They say that good things come in small packages. When it comes to world-class scuba diving, nowhere is that phrase more apt than the little country of Belize. Nestled between Mexico and Guatemala in the Caribbean Sea, Belize is proudly home to the world’s second-largest barrier reef. At 190 miles (305 km) in length, the Belizean Reef is second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Blessed with more than 400 cays, three coral atolls, 500 species of fish, and over 100 species of coral, it’s no wonder the Belize Barrier Reef system was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Let’s look at some of the best scuba diving in Belize.
As the biggest and most popular of Belize’s cays, Ambergris offers impressive visibility coupled with pleasant, easy diving. Ambergris is ideal for casual divers or anyone traveling with non-divers. With 25 miles (40 km) of barrier reef just 1 mile (1.6 km) offshore, getting your dive fix doesn’t mean sacrificing your whole day.
The gorgeous coral reef system here features a classic Caribbean spur and groove formation. Long fingers of reef run perpendicular to the shore, creating caves, swim-throughs, ledges, and all kinds of nooks and crannies that play host to an immense amount of marine life.
Hawksbill, green and loggerhead sea turtles frequent the area, and join the elegant spotted eagle rays gliding along the coast. If you’re looking for sharks, here — more than any other cay — you have the chance of seeing nurse and gray Caribbean reef sharks. The best dive sites in Ambergris include Shark Ray Alley, Hol Chan, and Tacklebox Canyons.
Just off the Placencia peninsula, on the southeast coast of Belize, lies the very special Gladden Spit, part of the Silk Cay Marine Preserve. Between March and June, a mass of tropical fish comes together to spawn around the full moon each lunar cycle.
Dog snapper, mutton snapper, cubera, and many others congregate to mate and spawn in their thousands. And all this activity attracts a special visitor: the whale shark.
The sloping reef starts at 60 feet (18 m) and drops away to over 160 feet (50 m). To dive here and catch all the action, consult a local marine biologist and dive operator. Ensure both you and your buddy keep a respectful distance from these majestic and endangered creatures.
Glover’s Reef Atoll
Glover’s is the southernmost of Belize’s three atolls and the most remote. It’s an exquisite, oblong-shaped reef roughly 18 miles (29 km) long and only 7 miles (11 km) wide. A pristine, shallow lagoon freckled with over 700 patch reefs and five tiny islands can be found in its center.
Getting to Glover’s Atoll can be challenging and time-consuming, but those that brave the journey will be rewarded. Basic, no-frills accommodation is the norm, making it an affordable and appealing option for divers on a budget. The end result is that the human footprint is refreshingly small here, and reef health thrives as a result.
Nurse sharks, turtles, and eagle rays are present throughout the year. Whale sharks, while uncommon, have also been known to cruise by. Hammerheads and tiger sharks frequent the rougher northeast waters. Rare and endangered stands of elkhorn coral thrive in the shallow waters off the northwest coast. As with elsewhere in Belize, tropical reef fish abound. Signature dives in Glover’s Reef include Long Cay Wall, the Pinnacles, Southwest Cay Wall, Aquarium, and Shark Point.
Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Lighthouse is the easternmost atoll in Belize’s Barrier Reef. Although it’s just 50 miles (80 km) from Belize City, its reefs have been hailed as the healthiest and most developed in the region. Given its position in the Atlantic Ocean, it can be subject to strong winds. Luckily, there is no shortage of fabulous sites on the lee side to choose from.
The reefs here display dazzling marine diversity and abundant life. Schools of cobalt blue Creole wrasse are common, as are purple gorgonian fan corals that filter feed along the sheer walls. Large brown barrel sponges often hold protected Nassau grouper, which enjoy the swirling jacuzzi inside. Take a closer look to find banded cleaner shrimps offering a free gill cleaning.
The best sites here are wall dives, so divers should be comfortable with both drift and deep diving techniques. Top dive sites in Lighthouse include Half Moon Cay, Long Cay, and the world-famous Belize Blue Hole.
Turneffe Reef Atoll
At 30 miles (48 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide, Turneffe Atoll is the largest in the entire Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. Surrounded by outstanding natural beauty and with more than 70 dive sites just a quick boat ride away, the only hard part is leaving. And while it may be big, the pace here is perfect for divers who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the more populous resorts.
The unique ecosystem here boasts more than 200 mangrove islands, making it an ideal nursery for the endemic and elusive white-spotted toadfish. Manatees and even saltwater crocodiles can be spotted near lagoons in the south. Its nutrient-rich ecology has also made Turneffe an important spawning area for reef fish.
Such diversity means dive sites to enchant all levels. Beginner divers will love the western side’s shallow reefs, while the deep walls and varied topography in the east and south will delight experienced divers. Try to take a plunge at The Elbow, Lindsey’s Back Porch, Chasbo’s Corner, and Jo-Jo’s.
Get the most out of scuba diving in Belize
With so many fabulous dive sites to choose from in a sprawling barrier reef system, a liveaboard will give you the opportunity to taste a bit of everything. Itineraries are robust and diverse, ticking off many of the signatures sites listed above. Most offer an 8-day, 7-night trip and the opportunity to do as many as 28 dives!
If spending a week on a boat isn’t your idea of heaven, check out an all-inclusive dive resort on the reef of your choice. Accommodation wise, the variety and quality are excellent.
The Best Time to Dive Belize
With subtropical climate, scuba diving in Belize is possible year-round. But as a tropical location, it has both a dry and a wet season. The latter runs from June to November, with most rain falling between August and October. Dry season runs from December through May. For your best chance of seeing all of Belize’s critters and diving in excellent conditions, visit between December and March.