Scuba divers in search of the world’s best dive sites, take heed: it’s time to visit Belize. The country is a veritable smorgasbord of once-in-a-lifetime dives.
1. The Northern Cayes, part of the 150-mile-long unbroken reef that is the Barrier Reef Reserve, boasts waters with two-hundred-foot prime visibility and the luxury of a tremendous choice of dive shops to browse for equipment and training. Ample protection (such as the statutes of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve) allows these reefs to thrive with minimal damage from boating. Average water temperature consistently hovers in the vicinity of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, making the Barrier Reef Reserve a year-round scuba diving site. Visiting divers will also find plenty of hotels and resorts to while away their surface intervals in bliss.
2. Ambergris Caye is home to Belize’s most populated diving areas, and no wonder: the waters around the Caye are warm, clear, and full of photo opportunities. Diving here is massively convenient, too: there are more than a dozen Ambergris Caye dive shops, all offering equipment, wetsuits, guides and PADI-certified instructors. Most of these dive shops are in Ambergris Caye’s biggest town, San Pedro, which also boasts restaurants and shops aplenty. Most resorts in Ambergris Caye have dive shops and dive centers located right on the premises, making it easy for divers to outfit themselves and find a novel way to get wet.
3. Glover’s Reef Atoll provides a prime place for beginning divers seeking diving certification (as well as advanced divers who need to be Deep Diver certified by PADI before diving into the nearby Great Blue Hole). It’s proudly eco-friendly, secluded and protected, offering beach diving from shorelines that were trodden by pirates until the 1750s. (The atoll is still shaded by the same ancient coconut trees that kept the sun off those pirates’ brows.) Once you’ve made your way from shore, be aware: the waters off Glover’s Reef Atoll have startling dropoffs–in some places, 2700 feet.
4. North Long Wall Cave is astonishing. The 2000-foot wall has incredible visibility, and divers need only dip 25 feet to see the cave’s plethora of psychedelic-colored fish, coral gardens, grottos and canyons. In these shallow caves, lucky divers can catch a glimpse of some truly massive grouper, as well as caverns full of twinkling glass fishes.
5. The Long Caye Wall offers some of the region’s most spectacular wall dives. It’s a three-thousand-foot structure with a top that nearly scrapes the surface at a depth of just thirty feet. It’s stomach-wobblingly sheer, and the walls are bedecked with fire corals, hydroids, elephant ears and vibrant elkhorn strands. Southern stingrays and garden eels greet anchoring boats in the sandy patch that serves as the Long Caye Wall’s welcome mat, passing you off to a cast of thousands once you’re on the wall: barracuda, spadefish, manta rays, eagle rays, sea turtles and bar jacks among them.
6. Turneffe Island, the gateway to the Lighthouse Reef Atolls, offers a scuba buffet of wall diving, coral garden diving and drift diving. Turneffe Island is also the springboard to the advanced scuba diver’s holy grail: the Great Blue Hole (which needs no introduction to any diver serious enough to venture in). The Blue Hole’s slew of vertical caves go to a depth of over four hundred feet deep and more than half a mile wide, and display some of the most intricate, colorful limestone stalactite arrangements on Earth. The Blue Hole is also a breeding site for many species of shark, making for a very busy and interesting underwater neighborhood.