Tucked away between Guatemala and Mexico, lies a little slice of paradise right in the heart of Central America. Belize, flanking the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean Sea, maybe small in size at roughly 174 miles in length, but definitely packs a mighty punch for those in search of outdoor wonders.
Known the world over as a premium diving destination, Belize is home to the second-largest barrier reef, the Belize Barrier Reef. Stretching out over 190 miles in length, it’s only second to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. It is also home to the country’s most iconic dive site, the Great Blue Hole. No wonder then that scuba diving in Belize is one of this country’s biggest drawcards. Scuba diving in Belize is known to be some of the best diving in the world.
Unparalleled natural beauty, as well as unique historical and cultural experiences, makes Belize the perfect all-around destination, ticking all the right boxes for those in search of a truly idyllic adventure in scuba diving and beyond.
Boasting the longest coral reef stretch in the western hemisphere means Belize is counted amongst one of the top diving and snorkeling destinations in the world.
The Ultimate Guide To Diving In Belize
Belize Offers Exciting Non-Diving Related Activities
Of course, there’s plenty more non-diving-related activities and sights that make Belize such a special destination to visit and explore. No wonder then that National Geographic listed Belize as one of the most exciting places to visit in their best trips roundup. Both nature lovers, as well as history and cultural enthusiasts alike, will be enthralled by what Belize has to offer.
Hikers can enjoy the array of walking trails set in the country’s largest forested reserve, the Cockscomb Basin Forest Reserve, the best known for hikes in Belize. Other parks with notable hiking trails also include the Tikal National Park, Guanacaste National Park, and the Blue Hole National Park.
Top Dive Belize Diving Sites
There are literally unknown numbers of dive sites in Belize. You cannot ride in a boat for more than 5 minutes in any direction before coming across another unique site to explore. But here I have discovered some of my favorite and most notable scuba diving sites in all of Belize.
#1 The Blue Hole
Situated within the Lighthouse reef, this impressive geological, circular sinkhole and World Heritage Site is around 1000 ft wide and 400 ft deep. It is undoubtedly the most well-known of all dive sites in the country. The Blue Hole dive goes down roughly 140 ft and is limited to more advanced divers, definitely not for beginners.
Although it’s a very popular bucket list dive site, some visitors find the lack of marine life and coral a tad bit disappointing. Given the incredible geology of the site, it’s still a pretty impressive dive where you’ll get to see some pretty distinct stalactite formations as you descend into the dark and deep blue waters.
To get to the Blue Hole will require a day trip, about 43 miles from land taking approximately 3 hours by boat. The trip is usually combined with dives at one or two other dive sites along the way.
Expect to get up early for a Blue Hole scuba diving trip. Your day will look something like this
5:30 AM: Registration at Dive Shop
6:00 AM: Departure
8:45 AM: Preparation & Blue Hole Dive
10:30 AM: Lighthouse Reef Dive #1: Half Moon Caye
12:00 PM: Lighthouse Reef Dive #2: Long Caye Aquarium
1:00 PM: Lunch
2:00 PM: Return to San Pedro
4:30 PM: Arrive in San Pedro
I know of two operators that offer a Blue Hole trip: Amigos del Mar in San Pedro and Frenchies Diving Services in Caye Caulker. They both run this trip on a daily basis.
#2 Half Moon Caye
After your first dive at the Blue Hole, most operators will stopover at Half Moon Caye. This beautiful tropical island with its white sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, and stunning birdlife is a diver’s dream. Offering clear visibility from 65 ft to 98 ft on a clear day. You’ll be awestruck by the impressive and vibrant aquatic life found at Half Moon Caye.
Starting the dive with a descent of 42 ft you’ll be surrounded by a host of colorful marine life including butterflyfish, angelfish, and wrasse. Thereafter the reef wall takes a 98 ft drop where you’ll find secret tunnels sprawling with vibrant yellow and blue sponges, sea fans, an array of coral coverages, and plenty of reef fish too.
TOP Belize Diving Tip: Want to dive with whale sharks?! You are in luck, as whale sharks make their migration from March to June. If you are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, then you should plan your diving trip right around the full moon for the months of March to June.
#3 Long Caye Aquarium
Usually, the last stop on a day trip out to the Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye is a far lesser-known but equally exciting dive, the Long Caye Aquarium. While this dive doesn’t receive the same hype and praise as say, the Blue Hole does, most who dive here tend to agree that’s it’s one of the best dive sites in Belize, and the perfect way to end a day of diving in the Lighthouse Reef.
To start with you’ll dive along the shallower tabletop reef formation comprising mostly soft corals and teeming with a variety of fish species such as Bermuda chubs, creole wrasse, sergeant majors, barracuda, hogfish as well as the odd trumpet fish too. Moving deeper into the dive you’ll stumble across a dramatic 90-degree wall drop leading down towards more hard corals too.
#4 Hol Chan Marine Reserve *with Shark Ray Alley
Another very popular half-day trip out is a combination of both diving and snorkeling at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley.
Hol Chan is in fact the oldest and first of Belize’s protected marine reserve, since being designated as such back in 1987. Consisting of around 5 square miles of bustling marine life, the reserve is designated into four zones – the Reef, Shar Ray Alley, The Mangroves, and The Seagrass Beds. The Reef in particular is a great night-time dive. Apart from the colorful coral, you can expect to see an abundance of stingray, parrotfish, hermit crabs, spotted lobster, barracuda, snapper, and more!
#5 Shark Ray Alley* with Hol Chan Marine Reserve
After a spot of shallow diving at Hol Chan, the next stop, Shark Ray Alley, will certainly not disappoint. This popular snorkeling spot consists of a shallow and easy to navigate sandy plateau. This is also the spot where fishermen come to clean out their daily catch, resulting in a feeding frenzy of stingrays and nurse sharks too! It’s a real one-of-a-kind diving experience being able to swim alongside these beautiful creatures.
Don’t be alarmed though. As a result of the frequent chumming and regular divers passing by, the normally unperturbed nurse sharks are just as harmless and gentle as their stingray neighbors!
#6 Esmerelda Canyons
For the next dive on our list, you’ll certainly want to pack your diving camera gear to ensure you capture the incredible beauty that diving in Belize offers! Set in the middle of the Belize Barrie Reef and 30 minutes by boat from San Pedro lies the gorgeous Esmerelda Canyon, one of the best sites in Belize!
Comprised of natural coral-lined canyons, you can expect to dive alongside eels, nurse sharks, giant black groupers, butterflyfish, parrotfish, and more. At an average depth of around 60 feet, combined with great visibility, makes for an altogether picturesque and unforgettable dive.
#7 Gladden Spit
Last, but certainly not least on our list is Gladden Spit, situated 26 miles eastwards of Placencia. Traveling for an hour and a half by boat, you’ll reach this famous diving site, known the world over as one of the best places to go Whale Shark diving! Gladden Spit and the Silk Cayes Marine Reserve is a popular spawning spot for a range of different fish species including dog snappers, cubera, and mutton. They create massive swathes of spawn, usually around the full moon, attracting scores of Whale Sharks who love snappers especially.
Whale Shark season, between the months of March to June, is when you’ll have the opportunity to swim alongside these beautiful sea creatures that grow up to 60ft in length. Diving no deeper than 60ft at most, these midwater dives are strictly regulated and usually limited to smaller groups of divers to ensure the safety of both divers and the sharks.
In search of ancient Mayan ruins?
Belize has them too! Are you in search of some ancient Mayan ruins while in Belize? Then head on over the various heritage sites of Xunantunich, Lamanai, Altun Ha, and Cahal Pech to name but a few that makeup 12 sites in total. Then there’s the myriad of caves to explore in Belize, with National Geographic having named the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave one of the top 10 most sacred in the world.
Dive Belize – Belize Barrier Reef
Boasting the longest coral reef stretch in the western hemisphere means Belize is counted amongst one of the top diving and snorkeling destinations in the world. Here are a few facts to help you get acquainted with the Belize Barrier Reef.
- Having been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef is around 190 miles long and forms part of the much larger Meso-American Barrier Reef system which is comprised of more than 560 miles of reef.
- Located within the reef system you’ll find seven marine reserves, all with protected status. Belize is also home to 400 Cayes, as well as 3 Caribbean atolls, Glovers Reef, Lighthouse Reef, and Turneffe Reef.
- Incredibly diverse in nature, you’ll find over 500 different species of fish including, grouper, tarpon, cowfish, yellowtail snapper, and porcupine fish to name but a few.
- The reef is also the home of more than 100 species of coral and over 350 different species of shellfish.
- Considered one of the largest living organisms on the planet, the Belize Barrier Reef can in fact be seen from space.
- Also, interesting to note that the reef is also home to a number of endangered animals such as manatees, sea turtles, and the American marine crocodile.
- In 1842, visiting the Belize Barrier Reef as part of his round the world journey aboard the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin proclaimed it to be “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies”.
- In 2018 UNESCO removed the Belize Barrier Reef from its endangered World Heritage Sites list. This is in large part thanks to steps taken by the Belize government who passed laws in December 2017 to prohibit oil exploration within its waters.
Best Time to Visit Belize
Belize’s subtropical weather makes it ideal to dive almost all year round. Temperatures remain pretty warm throughout with the air temperature in summer ranging between 75-85°F (24-29°C) and between 70-80°F (20-27°C) in winter. With this pretty constant temperature throughout the year, many prefer to speak of the wet (or Rainy) versus the dry seasons. The wet season runs between June to November whilst the dry season is between December and May.
High-season and often considered the best time to visit Belize is between late-November through to around mid-April. Although many would argue that March through to June is some of the best months for diving. Keen to see and dive with whale sharks? Then you don’t want to miss whale shark season from April to June when these incredible creatures pass through Placencia.
Choose a Safe Dive Center
Before heading off to go diving in Belize, I had to do quite a bit of research to find out who the best dive operators were in the three main dive islands: Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, and Placencia, While I was perusing the internet for recommendations for reputable dive shops in Belize for Ambergris Caye, I kept reading the same thing:
“Chuck and Robbie’s.”
“Robbie is the best!” and “Can’t wait to dive with Robbie again.”
Scuba Diving in Belize!
One of the most recommended Belize diving companies in Ambergris Caye was Chuck and Robbies “The Dog House”, also known as Ambergris Cay Diving.
Ask Around to Get Great Diving Shops
I thought I would ask a few of my dive friends their thoughts about my family going on a few scuba dives in Belize. Again, I heard the same thing: “I use Chuck and Robbie’s — Robbie is a friend of mine and his instructor got me through my certification after I had not done it in 10 years which was after I had a horrible experience trying to certify in Mexico the first time.” –
Not only that, Ambergris Cay Diving has:
- They own their own boats and have access to borrow other boats if needed.
- They have hotel dock pickup on the island to and from the dive shop. No transportation hassles.
- They have a wide variety of dive site choices.
- They have up-to-date BC’s with integrated weight systems and equipment.
- Instruction is available.
These are general standards that you should find at pretty much any reputable dive shop. So make sure you investigate not only the dive shop, but the divemaster you will be working with. As safety in scuba diving is key.
Dive with a Safety Conscious Dive Shop
Before heading off for your Belize diving trip, I recommend that you find a few reputable companies throughout the islands where you will be scuba diving. A few options for the three major diving islands which are Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, and Placencia can be found here:
Ambergris Caye in San Pedro
Belize Pro Dive Center
- Scuba School Belize
Belize Diving Services
Frenchie’s Diving Services
Reef Conservation International
Seahorse Dive Shop
Splash Belize Dive Shop
Below are some average prices for diving in Belize. The prices may vary by dive shop, but this list should provide you with a better sense of how to budget for your trip. All prices in USD without tax.
One Tank Dive: $50-$55
Two Tank Dives: $80-$90
Blue Hole/Lighthouse Atoll Day Trip: $260 + $40 park entry fees
Turneffe Atoll Day Trip: $220
Glovers Atoll Day Trip (from Placencia): $220
Hol Chan / Shark Ray Alley: $70 + $10 park entry fee
You can even get certified when you go to Belize:
Open Water Certification Course: $500 – $650
- Advanced Open Water Certification Course: $350
Daily Equipment Rental: $35 per day, which includes BCD (buoyancy compensation device), regulator, mask, fins, wetsuit, weights, and snorkel.
Our Deep Blue Dive
Our Deep Blue Dive
On a prior preliminary dive with another dive shop in Belize, the divemaster was safety-conscious and had obviously been diving his whole life, but one thing he really wasn’t, was personable. And I had a 16-year-old with an attitude who really didn’t want to be there, so it would have been nice if the divemaster had a bit more of a personality to get this guy excited about the dives we were getting ready to take that day.
That’s the thing about Robbie from Ambergris Caye Diving, he engages the kids and the adults. He actually talks to you and your kid, making them answer questions and look at their dive equipment set up before they get into the water. Overall he appears to be a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He is an American guy that moved to Belize City when he was 12 and then later to Ambergris Caye, so he knows the island, its culture, and its people well.
Super Successful Dive
Once we were in the water, we were set at ease as we made our way down to 60 feet for the first dive. It was a rather typical dive, with a grouper and a few nurse sharks that followed us around like lost puppy dogs. Robbie was great and took our family of four on several dives. It ended up being the best day we had in Belize! Thanks, Robbie!
Disclosure: The dives with Chuck and Robbie’s Dive Shop were provided as a courtesy in exchange for this written article, but in no way influenced me to have the best day I had on my family vacation in years!
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We want to hear from you!
Have you ever been diving in Belize before? Where did you dive? What was your experience like? Comment and let us know how diving in Belize is different than diving in other international locations.
About Dr. Cacinda Maloney
A value-luxury adventure traveler at heart, Dr. Cacinda Maloney shares her experiences as someone who has traveled every six weeks of her life for the last 20 plus years. Being a travel writer, blogger and social media influencer, she now travels more than that! She is Phoenix, Arizona based, but maintains an apartment in Santiago, Chile. She is a member of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA), Media Kitty and the International Food, Wine and Travelers Association (IFWTWA). Read more...