BELIZE DIVING

Diving in Belize centers around the off-shore islands of Ambergris Caye, and the atolls of Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Islands and Glover's Reef.

Ambergris Caye is protected by the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere. This gives the island lagoon-like conditions between shore and the dive sites. Most sites are located within a five minute boat ride from the Caye and are all marked by mooring buoys. Around Ambergris you'll find spur and groove reefs, canyons, walls, drop offs and wrecks. Marine life includes a variety of turtles, parrotfish, angelfish, sharks, filefish, crabs, lobsters, rays and much more. When diving from March to May you might even be lucky enough to spot a whale shark.

Extremely popular with divers and snorkelers is Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the first ever created in Belize. Shallow reefs in the reserve are very colorful and make for a great night dive. The newest dive site is Shark-Ray Alley, a very shallow dive where you can feed the tame nurse sharks and rays.

South of Ambergris Caye are located the three atolls of Lighthouse, Turneffe and Glovers.

What is an atoll?

Belize has three of the four true atolls in this hemisphere (the other being the Chinchorro Bank off southern Mexico). Lighthouse Reef, Glover's Reef and the Turneffe Islands are all distinct anomalies in the Caribbean. An atoll, a ring of coral, is different from an island which develops around subsiding volcanoes. The ancient processes contributing to Belize's atoll development may have begun as many as 70 million years ago. They originated atop giant fault blocks; limestone covered ridges that settled in steps, providing a series of offshore platforms for coral growth. After the last ice age, with the slow rise of sea level, coral growth continued upward, creating the outer walls and the shallow inside lagoon that typifies these distinct formations. Many drop-offs surrounding the Belize atolls are thousands of feet deep, while depths in the shallow lagoons average 10 to 30 feet.

Lighthouse Reef is located closest to the Blue Hole and many of the other top dive sites in Belize. The Blue Hole is 412-foot deep and was created in pre-historic times. The ring around the edge is actually a shallow coral reef and makes for a great safety stop. Inside the hole, you'll dive around the huge stalactites and incredible natural formations. It's a truly unique dive. Nearby is Half Moon Caye Wall, one of the world's most pristine reefs. Here, sheer vertical walls start at a depth of 35 feet and amazing swim-throughs lead you to the edge of the abyss. And don't miss The Aquarium at Long Caye. The clear, blue water has an abundance of colorful sponges, corals and marine life such as reef sharks, dolphins and turtles.

Turneffe Atoll is Belize's largest atoll (38 miles long and 8 miles wide) and is the closest one to the mainland. At its northern tip at "Rendezvous Point" are three great wall dives. The wall begins at 45 feet and gradually slopes. You'll see a variety of sponges and pristine reefs. There is a great chance of seeing black tip sharks, dolphins, eagle raysand turtles. "The Elbow" is Turneffe's most famous site. Its a drift dive beginning at 60 feet and leveling off at 100. Huge gorgonians create a beautiful backdrop to the marine life. It is not uncommon to encounter reef sharks, huge game fish, an occasional whale shark, mantas and a 14 foot hammerhead shark. And don't miss "Majestic Point" with lots of tunnels and exciting swim-throughs. As the canyon narrows, the corals combine to create a sheer cliff in depths between 70 and 150 feet.