The Central American neighbours of Mexico and Belize boast some of the best diving in the region. Mexico dwarfs its neighbour in size and has one foot in the Caribbean Sea and the other in the Pacific Ocean; while Belize is smaller, and its coastline is lapped by the Caribbean Sea on the eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula, with Mexico to its north. A Mexico vs. Belize shootout to find the best diving destination of the two appears to be a mismatch at first glance, with Mexico being the much larger country and having many more miles of coastline to explore. But despite its smaller size, Belize can certainly pack a punch. So, let's see if it's the size of the dog in the fight that counts, in our Mexico vs. Belize showdown...
Best For Diverse Dive Sites
In terms of geography, it would appear Mexico has the advantage. While both countries can boast a slew of Caribbean beaches that are perfect for a post-dive piña colada, Mexico also has a western coastline, facing the Pacific Ocean, and can offer a bit more diversity in its dive sites. Belize's western frontier is landlocked, with Guatemala blocking the path to the Pacific, but its east-coast Caribbean diving has plenty to offer in three distinct areas.
The course of Belize's 174 miles of Caribbean coastline is mimicked offshore by the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS), the second-largest barrier reef in the world. In fact, the MBRS begins much further north, off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, and runs alongside the Caribbean coasts of both Mexico and Belize before ending in Honduran waters. The Mexican portion of the MBRS is characterised by small islands, while the topography changes in Belizean waters, with the islands making way for coral atolls and cayes (pronounced 'keys').
The Belizean section of the MBRS encompasses the northern cayes, the outer atolls and Belize's southern diving, in and around the largest marine reserves in Belize. Ambergris Caye, in the north, sits at the edge of Hol Chan Marine Reserve and offers good chances of seeing different species of turtles, reef sharks and southern stingrays in healthy numbers. The southern dive sites are centred around Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve and boast an impressive array of marine life.
For something a little different, both Belize and Mexico have some interesting topography to explore at certain dive sites. The Yucatan Peninsula is made up of carbonate and soluble rocks, mostly limestone, and is thus prone to sinkholes. Both Belize and Mexico have diveable sinkholes: in Belize, you have the infamous Great Blue Hole dive site on Lighthouse Reef, while Mexico is famed for its cenote (sinkhole) diving.
But Mexico, with its two coastlines, has an ace up its sleeve. The Pacific side of the country also boasts excellent diving, and it's a little different from the Caribbean side. Isla Guadalupe, the Revillagigedo Archipelago and Baja California all add to Mexico's diversity of dive sites. Guadalupe is perfect for the intrepid diver who fancies jumping in the water with great white sharks. Socorro Island, part of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, is famed for its giant Pacific mantas, and the remote and rugged Mexican state of Baja California allows you to search the Sea of Cortez for hammerheads, whale sharks and devil rays, with possible whale sightings between November and March.
Mexico's trump card of the Pacific Coast means it easily wins the first round in this Mexico vs Belize battle - one nil to Mexico.
Best For Big Fish
If it's the big boys that float your boat, you'll be pleased to know that both Mexico and Belize can provide you with the chance to dive alongside impressive megafauna. The east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula is one of the best places in the world for whale shark encounters, in both Mexican and Belizean waters.
The convergence of currents at the northern tip of the peninsula leads to a concentration of plankton, and when the whale sharks get hungry, they stop by for a snack. Isla Mujeres, near Cancun, is a great place to see them, but they are also regularly seen passing by Cozumel, and in Belize, whale sharks can be observed at Gladden Spit Marine Reserve by divers and snorkelers alike. Manta rays, eagle rays and southern stingrays can also be seen along the Yucatan coastline, and from December until February, you have the chance to dive with bull sharks near Playa del Carmen.
Again, Mexico's second coastline gives it a slight advantage over Belize. Mexico's Pacific dive sites are among the best in the world for the big stuff. Socorro, in particular, with its healthy manta population, is great for the big fish, but the bold will also enjoy the great whites at Guadalupe. While whale watching and diving in search of Baja California's hammerheads, mantas and whale sharks all but guarantees superb big fish action.
Thanks to its abundance of big ticket marine life, Mexico again comes out on top in this round of Mexico vs Belize. Two nil to Mexico.
Best For Macro Diving
If you prefer creeping along the reef, keeping an eye open for the smaller critters, then you may prefer to head to the Caribbean Sea rather than the Pacific Ocean. Outside of Asia, the Caribbean is one of the most diverse diving areas, and the corridor between the MBRS and the Yucatan Peninsula's coast is home to some cool critters and smaller reef dwellers, with the splendid toadfish being one to look out for.
Splendid toadfish were once believed to be entirely endemic to the island of Cozumel, but have since been found along the length of the Yucatan's eastern coastline, from Honduras all the way up to Cancun. They have bright yellow fins with distinctive patterning, while their heads feature dark and white stripes and bizarre beards. Other macro to keep an eye out for along the Yucatan's Caribbean coastline include seahorses, frogfish, arrow crabs, spiny lobsters, nudibranchs and decorator crabs.
As most of these wonderful macro critters can be spotted in both Mexican and Belizean waters, we're calling this round of the Mexico vs Belize battle a draw. 3-1 to Mexico.
Best Topside Attractions
Unfortunately, you can't spend your entire holiday underwater, and you will need to come up for air at some point. Fortunately, the wow factor is not limited to below the waves in either Mexico or Belize.
If you want to enjoy a healthy slice of sun and sand with your daily dose of vitamin sea, then the Yucatan Peninsula's beaches may be calling you. For picture-perfect Caribbean beaches, head to Mexico's Riviera Maya or the Cayes in northern Belize.
The Yucatan Peninsula also has plenty to offer culture vultures and history buffs. The peninsula was the central location of the Maya Civilization, and there are ancient ruins to explore in both Belize and Mexico. Belize has 12 major Maya sites, the largest being Caracol, which at its height, was bigger than present-day Belize City, the country's largest metropolitan area (though no longer its capital). Caana ('sky palace') is the largest and most impressive building at Caracol, and it remains one of the largest man-made structures in Belize to this day.
On the Mexican side of the Yucatan Peninsula, the most famous Maya ruins are at Chichen Itza. Dominating the North Platform of Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulcán (a Maya feathered serpent deity, similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl). The temple was identified by the first Spaniards to see it as El Castillo ('the castle'), and it is still referred to by this name today.
It's hard to pick a winner in the topside attractions category, so we're going to have to call this one a draw as well, which makes the final score of this Mexico vs. Belize showdown 4-2 to Mexico.