In the Caribbean Sea, not far from Belize’s mainland are sandy islands that attract divers from around the globe. This small Caribbean country has some of the best diving in the world. With the longest reef in the Western Hemisphere just off its shores, you can be sure to find your new favourite dive site in Belize.
‘Go Slow’ is the motto of Caye Caulker and that’s exactly how it feels. There are only a few sandy roads with not much traffic. The cars that are on them travel at a leisurely pace. A few times we were jokingly told by locals that we were walking too fast! The island is so small, there’s no need to hurry. There are several quality hotels and restaurants in Caye Caulker Village, but the town still maintains a carefree atmosphere. Many of the visitors to Caye Caulker are divers and like us, plan to dive at the infamous Great Blue Hole. (see below) (Caye translates in English to key, a sandy island).
Since it is located on the Caribbean Sea, we expected the shores to be lined with sandy beaches but unfortunately that’s not the case. Instead the sea is filled with seagrass and sandy sidewalks usually end in small breaker walls. Almost every hotel has their own dock. A few people swim off the end, but there are also many boats in the area so its not a relaxing swim.
Caye Caulker was split in two by a hurricane in 1961. The Split is a popular ‘beach-like’ area with sand extending to the marine wall. Here you can laze on a beach chair on the edge of the water, sip a margarita and listen to reggae playing at the bar. The water is deeper so you can jump off the barrier wall to cool down in the water. This is as close to a beach as you’ll find so it is a popular place to hang out.
The island is only a few blocks wide but is very long. It extends all the way to the Mexican border, 40 km away. Like Caye Caulker, the sandy ground ends in concrete marine walls. There are a couple of beach areas, but you must wade through thick sea grass to be able to swim so they’re not very busy.
San Pedro is the main town located on the southern part of Ambergris Caye. It’s a busy town filled with tourist hotels, restaurants and tour shops. The paved roads have a constant stream of golf carts used by the many tourists. Our opinion is that the golf carts have ruined the atmosphere of San Pedro and therefore it’s lost any charm it might have once had. On the ocean side of San Pedro is a long, sandy pedestrian walkway along the water where you can escape the traffic. Here though the waterfront is very busy with many dive boats, ferries and tour boats coming and going.
The best part about San Pedro is the access to great diving. It’s only a 7-minute boat ride to reach amazing dive sites on the world’s second large reef. (See below)
Half Moon Caye
Lunch on a dive trip is usually uneventful, but after the Blue Hole, we stopped on the island of Half Moon Caye for lunch. The divemaster recommended we visit the Red Footed Booby Reserve on the island. This was an unexpected treat. We walked to the end of the small island toward the reserve. Not expecting much, we climbed to the top of a tower and were surprised at the site. The surrounding treetops were plastered with Red Footed Boobies, Frigates and Gulls. It was incredible, so may nesting birds in one area. Unfortunately, we didn`t expect this and only had a phone with us, so our pictures aren’t as good as we’d have liked.
Diving in Belize
At 300 km long, Belize Barrier Reef is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef which is the second largest reef in the world. In northern Belize the reef is only 300 m (980 ft) offshore. We went for a few dives from both Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, and it was some of the best reef diving we’ve done in a long time. Unfortunately we don’t have pictures because our waterproof camera broke.
Although it has suffered from bleaching events, the Belize Barrier Reef is very healthy. The interesting reef ridges making canyons and cliffs that are fun to explore. The coral is healthy, colourful and varied with many types of both hard and soft coral. The fish are abundant and diverse. There are unusual ones including the black durgon, file and cow fish. We saw many sharks including the large Caribbean reef shark. There was so much to look at underwater, time flew by. All of the reef sites were incredible but the best was Half Moon Caye Wall. It has the most colourful and varied reef and fish of all of the dives and is considered the best dive site in Belize.
Another interesting spot was the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. These shallow dives are much different than the reef dives. The bottom is covered in seagrass which attracts a lot of different sea life. We were only a few meters deep and yet saw dozens of nurse sharks, reef sharks, rays and turtles. After diving we snorkeled at Shark Ray Alley where there was continuous stream of reef and nurse sharks. Some tour boats feed the sharks, which we do not condone, but since it was included with our dive we jumped in with everyone else. The highlight though, was diving at The Great Blue Hole.
The Great Blue Hole
Imagine the coolest cave you`ve ever been in, then imagine it filled with water so you can swim between the tall stalactites. That`s diving in The Great Blue Hole. Over a hundred thousand years ago the Great Blue Hole was a cave above sea level. When sea levels rose the roof of the cave collapsed and the cave filled with sea water. Today the hole is 318 m (1000 ft) across and 124 m (400 ft) deep.
From the rim of the hole, we jumped off our dive boat and began descending. We dove down the wall of the hole going deeper and deeper until we reached a small overhang at 40 m (130 ft) depth. The exciting part was swimming under the overhang and seeing the cave’s huge stalactites coming down from the ceiling. Then we swam around and between these tall karst limestone features. It was so bizarre to swim at the top of a cave, around structures that we usually see from a cave floor. We could only spend 5 minutes at that depth, but it was worth every second.
How to get to Ambergris and Caye Caulker
Ferries leave Belize City several times a day for Caye Caulker (1 hr) ($13 USD) and then San Pedro ( 1½ hrs) ($18 USD). The return trip leaves San Pedro and stops at Caye Caulker before arriving in Belize City. The ferry allows you to visit both islands. In Belize City it is a $25 USD taxi ride to get to the ferry terminal from the airport.
Tips for diving in Belize
For a diver, Belize is paradise. Plan a holiday to include diving from both Ambergris and Caulker as they provide different experiences that are incredible in their own way.
From San Pedro there’s only a short 7 min boat ride to many amazing reef dives. We recommend Scuba School And Family Dive Center Belize. They are one of the most professional and friendly dive shops we’ve ever used.
From Caye Caulker, other than Great Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye Wall is a must. It’s said to be the best dive site in Belize. We dove with Belize Diving Services. They are a professional company with excellent equipment and staff. The boat ride to Great Blue Hole is very rough. If you suffer from seasickness be prepared with whatever remedies that work for you.
Coming Next: Belize’s Southern Beaches
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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