Planning Your Trip
The hardest thing about planning a dive vacation in Belize is deciding where to dive. Belize has such a wealth of dive locations and professional dive operations, that you sometimes have too much to choose from.
Your first step will be to decide if you are going to mix diving with an inland experience. Some of the resorts on the outer atolls require a full week trip (of course you could still dive for a week and travel inland for a week). The dive operations on Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and the mainland offer single day dive operations up to as long as you want.
Once you have decided on the type of activities you want, your next decision is to decide where in Belize to dive. We have divided Belize into three separate dive destinations, each with its own personality and types of diving to help you decide - The THREE OUTER ATOLLS - Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Island and Glover's Reef; AMBERGRIS CAYE AND THE NORTHERN BARRIER REEF; the SOUTHERN BARRIER REEF AND PLACENCIA. You can mix and match each of these destinations on a single trip, or you can concentrate on a single destination, saving the others for a future vacation.
Check the DIVE SITES page for information about the sites in the area you are interested. It will give you general information about the site along with depth and recommended dive experience.
Once you've decided on your destination(s), use our ACCOMMODATIONS listing to find a suitable lodge or resort to stay, or contact one of the DIVE OPERATORS for more information about diving in their location. BELIZE TRADEWINDS can handle all your transportation, lodging and diving needs while in Belize as well as your international flight arrangements.
Following the descriptions of the dive destinations, we have provided a DIVE TRAVEL CHECKLIST to help you pack for your dive adventure in Belize. Be sure to check our TRAVEL TIPS page for more planning information.
Three of the four only true atolls in the northern hemisphere - Turneffe Island, Lighthouse Reef and Glover's Reef - lie 30 to 60 miles off the mainland of Belize. These rings of coral are the result of the accumulation of coral growth on top of giant geologic faults streaking across the floor of the Western Caribbean Basin. The movement of the earth along these faults and the growth of coral in the isolated and crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea have created spectacular drop-offs, many deeper than 10,000 ft (3,000 meters).
The visibility at the outer atolls can not be beat. Though April through June are traditionally the best visibility months, any month is rarely bad. During the winter months, cold fronts called northers sometime blow in reducing visibility. But you can still dive on the leeward sides of the atolls except in rare cases of heavy weather.
Visits to the outer atolls generally leave little else to do but dive or snorkel. Most resorts offer wind-surfing, kayaking and all have great beaches and comfortable hammocks. Lighthouse Reef boast Halfmoon Caye and one of the world's largest red-footed booby bird colonies. Fishing for bonefish is almost too easy.
The diving on the outer atolls is the best in Belize. The wall dives are lush with coral growth, crowded with schools of jacks, permit, chromis and spadefish. The topography around the atolls makes for spectacular tunnels, large spurs and other swim throughs. Glover's Reef attracts the whale sharks in the months of April and May near the full moon when the snappers are spawning.
Probably the biggest attraction in Belize is the Blue Hole, a perfectly formed 412-foot deep hole through Lighthouse Reef. Jacques Cousteau navigated the Calypso to it in 1970, forever raising it to legendary status. The vertical walls of the side of the hole disappear at about 130 to reveal huge stalactites. Recently, sharks have become numerous and is quickly turning a once known technical deep dive into quite an adventure.
Glover's Reef is too far from Ambergris Caye for day trips and therefore gets much less traffic than the other two atolls. This means fewer divers and a more pristine reef all to yourself.
Turneffe Island boasts The Elbow, arguably Belize's best wall dive.
Because of the relative isolation of these atoll resorts, the length of stays are determined by boat schedules. Turneffe Island and Glover's offer three-, four- or seven- day stays. Lighthouse has an airstrip, but still requires a weeks stay (this resort is currently closed but is planning on reopening soon).
If the outer atolls interest you, we have provided further information on ACCOMMODATIONS and DIVE OPERATIONS. You can also get further information about specific DIVE SITES on the outer atolls.
AMBERGRIS CAYE AND NORTHERN BARRIER REEF
San Pedro on Ambergris Caye is Belize's most popular tourist destination. Sandy streets, lively nightlife and a tropical attitude make for a pre 1960's Key West atmosphere. There is no lack of post-dive activities in San Pedro if you like to party or mingle in the numerous seaside bars.
There are probably more shops per block than any other location in Belize. You can view beautiful Rosewood carvings street side, pick through a multitude of t-shirts, or browse the specialty shops for jewelry or pottery.
Diving centers around Belize's most popular National Park - Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Recently expanded to include Shark Ray Alley where you can swim with schools of nurse sharks and southern sting rays, Hol Chan Marine Reserve became Belize's first marine park in 1987. Hol Chan is a large cut in the reef, where the steep sided channel supports large schools of fish and lush coral growth. Currents can be strong, so be alert and pay attention of your guide.
The Barrier Reef starts just north of Ambergris Caye and actually meets the land at Rocky Point. Here you can walk among coral skeletons or visit the newly created Bacalar Chico National Park. Just south of Rocky Point is one of the largest sea turtle nesting beaches in Belize.
Immediately outside the barrier reef, lie a variety of dives, including wrecks, caverns and large spur and groove formations. Eagle Ray canyon is a favorite due to the almost sure bet of encountering the graceful spotted eagle rays.
The coral atolls of Lighthouse Reef and Turneffe Islands are accessible by full day or even overnight trips. The boat rides are long, but the diving is worth it if you can't afford the remote atoll resorts or are interested in more nightlife and a flexibility than they offer.
South of Ambergris Caye lie Caye Caulker, St. George's Caye, and the popular Goff's and English Cayes. These locations are bit more remote and less visited then the sites off of Ambergris Caye. You can also use Belize City as your dive base, maintaining access to all the land based activities should the weather turn rough.
The Northern Belize Reefs are a great place for diving during the day, dancing at night, and visiting the inland attractions during your off dive days. If Ambergris Caye and Northern Belize interest you, we have provided further information on ACCOMMODATIONS and DIVE OPERATIONS. You can also get further information about specific DIVE SITES in Northern Belize.
SOUTHERN BARRIER REEF AND PLACENCIA
Far south and a world away from the hustle and bustle of Belize City and Ambergris Caye, Southern Belize provides the best of all worlds in Belize. Southern Belize is mixture of cultures - Creole, Garifuna, Mayans and mestizos. The mainland parks are spectacular, including Belize's flagship park The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. The towns are laid back, easy going and less expensive then their northern counterparts. And we haven't even mentioned the diving.
If you are adventurous, enjoy the less traveled paths, and are looking for pristine diving, then the south is for you. While Placencia is growing, it is still far smaller than Ambergris Caye, has one of the finest beaches in Belize and provides all ranges of accommodations from backpacking and camping to Belize's finest resorts.
From Southwater Caye Marine Reserve south, the barrier reef is nearly continuous, with the many small cuts through the reef focal points of marine life. The further south you go, the further the barrier reef gets from the mainland. At Placencia, the barrier reef lies 20 miles from shore, making for diving with great visibility, big fish (whale sharks during the spring) and little to no boat traffic.
The main southern attraction, Laughing Bird Caye National Park, sits atop a faroe, an atoll shaped formation inside the barrier reef. Huge stands of Staghorn coral lie on the windward side of the faroe, while dense stands of the thinner elkhorn coral form huge tangled masses of tunicates, anemones and fish.
The area between Southwater Caye Marine Reserve and Laughing Bird Caye is one of the most interesting and complex marine habitats in Belize. Patch reefs, faroes and coral islands dot the marine scape. Bridled tern colonies, one of the largest Frigate bird nesting sites in the Caribbean and hidden mangrove coves exploding with marine life make this part of Belize one of the most biologically diverse in the region.
The Southern Belize Reefs a great place to combine diving, mainland exploration and adventure. If Southern Belize interest you, we have provided further information on ACCOMMODATIONS and DIVE OPERATIONS. You can also get further information about specific DIVE SITES in Southern Belize.
DIVE TRIP CHECKLIST
NOTE: SNORKELING/SCUBA DIVING IS A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS ACTIVITY and involves the risk of serious injury and/or death and/or property damage. The following list is offered only as a suggested starting point and make we no warranty as to its accuracy or completeness. Use at your own risk.