during the months of March to June. This is what attracts the Whale Sharks to the Gladden Spit. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean growing up to lengths of 60 feet. People may get the wrong impression about sharks, but these whale sharks are gentle and playful. Experience the rare opportunity to snorkel and dive with these amazing creatures.
The north wall on Silk Caye is known for hosting almost every kind of Caribbean Sea creatures including reef sharks and the occasional whale sharks. You can also dive with huge, gentle whale sharks. If there aren’t any around, you can definately find Caribbean Reef Sharks, Bull sharks, hammerheads of even a pod of pilot whales or dolphins.
South Water Caye Marine Reserve
South Water Caye is a favorite since it is a Marine Reserve. With visibility from 60-100 feet, you can get a close-up look at sea turtles and a variety of colorful coral reef fishes. South Water Caye is the largest Marine Reserve in Belize covering an area of 117,878 acres. It is located approximately 15 miles southeast of Dangriga town. It is popular for off-the-beaten- reef diving with pristine reefs, corrals, spotted eagle rays and large southern sting rays.
South Water Caye is one of the few islands off Belize that sits atop the Great Barrier Reef. This location offers excellent opportunities to explore any of the coastal gardens, ten mangrove cayes and two large mangrove ranges within this acre marine reserve. One of the most impressive areas for diving within the South Water Caye Marine Reserve is the “Drop Off”. The drop off is an amazing ridge running the entire length of the park. The longest unbroken stretch of the barrier reef in Belize lies within the park boundaries and the areas among the mangrove cayes are some of the most biologically productive habitats in the country.
In 2017, National Geographic named Pelican Beach on South Water Caye one of the 21 best beaches in the world
Glovers Reef Atoll
Glovers Reef Atoll is a partially submerged atoll located off the southern coast of Belize, approximately 45 kilometers from the mainland. It forms part of the outermost boundary of the Belize Barrier Reef. This oval-shaped atoll is 20 miles long and 7.5 miles wide. Glovers Reef is known as a large spawning site for the endangered Nassau groupers located at the northeastern end of the atoll. It’s identified as one of only two sites remaining for the species, of nine originally known locations. In 2002, it was declared a special marine reserve, permanently closed to fishing.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, Glovers Reef Atoll is considered one of the most important areas in the Mesoamerican reef system. As a matter of fact, it provides nursery and feeding areas and a unique habitat for lobster, conch and finfish. In 1996, it was selected by UNESCO as one of seven protected areas forms the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System.
Turneffe Atoll is located southeast of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, 20 miles off the coast of Belize. It is one of three atolls of the Belize Barrier Reef which is approximately 30 miles long and 10 miles wide. As a matter of fact, Turneffe Atoll is the largest coral atoll in Belize and in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System.The atoll was officially declared a marine reserve on November 22, 2012.
Turneffe is home to many endangered marine species. The land and seascape consists of highly productive flats, creeks, and lagoons dotted by more than 150 mangrove islands and higher cayes with savanna and seaside forest. Large expanses of mangrove, seagrass habitat and shallows provide nursery for a wide array of fish species, crocodiles, lobster, conch and other invertebrates. It is home to more than 500 species of fish, 65 species of stony corals, sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, seabirds, and other wildlife. In addition, at least three known important fish spawning aggregation sites have been identified.
Light House Reef
Lighthouse Reef is an atoll in the Caribbean Sea located about 50 miles southeast of Belize City. The atoll is of oblong shape, approximately 22 miles long, and 5 miles wide. It forms a shallow sandy lagoon with an area of 46 square miles and a depth between 6 to 19 feet deep.Lighthouse Reef is one of the best developed and healthiest reefs in the Caribbean. It has a flourishing reef, coral rimmed shelf edges, vertical coral walls, and numerous patch reefs in the shallow central lagoon.
Half Moon Caye is home to the magnificent frigate bird, as well as a nesting colony of some 4000 red-footed booby. A colony of white-crowned pigeons formerly nested on Long Caye Ridge, but was wiped out by overhunting.
The most common fish species at the reef are creole wrasse and blue chromis. Other widespread species include: blackcap basslet, bicolor damselfish, brown chromis, yellowtail snapper, bluehead wrasse, royal gramma, masked goby, and sunshine chromis.
The reef has only partial environmental protection. The Great Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye was designated as Natural Monuments and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1996.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, meaning “little channel”, is the popular place to snorkel in Belize. The reserve covers five square miles and the channel is about 30 feet deep. It flourishes with every description of sea life!
Over 160 species of fish is recorded in the reserve; along with forty types of coral, five species of sponge, two sea grasses, and three species of sea turtle. The three marine mammals include: the short-beaked common dolphin, pantropical spotted dolphin and West Indian manatee. Spotted eagle rays and southern stingrays are common at the bottom of the channel. Lobsters, moray eels and sea anemones live among the rocky outcrops, and some of the many corals include brain coral, Elkhorn coral, and finger coral. Jacks, groupers, snappers and barracuda are all common.
Shark Ray Alley in the Hol Chan Marine reserve is a popular location for sharks and rays. It is 30 feet in depth with excellent visibility. These creatures are quite calm and playful with divers although it is best not to touch them.
Explore all species of fish including jacks, groupers, snappers, parrot fish, angel fish, barracuda, eels, spider crabs, lobster, and nurse sharks. Divers are occasionally cautioned regarding the currents.