“Oh, you’re doing the Great Blue Hole!”
It's often assumed that divers travel to Belize to plunge into its most famous dive site -- a gaping, 400-foot-deep cave in the center of an otherwise shallow lagoon in Lighthouse Reef Atoll. As one of the deepest and most awe-inspiring dives on the planet, it's no wonder the Great Blue Hole is a famed attraction for Belize divers.
Like any great destination, however, there are more sites worth seeing than can be captured in the brochures or even on the Travel Channel. Just because one or two attractions get all the attention doesn’t mean you should neglect the lesser-known locales that have just as much potential to take your breath away. But don’t take that too literally -- we’re talking diving here.
From a diving perspective, there is more to Hawaii diving than Molokini, more to Thailand diving than Koh Tao, and there is much more to Belize diving than the Blue Hole. So allow me to shed a little light on a few other spectacular dive sites in Belize that don’t get as much fanfare as they deserve.
For anyone planning to take a Belize dive trip, here are 5 fantastic Belize dive sites:
1. Half Moon Caye Wall, Lighthouse Reef
Stealthier than their stingray cousins, eagle rays will be the sudden highlight of any dive on Half Moon Caye Wall. Mesmerizing in their grace, they allow you only a few precious moments before they slink away and disappear into the blue abyss. One of the best wall dives in the Caribbean, Half Moon Caye is a great spot to glimpse eagle rays and other pelagic creatures. A teeming and colorful reef along the wall provides variety after your dive into the deep stillness of the Blue Hole. Maintain perfect buoyancy and play hide and seek with garden eels hiding in the sand. These skinny little eels gather en masse and appear to grow directly out of the sand, but will retract into the sandbed like prairie dogs the second they see a diver’s bubbles. Eventually they re-emerge for a curious display that is always worth the wait.
2. Tres Cocos (No Cocos), Lighthouse Reef
It used to be that this massive underwater coral head got its name from three coconut palms jutting out from the nearby shore of Long Caye. Since its discovery, a storm swept in and uprooted those three lone palms, leaving local divemasters to bestow a new moniker of “No Cocos.” Regardless of how many cocos are on shore, this spot is known for its underwater topography. Explore the large wall and thriving coral bed, home to spotted morays and schools of parrotfish. The black coral you see growing along the wall is one of the most highly-prized underwater treasures on the planet, and an increasingly rare sight on tropical dives. Growing in large bunches known as “trees,” the extra-fine coral strangely appears white in many underwater settings, particularly those receiving little light.
3. North Wall, Long Caye, Lighthouse Reef
So you’ve finished your pool course, mastered all of the skills, and now you are the proud holder of a shiny new SCUBA certification card. Still, venturing out into the open blue seems a little intimidating. You might still wet your wetsuit if you run into a hammerhead shark. That’s ok, because not all dive sites in Belize are for the ultra-hardcore diver. You can dive just 10-15 feet below the surface on North Wall and suddenly find yourself in the company of a green sea turtle as he casually glides on by. You realize that with your newly-developed skills, you can simply relax and enjoy the sensation of weightlessness as the turtle disappears into royal blue. Or you can swim alongside the turtle for as long as he will let you! There is no shame in heading to shallow waters in search of your Belize dive experience. To enjoy low-difficulty dives without sacrificing marine life sightings or the thrill of breathing underwater, visit North Wall on Long Caye for clear water that averages between 20-45 feet. Many multi-tank trips finish their day here as well.
4. Quebrada, Lighthouse Reef
A Spanish term meaning “broken reef,” Quebrada denotes the large sand channel flanked on both sides by colorful coral that breaks Lighthouse Reef into the lagoon. A favorite spot for live-aboard dive boats, there’s a good chance you’ll suddenly find yourself surrounded by curious and inquisitive schools of yellowtail snapper (dive boaters frequently feed the fish in this section of the reef). Although the sensation of being the human nucleus in a bait ball of swarming snapper is a thrilling experience, the reality is that this fish-feeding exacts a heavy environmental toll. The predatory snapper drive away smaller fish from the region and disrupt the ecosystem. However, this is also the home of curious dolphins who love to come peer at swimmers.
5. The Crack, Glover’s Atoll
This is a perfect final dive if you would love to go home with your adrenaline still pumping. Glover’s Reef lies off of Glover’s Atoll, more southerly and tougher to reach than Lighthouse Reef. At a spot off of Middle Caye known simply as “The Crack,” divers squeeze themselves into a vertical gap in the wall that is so dark inside you’ll need an underwater flashlight. Inside you find numerous creatures that aren’t too fond of sunlight such as slipper lobsters and red soldierfish with their bulging black eyes. Don’t worry about the nurse shark resting on the bottom, but look out for cruising bull sharks. Keep your light swinging in wide circles and try to keep your heart from pounding too hard.
At any of these dive sites, you just need a lightweight dive skin, or ditch it altogether and delight in Belize’s warm water. Year-round water temperatures hover around 80°F. Even if you’ve taken dive trips from Bali to Borneo, the clear waters, shallow lagoons, big drop-offs, and potential for chance encounters with manatees, stingrays, and whale sharks will set your Belize diving experience apart from all the rest.