Snorkeling in Belize

Image Copyright 2008 – D. Solan


This article is compliments of
Belize Tourism Board and travel belize .org.

“One of the four must-dive locations on this blue planet,” was how renowned oceanographer Jacques Cousteau described Belize. Belize is home to the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and boasts three of only four coral atolls in the Western Hemisphere. Commonly referred to as a magnificent and unrivaled destination for snorkeling and scuba diving, Belize attracts enthusiasts from around the globe. Snorkelers and divers alike encounter a diverse and abundant selection of marine life such as subterranean coral gardens featuring over 70 types of hard corals, nearly 500 species of fish, the distinguished Blue Hole, playful dolphins, fascinating whale sharks, subdued sea turtles and graceful eagle rays. With visibility usually extending hundreds of feet, diverse dive sites and extensive marine life, Belize will not disappoint even the most discerning adventurer.Snorkel and dive sites are found throughout Belize and most tour operators have their own “special spots” they prefer to take travelers. Some of the more popular spots include:

The Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site – Exceptional diving is plentiful from end-to-end of the 190-mile long Belize Barrier Reef, which extends from the northern tip of Ambergris Caye, to the Sapodilla Cayes in Belize’s southernmost regions. Despite occasional storm damage, the seven sites in Belize’s Barrier reef system are protected as UNESCO World Heritage sites offering countless opportunities for divers and snorkelers to explore the patch reefs, spur and grove formations. A variety of dive sites begin at only 45 feet, and drop to 90 feet or more and contain deep coral canyons as well as the fascinating “drop off.” Nurse and reef sharks, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles as well as elegant drum fish, grouper, jacks, snapper and white-spotted toadfish – a species only found in Belize – are just a few of the friendly natives divers encounter. And, for something a little out of the ordinary, snorkeling or diving near a mangrove colored island, otherwise known as “the nursery of the sea,” provides sightings of juvenile versions of barracuda, snapper and other fish species.

Copyright 2008 – T. Rath

The Blue Hole
– Originally a cave, the Blue Hole was formed about 10,000 years ago when the roof collapsed. Visible from outer space, the Blue Hole is nearly a perfectly circular hole 1,000 feet in diameter and 412 feet deep, with stalactites reaching up to 130 feet. In the early 1970’s, Jacques Cousteau and his television crew explored the tunnels, caverns and stalactites the Blue Hole is now famous for. The world renowned dive site is located at the center of Lighthouse Reef Atoll, which is about 50 miles east of Belize City.
Some of the largest midnight parrot fish in the world frequent this hole which also houses stingrays, angelfish, butterfly fish and smaller reef fish, which tend to cluster around coral heads and outcroppings. In addition to its World Heritage status, this natural wonder was named a Belize National Monument in 1999.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve – Loosely translated in Mayan as “Little Channel,” the Hol Chan Marine Reserve refers to the deep cut or “quebrada” in the barrier reef off of Ambergris Caye. The park, which originated in 1987, is approximately four miles (6.4 km) south of San Pedro Ambergris Caye and is the single most popular day trip from San Pedro, perfect for snorkeling or diving. Active management of the reserve to ensure that its rules are being followed: no anchoring, touching the coral or fishing, has aided in the excellent snorkeling and diving found at Hol Chan Marine Reserve – that of abundant marine life and gorgeous, vibrant coral. The depth is only about 30 feet and the currant in the area is strong; but, definitely worth the challenge as schools of grouper, snapper and barracuda are frequently sighted along the walls.

Copyright 2008 – T. Rath

Shark Ray Alley
– Located just one mile south of the Hol Chan cut and considered to be a part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is Shark Ray Alley. Once a place where fishermen would clean their catches and therefore naturally attract sting rays and nurse sharks, Shark Ray Alley is now an attraction that offers visitors the rare opportunity to snorkel beside incredible marine life. Snorkelers have the ability to get up close and personal with the sting rays and nurse sharks, allowing for an experience – or photo opportunity – of a lifetime.

South Water Caye Marine Reserve – The largest marine reserve in the country, this gorgeous stretch from Hopkins to Sittee River lures more divers each year, who choose to lodge in the area for quick access to the stunning cayes that dot the shallows. Idyllic South Water Caye sits perched atop the main reef, and a nearby underwater cave named “Hell Hole” awaits exploration with a mouth 10 to 15 feet wide. The walls and ledges of the wondrous cave display a wealth of stalactites and stalagmites, and eagle rays, moray ells, dolphins, rock snappers and smaller fish call the area home. The marine life and reef in this area have been extensively studied by the Smithsonian, who has had a research facility on Carrie Bow Caye for the past 30 years. Tobacco Caye and Tobacco Range, located a few miles north, host the elusive nocturnal squirrelfish and other exotic marine life.

Copyright 2008 – T. Rath

Gladden Spit – Due east of Placencia, Gladden Spit is traditionally known for the massive whale sharks that divers encounter in this natural marine spawning ground, located along the southern barrier reef. The whale shark sightings in this area are virtually guaranteed during the months of March, April and May, but have been reported throughout the fall and winter as well.

Laughing Bird Caye – Laughing Bird Caye National Park, an essential protected area encompassing over 10,000 acres of sea, is a popular day trip from Placencia and it’s clear as to why. Quaint pristine beaches populated with swaying palms, sandy shallow swimming areas and magnificent diving are a few of the elements that create this picturesque destination, making for a true Caribbean escape. Private yachts and kayaks also visit this area frequently to enjoy the natural attraction, as a cut which lies directly through the center of the caye provides a one-of-a-kind diving experience.

Copyright 2008 – T. Rath

Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve
– Approximately 40 miles east of Punta Gorda lies the Sapodilla Caye Marine Reserve, a 48 square mile preserved area of reef, sand and mangrove cayes. The shallow water reefs around the outside of the reserve make the area great for snorkeling, as it often is not deeper than 15 feet. Schools of jack and spadefish frequent the outer reefs, while close to the bottom divers can find angelfish, parrot fish and snappers. The spectacularly clear waters through the lagoon area, characterized by silt, sand and shallow seagrass beds in the middle of the reserve, make the spot ideal for viewing the pristine reefs of lettuce coral, sponge and algae that grow throughout.

Ambergris Caye – At 25 miles long, Ambergris is the largest of Belize’s cayes, and is one of the best spots off of the mainland for a family vacation. The largest town on the caye is San Pedro, and while the town is booming with world-class beach resorts, the laidback atmosphere is retained by features such as its cobble stone roads traveled mostly by golf carts. Activities in San Pedro, such as snorkeling at nearby Shark-Ray Alley or Hol Chan Marine Reserve, sailing, fishing, bird watching, shopping and kayaking have made Ambergris Caye the dive and water sports Mecca of Belize.

Image Copyright 2008 – JC Cuellar

More than Snorkeling…Experiential Travel!

Belize also offers a wide variety of ways travelers can become completely absorbed in the local culture, such as learning how to make chocolate as the Mayas did, staying overnight at marine research facilities found, touring and sharing a meal with locals living in Maya and Mennonite villages and interacting with the iguanas found in the Green Iguana Conservation Project.

Eco-Adventure Activities – In addition to spectacular hiking trails, cave tubing, zip-lining and horseback riding found at many eco-tourism destinations, Belize offers more original activities. The new Jungle Tumble offers participants a thrilling ride inside a giant 11-foot tall inflatable ball. Also known as Zorbing, the Jungle Tumble was originally invented in New Zealand. This new eco-adventure activity allows guests the opportunity to tumble down custom designed tracks stretching throughout the Belizean jungle and is available just outside of Belize City. Crocodile tagging is also offered at Belizean resorts, where participants are taken out on an airboat ride across one of Belize’s luscious jungle lagoons late at night, accompanied by guides who wrangle and tag wild crocodiles.

Image Copyright 2008 – D. Solano

Maya Sites
– From the mysterious Crystal Skull legend which inspired the newest Indiana Jones movie, to the longest inhabited Maya civilization, the Maya sites of Belize have hosted tourists and archeologists alike for hundreds of years. With temples dotting the country-side, and ancestors spread throughout, the Maya spirit is still very much alive in Belize. Some of the largest and best preserved Maya cities in the country are listed below

  • Caracol is the largest archeological site in Belize, and one of the largest in the Maya world. It boasts Belize’s tallest man-made structure, a 140-foot pyramid.
  • Lamanai is located in the Orange Walk district, on the New River Lagoon and is surrounded by lush and beautiful jungle.
  • Lubaantun is the site rumored to be the place where Anna Mitchell-Hedges found the famous Crystal Skull, in 1926.
  • Xunantunich is the most famous Maya structure in Belize with its wondrous panoramic views of both the Cayo District and Guatemala.

Flats Fishing – The waters around Belize have over 200 miles of beautiful flats, perfect for some of the most spectacular fly fishing in the world. Turneffe Atoll is especially well-known for the abundance of bonefish, tarpon, permit and snook – also known as a “super slam” – that make the entire country of Belize a fisherman’s paradise.

Copyright 2008 – T. Rath

This article was compliments of Belize Tourism Board and travel belize .org.