The Belize Barrier Reef forms the southern part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest coral reef system in the world, and includes a number of idyllic, small islands, collectively known as the Pelican Cays. The barrier reef follows the 240 miles of Belizean coastline, creating diverse environments and dive sites with mangrove forests, seagrass beds, patch reefs and coral cayes dotted between Belize's Caribbean beaches. And with eight marine reserves squished into this small corner of the Caribbean Sea, you can be sure there will be plentiful and varied marine life. Belize's rich history - filled with tales of Spanish conquistadors and English pirates - complements its rich marine life, and in addition to checking out the best diving in Belize, you can also explore impressive Maya ruins on the mainland...
Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Described as 'the most remarkable reef in the West Indies' by Charles Darwin, the Belize Barrier Reef boasts incredible diversity, and its most famous feature sits in the middle of Lighthouse Reef. The Great Blue Hole is most people's first choice when it comes to the best diving in Belize. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the giant marine sinkhole is diveable from Ambergris Caye or the Outer Atolls and features on many a diver's bucket list. The almost-perfectly circular hole is filled with Caribbean reef sharks, midnight parrotfish and juveniles seeking its sanctuary before venturing into the open seas.
Conversations about the best diving in Belize seldom end without Half Moon Caye getting an enthusiastic mention. Half Moon Caye is a crescent-shaped island and Natural Monument located at the southeast corner of Lighthouse Reef Atoll. It was designated as a bird sanctuary in 1924 before becoming the first marine protected area in Central America almost sixty years later. The lagoon side of the Caye features outstanding coral gardens and patch reefs, while from the south side, a coral-encrusted wall drops steeply into a 2,000-metre abyss. Turtles, dolphins, eagle rays and groupers can be seen along the wall, and surface intervals can be spent watching the clumsy and often comical landings of the island's red-footed boobies.
Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve
Each year, between March and June, large numbers of grouper and snapper converge on the reefs of southern Belize to breed. These large aggregations do not go unnoticed and have been on the radar of the local fishermen for more than a century. And the fishermen are not the only ones who pay attention to the timing of these breeding events; the local whale shark community also stops by to feast on the abundance of eggs in the water during these events.
With abundant aquatic life and pristine corals in and around the southern marine reserves, diving in the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve is among the best diving in Belize throughout the year, but, obviously, the annual appearance of the whale sharks adds extra incentive to visit during the aggregation months.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Nestled between Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, not too far from the Mexican border, are the coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangrove forests of Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is Mayan for 'little channel', and the reserve features a narrow channel, known as the Hol Chan Cut, leading out to the open ocean. The reserve is best known among divers for an area known as Shark Ray Alley, a shallow, sandy-bottomed area inside the reef where fishermen once cleaned their catch at the end of the day. And healthy populations of large rays and nurse sharks still visit the area in the hope of a free feed.
Aside from the rays and nurse sharks, the reserve is incredibly diverse, with over 160 species of fish, forty types of coral, five species of sponge, two sea grasses, three species of turtle and three marine mammals - the short-beaked common dolphin, the pantropical spotted dolphin and the West Indian manatee - having been recorded within its boundaries. With such biodiversity, Hol Chan Marine Reserve must surely be counted among the best diving in Belize; its proximity to Ambergris Caye and accessibility to the Great Blue Hole make it a top dive destination for your next dive holiday to the Caribbean...