Where to Dive in Belize
A big reason to visit Belize is the abundance of water-related activities along the Belize Barrier Reef System, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dive the famous Blue Hole or one of the countless sites accessible from coastal spots on Belize’s mainland or cayes.
San Pedro, Belize
Hol Chan Marine Reserve, located just a few minutes’ boat ride from San Pedro, is the place to go for snorkeling in Northern Belize. This small, protected area (Hol Chan means “little channel” in Mayan) is home to part of Belize’s barrier reef, which is the second largest in the world (after Australia‘s reef), and the largest healthiest. There are many tour operators out of San Pedro that can take you out for a half-day of snorkeling the reef, and you’ll see colorful coral, rainbow fish, and manta rays, among other marine life. Make sure your guide brings you to Shark Alley, where nurse sharks come to feed on the fish scraps boats leave behind. There, you’ll be able to swim mere feet—or even inches, if you dare—from the creatures.
Turneffe Atoll, Belize
Turneffe Atoll’s sprawling central lagoon is a beautiful natural playground marked by thick mangrove islands and littoral forest, and hosts dozens of remarkable marine species – including crocodiles. Yes, the central lagoon is pretty to look at and one of the best places in Belize to watch the sun rise, but I wouldn’t recommend you go for a dip. Crocodiles spend their days escaping the heat in the thick mangroves, then swim out into the open ocean at dusk to feed. I saw two crocs during my time on the island; a very young juvenile whose curiosity had brought him right up to the sandy patch of beach behind the Blackbird Caye Resort, and a suspicious adult who kept his distance (thankfully). Still, the lagoon is a great place to spy on the aforementioned crocodiles, photograph marine birds, and more. Photo Finish: Nikon D800 | 24-70mm f/2.8 lens | Aperture f/6.3 | ISO-400 | Shutter 1/60 sec.
Belize City, Belize
And here we go – down into the deep blue sea, at the Great Blue Hole, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most remarkable underwater kingdoms the world has to offer. I didn’t get a change to visit the stalagmites and stalactites deep down in the hole – I’m not quite ready to go that deep as a diver – but I was able to explore much of what the hole has to offer. Even burgeoning divers like me can get down with their crew and explore a world they never knew existed. GoPro Hero3+ Silver | Aperture f/2.8 | ISO-100 | Shutter 1/610 sec.
Big Cay Bokel, Belize
Located at the southern end of Turneffe Atoll, not far from Southern Lagoon and a variety of wonderful dive sites, the Lighthouse at Big Caye Bokel is just one of the many in the extensive reef system that guards mainland Belize. Hire a local to take you by boat and plan for time to snorkel or dive in the area. Also nearby is Caye Bokel Marine Reserve.
Glover Reef, Belize
Though the name Emerald Forest would suggest a lush, green plot of land, in fact the Emerald Forest in Belize is a paradise for divers that is part of Glover’s Reef Atoll. Because it is somewhat shallow, it offers idyllic conditions for snorkelers to easily see the huge green Elkhorn coral that have now been given the name “Emerald Forest.”
On approach, Laughing Bird Caye is breathtaking: a narrow island, lined with multiple palm trees, with a single thatch hut where a resident park ranger awaits to welcome and inform visitors. It’s not so bad once you’ve arrived, either: brilliant white sand, iridescent turquoise water, pelicans overhead. This 10,000-acre protected marine park is more than a sight for sore eyes: It offers some of the best snorkeling in Belize, particularly on the leeward side of the island where large tropical critters thrive. Barracuda, nurse sharks, bonefish, and rays swim alongside smaller fish in colorful, healthy corals. Laughing Bird Caye, part of the Belize Barrier Reef and a designated World Heritage Site, is a popular snorkel day trip from Placencia Village, just 11 miles away.
Glovers Reef, Northeast Caye, Belize
Glover’s Atoll owes its name to two pirate brothers, John and Rodger Glover, and has been so named since the 1750s. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, and it is the most remote of the atolls in the Belize reef system. Diving, snorkeling and swimming are the top activities for guests of the resort and all can be accomplished simply by stepping out from the beach into the turquoise water that surrounds the atoll. Solitude and privacy are aspects that might characterize a typical stay, and guests can choose to camp, stay in a dormitory, or sleep in a thatch cabin on the beach or over the water. The resort does have a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; meal plans can be purchased or guests can pay per meal. Nightly stays begin at just $12 and weekly stays begin at $99. Charters are available to transport you to the atoll from several points in Belize and a boat departs weekly on Sundays from Sittee River.