by Nick Lucey
As the saying goes, big things sometimes come in small packages. With Belize—the second smallest and least populated nation in Central America—this couldn't be any more true as it packs a hemisphere’s worth of adventure within its borders. Divers obviously come for the prime oceanfront real estate along the second longest barrier reef in the world, but there’s so much more to see and do here. That means it's an ideal holiday location for nondiving family or significant others. If your idea of rest and relaxation includes beaches, rainforests, hiking, mountains, cave tubing, wildlife and touring Mayan ruins, you’re in luck. Book your ticket for Belize now.
HOT DIVE SITES
Just offshore from the quaint village of San Pedro is Hol Chan Marine Reserve, one of the coolest dives in Belize. It’s a strictly enforced marine park situated at a deep cut in Belize’s barrier reef. The park enforcement has paid off in spades with abundant marine life, healthy corals and throngs of grouper, snapper, barracuda and jacks. At Shark Ray Alley, you’ll leave dive gear behind and snorkel with—you guessed it—nurse sharks and stingrays.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort near Ambergris Caye
The Blue Hole
If you call yourself a diver, you’ve undoubtedly heard the hype and seen the aerial shots of Belize’s signature dive. And, truth be told, it’s definitely one of those dive-before-you-die sites. At more than 300 metres/1000 feet across and 135 metres/450 feet deep, this spectacular hole-in-the-reef dive is a day-trip away from most of Belize’s dive resorts. Take the trip and you'll be rewarded with a payoff that includes reef and bull sharks and fascinating stalactite and stalagmite formations.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort near the Blue Hole
Outside of Belize’s barrier reef, the water gets clearer and you'll find three of the Western Hemisphere's four true coral atolls. At Turneffe, the largest and northernmost atoll, a dive site called The Elbow has a remote, pristine Pacific-esque quality to it where you can expect big animal action and stunning reefs. Glover’s is the most remote—and least visited—but has more than 80 kilometres/50 miles of fringing reef.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort near the Atolls
Stann Creek District and the South
South of Belize City and north of Guatemala, the Stann Creek District is where the coast starts curving away from the barrier reef. Here, quiet dive resorts are the jumping-off points for Belize’s southern barrier reef or day trips to the atolls. This is also ground zero for whale shark encounters at sites off Gladden Spit and the Silk Cayes.
Find a PADI Dive Center or Resort near the Stan Creek District
Depth: Because Belize houses the second largest reef in the world, you'll find a wide range of depths. From shallow coral gardens and animal encounters to deep walls dripping with life, the choice is yours. Take your pick.
Visibility: Off the barrier reef and atolls, visibility is often 30 metres/100 feet or more. It might be a touch less inside the reef.
Currents: As with many dive destinations, currents here are variable. They range from calm at some of the tranquil caye sites to ripping at Hol Chan.
Water Temperature: Plan on a bathtub-warm 30° C/85° F in summer and a "low" of about 26° C/79° F in winter.
Dive Season: Year-round. Whale sharks sightings are virtually guaranteed from April to June along the southern barrier reef.
Weather: The subtropical weather in Belize means it is warm year-round, particularly along the coast. A brisk prevailing wind from the Caribbean tempers the summer heat a bit. Air temperatures in summer range from about 24-29° C/75-85° F. Winter is cooler, with a daily low of about 21° C/70° F and a daily high of about 27° C/80° F.
Access: You’ll more than likely fly into Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport outside of Belize City, then take a small aircraft (usually 8-12 seats) from the city’s municipal airport to your final destination. Keep in mind that you'll likely have strict weight and/or baggage requirements on the smaller aircraft so check with your airline or travel professional. Some resorts also offer land transfers.
Skill Level: Dive newbies and veterans alike will find something to love about Belize.
Scuba Gear: It's always nice to bring your own gear, but Belize has a mature, developed dive industry, so many dive resorts and live-aboards hire gear.
Length of Stay: Many divers opt for a one-week package at a dive resort or live-aboard, but to get a true feel for the variety of available diving, you'll want to stay longer.
Featured Creatures: You'll find the usual Caribbean suspects here, but in seemingly greater numbers. Expect sharks, big schools of fish and whale sharks in the right season.
Language: Belize is the only Central American country with English as the official language. There are enclaves, however, where Spanish, Maya, Garifuna and creole are spoken.
Currency: The Belize dollar (BZD) is tied to the US dollar, where one US dollar is equal to two Belize dollars.
Transportation: This small country has a highway system that connects the main towns, but small aircraft flights are the easiest and quickest way to get around.
Major Airports: Most tourists enter the country through Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (BZE), Belize’s primary international air gateway. Many then transfer to Belize City Municipal Airport (TZA) to catch a domestic flight.
Religion: Nearly 80 percent of the population is Christian, but there is a wide variety of other religions, including Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Rastafarians and Mennonites.
Electricity: Most electricity in Belize runs at 110 volts/60Hz and uses the same plug type (Type A and Type B) as the United States. Belize also has some 220 volt electricity that uses a three-pronged plug (Type G) common to the United Kingdom.
Airport Entry/Exit Fees: Belize levies a departure tax ranging from $3.75 to $39.25 that varies based on how you are leaving the country. The fee is sometimes included in the airfare.
Want to know more? Visit scubaearth.com for further information on thousands of dive sites, marine species, destination essentials and more.
Nick Lucey was an editor at Scuba Diving Magazine for 15 years and now hosts a dive travel television show called Into the Drink.