Belize is situated on the Caribbean mainland coast of Central America and rightly deserves its reputation as one the region's best diving destinations. Whether you choose to stay in a resort or experience more of the destination by liveaboard safari, there is always a wealth of underwater riches in this Caribbean paradise. The warm, clear water at the dive sites in Belize means that conditions are often ideal for exploring the underwater realm.
Belize is home to the longest stretch of coral in the western hemisphere and, in addition to its barrier reef, it also boasts 3 distinct Caribbean atolls (Turneffe Reef, Lighthouse Reef and Glovers Reef). This means that you can enjoy diving a number of different coral reefs including walls, pinnacles and reef flats that are located throughout an enormous area of sea.
From shallow, clear reefs to spectacular drop offs, Belize caters for scuba divers of every experience level. Lighthouse Reef is known for its breathtaking deep walls, soft coral and sponge gardens including some spectacular spur and groove formations. There is a great mix of large pelagics and small reef creatures, and it is home to the world famous Blue Hole.
Turneffe Atoll, being a series of mangroves is a haven for juvenile species. There are some great drift dives here featuring larger marine animals. Then there are gentle, shallow reef dives at Ambergris Caye where a marine reserve plays sanctuary to barracuda, sharks and rays. Home to a high level of species variety, Ambergris promises mangrove cayes, coral reefs, seagrass beds and lagoons, all offering something different.
Each of the major dive destinations offer shallow coral gardens or reef flats. This means that they are all suitable for casual and inexperienced divers. Both Lighthouse and Turneffe reefs have deep walls, making them more suitable for seasoned scuba divers.
In addition to the spectacular scuba diving and islands of Belize, there is a wealth of ancient Mayan ruins to discover and miles of tropical rainforest sheltering exotic species of birds, plants and animals. It is little wonder that visitors to Belize return again and again to enjoy the incredible natural beauty of this ancient land.
Whether you opt for a land-based stay or a liveaboard depends largely on where you wish to dive. The main attractions are:
Lighthouse Reef is the most easterly diving area in Belize and furthest from the mainland. The dive sites feature walls, crests, coral gardens and sand flats, and it is home to the Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1970. The atoll features a variety of topography including some spectacular spur and groove formations. Here you can expect a mixture of large and small animals from flounders and neck crabs to turtles, sharks and rays.
Turneffe Reef Atoll lies directly to the east of Belize City and is the nearest of the 3 atolls to the capital. This is an atoll covered in vegetation, unlike the others which are collections of sandy islands. Turneffe is a series of mangrove islands, lagoons and inlets. As such it is a haven for juvenile species. Dives here are on healthy reefs teeming with life. Turneffe is home to The Elbow - Belize number one site for large shoals of schooling fish.
Ambergris Caye is the biggest and most northerly of the off-shore cayes and enjoys a location about 2 km from some 35 km of barrier reef. The dive sites dotted along the reef offer good variety, including canyons, swimthroughs, grass flats, mangroves, channels and drop-offs.
For some, this choice is a straight one between liveaboards and resorts. Belize liveaboards 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.
The liveaboards allow you to make several dives at each of Turneffe Reef and Lighthouse Reef. Otherwise you can choose a resort at Turneffe or in Ambergris Caye where the focus is more on the local dive sites.
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. Visibility remains constant year-round away from the mainland shore.
August to October tend to be the months with the warmest water temperatures at around 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 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 27°C mark.
Surface conditions can become more choppy in the dry season although this is usually restricted to the more exposed dive sites further from shore. It is possible that some of the more exposed sites might be off limits during this time.
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. 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.
Good for: Visibility, beginner divers
Not so good for: Wreck dives, drift diving
Depth: 5 - >40m
Visibility: 10 - 40m
Currents: None to gentle
Surface conditions: Mostly calm but can be choppy further from shore
Water temperature: 26 - 29°C
Experience level: Beginner - advanced
Number of dive sites: >125
Access: Liveaboards and resorts
Recommended length of stay: 2 - 3 weeks
So where do you want to go? Read more on the dive sites at these top spots: