Ancient Mayan ruins and rainforests, lush mangroves and endless coral reefs attract divers from around the world to Belize. Discover a whale shark hotspot, dive with thousands of spawning Nassau groupers, plunge into the famous Blue Hole or simply marvel at the sharks, rays and even saltwater crocodiles found there.
Belize District borders on some of the best diving that the Caribbean Sea has to offer. Warm, crystal clear waters, coral reefs with every colour under the sun, mangrove forests, seagrass beds, hundreds of species of fish and some unique diving experiences, Belize is a dream diving destination.
Stann Creek District, on the south east coast of Belize, is still in the phase of being discovered which means relaxing dives and marine environments in pristine condition. That, in combination with pleasant diving conditions and the chance to see large species, diving here is a must.
Diving in Belize
Belize is a big destination for Central American scuba diving. The underwater world is the heart of Belizean tourism, and there’s a good reason for it: the Belize Barrier Reef. This three hundred kilometre stretch of coral and fish is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, second in size only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Belize Barrier Reef has provided Belizean fisherfolk with food and livelihood for centuries, and now supports the country through tourism, with divers coming to wonder at its crystal clear waters, its majestic atolls, and its profusion of marine life.
Belize dive centers and resorts are plentiful around the best dive spots, and in Belize, it’s very easy to find any dive course you need. The Belize scuba industry offers dive courses for everyone, from the complete beginner to aspiring technical and cave divers. Liveaboards are also available, for divers who want to maximize their time at the top dive sites in the outer reef. There’s a wide range of underwater landscapes to explore, from the iconic Great Blue Hole to walls, flats, and lagoons. Special creatures you’re likely to meet include nurse sharks, stingrays, turtles, whale sharks, and loads of reef fish and reef critters, their populations supported by a system of marine protected areas along the coast. Above the waves, white beaches teem with sea birds, while mangrove forests provide shelter to the elusive dugong and the fearsome saltwater crocodile. An inland rainforest and ancient Mayan jungle ruins complete Belize’s lasting appeal as an unforgettable vacation destination.
Best time to dive
Belize can be dived throughout the entire year. Its rainy season runs from July or August through October, but visibility is not usually affected. (It usually rains for only part of each day.) During the rainy season, it’s possible that the seas become rougher, which can make it more difficult to travel to the outer reef. However, rainy season also sees fewer tourists, which means less crowded dive sites and more intimate marine life encounters. Divers may also find good deals on accommodation and tours during this time of year.
One of Belize’s most special underwater phenomena is the yearly gathering of whale sharks at Gladden Spit between April and June. These gentle giants are reliable annual visitors in the southern waters of Belize, offshore from a town named Placencia. They are drawn to the area by the spawning activity of local snapper species, wherein thousands of fish swirl around each other releasing sperm and eggs, birthing the next generation. Whale shark dive and snorkel operators specialize in choosing the best dates for tours, which correspond with the full moons which trigger the spawning.
Types of diving
Almost every type of scuba diving can be found in Belize. At the top of the list is reef diving on the Belize Barrier Reef. The islands of Caulkner’s Caye and Ambergris Caye are convenient jumping-off points for any kind of reef dive. Sheltered coral flats and bommies between the reef and the mainland provide the perfect conditions for calm beginner dives and underwater photographers. Channels through the barrier reef are great for drift diving, as are the countless walls which drop down the ocean-facing side of the reef. There are not many coral atolls in the Earth’s western hemisphere, and Belize holds three of them: Turneffe, Glover, and Lighthouse. Atoll diving offers a range of underwater experiences, from the sheltered inner lagoon environment to the open ocean. Liveaboards are a good option for divers who want to spend as much time as possible in the atolls.
Belize is also a destination for deep diving, cave diving, and technical diving, due to the Great Blue Hole dive site in the middle of Lighthouse Atoll. This 150-meter deep hole in the reef challenges aspiring and experienced tec and deep divers to manage the submersion, and sometimes nitrogen narcosis. In terms of diving with special animals, Belize is famous for two opportunities: diving with whale sharks and diving with nurse sharks and stingrays. Whale sharks can be found off Placencia in the south of Belize, and nurse sharks and stingrays at the Shark and Ray Alley dive site near Ambergris Caye.
What to see
For a Caribbean country, Belize holds a high diversity of marine life. Hard corals, soft corals, fan corals and various sponges provide a colorful backdrop for different species of snappers, groupers, jacks, barracuda and other reef fishes. Macro-photographers are treated to a variety of nudibranchs, shrimps, eels, and crabs. The crystal-clear visibility of Belizean waters makes all marine life sightings that much more enjoyable.
On the higher end of the size range, commonly encountered large animals include sea turtles (Belizean waters are home to five different species), nurse sharks, eagle rays and stingrays. Reef sharks can be found in offshore dive sites. Rarely sighted but extremely special animals include dugongs and saltwater crocodiles (near mangroves or in seagrass beds), manta rays, and other shark species like hammerheads and tiger sharks.
At certain times of the year, huge numbers of fish come together to spawn in Belizean waters. Cubera and mutton snapper do this, as well as many grouper species; the spawning gatherings of meter-long, critically endangered Nassau groupers in Belize is world-famous. These “mass spawning” events are a wonder of nature. Divers shouldn’t intrude on these nationally protected reproductive parties, but the effects benefit everyone, especially between April and June, when whale sharks arrive to feast on the eggs. As the whale sharks fatten up by Gladden Spit off Placencia, divers can swim with and marvel at them, the biggest fish in the ocean. Whale shark watching in Belize is reliable, and can be done either snorkeling or diving.
Best places to dive
The Ambergris Caye area in the north of Belize features two diving hotspots: the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark and Ray Alley. Hol Chan’s protected waters teem with fishlife; it’s a success story for marine conservation. In a very shallow “cut” through the reef, perpendicular to the shore, even a snorkeler can find her/himself surrounded by fish. Swaying soft corals and sponges are the dominant feature of this gentle landscape. Also near Ambergris Caye, Shark and Ray Alley is a hotspot for seeing nurse sharks and southern stingrays up close. On a shallow, sandy bottom, these animals literally wait for divers (and food), having developed this human-reliant scavenging strategy when fisherfolk started cleaning their catch in the area.
Turneffe Reef Atoll is covered in lush mangrove forests and surrounded not only by coral reef but by healthy meadows of seagrass. These three marine ecosystems (mangroves, seagrass, and coral reefs) are the holy triumvirate of tropical marine conservation, as they each play a special role in the life cycle of marine species; having them side by side is good news for the reef. Divers get to experience the effects of this regenerative energy in Turneffe Atoll dive sites, where fish of every size and age are abundant. The dive site “The Elbow” is an especially good place to enjoy the sight of huge schools of fish.
Lighthouse Reef Atoll is a premier Carribbean liveaboard destination, and not just because of its Great Blue Hole. The reefs are famous for the beauty of their colorful corals, and they’re full of fish. Off the walls, divers have a good chance of seeing big, silvery pelagics like jacks, tarpons, barracuda and pompano. Carribbean reef sharks may also be sighted with luck.
Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole in the middle of Lighthouse Reef Atoll is a world-famous dive site, and the best place to practice technical diving and deep diving in Belize. This collapsed cave has a vertical depth of 150 meters. Its attraction is topography more than marine life (though you may see some sharks), and the challenge of going deep. The dimly lit environment is often described as otherworldly, and cave divers will enjoy the landscape of stalactites and the opportunity to explore deep submerged passages which branch off from the central hole.