Discovering Belize Scuba Diving

The Belize scuba diving experience is closer than many people in the U.S. might think. Belize is situated in the heart of Central America, right under Mexico and next to Guatemala, and enjoys the welcoming waves of the Western Caribbean and the Gulf of Honduras.

Belize as a tourist destination remains largely undiscovered, and this is a part of its allure. This is what has allowed Belize’s Maya ruins to remain in good order (albeit still in ruins!), their rain forest to be pristine, and the Belize scuba diving jewel – the Belize Barrier Reef – to stay unspoiled for you to enjoy.

Belize scuba diving is all about the cayes (pronounced keys), the offshore atolls, and thebarrier reef. The cayes are coral sand and/or mangroves islands that are found between the mainland and the barrier reef; also on the barrier reef, and surrounding the reefs of the offshore atolls. It may surprise you to know that the Belize Barrier Reef is 185 miles long, making it the longest in the Western Hemisphere.

With a subtropical climate, Belize scuba diving enthusiasts should bring casual, lightweight clothing, and for any trip inland something a little more protective. Temperatures in the winter months can be cool, so you will need to pack accordingly at this time of year. Having said that, the country has an average annual temperature of 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and the high humidity is thankfully tempered by the sea breezes.

What’s on offer with Belize scuba diving

Belize scuba diving offers something for everyone, no matter their skill level, from shore diving in shallow waters to the Blue Hole at over 400 feet deep. The barrier reefs offer the perfect environment for novice scuba divers, with sites such as Hol Chan Marine Park, which is a few miles south of Ambergris Caye, and has recently been expanded to includeShark-Ray Alley. A good number of Belize scuba diving sites can be tackled by divers of any experience, from novice to advanced, because there is so much diversity within them.

Although high winds can reduce visibility along the Barrier Reef to 20 to 30 feet, your Belize scuba diving experience should remain crystal clear on the lee of the atolls, where visibility is in excess of 100 feet. Generally, visibility is from 50 to 150 feet, although during “northers”, which are cold fronts which hit Belize during the winter months, visibility when Belize scuba diving can be reduced for several days. Water temperatures are pretty constant all year round ranging from the mid to high 70s to the low 80s. For this reason, a lightweight dive skin or a 1/16 inch shorty wetsuit would be ideal.

One of the best spots on the Belize scuba diving map is Ambergris, which is the largest and most popular of the offshore cayes. It boasts 25 miles of Belize’s amazing barrier reef, and it sits less than a mile from the shore. Here, the tranquil waters make the visibility very good, so that the dense coral and lush reef are a joy to behold.

Dive operators who operate in this Belize scuba diving area ensure that they offer a great variety of dives, including spur-and-groove reefs with deep canyons, swim-throughs, and reef cuts. Permanent mooring buoys and natural resource management initiatives, including the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, have thankfully kept anchor damage to a minimum.

The Blue Hole of Belize

A Belize scuba diving vacation would not be complete without a visit to the Belize Blue Hole – an astounding geographical phenomenon. In fact, this could be your whole reason for booking a Belize scuba diving vacation. World famous diver Jacques Cousteau declared it one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world.

The Blue Hole is a part of the Lighthouse Reef system, and lies around 60 miles off the mainland from Belize City. It is an almost perfectly circular hole approximately one quarter of a mile across, and inside this hole the water descends to a depth of 410 feet. It is this depth compared to the surrounding ocean that gives these features their name.

Making this a part of your Belize scuba diving experience, you will see strange stalactites and limestone formations as you descend past 110 feet into the Blue Hole, and these formations become more intricate and intense the deeper you go. Down to 110 feet, the walls are sheer.

The diameter of the reef area encircling the Blue Hole stretches for about 1,000 feet, and apart from a couple of narrow channels, it completely encircles it. It is the perfect environment for corals to flourish, and these corals manage to break the surface at various places at low tide. This might be where the Belize scuba diving novice may want to spend some time before heading down into the abyss.

The hole itself is actually the opening to a system of caves and passageways that penetrate what is effectively an undersea mountain, and would have been above ground before the last Ice Age flooded it out.

Other Belize Scuba Diving Sites

Shark-Ray Alley & Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Previously mentioned, these are two very popular sites. In Shark-Ray Alley you are guaranteed a Belize scuba diving experience to remember, as you encounter stingrays and nurse sharks. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, on the other hand, comprises a narrow channel cutting through a rich and well-maintained shallow coral reef.

Caye Caulker

Great for a snorkelling break during your Belize scuba diving vacation, much less developed and less crowded than its more popular neighbor, Ambergris Caye. Many of the dive sites are a short boat ride from shore.

Turneffe Island & Lighthouse Reef Atolls

For many divers on a Belize scuba diving trip, these spots are unmissable, with the previously mentioned Blue Hole at the heart of the mid-ocean Lighthouse Reef atoll.

Glover’s Reef Atoll

Belize scuba diving here is spectacular and underexploited, with far fewer visitors than Turneffe Island and the Lighthouse Reef atolls.

Gladden Spit


A natural spawning ground for a variety of marine species and a world-renowned spot for diving with massive whale sharks, this is a mid-ocean site that Belize scuba diving enthusiasts will not want to miss.

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Caribbean Top Scuba Diving Spots

The subject of Caribbean scuba diving covers a lot of ground – or more precisely water. One thing you can rely on when looking at Caribbean scuba diving is that you won’t be let down.

According to Nick Lucey, Editor of Scuba Diving Magazine: “When you dive in the Caribbean it’s a known quantity. The conditions are pretty much relatively good. It’s got a very developed infrastructure for diving. You know you’re going to get a high level of service with the dive operations and the resorts.”

For many dive aficionados, this is crucial. Caribbean scuba diving ticks all the boxes; the only real problem is where on earth in the Caribbean you actually want to go.

Caribbean scuba diving top spots

The Caymans

High on the list would have to be Grand Cayman, part of the Cayman Islands, a group of three islands located south of Florida in the Caribbean. The main island is Grand Cayman, and its two sister islands are Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. This Caribbean scuba diving location has been ranked No. 3 on the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Network’s list of favorite scuba destinations. Grand Cayman has great water visibility, excellent amenities, and is well-known for its themed dives at locations like Stingray City, where you can swim in 12 to 15 feet of water with as many as 50 Southern stingrays around you.

Wall diving is also a feature of Caribbean scuba diving in Grand Cayman, and the North Wall offers wall diving from around 90 feet. Closer to the surface, the drop-off at Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay begins at a shallow 18 feet, then descends sharply to over 1,000 feet. Here the Caribbean scuba diving coral-lover will be in their element. All in all, Grand Cayman caters to all levels of diver, and there are plenty of activities for when you are out of the water.

Bonaire

The Caymans are not the only Caribbean scuba diving sites suitable for all levels of divers. The shallow diving of Bonaire, in the Dutch Antilles, is ranked No. 2 on the PADI Network’s list of favorite scuba destinations, thanks to the fantastic shapes and colors in the reefs there.

Caribbean scuba diving trips can take some planning, so it’s good to know that Bonaire lies southwest of the normal hurricane belt, the sun shines nearly every day, and all diving happens on the island’s 24-mile leeward west side where the seas are usually calm.

Plus, all the sites around Bonaire are accessible from the beach, as Bonaire’s massive reef system begins just a few hundred feet offshore which is a rarity in the Caribbean and a great boon if a non-diver is accompanying you on your Caribbean scuba diving vacation. This feature also makes Bonaire a great place to become dive-certified, as training can be conducted in safe shallows.

Cozumel

The largest of the Mexican Caribbean’s islands, Cozumel is just 12 miles off Mexico’s Yucatan coast and would certainly have to be on your Caribbean scuba diving wish-list, being ranked No. 1 by the PADI Travel Network. Cozumel has the clearest water in the Caribbean, with visibility never less than 100 feet and sometimes over 200 feet. The only pause for thought may be if you are a novice because you may find the continual current a little unnerving, as Cozumel is known for its drift diving.

Cozumel is not only a top spot for scuba diving, it is also a great all-around fun destination with luxury accommodation and buzzing nightlife.

Cocos Island

If your idea of a Caribbean scuba diving vacation is moving from boat to water back to boat, then the Costa Rican Cocos Island may appeal because this island is over 300 miles from the Costa Rican coast and boat-living is a necessity. PADI ranked this Caribbean scuba diving location No. 6 due to the ease of spotting the most impressive marine creatures. Dive operators consider the Cocos Island to be one of the best big animal dive destinations in the world.

Belize

Belize is a largely undiscovered gem for Caribbean scuba diving enthusiasts, despite the fact that its barrier reef is 185 miles long, which makes it the longest in the Western Hemisphere.

Diving is carried out on the reef and around the atolls and cayes (keys). For the more adventurous, a 60-mile trip off the coast will bring you to the Lighthouse Reef system, where the famous Blue Hole is located. No one on a Caribbean scuba diving trip to Belize will want to miss this – an almost perfect hole a quarter mile wide that descends vertically over 400 feet.

Aruba

This is the ideal spot for a Caribbean scuba diving vacation if you have a penchant for exploring wrecks. Aruba has the largest of all Caribbean wrecks, the 400 foot German freighter called the Antilla, scuttled in the Second World War. All of the dive sites are easily accessible, as the island is only 19 miles by 5 miles, and there are thirty main wreck and reef dives to explore.

Bahamas

Mention has to be made of the Bahamas in any article on Caribbean scuba diving, as there is so much on offer that you are utterly spoiled for choice. The Bahamas is actually an archipelago of 700 islands, and whatever your diving preferences, you will find an answer somewhere in the Bahamas. Sunken Spanish galleons, blue holes, ocean caves, coral reefs, and marine life in abundance are all awaiting the keen Caribbean scuba diving tourist.

Saba

Saba is one of the Windward Islands of the Dutch Caribbean, and it is called “The Unspoiled Queen” because it is not overrun by tourists. It is best known for huge underwater pinnacles that rise to within 80 feet of the surface, and also boasts underwater lava tunnels and hot springs.

No matter where you venture on your Caribbean scuba diving vacation, you really can’t go far wrong. And don’t take this as a definitive list; remember that there are plenty of other great scuba diving destinations that have not been mentioned here, including St Lucia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Tips For Better Scuba Diving Trips

Scuba diving trips require more planning than regular vacations, but the pay-off for taking that extra time and making the effort is well worth it. You can’t really wing it with a scuba diving trip if you plan on creating the best possible experience for yourself and your dive buddies. A lack of planning may not exactly cause your trip to go wrong, but it won’t run as smoothly and that will detract from the overall experience.

The following advice should be borne in mind when planning your scuba diving trip:

Choosing the Right Destination

This is far and away the most important aspect of creating the best possible scuba diving trip. It is not as simple as finding a location where scuba diving is possible, or even a place where the scuba diving is highly regarded. You need to take into account the suitability of the destination according to your own individual requirements. Your level of experience and the type of diving you wish to do will largely dictate whether a particular dive site is right.

For example, Cozumel is considered to be one of the best destinations in the world for a scuba diving trip; in fact, PADI has ranked it as their number one location. However, novice divers may not want to try Cozumel as their first dive destination because its reef currents can be disorientating and unnerving for beginners. Cozumel’s drift diving is far better suited to the more experienced diver who doesn’t mind their scuba diving trip being a little more adventurous and unpredictable.

Equally, the Galapagos Islands can make for a memorable scuba diving trip, but you really need to be living aboard a dive boat to take full advantage, and that will not suit everyone. Some people might like their scuba vacation to be a mix of great dives and buzzing nightlife, for which they will need to be near some lively tourist destination.

You should also consider what type of diving is available at each location. You may want your scuba diving trip to incorporate wreck dives, reef dives, wall diving, diving blue holes, cavern diving, cave diving … the list goes on. Do you want to be able to walk out to your dive sites every morning, as you can on Bonaire in the Dutch Antilles, or are you happy to take a long boat ride to your dive site, as when you visit the famous Blue Hole of Belize?

What about the remoteness of the destination? You can interpret this two ways: that you can’t begin your scuba diving trip until you’ve put in some serious hours of traveling, therefore you could be jet-lagged for the first few days; or that you may only be taking a short hop, but your destination is remote from the type of civilization and amenities you are used to. Scuba diving trips to this sort of location may throw up issues of poor transport, a lack of medical care, or poor quality food and water.

Your key to choosing the best location for your scuba diving trip is masses of research. There is no excuse for picking an unsuitable dive destination with all the resources that the internet has to offer.

Choose the Best Time of Year

You may not have the luxury of being able to take a vacation whenever it suits you; work commitments normally put paid to that idea. However, no matter how restricted you are, you can make every effort to gear your scuba diving trip to a destination that offers great conditions for that particular time of year.

Most importantly, you will need to take into account the weather conditions that pertain at a certain location at any given period in the year. Your ideal destination for a scuba diving trip in the spring may prove a whole lot less attractive when the rainy season sets in later in the fall. Remember that high season for the general tourist may be low season for the scuba diver. Again, research is the key to establishing the best location for a given time of year. Your heart may be set on one destination, but your vacation schedule may mean it’s best you keep it on your wish-list and choose an alternative place where the diving is more in-season.

You should also take into account the costs involved in planning a scuba diving trip at a certain time of the year. Naturally, you will pay more for your flights and accommodation – in fact, for everything – in the high season for tourists.

Your Budget

In reality, budgets often choose us. Our income and the times of year we may be restricted to traveling in can mean we have a limited budget with which to book our scuba diving trip. This is where you need to refer back to the first point about choosing the right destination. If a certain spot is beyond your financial means, then it’s not the right destination – not this time. Or perhaps you could manage to get to your perfect dive spot in the world, but you’d have to do everything there on a shoestring. These are decisions you need to be realistic about.

Get Everything Ready

“Everything” means your dive certification, your dive log, your passport and travel documents, dive insurance, your dive gear, and whatever else you consider necessary for a hassle-free scuba diving trip. This includes your own preparedness.

Consider if you need to do any refresher courses before leaving on your scuba diving trip, or whether you need to acquaint yourself with any new equipment. Make sure all the gear you are taking has been tested in advance. You could always rent equipment once you get there, but if that’s after you discover sixty miles out on a boat that your own is faulty then you may well lose a great day’s diving.

Use a Travel Consultant who Specializes in Scuba Diving Trips

You can use a dive travel specialist to back up your own research or to replace it if you feel you can completely trust their advice. A scuba diving trip organized this way can make it all flow and fit together better. These people will know the ins and outs of certain dive destinations, and may be able to help you save money by pointing you towards the right dive shops and hotels.

If planning is not your strong point, then using a professional to draw up an itinerary for your scuba diving trip can take the pressure off, which is what a dive vacation should be all about.

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