Dive and Snorkeling Sites off Ambergris Caye, Belize

Along the entire length of Ambergris Caye the reef is comprised of spectacular three dimensional coral formations which include canyons, grottoes and tunnels. Curiously, the more common reef fishes do not appear here in great numbers compared to elsewhere. However, there are a greater number of pelagic fish such as sharks and rays. There are also a considerable number of porpoise and turtle to be seen.

Click here for a map of dive sites in the immediate area of the island. CLICK HERE for our map area! Complete with thumbnail images of the maps...

Ambergris is the largest and most popular of the offshore cayes, with 25 miles of Belize's spectacular barrier reef sitting less than a mile offshore. The calm waters are full of dense coral and lush reef growth with visibility up to 150 ft. Dive operators making trips to the barrier reef off Ambergris Caye select sites that combine good diving with variety. Spur-and-groove reefs with deep canyons, swim-throughs, and reef cuts are popular and teeming with abundant and colorful life. Thanks to the installation of permanent mooring buoys and natural resource management initiatives such as the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the reefs remain protected from anchor damage.

This entire northern stretch of reef is ideal for macro photography. Vase sponges, tube sponges and coral pinnacles are home for countless miniscule creatures awaiting discovery. Shrimps, brittle stars, nudlibranchs, tube worms and tunicates of every imaginable color are often overlooked by the diver. A particular favorite is the red-banded coral shrimp. These are present on almost every dive and are usually found along ledges and gullies, or on the ceilings of swim-throughs and overhangs in the shallower stretches of coral. Without touching them, they are easily coaxed out into a suitable position for a photograph. Twenty five miles of solid barrier reef, one-third mile from shore with several channels passing through. Mostly deep diving outside the reef in spur and groove coral formations.

Ambergris Caye is part of a chain of islands that all have one thing in common. Barely one mile in front of them to their east one can find the most astounding scuba diving and snorkeling on the second largest barrier reef of the world.

Out here are more dive sites one can count and a never ending beauty of fish life, coral variety and interesting underwater landscapes to view. Typical for the barrier reef are the canyons that stretch out from west to east and sometimes create tempting swim-throughs and caverns. Depth ranges on the barrier are between 50 and 200 feet of water. At it's deepest, the wall starts and drops to a few hundred feet.

The diver can see a great variety of soft and hard corals and many different species of swimming and crawling marine life such as the Nassau Grouper, Angel Fish, Lobster and the Stone Crab. Morray Eels and Rays can be viewed as well.

If one is lucky and dives to the right time this barrier reef is known for sightings of all kinds of large creatures as well. The Reef shark and Nurse Shark are occasional visitors as well as the Whale Shark and the Loggerhead Turtle. Also Manta Rays and larger species of sharks are known to visit these waters.

Average Water Temperatures:

80 79 80 82 83 83 83 84 84 84 81 80

Belize Dive Maps:

Belize Dive Map front

Belize Dive Map back

Belize Atolls Dive Map

Ambergris Caye Dive Map

Placencia Reefs Dive Map

...so you see, not much variation. The most common question after the general water temperature is what is the temp. in the Blue Hole at 130ft.....about 76f with hardly any change throughout the year at that depth.

Inside the reef, the water is shallow and sandy. The busy surface traffic makes snorkeling both impractical and dangerous. However, once you reach the reef it fills your vision: shallow, well-lit water with a myriad of corals and fishes in bright iridescent colors.

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General Diving Information
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Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Ambergris Caye Field Guide
Turneffe Islands
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Pics from Belize Atolls Trip
Great Blue Hole
Species Frequency Reports
Belize Barrier Reef National Parks

Just to the north of Reef Point are Conch Flats, large sandy areas inside the reef covered in sea grass-not ideal for diving as it soon becomes boring. Sea grass is, however the staple diet of both the conch and the turtle, and is therefore an important part of the ecosystem.

For the game fisherman, this is a spot to catch wahoo, a large silver fish which puts up a good fight. It is also a good fish for eating. These fish are rarely seen by divers.

On the seaward side of the reef, the coral drops down to a ledge which, in places, can be up to half a mile (.8 km) wide before it drops off into the deep blue waters of the Caribbean. Here pelagics abound. Although they are predominantly solitary creatures, as many as five whale sharks, all 25-30 feet (8-9 m) long have been seen together here. They were most likely feeding on the plankton which was being blown offshore by the prevailing wind at the time they were sighted.

Along Ambergris Caye, nurse sharks are probably more common than elsewhere in Belize. Most often they are found sitting on the seabed amongst the gullies and grottoes. Occasionally one can be seen swimming along the reef, but it will quickly disappear when it sees a diver. It is a harmless shark provided it is left unmolested. But be forewarned: the nurse shark is a stubborn creature and if it bites, it has a reputation for not letting go!

The reef immediately east of San Pedro, the main town on Ambergris Caye, is well known for its great variety of coral. Tuffy Cut is a prime example of this. Staghorn, elkhorn, brain and lettuce coral are all here in abundance, as are gorgonian sea fans of pale green, deep purple and red that add to the riot of colors and shapes.

Off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve . Hol Chan is Mayan for 'little channel." This sanctuary was officially established in 1987, and since then the return of all species of fish has been quite dramatic. The reserve covers approximately three square miles (7.8 sq km) and is divided into three zones. Each one is clearly marked by buoys. The entire reserve focuses on a cut through the reef which is little more than 25 yards (23 m) wide and 30 feet (9 m) deep. This is a steep channel through the reef, with morays and all kinds of marine life.

Zone A includes the reef and is covered with almost every type of coral found in the Caribbean.

Zone B is an area of sea grass where turtle, conch and even the remarkable little sea horse are found.

Zone C comprises the mangroves. Click Here for extensive information on Hol Chan

South of Ambergris Caye the reefs which break the surface take their names from nearby cayes, The mainland is now 13 to 14 miles (21-23 km) to the west, and in between is a vast area of shallow water with numerous cayes of sand and mangroves.

French, gray and queen angelfish are very common. Sergeant major and yellowtail damselfish dart in and out of the star, brain and staghorn corals. Foureye, spotfin and banded butterflyfish- always in pairs-swim steadily amongst the sea fans and gorgonians. Deeper, schools of grunts can be found along with medium-sized coney, graysby and snapper.

Looking seaward from the reef, divers will likely see pelagics such as jacks, tarpon and snook. Manta rays are often spotted cruising by. There are always barracuda, which in spite of their fearsome appearance, are essentially benign and merely curious of divers.

Beyond a depth of about 100 feet (30 m) is big grouper country. Large tiger, red and Nassau grouper occupy almost every crevice that can accommodate them. Jewfish of massive proportions lurk here, and prime specimens of hind, coney and snapper stare back at you as if to question your right to venture into their territory.

During the months of October and November, the grouper move towards the shallow waters inside the reef and swarm in the thousands on the lee side of the Cayes. This is the mating season, and the best place for the diver to witness this marvel is to watch as the fish come up over the top of the reef at the beginning of their short migration southwest.

Immediately inside the reef are shallow patch corals which are superb for snorkeling. The most common corals here are staghorn, elkhorn and brain. A rainbow variety of smaller fishes abound. The terrain on the seaward side of the reef varies considerably. To begin with, there are the shallow corals at or near the surface. Along this area there are large patches of sand where the diver may see large stingrays digging in to lie in wait for unsuspecting prey. These patches are interspersed with coral outcrops, topped with gorgonians and sea fans. Manta ray are also occasionally seen here, and there are lobster. The size and varieties of individual coral configurations are truly memorable. Gigantic and well-formed, they remain virtually the same as we move farther south along the reef and off the beaten path.

Underwater, Caye Caulker Reef (also Corker) and Chapel Reef display large coral outcrops punctuated with gaps of varying widths. The coral outcrops are like cliff faces whereas the gaps are gentle, sandy slopes. These are termed "spur and groove" formations. In some places the narrower gaps have become tunnels as the coral has grown across the gap. Al I along these reefs spiny lobster can be found inside carefully selected hideaways.

Caye Chapel Cut is a navigable entrance through Chapel Reef, but it should only be attempted by those familiar with its hazards. By comparison, Long Caye Channel is a much larger and safer channel between Chapel Reef and St. George's Reef.

The northern one-third of St. George's Reef is known as the Ski Slopes on account of the spur and groove structures. The sandy slopes stretch down from the shallows all the way to the reef wall. This area is not particularly popular as the remainder of the reef is much more vibrant and colorful.

Farther south along St. George's Reef is a spot called Turtle Leap where a diver has a 90 percent chance of seeing a turtle. The spur and groove formations have disappeared and are replaced with a rich variety of corals stretching from the reef crest to the drop-off.

Thimble jellyfish spawn in May, for information on how to avoid them click here.


Typical Depth Range: 50-100 ft (15-30 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None
Typical Visibility: 100 ft (30 meters)
Expertise Required: Novice

If you want to keep your boat ride to a minimum and still dive a spectacular reef, Tres Cocos is for you. It only takes five minutes to get there out of San Pedro. The mooring buoy is a short distance beyond the protection of the reef, which can be helpful on rough days.

Tres Cocos is a spur-and-groove reef with deep and locally narrow canyons running perpendicular to the reef line. It is similar to Cypress in depth and relief. The coral spurs crest at 50-80 ft whereas the sand-floored canyons fall off rapidly to depths of 110 ft. Like a giant plowed furrow, the canyon and coral formations run straight and true. If you follow the mooring line down it will lead you to a spur covered with a forest of soft corals swaying to the rhythm of the ever-present wave surge.

Tres Cocos offers a menagerie of marine life. Even without leaving the vicinity of the anchor line you can see more than 50 different kinds of fish, coral and other invertebrates. Here harlequin bass, trumpetfish, French grunts, dusky damselfish, porkfish, blue chromis, schoolmasters, stoplight parrotfish and squirrelfish commonly dart among the coral cover. Yellowtail snapper, gray angelfish, bar jacks, black durgeon and Atlantic spadefish patrol the waters just above the reefs or in the canyons. Lettuce, boulder, brain, pencil, blushing star, club finger, mustard hill and staghorn coral are only a partial list of the reef builders found here. Colorful sponges, delicate orange crinoids and branching anemones add to the list of marine life.

Photographers must decide between macro or wide-angle here. Both offer great opportunities. South of the mooring pin (right if facing seaward) a vase sponge and large flower coral combination make a great wide angle shot along the spur's rim. Elsewhere along the rim are colorful rope sponges perfect for accenting diver portraits or a colorful backdrop for macro photographers. Encrusting sponges and red algae completely paint the vertical spur walls red and purple. A host of small invertebrates, which shelter among the many holes in this part of the reef, stand out in stark contrast to the colorful background.

Spanish for "three coconuts". Excellent visibility. You can almost always see all species of fish including jacks groupers, snappers, parrot fish, angel fish, barracuda, eels, spider crabs, and an occasional nurse shark. This is the spot where the sea turtles can be seen during mating season. Canyon formations start at 50 feet and down to 100 feet.

Typical Depth Range: 66-100 ft (20-30 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None
Typical Visibility: 100 ft (30 meters)
Expertise Required: Intermediate

If you want photographs of divers in tunnel mouths or descending through gaps in cavern roofs, Tackle Box Canyons is your dive site. Named after the Tackle Box bar that used to be situated directly onshore (now Shark's Bar), this site features several deep, narrow canyons with vertical walls.

As with most dive sites near San Pedro, Tackle Box Canyons has a mooring buoy that provides dependable access to the rugged reef terrain on this part of the barrier. By following the narrow channel next to the mooring line seaward, you will come across a short tunnel decorated with sponges and other colorful encrusting organisms. Beyond it is a cavern with a gap in its roof, large enough for a diver to pass through.

Marine life is generally sparse and unpredictable in the caves and tunnels. Lobsters regularly take advantage of the protective recesses and horse-eye jacks may gather in the upper reaches of partially roofed-over caverns. Another resident seen here is the nocturnal glassy sweeper. This small fish with oversize eyes typically congregates in the darkness found just inside small cave mouths.

While marine life is sporadic in the depths and shadows of these deep canyons, it is abundant on top of the coral ridges. Large plates of boulder coral, heads of brain, yellow pencil, mustard hill and isolated stands of elkhorn coral form the ridges.

Iridescent vase, basket and rope sponges adorn the coral formations. Bright red boring sponges, orange crinoids, green and red algae add color, while the usual range of tropical fish, eels and other mobile animals enliven the reef with movement.

Excellent visibility. You can almost always see all species of fish including jacks, groupers, snappers, parrot fish, angel fish, barracuda eels, spider crabs, lobster, and nurse sharks. Large canyon formations and just a few minutes from the dive shop. Lots of marine activity during turtle season.

Locally known as "Tuffy Rocks" and located adjacent to Tackle Box above. Excellent visibility. Great snorkeling here. You can almost always see all species of fish including, jacks,, groupers, snappers, parrot fish, angel fish, barracuda, eels, spider crabs, lobster, and nurse sharks.

75 - 110 canyons over grown with corals. Only about 7 minutes by boat to great tunnel diving inside the great canyon formations. Excellent visibility. Plenty of fish, including jacks, groupers, snappers, parrot fish, angel fish, barracuda, eels, spider crabs, lobster, and nurse sharks. Grouper, Turtles, Morays and shoals of every variety. Cement crucifix statue at 65 feet.

Typical Depth Range: 50-109 ft (15-33 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None
Typical Visibility: 100 ft (30 meters)
Expertise Required: Novice

Cypress is a spur-and-groove reef with deep and narrow canyons running perpendicular to the reef line. Coral spurs crest at 50-70 ft whereas the sand-floored cuts fall off rapidly to depths of 100 fl. The mooring line attaches to coral at 48 ft. You enter the water near the midpoint of the coral spurs. Here, the reef takes on a rugged relief. South of the mooring pin, vertical spurs rise 14 ft above the brilliant white sand floor of the adjacent channel.

Burgeoning coral growth on the spurs mushrooms next to the mooring pin to form undercuts. Just a little bit farther seaward, the pronounced lateral coral accretion of two ridges has created a low swim-through, which is straight and floored by coarse rippled sand. Like so many other places along the barrier, there is a dazzling variety of shapes and colors present. Elkhorn, staghorn, lettuce and boulder coral create an abundance of branching, platy and mound shapes right around the mooring line. Huge overlapping sheets of coral shingle the reef top farther seaward. Striking iridescent vase sponges, red boring sponges, orange crinoids, green cornflake algae and a wide variety of tropical fish accent the reef with color.

Photographers will delight in the macro opportunities this site offers. A forest of waving soft coral greets you at the base of the mooring line and is worth exploring for tiny invertebrates hiding among the branches. Here you will also find a variety of juvenile fish among the dense stands of lettuce coral. Dusky damselfish, rock beauties, french angelfish, hogfish, spiny lobster and hermit crabs wait to have their portraits taken.

Excellent visibility. All species of fish including jacks, groupers, snappers. parrot fish, angel fish, barracuda, eels, spider crabs, lobster, and nurse sharks. Canyon formations and close to Hot Chan Marine Reserve. Unique to this site is the concentration of impressive orange and white elk horn coral. Schools of yellowtail, gray, black and red snappers swim among these beautiful coral formations. Because they are accustomed to being fed, they will come up very close to you. Cypress is a great spot for photographers who want to fill their wide angle lens with colorful schools of fish.

Inside reef - 8 to 15 feet. Sandy bottom with beautiful coral formations and lots of fish varieties. Outside reef, 35 to 55 feet, more multiples of the above.

This site is said was baptized this way sake of two underwater weddings that allegedly had taken place here. The highlight on this dive is a large coral cavern, called: The Chapel for apparent reasons. Should you not intend to get married, you can enjoy the sandy drop off that is decorated with large sea fans. Schools of horse eye jacks usually relax amidst those.

For divers who have just arrived at the island, this is a must stop for the first introductory dive in Belizean waters. About 15 minutes south by boat. Maximum 30 feet deep. Excellent visibility. Here the water lover can see a great number of Caribbean fish like snappers and groupers, parrotfish and surgeonfish. Rays are also often seen here together with the moray eels. Translated from the Mayan - Hol Chan means - little blue channel. You can almost always see eels, spider crabs, lobster, and nurse sharks. Divers are occasionally cautioned regarding the currents and the DiveMaster has the final word on precautions to be taken.

Typical Depth Range: 20-30 ft (6-9 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None to strong
Typical Visibility: 50 ft (15 meters)
Expertise Required: Intermediate

Hol Chan Cut, located just 4 miles southeast of San Pedro, is a fantastic shallow dive. No dive experience in Belize is complete without at least one visit.

The cut is part of a 5 sq-mile marine sanctuary that includes the barrier reef, grass flats and mangrove areas. Entry into the park costs BZ$5. The fee helps cover park improvements, maintenance and enforcement costs. When Hol Chan attained park status, mooring buoys were installed and rangers began enforcing regulations to ban fishing and collecting of any type. All the attention is paying great dividends for divers, as marine life has increased dramatically, making Hol Chan a big attraction.

Tidal currents funnel a steady supply of food to filter feeders such as gorgonians, seafans, sponges, schools of grunts and mutton snappers. Joining these plankton feeders are Nassau groupers, black groupers, Atlantic spadefish, cubera snappers and a huge congregation of schoolmasters. All make Hol Chan home now that they are protected from fishing.

Hol Chan became the first national marine reserve in Central America when it was created in 1987. The name, Mayan for "little channel," describes the site formed by a natural break in the reef.

The Channel itself is about 30 ft (9 meters) deep, with occasionally strong tidal currents. The reef rises to the surface, bristling with corals, sponges, crabs, eels and hundreds of fish species. Night divers glimpse flaming scallops, octopus, and lobsters. Advanced divers drop into the reef's deep crevices, then wind their way to the outside dropoff that is full of corals and gorgonians.

All flora and fauna within the reserve are protected, and feeding fish is discouraged. The Belize Tourism Industry Association suggests: "Do not stand, touch, or kick sand on coral reef systems. Enjoy the view without your hands. A safe distance of two feet will protect you and the reef."

A multitude of holes riddle the channel walls, accommodating a large population of green and spotted eels. Dozens of eels can usually be seen at the openings of small caves. Eels naturally seek reef protection during the daylight, but feeding by local divemasters has trained them to be more aggressive and has prompted them to leave the shelter of the reef and look for meals during the day.

Eels are not the only animals that have responded to feeding. Large groupers are also eager and snorkelers may be quite surprised to find a 40-pound black grouper in just a few feet of water.

Strong tidal currents flow in and out through the cut and are especially strong at mid-water in the center of the channel. When peak tidal exchange occurs, it is impossible for most divers to swim against the current. Always check the current direction and strength before entering the channel. Abundant soft coral growth along the channel margins makes it easy to read and determine current conditions. Soft corals bent in a seaward direction indicate currents flowing outward (ebb tide) and landward if the coral heads flow inward (flood tide).

Divers can still enjoy Hol Chan Cut even when the tide is running by staying close to the channel sides where irregularities in the walls and bottom dissipate much of the current's strength. Protruding coral ledges and large boulders create current shadows. If you get caught by the current, stay relaxed. Just remember to swim toward the channel walls to get out of the current most quickly. Caution is important and divers who are weak swimmers should probably experience this dive only during periods of slack tide.

Click here for MUCH more information on Hol Chan

One of the few places along the Barrier Reef suitable for night dives. Guides supply lights - marine life supply their spectacular plumage and colors which are only viewable during night SCUBA or snorkel dive excursions!

About a 25-30 minute boat ride Inside the sheltered waters of the reef to the north end of the Island. Two tank dive: morning and afternoon. Excellent visibility. Marine life abounds with plenty of Nassau groupers, lobsters, and spider crabs. There's also a tarpon hole And the big silvery fish are awesome. The brilliantly colored coral is pretty much untouched. 70- 80 feet. spur and groove, shallow canyons. Tarpon and grouper run.

For a large map of area dive and snorkeling sites, click here.

About a 25-30 minute boat ride Inside the sheltered waters of the reef. Two tank dive: morning and afternoon. Excellent visibility. Marine life abounds with plenty of Nassau groupers, lobsters, and spider crabs. The brilliantly colored coral is pretty much untouched. Mostly canyon formations.

These two sites are not very far apart and take about 20 minutes by boat. Both offer dramatic c anyon formations on the reef and excellent visibility. Marine life Includes Nassau groupers, horse-eye jacks, barracuda, and snappers. Occasional spider crabs and lobsters. Two tank dive: morning and afternoon recommended. You will be diving through arches carved by a slight current that comes down from Mexico catching there in the pointed reef formation. Because of this current, bigger fish such as Barracuda, stick around to hunt. Also there is a good chance of meeting big eagle rays, which feed on the micro-organisms that float in the current.

Typical Depth Range: 8-12 ft (2-4 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None
Typical Visibility: 50 ft (15 meters)
Expertise Required: Novice

Mexico Rocks Marine Reserve is a shallow patch reef complex located off the northern tip of Ambergris Caye, on the Belizean Barrier Reef. The site consists of approximately 100 Holocene patch reefs and is composed predominantly of boulder corals (Montastraea annularis). The reef has accumulated in shallow (about 2.5 to 5 meters) water over the last 420 years. The Montastraea annularis patch corals that dominate here are unique to Ambergris Caye's Northern Lagoon and a rare occurrence in Belize. The Marine Reserve is seen as an important addition to the caye's ecotourism attractions, being a popular snorkeling and shallow dive destination. The Mexico Rocks area is known for conch, banded shrimp, arrow crab, flounders, stingray, Nurse Sharks, yellow tail snappers, an assortment of butterfly fish, angelfish and friendly turtles.

No trace of ship wrecks sometimes mentioned on the internet, probably rotted and washed away decades ago. There is a cave entrance but currently Tour Operators are only visiting the entrance without cave penetration. The Mexico Rocks Cave has been named 'Shark Hole' and is the daylight sleeping sanctuary for number of Spiny Lobster and Sharks.

A 20-minute skiff ride north of San Pedro brings you to the well-known cluster of coral heads called Mexico Rocks. No mooring buoys mark this site, but all the locals know its location adjacent to the former coconut plantation named Mexico Cocal. Shallow and protected by the barrier reef from ocean swells, this site is great for snorkelers and divers. It's shallow enough so snorkelers can see without diving and divers can maximize their bottom time. "Rusty" divers will appreciate its benign conditions to refresh their skills before taking on the deeper sites of the barrier reef. With its shallow conditions and favorable light, photographers can concentrate on composition all day long.

Although the reef is not as magnificent as the barrier, the scattered coral heads and marine life make impressive wide angle and macro subjects. Truck size colonies of boulder coral 10-12 ft high nearly reach the surface and provide refuge to a variety of marine life. Flame scallops, anemones, tube worm shrimp and eels shelter in the coral nooks and crannies. Sea fans, azure vase sponges, butterflyfish and wrasses acid additional life and color. Bluestriped grunts especially like the soft coral stands or open sand areas and seek shelter among the tangy branches when approaching. Be sure not to pass up the sand flats for macro possibilities. You need to get right down on the sand to see tiny mysid shrimp, hermit crabs and clams. A little detective work will reward you with burrowed urchins, brittle starfish and other organisms that shelter or feed in the sediment.

Beautiful snorkeling area inside the reef and spectacular diving off the deep end on the other side of the reef. Excellent visibility with both dramatic canyon walls and caves through the coral formations. Plenty of marine life including horse-eye jacks, Nassau groupers, lobster, barracuda, spider crab and sand sharks. Two tank dives and snorkeling recommended. Giant Brain Coral formations which create miniature under sea habitats and islands for various corals and marine animals. Spinney Lobster, Yellow Tail, Sting Rays, all reachable in 10 - 15 feet of clear, warm water. Many patch reefs and abundance of juvenile marine life. A treacherous looking cave is also located there with hundreds of baby snappers looking out of its' mouth.

Typical Depth Range: 15-70 ft (5-21 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None
Typical Visibility: 50 ft (15 meters)
Expertise Required: Novice

Basil Jones is a spur-and-groove reef outside the last pass before the barrier meets the north end of Ambergris Caye. Located about 45 minutes north of San Pedro, this part of the barrier reef lies beyond the normal range of dive sites. It takes calm seas and special arrangements to reach Basil Jones Canyons because you can only get there by boat. Should you decide to do this dive, be prepared to start early, pay for the extra fuel and make a full day of it.

Bring along lunch and extra tanks. A completely private sandy beach perfect for a picnic awaits you, and the lagoon behind the reef let's you spend your surface interval time snorkeling. The back reef is shallow and packed with attractions not seen elsewhere because the barrier at Basil Jones forms close to the island.

Lens-shaped coral stacks and wide sand flats characterize the reef at Basil Jones, but it is the potential of seeing large pelagics that make it worth the effort to get there. Basil Jones lies beyond the normal reach of fishing boats creating a natural refuge for marine life. Many coral formations around the sand flats feature overhangs with ceilings that are 3-8 ft high. Lobsters are particularly fond of these recesses and they attract hungry Nassau and black groupers. Nurse sharks rest in the canyons, stingrays root through broad sand flats and turtle, jewfish, eagle and manta rays patrol the water above the reef.

Typical Depth Range: 50-90 ft (15 to 23 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None
Typical Visibility: 100 ft (30 meters)
Expertise Required: Novice

Sandbar lies off the southern tip of Ambergris Caye and is one of the shallower barrier reef dives along the island. A mooring buoy line, anchored on top of a living coral ridge, guides divers down to the reef top at 54 ft. The adjacent sand channel floor to the south descends 17 ft below the top of the reef. There, next to the mooring pin, you will find a coral formation in the center of the channel. From the base of the channel, it looks like a tall chimney but it is actually the beginning of another coral ridge that divides the channel into two narrow canyons. Following the narrow canyons seaward will quickly take you to the reef edge. Along the way, relief between the canyon floor and the top of coral ridges doubles from that found at the mooring pin. The floor of the channel here is about 90 ft.

Coral growth is lush and varied on the ridges. Platy growths of boulder, brain and mustard hill coral are everywhere. Staghorn coral, a rare occurrence elsewhere on the barrier, forms in thickets. A colorful variety of other stony coral forms a loose framework that supports a multitude of protective holes for fish and invertebrates. All the tropicals--wrasses, parrotfish, angelfish, grunts, sergeant majors and many others can be found here, but their numbers seem few against the impressive coral ridges. Many more crinoids, crab, shrimp, brittle starfish, basket starfish and other small invertebrates hide among the coral.

Photographers will find plenty of opportunity to shoot macro or wide angle. A cluster of big barrel sponges in 60-90 ft of water offer good wide-angle opportunities. Keep an eye out for jewfish and other large pelagics that visit these reefs to rest in the many deep caves found toward the base of the channels along the reef front. This deep part of the reef needs much sun, so it is best to visit it during midday when the sun is highest.

60- 70 ft. Beautiful finger canyon formations. Beautiful coral formations and lots of marine life.

75 to 90 ft. Deep canyons and tunnel diving. Lots of marine life. Frequented by friendly Grouper and the occasional turtle. Long convoluted grown-over canyons suitable for the experienced, comfortable diver, only. Dive light supplied by your licensed dive guide.

You will be diving through arches carved out of the lime stone structures by the steady current that comes from the north and catches here in a point like reef formation. Because of this current the chances to see larger fish like barracuda and cobia are high at this site. This place is also a playground for the eagle ray.

Typical Depth Range: 60-100 ft (18-30 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None to mild southerly
Typical Visibility: 100 ft (30 meters)
Expertise Required: Advanced with specialized training in deep diving

Punta Arena Canyons (also called Small Cut by some guides) is located directly offshore from the Belizean Hotel. A short boat ride north to a variety of canyon formations and cave diving. Getting there involves negotiating a narrow passage through the barrier. During rough weather, it is difficult to make it to the dive site.

This is a deep cavern dive with vertically walled canyons, tunnels, caves and deep intervening sand channels. The tops of coral ridges are mostly in the range of 6075 ft, but tunnel investigation takes you below 90 ft. Exploration of a narrow tunnel a short two canyons north of the entry point is the main attraction. Its entrance is a gaping triangular opening at the base of a coral ridge. It is large enough to accommodate two divers side by side, but the passageway is not. The tunnel winds through the reef for about 75 ft to an exit point at 100 ft. Sand floors the tunnel bottom along its entire length, so visibility loss from re-sedimentation is generally not a problem. However, parts of the tunnel fall unto total darkness because of its length and a right-hand bend some distance before the exit point.

Caution: Red algae seemingly thrives in the low light conditions of the tunnel. It encrusts the tunnel walls extensively. Be careful negotiating the narrow passageway. The algae has a rugged and abrasive skeleton capable of leaving nasty gashes on divers who carelessly scrape the cavern walls.

Not many organisms live inside the passageway. Glassy sweepers, a nocturnal fish, are an exception and a small school generally mills about just inside the tunnel's exit point. On occasion turtles, jewfish and nurse sharks come here to rest in the protective confines of the tunnel.

Excellent visibility with plenty of marine life Including horse-eye jacks. Nassau groupers, lobster, barracuda, spider crab and sand sharks. Two tank dives recommended. Similar to Mexico Rocks but without the snorkeling areas.

Typical Depth Range: 8-16 ft (2-5 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None to mild
Typical Visibility: 50 ft (15 meters)
Expertise Required: Novice

Another pass through the barrier reef, known as Mata Cut, occurs just a few miles north of Punta Arena Canyons. Remains of an old barge some call Changa's Wreck lies just inside the reef in less than 10 ft of water. A variety of soft corals and encrusting sponges decorate the barge's frame and the rusted out hull is a hang-out for a small school of snappers.

It's a great place to combine fish and wreck photography. Especially dramatic scenes exist when the midday sun sends shafts of light through holes in the hull.

Resting just behind the reef but within the cut, the wreck lies in water that can get rough. Even on calm days, the incoming ocean swells passing through the cut create mild currents and wave surge. Water conditions get significantly worse when the prevailing northeasterly winds are strong. During such periods, a wave surge scours the sandy bottom and suspends clouds of sediment in the water column.

Near the barge are sand, grass and coral flats. You can find stingrays searching for crustaceans and mollusks on the sand flats. Large orange and red starfish prowl the turtle grass areas for clams. Conches of all sizes reside on the grass meadows. Scattered soft and hard coral formations create a third biotic zone. Colorful tropical reef fish can be seen everywhere among the coral. Stoplight parrotfish, trumpetfish, bluestriped grunts, triggerfish, blue tang and rock beauties are an abbreviated list of what is here.

Canyon formations, tunnels, and brilliantly colored coral. Occasional eagle rays and plenty of snappers, groupers, jacks, and spider crabs. Only a short 8 minute ride to the dive site for a easy, fun dive. Excellent visibility. 60 to 80 ft. Grown over canyons. Tarpon run.

8 - 10 feet. A petting area created by dive guides. Feel the skin of harmless nurse sharks and friendly sting rays. A great place for snorkeler's to get that once in a lifetime shallow water disposable sport camera shot! The name speaks for itself. Close up encounters is what you like? Well, here you've got it. Nurse sharks and sting rays are waiting for you here in vast numbers. They are not shy at all and seek direct contact with the visitors. A real adventure.

The world's largest diving magazine, Skin Diver, has given Belize's Shark-Ray Alley feature billing in two issues this year (1996). This recently discovered dive site has been selected as one of the seven best "animal dives" in the Caribbean.

For several years, local fishermen often cleaned their catch in this area, located just inside the reef, to the south of Ambergris Caye. When fishermen noticed that their activity had attracted Nurse Sharks and several Southern Sting Rays, they reported this information to the dive operations in San Pedro, who then dispatched some divers to investigate. What they found was a bonanza, and "Shark-Ray Alley" quickly became a very popular dive site.

As soon as your boat arrives in the area, the Dive Master points out all of the dark shadows in the shallow (eight foot deep) waters. These are the sharks and rays that hear the boat approach and come in search of a few scraps of fish. There are also many other varieties of marine life, such as groupers, yellow-tails, and morays.

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These creatures have a great tolerance for divers and seem to enjoy the human interaction. The rays, which have a 'wing-span' of two to four feet, swim directly towards the divers, inviting them to reach out and stroke their wings (although it's best not to touch them). Some would also swim in circles around us, like a cat rubbing against our legs. The gentle Nurse Sharks average four to six feet in length, and the dive masters often feed them small fish.

This is a truly unforgettable adventure. Snorkellers can also enjoy this encounter with nature. Be sure to visit Shark-Ray Alley during your stay at Ambergris Caye.

Even amateur photographers can take great underwater photos here with disposable marine camera. They work in depths of up to nine feet, which is perfect for the shallow waters inside the reef at Shark-Ray Alley.

60 - 80 foot wreck dive. Morays, groupers, harmless nurse sharks, yellow-tails, damsels, cleaner stations, turtles, corals.

M&M Caverns
M&M Caverns Caverns 70'-90' Boat Tiger, Grouper, Jacks. This is probably one of the best dives found off the barrier reef on Ambergris Caye, located only a half mile from our Dive Center. A very unique dive spot. Due to huge coral mountains that grow right out of the sandy ocean floor, the diver can explore many tunnels and caverns. As you descend down to a depth of 90' you see the entrance to the first tunnel which has a length of 30' to the exit which comes out at a depth of 60'.

Because of the deep water surrounding these tunnels, there are always schools of horse eyejacks and a good opportunity to see deep water pelagics cruising the reef. A dive not to be missed!

Overhang, 80', Lobster. Fish-watching at its best!! This dive site is one of the sites where the yearly grouper spawning take place on the full moons of December and January. This means there is always a congregation of groupers and lots of other species for you to see. Another interesting point of this dive is the unusually large coral formation shaped like a huge mushroom which the fish seem to use like an umbrella for shade!

This is a spot for divers who like the detail. You will have a chance to get a look at the rare spotted drum and other exotic looking juvenile fish. This site is also known for frequent encounters with dolphins.

Devil's Canyons
Steep Canyon, Wall 60'-150'. It's called Devil's Canyons because the canyon walls at this site drop off very steep to about 150 feet. It is impressive to dive along the side of these walls. There lots of marine life and you could literally meet any kind of fish.

Angel's Flats
60'80', Blk Angel, Butterfly At this site the canyons of the reef are filled all the way up with sand, creating a great sandy flat, frequently interrupted by the coral tops of the canyons that will stick out. The reason why we call it Angel Flat's is the amazing range of artfully colored Angel and Butterfly Fish, that like to meet around here. Also, you will find some Sting Rays and Nurse Sharks sleeping in the sand.

Tiger, Groupers, Nassau. This place is quite easy to find due to a huge mahogany tree that once got caught on the barrier reef and marks the spot. At this site the coral formation is about 20 feet higher than all along the rest of the reef, creating a little underwater hill, that attracts numerous reef fish, like Tiger and Nassau Groupers, different species of Trigger Fish. There is also a big school of Blue Tang Fish that made this spot their home.

Mexico Rocks Pinnacle
Coral 70'-90' Caribbean Reef Fish, Grouper, Nurse Shark. Starting by diving through a cavern you will end up in front of a coral pinacle that usually attracts groupers and nurse sharks. This size is also unique for a wall like drop off with lots of tube sponges and beautiful soft coral.

The Wall
A trip here requires exeptionally calm seas, and presents itself with wasteful colors and a great variety of fish. This is not a deep dive, but certainly one filled with many great views.

Sandy Slope 60'-90', All Coral & marine Life. The Wall is the most northern dive site in the country of Belize, right at the border of Mexico. It is also the only wall on the 183 miles of Belize's Main Barrier Reef. We get surprised all the time by the size of the fish we find here. Talking about unspoiled dive sites... this is definitely the one!

Pillar Coral
Typical Depth Range: 40-70 ft (12-21 meters)
Typical Current Conditions: None
Typical Visibility: 100 ft (30 meters)
Expertise Required: Novice

Pillar Coral is a spur-and-groove reef similar to Sandbar. Around the anchor site a coral rubble apron is forested with soft coral. Channel sand, bearing symmetrical ripple marks, attests to the persistent wave surge felt even on relatively calm days. Although coral development on the ridges is similar to that at Sandbar, the shapes of corals are more dramatic at Pillars. About 7 00 ft southeast of the mooring line in 55 ft of water, there is a cluster of the namesake pillar coral, which spikes upward above the spurs.

Recently, Pillar Coral came under the protection of Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Inclusion of this site in the marine park brought about several changes, such as the BZ$5 fee to dive here. A local divemaster must dive with you and, like Hol Chan, the number of fish has increased dramatically. Large schools of yellow chub, bar jacks and yellowtail snapper patrol the water above the reef. On some days, schools of more than a dozen spotted eagle rays pass through.

The pillar coral pinnacles near the mooring pin attract small numbers of schoolmasters and squirrelfish. At the pillars closest to the mooring line, gobies have established a fish cleaning station. Large groupers getting cleaned against a backdrop of pillar coral make especially interesting subjects for wide-angle photography. Divers wishing to include the sun in their photographs of the pillar coral stands should plan to dive here in the morning.

Grouper Interaction A dozen or so large black and Nassau grouper call the Pillars dive site home. They'll greet you shortly after entry and follow you down to the reef. Some will even settle to the bottom with you for a face-to-face interaction. They prefer not to be touched, but do not mind being photographed or looked over, a foot away from your mask. While occasional close encounters with large grouper took place here for years, fish feeding by local guides now make them a regular occurrence. You can expect to see grouper, snapper and jacks swim up to you because they've learned to identify all divers as a source of food. It is a good idea to keep hands close to your body when surrounded by hungry fish since waving fingers may be mistaken as a meal. The marine reserve does not advocate fish feeding by guides or visitors.

This dive site is a beautiful dive with lots of grouper that literally follow you throughout the dive. The name of the dive comes from the huge pillar corals found at this site and the abundant fish life that live around these coral formations.

This one is a rather shallow dive. The diver plunges around large pillar coral formations that stick out of the sand and resemble ancient castles. Many colorful species of reef fish hide in them from the barracudas that roam this area. Lots of Barracuda.

Amigo's Wreck

70', Nurse, Angel, Black Angel. This site is just outside our beautiful coral canyons, you will end this dive at a 30 foot wreck. The wreck was purposely sunk in this spot to attract bigger marine life. It worked! Today we have big Nassau and black groupers, big hog fish snappers, nurse sharks and a couple of moray eels living in and around the wreck. This is a gorgeous dive! You have to do it while you are here!

Eagle Ray Canyon
Canyons 70'-90', Eagle Ray, YellowTail. This site is just outside the Hol Chan Marine Park Channel and due to tidal current, we keep meeting schools of spotted eagle rays. The reef itself is accentuated by huge barrel sponges and a variety of big groupers. Snappers like to hang out in-between everything.

Pescador Cavern
Cavern 90'-`100'. Instead of hovering over the reef, you will explore under the reef at this site, swimming through a long tunnel. Big spiny lobsters and spider crabs like to hide in here. At the end of the tunnel, there is a steep drop off to a couple of hundred feet. You'll meet Cubero Snappers who come up out of the deep to hunt here during surface interval.

Buena Vista Point
Fingers, Groove 60'-80'. Pausing over impressive finger canyons on this dive, you will see some underwater cleaning stations. At these stations, big snappers and groupers sit patiently and let the cleaning goby fish clear their mouth and gills of parasites. It is possible to get really close to the fish for pictures.

Bacalar Chico
Bacalar Chico is the latest addition to Belize's natural reservations. Untouched reefs and mangrove rivers make up for a great day trip to the northernmost part of the island. On one side of the creek you can see Belize, on the other side is Mexico. Many birds and other rare species of land and sea critters can be observed here.


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