Belize in a Nutshell
Home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, Belize offers good Caribbean diving combined with an excellent tropical rain forest, exotic birds, and historical Mayan ruins. It’s also one of the few places in the world where you can scuba dive (not just snorkel) with whale sharks.
Intro To Belize
Covering approximately 8,800 square miles with a population of less than 350,000, Belize is the most sparsely populated country in Central America. It’s relatively cheap and easy to get to from the US, their currency is pegged to US dollar (2:1), and English is the native language - all factors that make it a popular choice for American travelers.
The best diving is found on the surrounding cayes, and no dive trip to Belize would be complete without a visit to the Blue Hole, or at least Jacques Cousteau thought so! The diving in Belize is varied enough to please everyone from novices to seasoned divers. You’ll find an abundance of coral gardens, sponges, reef sharks, rays, and small reef fish.
One of the main reasons to travel to Belize is to combine diving with some amazing topside activites, including rainforest walks, cave exploring, visiting mayan temples, bird watching, and snorkeling for non-divers.
Belize Typical Dive
Most dives are characteristic of easy Caribbean diving, with deeper reefs at 80-100ft, and shallow reefs at 20-40ft. Unlike diving in Cozumel, there is very little drift diving, and shore diving is almost unheard of due to the fringing reef.
This great clip shows some Belize marine life, you can see a barracuda at 2:25, grouper at 3:12, turtle at 3:25, nurse shark at 4:07, tarpon at 4:16, squid at 4:53, octopus at 5:30, toadfish at 9:08, eagle rays at 9:18
Popular Dive Areas
The Blue Hole: This UNESCO World Heritage Site is over 400ft deep and 1,000ft wide. There's not a whole lot to see at the Blue Hole, other than a large blue hole and some really cool stalactites. It requires quite a long boat ride to get to and some divers find the dive to be boring. Some people enjoy it simply because of the depth - 140ft, and they may be suffering from narcosis. In the hole you will hit a thermocline, dropping temperatures to around 75-77 degrees, but the change is so sudden that it will feel much colder. At 140ft depth there are some undercuts, stalactites, and a few fish.
Half Moon Caye: You’ll likely stop here for lunch after you dive the Blue Hole. Half Moon Caye is a small tropical island home to many bird species, including the redfooted booby. Even if you are not a bird watcher, you’ll love the white sandy beaches and warm shallow water surrounding the caye. There’s even an opportunity for some great snorkeling right near the dock where the boats park.
Ambergris Caye: This area is close to San Pedro, encompasses the northern reefs of Belize, and is home to many resorts and good nightlife. If you want to do a lot of going out in the evening or other top-side activities, this is the area to stay. There is a lot of good diving here, and you can also do some longer full-day dive trips to the Turneffe atoll area.
Turneffe Atoll: This is one of the better (if not the best) dive areas in Belize. Turneffe Atoll is a large offshore atoll reef with a wide variety of dive sites. The white-spotted toadfish, eagle rays, tarpon, green morays, groupers, nurse sharks, jacks, snappers, and reef sharks can all be seen here if you are lucky enough. The Elbow is one of the best dive sites at Turneffe Atoll, along with Lighthouse reef.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve: Hol Chan is Belize’s first and oldest marine reserve. There are four zones to the reserve - The Reef, The Mangroves, Shark Ray Alley and The Seagrass Beds. The Reef is a great site for night diving. You’ll see plenty of string rays, spotted lobster, sleeping parrotfish, hermit crabs and tons of moray eels out hunting.
This video taken at Lighthouse Reef atoll shows sharks, tarpon, schools of fish and turtles.
Belize Marine Life & Photography Subjects
-Nurse sharks - A lot of dive shops will chum the water to bring nurse sharks around. They can be quite large (over 5 feet in length) but are very docile and are much more interested in the frozen chum than they are in you.
-Eagle Rays - You may see a few, they are fairly common in the area.
-Whale Sharks - The few days before and sometimes after the full moons of April and May are the best times for spotting whale sharks. They pass through the Gladden Spit off the coast of Placencia, so you'll have to make a trip down there to have a chance of seeing them.
-Toadfish - There's a species endemic to Belize.
-Great Barracudas - You’ll usually see a few great barracudas. They often like to hang out under boats.
-Grouper - If you are lucky, you may see a large goliath grouper.
-Slipper Lobsters – These are unique creatures often found crawling on the reef.
Other common sightings include jawfish, eels, trumpetfish, turtles, tarpon, schools of jacks, and flamingo tongue cowrie.
Best Time To Dive Belize
Belize is fairly diveable year round, though November – April is considered to be the dry season, which also means it’s high tourist season. The rainy season runs from June - October. April and May may be your best bet for all around conditions and the opportunity to see whale sharks, and April - June has the best visibility, although it is pretty good all year round.
Belize Water Temperatures
Water temperatures range in high 70s from December to April and the low 80s from May to November.
Belize Underwater Visibility
Visibility is generally very good, 40-80ft.
Travel to Belize
There are direct flights from the US to Belize from Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and Charlotte.
For such a small country, there’s a good amount of non-diving activities to enjoy. Belize is rich with Mayan history and there are several ancient ruins to visit. A few of the more popular sites include Lamanai, Xunantunich, Altun Ha, and Cahal Pech. Caving, whether by foot or inner tube, is another popular activity in Belize and ranges from novice to advanced. Ian Anderson’s Lodge specializes in tours within the Caves Branch System and is a good starting point for planning your cave exploration. Aside from Belize City (which is not particularly pretty or safe), Belize is a beautiful rainforest, and even a scenic drive through the countryside is a peaceful respite from diving.
If you love small island life, a visit to Ambergris Caye is a must. A large number of visitors to Belize stay here, so there’s a good selection of high end hotels, small guest houses, shops, restaurants and nightlife. Once at Belize city, you can either take a small propeller plane or go via water taxi. The boat ride takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 2+ hours depending on whether the boat makes any stops along the way. Tickets can be purchased on the north side of the river at the Maritime Museum located at the foot of the Belize Swing Bridge in Belize City. We recommend taking the 15 minute flight for both the time savings and the unique opportunity to see the reef from above. Maya Island Air and Tropic Air both run flights every hour from Belize City International Airport to San Pedro Ambergris Caye.
Belize has amazing wildlife. Bird watching is very popular, especially for species like the macaw, toucan, motmot, boobies and storks. Animals include howler monkeys, sloths, lizards, armadillos, peccaries and the rarely seen but omnipresent jaguar & tapir.
Belize Liveaboard Options
In Belize you can stay at a land-based resort or take a liveaboard. The reef covers a large area so liveaboards will cover a wider range of dive sites, and potentially see more marine life than people not staying on Turneffe Island. The advantage of staying at a resort is that you can do a lot more activities than just dive, and potentially still get to the great sites (depending on the resort). Contact Bluewater Travel for the best options!