Belize is a popular Caribbean country on the coast of Central America for its stunning beaches and beautiful diving spots.
Home to the second-largest barrier reef, Belize offers some of the best diving spots in the world due to the pristine marine ecosystems. Belize is also famously known for one of the best diving spots in the world, the Great Blue Home.
If you’re a keen diver looking for new places to explore the wonders of the ocean, here are the best diving spots in Belize and how to prepare for them.
Best Diving Spots
Here are 7 best diving spots in Belize that suit a variety of skill levels. Even if you’re vacationing with a family of non-divers, Belize has a range of activities to offer, including hiking, cave tubing, and exploring the ancient Mayan ruins.
1. The Great Blue Hole
Location: Near the Lighthouse Reef, 70 km from the mainland
Belize is possibly most famously known for its giant marine sinkhole, the Great Blue Hole. Divers across the world travel specifically for this diving spot, just to swim among the crystal-clear waters and to indulge in a variety of marine life and coral reefs.
The Great Blue Hole is an endless chasm, filled with depressions of deep dark water contrasted with turquoise and crystal-clear shallow reefs. The contrast in waters makes this an ideal diving spot for divers of all skill levels and bravery.
This sinkhole is aptly named for its gigantic size, stretching 1030 ft. across and reaching depths of 442 ft. Probably not the ideal diving spot for people with a fear of deep oceans.
What you will see
As there is no current running through the Great Blue Hole to carry bacteria and particles, you’re not likely to see many fish swimming around the reefs.
Instead, you’re most likely to see blacktip reef sharks who prey on the fish who wander into their territory. Likewise, bull sharks are commonly spotted swimming around.
As you descend further into the chasm, however, a whole new world opens up. It’s like you’re in space, surrounded by darkness and enormous stalactites when the diving light hits them.
2. The Belize Barrier Reef
Location: Approx. 300 meters offshore in the north and 40 km offshore in the south
Belize is home to the second-largest barrier reef in the world, and the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere. This UNESCO Heritage Site offers several diving spots across the 300 km reef, so divers can experience both the shallows and depths of up to 30 meters.
This barrier reef is ideal for divers of all skill levels because of the range of depths available. Divers can descend 30 meters to explore further into the reef, while snorkelers can hover near the surface in the shallow areas. Everything is on offer in this reef, including pinnacles, reef flats, and sea walls.
It is estimated that only 10% of the entire reef has been researched, including marine life and plants.
Just to further prove how astonishing the Belize Barrier Reef is, Charles Darwin once described the reef as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies” in 1842. All the more reason to go!
What you will see:
The Belize Barrier Reef is home to some of the most extraordinary and threatened species of marine life in the world. Divers and snorkelers are likely to see green turtles, hawksbill turtles, West Indian manatees, reef sharks, tiny tropical fish, the white spotted toadfish, and even an American crocodile or two.
The white spotted toadfish is endemic to Belize, so make sure to bring your underwater cameras with you if you spot one!
As well as the range of marine life, divers will see an expansive range of marine plants, including up to 70 hard coral species and 30 soft coral species.
3. Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Location: Near Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker
Translating to “little channel”, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the passage to the edge of the barrier reef where most boats travel to avoid hitting the precious coral.
This crack in the barrier reef was made an official reserve in 1987, where there have since been strict laws about preserving marine life and coral. Boats are not allowed to anchor, no fishing is allowed, and divers must not touch the coral.
Covering approximately 4,448 acres, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve features mangrove forests, seagrass beds, and of course, coral reefs.
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve features some strong currents to allow for flows of water to the barrier reef, so it is advised to go with a group of divers. Still, there are some beginner-friendly areas for snorkeling.
What you will see:
As the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a natural crack in the reef to the sea, it is a haven for wildlife that swims between the reef and the ocean. It is estimated that over 160 species of fish have been spotted, along with forty types of coral.
There is an abundance of marine life to see in this reserve. This includes: three sea turtle species, barracuda, snapper, manatees during the wet season, short-beaked and pantropical spotted dolphins, Jacks, groupers, moray eels, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, and more.
As this is a highly protected area, along with the current climate of the world, it would be a missed opportunity to not go to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
4. Shark Ray Alley
Location: Ambergris Caye
If you’re feeling like you need a break from diving, or perhaps you want to involve your friends or family to enjoy the crystal-clear waters, you should head to Shark Ray Alley. Shark Ray Alley is a shallow plateau of sand just in the inside of the Belize Barrier Reef.
This “alley” is aptly named for the range of sharks and rays that are attracted by the fishermen who clean their catches in the area. Guides and divers will deliberately bring fish scraps to lure the sharks and rays for the tourists to see and swim alongside.
Shark Ray Alley is the ideal “diving” spot for snorkelers and photographers who wish to enjoy a surprisingly peaceful feeding spot for sharks and rays.
What you will see:
As you can imagine, Shark Ray Alley is home to some of the most beautiful and peaceful sharks and rays in the world. Nurse sharks and stingrays are the most common creatures that like to swim in the warm, shallow waters when the guides come along to feed them scraps.
Don’t worry - the sharks and rays are so used to seeing tourists that they are mostly domesticated! They are most likely to ignore the tourists as they eat the scraps.
Nurse sharks are notoriously known as the “puppies” of the ocean for their curious and friendly nature. Guides will warn snorkelers not to put their hands near the shark’s mouths, as they will only be inclined to bite if stepped on or threatened by divers.
Still, both the sharks and rays aren’t likely to willingly come up to humans. They just want their food, and then they’re gone!
5. The Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve
Location: 36 km off the coast of Placencia
The Silk Cayes is a collection of three islands on the edge of the southern reef that is popular for its pristine snorkeling conditions. The Gladden Spit refers to an area within this marine reserve, and is most famous for the breathtaking whale sharks that visit the area between April and June.
The currents can be fairly strong at the Gladden Spit, which is why some diving experience is recommended. Not only can the current be strong, but swimming alongside the gentle giants can be very tiring.
The reserve is approximately 25,980 acres large and was declared a special protected zone in 2001, which is why whale shark tours are regulated so strictly.
What you will see:
If you go at the right time between April, May and June, Gladden Spit is most famously known for whale shark sightings. Every year for 10 days after the full moon, snappers will spawn in this area. Whale sharks will then come over to the area and feed on the spawn.
Aside from the gentle giants, divers are likely to see an array of sharks, rays, sea turtles, and tropical fish including dog snappers, mutton, and cubera.
6. Half Moon Caye
Location: Island on the southwest corner of the Lighthouse Reef
Half Moon Caye is a national monument in Belize that became the first marine protected area in Central America. On the island, Half Moon Caye is the site of the oldest wildlife protection for its bird sanctuary in 1924 to protect red-footed booby birds.
Half Moon Caye is the spot most divers are taken to after diving in the Great Blue Hole. Both the island and the sea stand out for the stunning, almost false beauty.
From the pearly white sandy shores to the crystal-clear waters with visibility of over 20 meters, Half Moon Caye is a gorgeous interval break from the breathtaking diving experience of the Great Blue Hole.
If you’re done with diving for the day, you can make your way to the shore for a mini hike around the stunning island.
What you will see:
You are likely to see an abundance of wildlife and marine plants during your dive at Half Moon Caye. The start of the dive has a descent of 13 meters, where tropical fish including angelfish and butterfly fish swim around.
Then, the reef drops to 30 meters, where the complexities of the coral begin to show. Here you will see an abundance of colorful coral and sponges with lilac sea fans. Garden eels and fish are likely to poke their heads through the coral.
Blacktip reef sharks scale along the reef walls to look for the occasional fish (although they mostly hunt at night), and hawksbill turtles are often spotted throughout the whole reef as they look for food and rest.
7. Glover’s Atoll
Location: 45 km from the southern coast of Belize
Glover’s Atoll is the least visited and most hidden, partially submerged atoll out of the three atolls in Belize. This means that the waters aren’t busy, which is ideal for beginner and experienced divers alike who enjoy their space.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 1993, Glover’s Atoll has been largely left alone, allowing for coral to grow in abundance to approximately 91 meters. With central lagoons and around 700 patch reefs, the waters are virtually crystal-clear throughout the year due to minimal pollution and sedimentation.
What you will see:
The real standout feature of Glover’s Atoll are the breathtaking manta rays. With a wingspan of 9 meters, these gentle giants effortlessly glide through the water like large bats in flight. Green sea turtles, eagle rays, and blacktip reef sharks are also commonly seen.
The crystal-clear waters and high visibility means that you can revel in the beauty of the colorful coral and their inhabitants, including octopuses and parrot fish. Great for snorkelers!
Types of risks
The main risk when diving in Belize is getting too friendly with the local wildlife. Nurse sharks aren’t inclined to bite, nor are stingrays inclined to sting, but this doesn’t mean the risk still isn’t there. Guides will give strict instructions to leave all animals alone for the safety of both the ecosystem and your hands.
Blacktip sharks are possibly the most skittish shark divers will come across, and they aren’t likely to hang around when humans are nearby. These sharks are possibly most risky when they are searching for a food source, where they are most likely to snap and bite.
Diving in general isn’t a safe activity for everyone. As with all sports, there is always a risk of danger. This is why it is always recommended diving with experts and a group of people in case something goes wrong.
While most of the water in Belize is fairly calm, some reefs and areas feature strong currents that beginners might not have the energy to withstand.
Best time to go diving in Belize
Belize is a brilliant diving location to visit throughout the year depending on what wildlife you wish to see. Some marine creatures like blacktip reef sharks and sea turtles are likely to be seen throughout the year, but there are some creatures that will only come about in certain months.
Whale sharks, for example, only go to the Gladden Spit during the months of April, May, and June for ten days after a full moon. Manatees visit Belize during the wet season.
In terms of the weather, the best time to go to Belize is between November and May when the weather is most consistent and controlled.
Between June and November is the hurricane season, which is where diving and snorkeling becomes a bit more risky for inexperienced divers. Belize is a tropical country, so the temperatures are likely to be warm year round.
Other things to do in Belize
It would be wrong to go to Belize purely for the stunning diving spots. Sure, the sea is nearly perfect, but the country and its island feature some of the most unique cultural spots in the whole of Central America.
Scattered across Belize are ancient ruins of Mayan civilization, making it one of the most historical countries to visit in Central America. Caracol used to be the most powerful kingdom in the Mayan empire, and Xunantunich is one of the most stunning ruins in Belize.
Belize is a tropical country, so it exhibits some of the most breathtaking jungle scenery in the world. Wild fauna has taken over and swallowed up almost every hint of civilization, but it means you can get adventurous to find small fragments of ancient life.
Belize is also home to sanctuaries, zoos, and reserves for the local and endangered species. Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary is home to Caribbean manatees, and there is also the Community Baboon Ranch where visitors can discover some of the most interesting monkeys in the world.
Birds are a huge part of Belize’s wildlife. Half Moon Caye is home to the red-footed booby, Red Bank town is home to the Macao Macaw, and the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area exhibits some of the country’s tropical birds including the unique aura gallipavo (Turkey vulture).
Anything else you should know about diving in Belize
In general, Belize is a spectacular place for divers of all skill levels to enjoy the warm, crystal-clear waters filled with an abundance of wildlife. Whether you’re a keen photographer, marine enthusiast, or you simply enjoy swimming around, there’s a diving spot for everyone in Belize.
Diving and snorkeling in Belize is fairly straightforward. No specific diving spot is particularly dangerous, just as long as you take caution around the wildlife and the hurricane season.
As most of the reefs and diving spots are preserved, it is vital that divers enjoy the sights of wildlife and coral without getting too close for comfort.