Long the favored destination of divers, Belize offers an extraordinary experience for the beginner as well as the seasoned diving enthusiast. Named to the Skin Diver Magazine Hall of Fame, Belize is the diving capital of the world.
Tucked away on the Caribbean coast of Central America, Belize is home to the western hemisphere’s largest barrier reef; 70 types of hard corals; more than 400 species of fish; three magnificent atolls; seven aquatic World Heritage sites, nearly 200 offshore cayes, and an endless array of dive sites.
The Barrier Reef
Like a gigantic, living wall, Belize’s extraordinary Barrier Reef is a complicated system of individual reefs that parallels the nation’s coastline, stretching 185 miles from Yucatan to Central America. Between the reef and the mainland are shallow, sandy waters dotted with picture-perfect cayes.
The reef’s sheer walls are lined with large, colorful sponges that play host to teeming schools of fish. Large patches of colorful corals form garden-like settings. Home of significant marine life that includes threatened species, a showcase of extraordinary natural phenomena, and a place of heart-stopping beauty, the barrier reef is one of Belize’s most prized assets.
The cayes (pronounced keys), are a chain of offshore islands that range from small uninhabited isles, to large tropic islands, complete with outstanding resort facilities. The cayes span 3,000 square miles of protected water, scattered inside and outside the magnificent Barrier Reef.
Once home of the Maya, Ambergris Caye is the largest of Belize’s 200 cayes, located just south of the Yucatan Peninsula. Stretching for 20 miles along the northern edge of the barrier reef, Ambergris Caye is a diver’s dream, known for its sharp drop-off on the outside of the reef. The caye also offers superb snorkeling: Sites of special note include Shark-Ray Alley, a protected area where snorkelers can interact with sharks and stingrays in only eight feet of water, and the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, a shallow five-square-mile underwater park with excellent night snorkeling.
The Atolls and the Blue Hole
Belize has three of the Caribbean’s four atolls — ancient underwater volcanos, rimmed in coral. Each atoll forms a circular coral island with a central lagoon, and houses distinctive ecosystems both within the lagoon and surrounding the atoll. With dramatic underwater walls, channels, and canyons, the atolls offer some of Belize’s most spectacular dives.
Lighthouse Reef is the most eastern atoll, 50 miles southeast of Belize City. Amidst the reef’s many and varied wonders is the awesome Blue Hole. Once an aboveground cave, it has been submerged since the Ice Age. A portion of its ceiling collapsed over time, forming a sinkhole more than 400 feet deep and nearly 1,000 feet in diameter, rich with mammoth stalactites. The Blue Hole has been a beacon for the divers since Jacques Cousteau pioneered its exploration in the early 1970s, and is one of Belize’s most renowned dive sites.
Snuggled between Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the west and south, relaxed, English-speaking Belize is only a two-hour plane ride from the continental United States. Adventure into a land rich in natural beauty and steeped in the magic of its Maya past. Renowned for pristine waters, exotic marine and wildlife, lush, unspoiled landscapes, and superb diving, Belize is Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret.
For visitor information, visit the BELIZE TOURIST BOARD online at www.travelbelize.org or contact the BTB at Level 2, Central Bank Building, Gabourel Lane, PO Box 325, Belize City, Belize. Telephone: 1-800-624-0686. Fax: 501-2-31943. E-mail: [email protected].