As a diver, what is the first that springs into mind when your hear “Belize”? The Blue Hole of course. One of the most famous dive sites in the world thanks to the grandfather of all diving – Jacques Costeau. This trip is about a week on the Sun Dancer II diving on the Lighthouse Reef and, yes, in the Blue Hole.
Destination: Lighthouse Reef and Turneffe Atoll, Belize.
Boat: Sun Dancer II (operated by the Dancer Fleet)
When: 31 July to 6 August 2011
Duration: 6 diving days
Number of dives: 20
Underwater photos: All underwater photos were shot by our cruise director, divemaster and first mate Brandon. Great touch to get a CD with U/W photos from the trip. We really appreciated that – thanks Sun Dancer II!
For general info on Belize, check out Belize Part I – Trekking.
Diving in Belize
Apart from the Blue Hole, Belize is renowned for its barrier reef (the second largest barrier reef in the world) that stretches from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula in the north to the Belizean northern coast. However, for quality diving, it is not the barrier reef that rules in Belize, but rather the offshore Lighthouse Reef. The Lighthouse Reef is home to the Blue Hole and also to the small islands of Long Caye and Half Moon Caye. This is where you should go for the best diving in Belize.
The boat – Sun Dancer II
The M/V Sun Dancer II is part of the Dancer Fleet of liveaboards. It is a good live aboard diving vessel, without being amazing in any way. Comfortable and pretty spacious. Plenty of good (but not awesome) food. Great, but slightly stand-offish crew. I have found that there is a slight difference in crew culture between South East Asian boats and Caribbean (including South American) boats where the Caribbean boats are much more “do-it-yourself” than their Asian counterparts. In Asia you basically get dressed by the crew and there are always a number of people assisting your every move. In the Caribbean, the service is not that attentive – or obtrusive is you like. There is nothing right or wrong with either style in my opinion, but the rule of thumb is: is you want to get pampered – go to Asia, if you don’t like people taking care of your equipment and fixing everything for you – go to the Caribbean (or South America).
The diving was always structured the same way: the boat would anchor and divers would jump in the water and follow a wall in a certain direction and turn back after half the dive. The crew lowered a safety stop bar below the hull on which you could sit while making the safety stop. In general, the divemasters where not acting as guides, showing you where to go or how to find different stuff, but rather checking around the hole group just to make sure everyone was ok.
Ok, so why go diving in Belize? Number one: great visibility. Number two: lots of reef sharks. Number three: massive schools of fish. If you are into beautiful corals and macro stuff, this may not be for you. But then again, you don’t really choose any Caribbean dive site for corals or muck diving. You go there for great visibility and pelagics.
The sites we liked the most were Cathedral, Half Moon Caye Wall, Tarpon Caves and Silver Caves. We had many encounters with reef sharks, eagle rays and barracudas. Tarpon (a large Caribbean fish that is apparently very tasty) was also around a lot. The Silver Caves hosted massive amounts of small fish – a great vertigo creating experience to be smack in the middle of the school. Apart from the nice amounts of big fish, we really liked the underwater scenery. Some good hard coral, but most of all lots of swim throughs and caverns.
The Blue Hole
The highlight for many. How great is it really? Well, the Blue Hole itself is a fascinating natural wonder, but don’t expect it to be a very “happening” dive. It is deep (45 meters) which means the bottom time is pretty short. It is pretty dark and there is not much fish life. You can be lucky to spot a few sharks circling the deeps. The stalactites at 45 meters are impressive. My personal opinion is that is was a good dive, but nothing I would build a whole dive trip around.
Belize diving was good. I would not rate it as great. If you are based in the Americas, Belize is easy to get to and may well be worth a trip, but if you are based in Europe (like we are) and are choosing between east (South East Asia) or west (the Caribbean) I would go east 8 times out of 10. The best takeaways were the fantastic visibility and close shark encounters.
Hope you found this useful!