The Great Blue Hole: Diving into an Incredible Underwater Sinkhole

My adventure from sky high to ocean deep, to see Belize’s amazing blue hole.

This is the Great Blue Hole in Belize, a plunging 124 m drop in the middle of a shallow reef. In 1971, Jacques-Yves Cousteau visited the hole with his ship, the Calypso, and declared it to be one of the top ten scuba diving sites in the world.

In December 2012, I traveled to Belize to see it.

This is my trip in photos.

I found out there are two ways of getting to the Great Blue Hole.

The first way is to take a boat there.

 

But the classic photo — the giant eye in a sea of turquoise — well, that can only be seen from the sky.

 

I had no idea which to choose. So I did both.

I went looking a plane that would fly over the Great Blue Hole, but it wasn’t so straightforward. I walked the entire city of San Pedro and couldn’t find any company offering a flight tour.

So on the morning of Christmas Eve, we took a chance and showed up at the local airport.

We chartered our own private plane to take us out to the Great Blue Hole. It was $544 for a 8-seater plane, except, there were only 4 of us.

 

In less than half an hour, we were aboard the plane with our pilot.

 

We took off over the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef.

 

After 20 minutes across the Caribbean Sea, we were over Lighthouse Reef and spotted the Great Blue Hole.

 

We circled the hole several times, from the left and right so both sides of the plane could get a good look.

 

The money shot.

 

It was awesome and an incredible sight to behold. But after 10 minutes, we ran out of the time we paid for the plane. We turned around and headed back for shore.

Two days later, I decided I couldn’t leave without touching the sacrewaters of the Great Blue Hole.

So I signed up for a scuba diving trip.

 

It was a miserable, nausea-inducing, bumpy two-hour boat ride.

 

Once you’ve reached, the sheer size of the Great Blue Hole makes it difficult to tell that you’re actually there.

 

Excitedly, everyone geared up and jumped into the water.

 

The dive begins with a steep vertical descent into darkness.

 

The interior of the blue hole is shaped like… basically, not what you had in mind.

 

At around 32 m deep, you’ll come upon the world’s largest underwater stalactites.

 

I descended further to a depth of 45 m. This is 5 m past the absolute depth limit for recreational dives.

 

On deep dives like this, the nitrogen you breathe has the same effects as alcohol.

The divemasters reported that at these depths, they’ve had people taking their masks off, removing their regulator from their mouths, wanting to go deeper and deeper, or cut themselves from touching the stalactites. Obviously, going to the full depth of 124 m is not possible, but that apparently doesn’t stop some people from trying — with fatal consequences.

A diver in my group started laughing uncontrollably with the regulator in her mouth, coughing out bouts of bubbles. The divemaster broke her off from the group to resurface.

And then things started going weird for me too. I started experiencing vertigo, losing sense of what’s up and what’s down. I looked at my dive buddy. He looked 3 m tall, like a giant.

Shit.

I looked around, and I realized we were the only ones left at 45 m. The divemaster was frantically signaling for us to ascent. And we so did.

This is my “that was some scary shit” face.

 

Fun’s over. Because of the depth and difficulty of the dive, it was kept short.

 

A new personal depth record — 145 ft! Also a new human stupidity record.

 

One of the problems with our dive was the ridiculous number of divers on the trip. Many were beginner divers with less than a week’s experience.

 

We had at least 15 divers to a single divemaster. It was reckless, dangerous and poorly managed.

 

But when all is said and done, the Great Blue Hole is truly an amazing place.

 

Flying over and diving into the Great Blue Hole are two completely different experiences — I would actually advise doing both.

How much did it cost me?

$1211, give or take.

The breakdown

$720— Flight from San Francisco to Belize City (round-trip)
$40 — Taxi & ferry from Belize City to San Pedro
$136— Chartering a private plane to the Great Blue Hole
$215 — Scuba diving trip to the Great Blue Hole
$100 — Accommodation & food for 2 days

Prices are per person. This is a reasonable estimate, and you can do it for much less.

Blog courtesy of Derek Low

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