The Best Diving and Snorkeling in Belize
Tiny Belize’s mainland beckons with lush jungle canopy, palm-tangled Mayan ruins, and diverse wildlife. Still, this Central American jewel is best known for its snorkeling and diving sites along hundreds of cayes, atolls and a 185-mile barrier reef – second in size only to Australia’s. Abundant sea life and colorful corals fill the turquoise waters, are easily accessible and welcome divers and snorkelers of all experience levels. Dive tours can be half or whole days, with boat rides calm and usually under two hours. Other tour options include live-aboard boats, which offer week-long trips featuring 2 to 3 daily dives, including nighttime. From the busy north of Belize to the sleepy south, here are our choices for the best marine meanderings.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark-Ray Alley
Located in the north of Belize and visible from the southeastern shore of Ambergris, the country’s largest caye, Hol Chan and Shark-Ray Alley may be Belize’s most popular dive and snorkel spots. Crowds can be problematic, but at a mere 30 meters deep and with Finding Nemo-esque underwater views, the positives outweigh the negatives, especially for diving newbies and snorkelers.
Hol Chan opens to deeper waters beyond the reef, so divers and snorkelers will be greeted with an eruption of vibrant fish, nurse sharks, rays, turtles and the occasional dolphin. The eponymous sharks and rays are the site’s biggest attraction, and you’re guaranteed an adrenaline rush stroking the stippled hide of a nurse shark streaking by (but never touch the corals). Night dives reveal a completely different world of bioluminescence, glowing green moray eels and parrotfish dozing in protective mucus cocoons.
Also tucked away in northern waters, Caye Caulker is the relaxed cousin to tourist-prone Ambergris. Solid snorkeling and dive sites like Coral Gardens are short boat rides away, as is a manatee habitat. You’re not allowed to swim with these gentle mammals, but fear not — this popular day trip typically includes snorkeling stops like Goff’s Caye and a visit to the waist-deep waters and wildlife at Shark Ray Village. Your guide may even point out delicate seahorses entwined in the mangroves.