Scuba Diving Belize
“One of the four must-dive locations on this blue planet,” was how renowned oceanographer Jacques Cousteau once described Belize.
The Belize Barrier Reef is the second longest in the world and is home to more than 100 different kinds of coral and some 500 species of fish. This underwater world is undoubtedly the top attraction in Belize. Snorkelers swim through clear seas, gazing at a kaleidoscope of coral, fish and turtles while divers go deeper to investigate underwater caves and walls and the world-renowned Blue Hole.
Divers find Belize great for anything from a short weekend to a week or more of diving and fun. On the land you can find some of the most significant Mayan archaeological sites in all of Central America, laid-back beach towns, remote island lodges and adventurous jungle tours, it’s all waiting for you in Belize.
With its Spanish-speaking neighbors to the south and west and the laid-back Caribbean to the east, Central America’s youngest nation is a cultural melting pot – including Maya, mestizo, Garifuna, Creole, Mennonite and much more. Belize is home to verdant jungles, ancient ruins, and remnants of bygone days of the Mayan civilization. Then there are the beaches, miles and miles of white sand and clear blue sea dotted with an impossible number of islands and atolls.
The translucent waters are inviting even for those who choose to remain above the surface. Kayakers glide from one sandy, palm-dotted islet to another. Windsurfers and sailors skim across the surf by the power of the breeze while sunbathers lounge on the dock, lulled into relaxation by the gentle lapping waves. Foodies can feast on delectable fresh fish, spiny-tailed lobster and other creatures of the sea, most likely provided from the water a few yards out from your table.
On land the country is sprinkled with archaeological sites that date to the Mayan heyday, known as the Classic Period (AD 250–1000). Enormous steps lead to the tops of spectacular stone temples, often providing 360-degree jungle views. Climbers can explore excavated tombs and examine intricate hieroglyphs, while adventurers can descend deep into the natural caves to see where the Maya kings and priests performed rituals and made sacrifices to the gods of their civilization.
There are a vast network of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries providing a safe haven for wildlife, which ranges from the industrious cutter ants to the national animal of Belize, Baird’s tapir. Keen-eyed visitors can easily spot both spider monkeys and howler monkeys, peccaries, coatimundis, gibnuts, American and Morelot’s crocodiles, green iguanas and countless species of birds. Even the national bird of Belize – the showy keel-billed toucan occasionally makes an appearance in public.
SCUBA DIVING BELIZE
Scuba divers from around the world visit Belize for an experience you can’t get anywhere else.
Belize is home to the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and has three of only four coral atolls in the western hemisphere.
When you visit, you’ll see how different it is compared to other dive destinations. There are countless dive locations for anyone from Dive Masters to beginners. The Belize barrier reef is definitely considered a top dive destination boasting some of the worlds best dive sites. The reef stretches north to south along the entire coastline. It runs closest to shore near Ambergris, slowly arcing away as it heads south.
Dive operators from the cayes and Belize City specialize in taking divers through the deep coral canyons built by staghorn, elkhorn and brain corals. Many dive sites start in as little as 45 feet of water, but they can drop to 90 feet or more. Marine life includes all the usual Caribbean reef fish suspects, from tiny tropicals to reef sharks and turtles. Belize is one of the most reliable destinations for swimming with whale sharks.
The water is clear and visibility routinely extends hundreds of feet, so you can easily view activity under the surface. Temperatures are similar to that of bath water and are always mild. You can expect amazing views immersed in comfortable water temperatures.
HIGHLIGHT DIVE AREAS
Ambergris Caye & Caye Caulker – The largest and most popular of the 200 Belize offshore cayes, Amergris Caye boasts 25 miles (40 km) of the Belize Barrier Reef less than 0.6 miles (1 km) offshore. Ambergris Caye is just a 20-minute plane ride from Belize City. Set in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean Sea and an hour’s boat ride from Belize City, Caye Caulker has managed to retain an unspoiled and traditional feel while providing good facilities for tourists.
The Belize Atolls – Located outside the barrier reef. They comprise three of the four true coral atolls found in the Western Hemisphere: Turneffe, Lighthouse and Glover’s Reef.
Placencia Reef & South Coast – The jumping off point for unbelievable whale shark encounters, The South Coast of Belize is growing in popularity; new resorts are opening in that area every year. Some of the newest resorts are popping up in and around the southern coast. This area also features Laughing Bird Caye National Park.
Belize City & St. Georges Caye – Belize City is the transportation hub of the small Central American country and provides a convenient base of operations to access the abundance of dive operators either in Belize City or on the outer islands. St. Georges Caye, 9 miles North-East of Belize City, is steeped in history and was once the home of buccaneers and pirates.
Belize is also home to one of the most recognizable landmarks in the known dive world, The Blue Hole.
Originally a cave that formed about 10,000 years ago. The Blue Hole is visible from outer space and is home to some of the largest midnight parrot fish in the world.
DIVING SEASON: Diving in Belize is good all year-round. The best conditions for diving Belize are generally considered to be from March to December, although outside this period it is common to still find optimum conditions. The first few months of this period (March to June) are considered by some to represent the very best months.
VISIBILITY: Visibility remains constant year-round away from the mainland shore. You can expect the viz to run from 80 – 100′.
WATER TEMPERATURE: August to October tend to be the months with the warmest water temperatures at around 82 – 84º F (28 or 29° C). Even at the lower end of the annual water temperature range, Belize is very much a warm water destination. The temperature rarely dips below 77º F (26° C) even around the cooler months of January and February. Seldom would you need more than a shortie and many scuba divers choose not to use an exposure suit at all during the warmer months. Air temperatures remain relatively constant around the 80º F (27° C) mark.
WEATHER: Belize can be dived year round. February and March represent the driest months. March to June experiences occasional rainfall and August to October, “the wet season”, represents the more likely period for hurricanes.
MARINE LIFE: April to June is whale shark season in Placencia, in the south of the country. October and November is when thousands of groupers mate and give birth to their young in the shallows of the cayes
DIVE ACCESS: For some, this choice is a straight one between live-aboards and resorts. Belize live-aboards have the obvious benefit of being able to visit a wider area and allow you to be on top of the sites rather than have to take boat rides from the resort. Some people prefer to be stationed on dry land and to dive the best sites within reach from a resort.
CLIMATE: The weather in Belize is sub-tropical. November to January are the coolest months and May through September are the warmest. Dry season tends to run during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months and the wet season tends to run during the summer season.
LANGUAGE: English is the official language in Belize. Spanish is also taught in the schools and Belizean Creole is also common.
ELECTRICITY: Belize uses 110 volt, 60 cycle electricity, same as the US.
CURRENCY & CREDIT CARDS: The official currency in Belize is Belize Dollars. The Belize Dollar is pegged at 2 BZ$ = 1 US$. However US dollars (paper money, not coins) are freely used in Belize. Visa is the most commonly accepted credit card, American Express and Discovery aren’t accepted by very many businesses.
GRATUITIES: Tipping is not usually included in restaurant charges. Typical is anywhere around 15% – similar to what you might tip in the US. A little more for great service, a little less for indifferent service.
PHONE & INTERNET SERVICE: Belize is relatively wired. DSL high-speed (though not always the “high speed” you may be accustomed to) Internet is available in most populated areas, and cable Internet is offered in Belize City, Placencia, San Pedro, and elsewhere.
VISA & PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS: All visitors to Belize must present a valid passport before entering the country.Visas are not required for citizens of the U.S., European Union, Commonwealth or Caricom nations, Mexico, Austria and Costa Rica. Visas are required for all other nationalities and can be obtained from any Belizean Embassy, consulate or British Embassy.
CUSTOMS: Duty free allowances in Belize are similar to those throughout the Caribbean.
DEPARTURE TAX: All tourists and non-Belizean citizens are required to pay an exit fee of approximately US$40 (this fee may be included in your airline ticket, please check with your airline before your trip). If not included in your airline ticket, the Departure Tax can be paid ONLY in US Dollars (US$), Belize Dollars (BZ$) are not accepted. When departing from the International Airport, an exit fee of US$ 35 per person is charged. This includes a passenger service fee of US$ 15, an airport development fee of US$ 15, a conservation fee of US$3.75 and a security fee of US$ 1.25.
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