Endowed with three of the Western Hemisphere’s four total atolls and the second largest continuous coral reef in the world, offshore Belize is a brilliant stand-alone phenomenon. After being dubbed “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” by Charles Darwin himself in 1842, Belize does not shy away from its claim to fame. With roughly 100 coral species, 500 species of fish, and much more to be discovered in its 370 square miles, intrigue yourself for hours on end with the Belize Barrier Reef – best explored on tank.
Running from the North adjacent to Ambergris Caye with a general southward direction before hooking at the Sapodilla Cayes, the 185-mile long Belize Barrier Reef is Belize’s pride and glory. Engulfing an enchanting crystalline lagoon with 450 cayes and islets under its protection, going off the beaten path in Belize also means traversing it’s three coral atolls, underwater canyons, dive walls, and reef spurs. Formed by the rising of the oceans gradually covering limestone mountains, stony coral engulfed the near-circular lagoons to create what we now know as atolls.
As the largest and most biologically diverse atoll in the Americas, the necklace of coral within Turneffe Reef Atoll offers 131,690 (protected) hectares bursting alive with brilliantly giant coral sponges and natural nurseries of exotic tropical fish for one of Belize’s most lucrative dive spots. Further east, Lighthouse Reef Atoll is likely Belize’s most visited, thanks to the allure of the legendary Great Blue Hole and its (seemingly) bottomless abyss. Besides abundant critters and inquisitive Reef Sharks, its steep dive walls – adorned with riotously colorful reef gardens – are a consistent favorite of both longtime divers and complete novices. Lying like a string of pearls in a blue sea, the southernmost Glover’s Reef Atoll exemplifies pristine diving inside Belize’s best formed atoll at 16-miles long and 7-miles wide.
Find more than 700 pristine patch reefs brimming with the richest variety of marine life in the Caribbean – from the delicate fan coral and spiny urchin to the colorful stoplight parrot fish and elegant southern sting ray.
Whether inside an atoll or simply within the barrier reef, Belize’s world class dive sites have long been Mother Nature’s best kept secret – not because it isn’t thrilling, but because you’d rather keep the magic to yourself.
Discover the depths of the Caribbean Sea, from age-old stalactites to a kaleidoscope of coral forests with matchless dives just minutes from your doorstep. With three major atolls each ringed by coral spanning 50 miles and the second longest barrier reef in the world, there are more than enough unspoiled dive sites to go around.
A well-kept secret in Belize indeed. This site has one of the most beautiful views, it’s one of the best you’ll ever see. It is known as the Half Moon Caye wall because of the mounds of coral that are populated with different types of fishes that brings more colors to the corals. The depth of this dive site is approximately 100 Ft so be careful as you dive down because the sunlight can easily trick you into going deeper than the maximum 60 ft depth.
This reserve is located just south of Ambergris Caye. Hol Chan is Mayan for “little channel”. It got it’s name because this little channel is a breaking point between the barrier reef which gives a way around the corals. When diving this area be sure to look out for the schools of rays or of barracudas. The most interesting part of this dive is visiting the sunken barge that is home to some curious nurse sharks and green moray. Be daring and get the opportunity to dive with these sharks.
Usually when you go on a Blue Hole trip, the last stop would be the Long Caye Aquarium. This dive site has a flat area that is covered with clusters of corals. As you go deeper you’ll find a steep wall that drops to about 35 ft and goes deeper. Apart from the wall, the other wonderful thing about this dive is that even in shallow areas you’ll be able to see the colorful corals. You’ll be sure to see something beautiful at this aquarium.
Only 30 minutes away from Ambergris Caye is this unique dive site. At Esmeralda Canyons you’ll be able to dive between canyons with coral walls on both sides. Be ready to swim with eagle rays, turtles, and fishes! If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be able to swim with dolphins, and hammerhead sharks.
Deemed a world heritage site by UNESCO, The Great Blue Hole has attracted avid scuba divers from all over the globe, the environmentally conscious, and many other travelers to its depths. Even though studies have concluded it was a cave system that collapsed in the last ice age, The Great Blue Hole still retains a shroud of mystery. With stalactite formations that date back 153,000 years, one has to wonder about the secrets the caverns hold. Diving the Blue Hole leaves you feeling small in comparison to the greatness of the sunken cave.
Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR) – Located roughly 22 miles East of Placencia or 30.1 miles East of Hopkins village, is roughly an hour to an hour and ahalfboat ride away. This area is bustling with schools of fish and marine life as it covers roughly 26,000 acres of aquatic habitat making it an attraction for the Whale Sharks. It is a fantastic spot for both divers. Diving with Whale Sharks requires an Advance PADI certification with tours going to a maximum depth of 60ft/18m.
Turneffe, Lighthouse and Glover’s are three of the coral atolls that can be found in the Western Hemisphere. These atolls have a little of everything that you’ll find at different diving sites. Turneffe atoll is one of the largest out of the three, and is one of the best sites. Lighthouse reef is the furthest from mainland and is the reef around the Blue Hole. Glover’s reef is one of the least visited but has 50 miles of fringing reef and is also full of color. The atolls is the place to go if you’re looking for a site that is not crowded with people but with marine life.
Laughing Bird Caye National Park, receiving its name from the laughing gulls which once nested on this now-submerged atoll, is a popular dive site. It is located just 11 miles of the coast of Placencia. 1.8 acres in size, this beautiful national park offers spectacular wall dives and ocean drop-offs perfect for advanced divers to explore the diverse marine environments.
Not certified to dive? Belize also welcomes snorkelers of all experience levels to enjoy the abundant sea life, colorful coral formations, and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Belize, known as a world-class snorkeling destination, brings travelers from all over the world to experience some of the best snorkeling spots.
The first stop of your tour will normally be at Coral Gardens; the reason for the name is due to the vibrant and intricate coral formations that add a beautiful burst of colour to the reef. Here you can see schools of fish passing in front of you, many species of fish hiding within the corals, and if you’re lucky you might even find manatees. Manatees mostly show up in coral gardens between the months of June and September.
This is said to be one of the best “animal dives” in the Caribbean. For many years local fishermen would clean their fish in this area, and eventually noticed it began attracting nurse sharks and stingrays; hence the name “Shark Ray Alley”. As scary as the name sounds, the Nurse Sharks and Southern Stingrays are quite friendly and attracted to divers.
These marine animals are harmless and you get a once in a lifetime experience to hang out with them – this experience will definitely be brag-worthy because many people see these animals or the activity itself as “dangerous”.
As one of the country’s three atolls in the Belize Barrier Reef, Turneffe Reef Atoll is also the largest in the Mesoamerican Reef at 30 miles long. It takes the better part of a day to get to the atoll from Caye Caulker, which is where guests usually stay when visiting. Within, you’ll find lagoons and seascapes dotted with 150 mangrove islands and cayes – perfect for chasing a grand slam in fly fishing.
As the easternmost area of Belize, Lighthouse Reef Atoll atoll is also home to Belize’s first protected area, Half Moon Caye, and its sister site, the notorious Great Blue Hole. As the atoll’s crown jewel, the Blue Hole Natural Monument can also be seen from space. Below its waterline, the Blue Hole’s once-dry cave formations are known as an otherworldly novelty to divers around the world. Not to mention, the nearby drop-off at The Aquarium or Long Caye Wall offer an unforgettable experience with marine life.
Rounding off Belize’s third atoll (of the four total in the Western Hemisphere), Glover’s Reef Atoll is a southern gem. Though 6 other composite sites make up Belize’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Glover’s Reef is the largest of all seven. At 20 miles long, this shallow lagoon houses over 700 patch reefs found inside. Possibly the richest marine environment in the Caribbean, it’s 2,600-foot drop at it’s eastern edge is an impressive snorkeling adventure.
Hiding in plain sight, Tobacco Caye is a secluded paradise found right on the reef. About 30 minutes from Dangriga by boat, snorkeling is easy with island rentals and tours! Found inside Belize’s largest marine reserve, snorkelers can embark on a journey right offshore. Go from beach hammock to fins in no time!