We take a look at the best dive sites in Belize, from its famous giant sinkhole to Gladden Spit, home to the world’s largest fish
Pint-sized Belize on the Caribbean Sea has countless dive sites, from laid-back shore dives to intense drifts and everything in between. The translucent seas hugging the country’s idyllic coast are home to majestic coral gardens, aquamarine lagoons and out-of-this-world atolls.
A kaleidoscope of tropical and pelagic (open ocean) fish, including the world’s largest, patrol the waters along with turtles, rays and several species of shark. There are walls, canyons and tunnels to explore as well as the enigmatic Great Blue Hole, anointed by Jacques Cousteau as one of the world’s finest dive sites.
Belize Barrier Reef
Stretching 300km along almost the entirety of the Belize coast, the Belize Barrier Reef is part of the world’s second-largest reef system. Second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, theMesoamerican Reefwas formed by a chain of submerged mountains and ridges creating countless reefs and lagoons boasting every imaginable shade of blue. It is the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean and the northern hemisphere.
Described by Charles Darwin in 1842 as ‘the most remarkable reef in the West Indies’ and inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef lies around 300m off the Belize coast in the north and around 40km in the south. The system also includes three atolls (ring-shaped reefs) sitting further out to sea: Turneffe Atoll, Lighthouse Reef and Glover’s Reef.
The entire ecosystem harbours a rich abundance and diversity of marine life including 247 varieties of marine flora, over 500 fish species, over 100 types of coral and 350 mollusc species. It is also home to the world’s largest population of manatees, whale sharks and several species of marine turtles.
Best dive sites in Belize
Unsurprisingly, the Belize Barrier Reef, with its hundreds of sand and mangrove cayes, moderate depths and clear, calm waters, is home to some of the finest diving in the world. To help you get the most out of it, we share eight of the best dive sites in Belize.
1. Blue Hole
Location: Lighthouse Reef
Max. depth: 60m (124m with gas)
In 1971, Jacques Cousteau famously described Belize’s Great Blue Hole (now the Blue Hole Natural Monument) as one of the world’s top 10 dive sites. Ever since, the giant sinkhole has captivated the public’s attention. Measuring 318m (1,043ft) across and 124m (407ft) deep, the Blue Hole is considered one of the world’s classic dives.
Divers must complete adeep diver qualification to descend 40m (131ft) into the Blue Hole’s depths where you’ll get to see the hole’s caverns and overhangs, home to stalactites and other bizarre rock formations.
You’ll get around eight minutes of ‘bottom time’ even though you’ll be far from the seabed proper. If you want to go deeper than 60m (200ft), you’ll need to use hypoxic gas. The thrilling and eerie dark descent is not for the fainthearted, hence why the Blue Hole is considered a rite of passage among elite divers.
2. Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Location: Ambergris Caye
Max. depth: 9m
Its sheer ease of access makes Hol Chan Marine Reserve one of Belize’s best dive sites – but also one of its most popular. It offers vibrant coral formations and diverse marine life packed into a small site with shallow waters in an easy-to-reach area off Ambergris Caye. There are few sites in the world that offer such rich reward for so little effort.
The reserve is teeming with marine life. Over 160 species of fish have been recorded in its waters as well as 40 types of coral, five sponge species and three marine mammals (two dolphin species and one manatee) – although these are rarely seen. Expect to see turtles, rays, nurse sharks, octopus, lobster and numerous species of reef fish.
3. Half Moon Caye Wall
Location: Lighthouse Reef
Max. depth: 18m/30m
Some argue that this is the best dive site in all of Belize. ‘The Wall’ has been given the tagline ‘6,000 feet of vertical abyss’ which tells you all you need to know about its enormous vertical drop-off. The site can be dived from a beach which slopes down to a depth of around 13m where the abrupt drop-off begins.
The wall is home to tunnels and rock formations as well as colourful sponges, coral and plenty of fish life including reef sharks, rays and eels. As Half Moon Caye Wall is often visited after diving the Blue Hole, most dives usually level off at 18m but it is possible to go deeper depending on your experience and schedule.
4. Gladden Spit
Location: Placencia Reef
Max. depth: 18m
The Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve is located towards the southern end of the barrier reef where it begins to widen. Lying around 36km off the coast of Placencia, the reserve is not the easiest to reach but the rewards are big, as in the largest known fish in the world.
Growing up to nearly 19m in length, whale sharks frequently visit the waters around Gladden Spit, a promontory forming the southernmost tip of a sunken atoll. The giant fish arrive between March and June to feed on the eggs of the 25 species of reef fish that congregate here to spawn.
The spit has a short sloping shelf that drops off steeply at about 40m. Activity in the reserve is heavily regulated with dives conducted in mid-water at around 18m and in groups no bigger than 12.
5. Long Caye Aquarium
Location: Lighthouse Reef
Max. depth: 18m
Another popular spot in Lighthouse Reef, the Aquarium (not to be confused with the Aquarium dive site on Glover’s Reef) is a wall dive that attracts a variety of colourful fish life. While larger specimens are not as abundant, the wall teems with schools of smaller fish such as sergeant major, Bermuda chub and creole wrasse as well as grouper, parrotfish and trumpetfish.
Dives usually do not descend deeper than 18m, particularly if following a Blue Hole dive. Parts of the wall begin to overhang a bit deeper giving plenty of space to inspect the diverse brain and staghorn coral that grows there.
6. Esmeralda Canyons
Location: Ambergris Caye
Max. depth: 24m
If you’re looking for a quieter dive to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, then Esmeralda Canyons is an excellent option. Located within easy reach of Ambergris Caye, Esmeralda Canyons is deeper and known for its unique geography: rows of coral-clad underwater gullies that line up like ‘library bookshelves’.
Some of the canyons are too narrow to enter so part of the dive is spent swimming over them and inspecting the coral gardens, home to butterflyfish, surgeonfish, damselfish, parrotfish, groupers and eels as well plenty of other colourful reef fish species.
Later in the dive, as the canyons widen, you’ll get the chance to descend to the sandy seabed and inspect the walls. Sightings of nurse sharks and reef sharks are almost guaranteed.
7. The Elbow
Location: Turneffe Atoll
Max. depth: 18m/30m
The Elbow takes its name from its location on the southern tip of Turneffe Atoll where two local currents converge. The result is an abundance of marine life, particularly larger current-riding marine animals such as eagle rays and cruising turtles as well as large schools of Horse eye jacks. It’s been described as an ‘armchair dive’ as divers drift on the current and watch the canyons, coral formations and sea life fly by below.
As the site is at the confluence of two drifts, it can be choppy on the surface and have strong currents below. Divers should have excellent buoyancy and air consumption control.
8. Trick Ridge
Location: South Water Caye Marine Reserve
Max. depth: Various
The South Water Caye Marine Reserve is known for its coral restoration projects as well as its exceptional wall diving. There are several possible sites in the area (see below) but Trick Ridge probably best showcases the area’s unique underwater terrain of dramatic ridges, plunging walls and sandy-bottomed channels.
As far as sea life goes, the reserve has an abundance of spotted eagle rays as well as southern, roughtail and eagle rays. One of the inner walls of Trick Ridge is even named ‘Eagle Ray City’ in their honour.
On top of the ridge, you will find a bright coral garden, home to soft and hard corals as well as plenty of species of reef fish. Both Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles also frequent the site.
Other notable dive sites
The aforementioned sites are our suggestions, but Belize is home to scores of fantastic dive sites spread across its barrier reef and atolls. The below are recommended by local dive schools.
- Elkhorn Forest, Lighthouse Reef
- Tarpon Caye, Lighthouse Reef
- Tres Coco, Lighthouse Reef
- Southwest Caye Wall, Glover’s Reef
- Bev’s Garden, Glover’s Reef
- Baking Swash Reef, Glover’s Reef
- West Wall, Glover’s Reef
- The Pinnacles, Glover’s Reef
- Emerald Forest, Glover’s Reef
- Long Caye Wall, Glover’s Reef
- Manta Wall, Glover’s Reef
- Calabash Caye, Turneffe Atoll
- Sayonara Wreck, Turneffe Atoll
- Stingray Motel, Turneffe Atoll
- Dead Man’s Cayes, Turneffe Atoll
- Long Coco split, Placencia
- Turtle Canyons, Placencia
- Laughing Bird Dropoff, Placencia
- The Abyss, South Water Caye Marine Reserve
- Curlew Wall, South Water Caye Marine Reserve
- Rosella’s Garden, South Water Caye Marine Reserve
Best dive sites in Belize: the essentials
What: The best dive sites in Belize.
Where: We stayed at Las Terrazas on Ambergris Caye, an elegant beachfront resort with stylish white-washed villas overlooking the gardens and a large infinity pool. The villas all come with modern kitchens including an oven, refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker, toaster, dishwasher and washing machine. Each unit comes with at least two full bathrooms and a balcony and some with a hot tub.
Atlas & Boots, Las Terrazas
Las Terrazas on Ambergris Caye
Located 6.5km to the north of San Pedro, the main town on the island, Las Terrazas has a bar and restaurant, spa, private beach and jetty, and offers free use of bicycles, kayaks and paddle boards to guests. We organised our dive and snorkel experiences via the resort which uses Amigos del Mar. They can also arrange Blue Hole flights, cruises and mainland excursions.
When: The best time to dive in Belize is during the dry season between January and May. Visitors can expect clear visibility and warm, sunny days with the odd shower. The wet season runs from June to December.
How: On Ambergris Caye, you’ll probably want to hire a golf cart to get around the island. We hired our cart through Mark’s Golf Carts, but it wasn’t in great condition. There are lots of golf cart companies on the island so it may be worth shopping around or asking your hotel for a recommendation.
As the island is so small, it’s easy to navigate and driving is pretty straightforward. However, it’s worth mentioning that the roads – particularly the further you get from town – are in poor condition and can be rather uncomfortable to drive.
We took a water taxi from Chetumal in Mexico to San Pedro via Water Jets International. The 1.5-hour boat ride was uncomplicated and cost $70 USD per person. To get from San Pedro to Belize City on the mainland, we took another water taxi, this time with San Pedro Belize Express (1.5 hours, $30.50 USD).
All international flights arrive at the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) near Belize City. Book throughskyscanner.netfor the best prices.
Enjoyed this post? pin it for later…
Lead image: Michael Bogner/Shutterstock
You might also like:
Diving Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize
Diving the Sonesta plane wrecks in Aruba
How travellers can help protect the Great Barrier Reef
What is the best way to see the Blue Hole of Belize?
Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark-Ray Alley
Located in the north of Belize and visible from the southeastern shore of Ambergris, the country's largest caye, Hol Chan and Shark-Ray Alley may be Belize's most popular dive and snorkel spots.
The best time to travel to Belize for snorkeling and scuba diving in Belize is between April and June. This time of year, there is increased visibility because winds are calm and the water is clear.Where should I stay in Belize to dive the Blue Hole? ›
Where to stay in Belize to dive the blue hole? Itza Resort on Long Caye, is a great alternative to the resorts on Ambergris Caye, to stay and dive the Belize Hole. The Resort offer amazing vacation packages for Diving, Snorkeling and Fishing on the Atoll.Where is the prettiest water in Belize? ›
Across from Ramon's Village Resort is the most popular sunning and swimming section, with raked sands and clear waters. But south or north of the island are the best, most isolated stretches on la isla bonita.
Once a place where fishermen would clean their catches, this 1,280-acre protected region, has evolved into a top snorkeling location! Discover Shark Ray Alley, a people-friendly marine community that is a snorkeling attraction for both first-timers and skilled snorkelers/swimmers.Is it worth it to snorkel the Blue Hole Belize? ›
The Great Blue Hole, located in the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, is one of Belize's best-kept secrets. You have an early start at 5:30 am and a 2.5 hours boat ride to the first snorkel stop. It makes it all worth it when you plunge into the blue hole 130ft and snorkel viewing 30ft stalactites while mystical sharks cruise by.Where is the scuba diving capital of the world? ›
Key Largo, Florida is known as the scuba diving capital of the world. This is because there is a very large amount of dive sites easily accessible to divers. The Florida Keys is located along the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world.What is the number one rule of scuba diving? ›
1. Breathe continuously while on scuba. Never hold your breath. There is no way, you would have missed that one.How much does it cost to scuba dive in the Blue Hole Belize? ›
|Blue Hole||$350 + $40 park fee|
|Boat Divers||$350||2 Days|
|Emergency First Response||$250||2 Days|
|Emergency Oxygen Provider||$400||2 Days|
Basic scuba diving safety is that your respiratory and circulatory systems must be in good working order. A person with heart trouble, a current cold or congestion, epilepsy, asthma, a severe medical problem should not dive. Another time not to dive is if your ears or nose are not clear.
The Blue Hole is Not a Beginner Dive.
Your dive guide may take you down to 40 metres/131 feet. If you don't have the training and experience to dive this deep, complete your PADI® Advanced Open Water certification or take the Deep Diver Specialty course before you dive the Blue Hole.
Amongst these options, Half Moon Caye—a protected monument—is said to have the clearest water in Belize…as well as the comical red-footed boobies… From Placencia one option is to take a day-trip to Laughingbird Caye.Is cave Tubing worth it in Belize? ›
The verdict: Is Cave Tubing In Belize Worth Your Time? The entire experience of living and breathing inside of an ancient archeological marvel while floating on a tube in the Caribbean waters is one of a lifetime that you don't want to miss.What is the nicest city in Belize? ›
The most popular destination in Belize is Ambergris Caye, followed by Caye Caulker. Other popular cayes include Tobacco Caye, South Water Caye and Glover's Reef. On Belize's coast, Hopkins and Placencia are the most visited seaside destinations, both having beautiful beaches and unique cultural attractions.What is the safest beach in Belize? ›
If you're searching for the top beaches in Belize for families, look no further than Laughing Bird Caye. With gentle waves and shallow waters, the island is the safest beach for kids in the country.Are shark attacks common in Belize? ›
Shark attacks rarely occur in Belize.Can you swim in Shark Alley? ›
As a general rule, swimming in an area named “shark alley” probably isn't a good idea. All over the world, locals know special hotspots for certain fish and sharks, but one seems to have made a name for itself above the rest.What animals are in Shark Ray Alley Belize? ›
Shark Ray Alley has a maximum depth of 30 feet and excellent visibility. You can almost always see 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.Where is Shark Alley Belize? ›
Shark Ray Alley is located just one mile south of the Hol Chan cut and is listed as “Zone D” of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Once a place where fishermen would clean their catches, this 1,280-acre protected region, has evolved into a top snorkeling location!How much does cave tubing in Belize cost? ›
Our cave rate is US$50 per persons, US$45 kids under 12. We also offer a zip and cave combo which is US$85 kids under 12 years US$80. With us you pay at the end of the tour and we prefer US cash and have the credit card payment option.
|Blue Hole Diver||$285.00 US + $40 park fee|
|Blue Hole Snorkel||$215.00 US + $40 park fee|
Additionally, there are many accidents where a person drowns as a result of hitting the bottom. Most swimming pool diving accidents happen from diving into the shallow end of a pool. 64% take place in in-ground pools and the remaining 36 percent in doughboy or other above ground pools.Is scuba diving a rich person sport? ›
Scuba diving is another expensive hobby that only the rich can afford on a regular basis. The price of a scuba diving certification and equipment is about $500 each, which isn't too extreme.What is the safest depth to scuba dive? ›
The American Red Cross recommends a minimum of 9 feet of water depth for head first dives including dives from pool decks. Results for a comprehensive study of diving injuries are presented in "Diving Injuries: The Etiology of 486 Case Studies with Recommendations for Needed Action" edited by Dr.Where is the bluest clearest ocean water? ›
1. The Maldives. The Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, have around 1,190 islands and sandbanks. A lagoon with crystal clear water encircles all the islands, which are protected by a reef structure that is home to an array of underwater life.What is the golden rule of diving? ›
1. Never hold your breath. This is undoubtedly by far the most crucial of all safety rules for diving because failure to adhere could result in fatality. If you hold your breath underwater at the depths at which scuba divers reach then the fluctuating pressure of air in your lungs can rupture the lung walls.What should you not do after scuba diving? ›
- Flying After Diving. Flying after scuba diving is one of the more widely known risks to divers. ...
- Mountain Climbing. ...
- Ziplining After Diving. ...
- Deep Tissue Massage. ...
- Relaxing in a Hot Tub. ...
- Excessive Drinking. ...
- Freediving After Scuba Diving.
- Never drink and dive.
- Never go diving without telling someone what you are doing and when you expect to be back.
- Never eat a big meal before diving and wait for at least two hours after eating before you start scuba diving.
- Never dive outside of your comfort level.
- Never dive with broken equipment.
The Belize Blue Hole diving trip is about a 2-hour boat ride away from Ambergris Caye and starts at 5:30 AM. This goes outside the reef where water and swells are choppier than inside the reef. It takes a minimum of 10-12 divers to sign up for a tour to go out.How much does a full set of scuba gear cost? ›
Scuba gear cost will range between $1000-$5000 for a full set of gear. Similar to most product lines there is a wide range of scuba gear from economical to very high end. Depending on the type of scuba diving you will be doing will depend on the type of gear you will need.
Belize Blue Hole Dive
While the snorkelers explore the fringing reefs, divers descend along the wall to a depth of 130 feet. At a depth of 120ft divers can see the stalactites which were form from dripping water when the cave was above sea level.
Avoid heavy meals and food that are difficult to digest such as red meat and fatty dishes. We also discourage drinking too much coffee before the dive because it could make you anxious and trigger stress.What happens if you cough while scuba diving? ›
It's perfectly alright to cough into your regulator until your airway is clear. If you feel that telltale tickle in the back of your throat, try to move into an open area where you won't bump into anything. Also, be aware of your buoyancy when coughing while scuba diving, as you may unknowingly hold your breath.What medical conditions stop you from scuba diving? ›
Underlying respiratory conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or a history of spontaneous pneumothorax, can challenge the breathing capacity required of divers.What part of Belize is best to stay? ›
- Placencia Peninsula: The go-to place to spend your vacation on the beach.
- Belize City: Plenty of interesting attractions and a lot of restaurants that you can visit.
- San Pedro: Both beautiful beaches and a thriving nightlife.
- Hopkins: The best place for cave explorers and nature enthusiasts.
Placencia offers two beach options
Frolic in the surf on the Caribbean side of the peninsula or swim on the lagoon side where you could spot a shy manatee. Both are options when you choose Placencia as you vacation destination.
Tap water in all Belize locations is not necessarily safe to drink and we recommend you NOT do so. Most restaurants provide bottled water.What do you wear for cave tubing in Belize? ›
To go cave tubing, our tour guide recommended light and comfortable clothing along with a pair of water shoes. For the guys, a T-shirt and swimming trunks would suffice. As for the women, you can also wear a t-shirt or tank top along with shorts. Make sure to bring a towel and an extra change of clothing.What should I wear to ATM Cave Belize? ›
What should I wear for the ATM cave tour? Wear comfortable clothes and closed toe shoes. You MUST wear socks in the cave. We recommend bringing an extra pair of socks as well as a change of clothes.What is the hardest cave to explore? ›
|Krubera Cave (Voronya Cave)|
|Depth||2,199 m (7,215 ft)|
|Length||16.058 km (9.978 mi)|
With more than 400 islands, white sandy beaches, the longest unbroken barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and 298 kilometers/185 miles of coastline, Belize is a world-class scuba diving destination. While the Blue Hole is Belize best-known dive site, there's much more to discover.Is the Blue Hole in Belize worth diving? ›
If you are a diver, the boat trip to the Great Blue Hole is probably of more interest. It is known as one of the top diving sites in the world after all - but it's only really worth it for Advanced divers with over 30 dives under their belt.Where is the best reef in Belize? ›
Much of Belize's best snorkeling is near Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker, and nearly all of the best sites are along the 600-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef.Can you dive to the bottom of the Blue Hole in Belize? ›
Spoiler alert: you can't dive to the bottom of The Blue Hole. It's about 122 metres/400 feet deep, way beyond recreational limits. The dive begins on the shallow reef that rings the Blue Hole (about 10m/30 ft below the surface). Next, you'll descend down the inner wall of the hole.Do you need a wetsuit to dive in Belize? ›
The waters of Belize are temperate and clear, making it ideal for divers and snorkelers. Temperatures range from 77-78 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter months (November through March) to 83-84 degrees during the summer (April through October). We recommend full 3mm wetsuits during the winter months.What is the scuba diving capital of the world? ›
Key Largo, Florida is known as the scuba diving capital of the world. This is because there is a very large amount of dive sites easily accessible to divers. The Florida Keys is located along the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world.Are there bodies in the Blue Hole? ›
Two such adventurers were Irish technical divers Conor O'Regan and Martin Gara. The deep came calling before either turned 25. Their bodies were found locked in an embrace 102 metres deep into Dahab's infamous Blue Hole. Their bodies were found locked in an embrace 102 metres deep into Dahab's infamous Blue Hole.How long is the boat ride from Placencia to the Blue Hole? ›
Expect Bumpy Boat Rides
The trip to the Blue Hole from Ambergris Caye in Belize will take about 3 hours. From Placencia in Southern Belize, it will take up to 4 hours to get there.