Iíve been getting a lot of questions lately about whether to get a dive skin or a wetsuit for Belize snorkeling or diving, and whether to get a shortie suit or one with long arms and long legs.
Many guests wonder why they need a wetsuit or skin at all (also called hydroskin, swim tights, and rashguard). And there is a general misconception that you need a suit more for diving than snorkeling. We regularly snorkel for an hour or more, and although the water is 80 degrees, it is not 98.6, and with a skin or wetsuit you can dive or snorkel much longer. Without one, you will likely want to quit after 20 minutes. When you are snorkeling, you also have a wind-chill factor because you are on the surface, which is not an issue when scuba diving. I get colder snorkeling than diving. A full-body skin or suit also greatly reduces sunburn.
Also it is impossible to predict when marine stinging creatures will be present, and a tight-fitting wetsuit/skin protects you from them. Our most common stinging creature is pica-pica, a thimble jellyfish larvae. They arrive in a swarm, like dust in the air; there is no avoiding them when they show up. There is no schedule they adhere to, sometimes we wonít see any for months, then suddenly there they are, two times in one week. We have experienced them every month that we are open (November Ė May). A full body suit protects you from their sting.
So yes, I do recommend long arms and long legs over a shortie, because of the pica-pica and because of sunburn, which is a real issue in Belize.
However, when deciding whether to get a skin or a wetsuit, that is a personal choice. I advise people to consider if you get cold easily (a wetsuit is warmer) and where else you might use it later. If you live in California and want to go into the sea there, get a thick (3mm) suit. If you only plan to snorkel and dive in the Caribbean, a thin lycra suit will probably suffice.
I get cold easily and wear a full body 3mm suit every time I snorkel in Belize. But thatís just me! Others donít get cold that easily.
Snorkelers cannot rent suits from our dive shop, they only rent to divers diving with them. If you do not bring a wet suit or skin you will regret it!
Here is a great site with inexpensive wetsuits and skins: Scroll down, thereís a full body suit for $58.