Wondering what it’s really like to go scuba diving at Belize’s Blue Hole?
The first time I visited Belize was long before I was certified to dive, but it was a snorkeling trip there that first inspired my passion to explore the underwater world.
Home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, the dive sites throughout Belize are world-class, and the Great Blue Hole is consistently ranked as one of the best in the world.
This post covers what it’s like to dive the Blue Hole, and other amazing dives sites in Belize, and tips for making the most of your diving experience.
Scuba Diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize
The Great Blue Hole is an underwater sinkhole believed to be the largest of its kind.
The sinkhole initially formed as a limestone cave during the last glacial period, but as the ocean began to rise the cave flooded and eventually collapsed in itself, creating a vertical cave in the sea.
The blue hole spans an impressive 300m and is characterized by its rich shades of blue.
Unfortunately, you aren’t going to be able to take in the magnitude of the blue hole by boat.
To get a full view of the blue hole you have to fly over it.
There are a number of companies that offer helicopter and plane rides, but I couldn’t justify paying for this and the dive. It looks like an incredible experience!
Scuba Diving in the Great Blue Hole
What makes the blue hole dive interesting for divers is the geological formations that lie in the ocean’s depth. It goes to a total depth of 410ft!
Huge stalactites and stalagmites can be found below the surface, some reaching 30-40 ft in length!
After our descent down the wall, we reached a maximum depth of 134 ft/40m.
We only stayed at this depth for about 5 minutes and then completed the remainder of the dive at 60 ft/18m where there are coral reefs.
There aren’t coral reefs in the depth of the blue hole, so don’t expect to see much here in terms of marine life. We saw a few fish, one shark, and a lobster. But it feels like you are on a completely different planet.
You may experience dive narcosis because of the depth. Dive narcosis comes as a result of excess nitrogen in your body, which can be felt at depths below 30m.
It affects people differently, and not everyone feels it. Dive narcosis will immediately wear off as you ascend, but it’s essential to be aware of the symptoms and let your dive master know if you feel them.
Out of my group, I was the only one who got it and my instructor helped me safely ascend.
Due to the depth, you need to have your advanced open water certification with at least 25 logged dives to dive the blue hole.
The total time of the blue hole dive is about 25 minutes, which is almost half of what a normal dive would be. This is because the deeper you go, the greater your air consumption is.
The experience of descending to 40m below felt like I was entering another world. I loved seeing the unique cave formations and the color of the blue at that depth is mesmerizing. It was a unique experience that I am happy to cross off my dive bucket list.
However, I enjoyed the dives we did after the blue hole more. The blue hole is in the center of an atoll called Lighthouse Reef, which has some other incredible sites to explore.
Book a tour that takes you to more than just the blue hole (most companies do this). The combination of the blue hole with the other two dives makes for a perfect day of diving. It also makes it worthwhile, as the boat ride out there is about 2 ½ hours.
Half Moon Caye Wall
After the blue hole, the next scuba dive was at Half Moon Caye Wall. The abundance of beautiful coral reefs, encounters with marine life, and excellent visibility made this one of my most memorable dives.
Some marine life we saw included giant sea turtles, reef sharks, eagle rays, barracudas, groupers, and more.
We stayed at around 60ft/18m during this dive for maximum air consumption, although the depth goes down to about 30m.
You have to be careful and use a dive computer or your divemaster as a reference point to monitor your depth. It’s easy to go down below 18m without realizing it, especially when enchanted by a turtle.
After the dive, we got to spend time on land at Half Moon Caye for our surface interval. This little island is beautiful.
They have a reserve where you can see massive amounts of frigate birds and red-footed boobies flying around. I’ve only seen these birds since in Marietas Islands in Mexico, so this is a pretty unique spot.
Long Caye Aquarium Wall
The third dive site we visited was Long Caye Aquarium Wall, which is a short boat ride from Half Moon Caye.
As soon as we jumped in the water, vast schools of Bermuda chumps surrounded us. We descended further and followed along a 90-degree wall full of purple sea fans, brain corals, and every color you could imagine.
Even in the shallow areas, there are gorgeous lush patches of coral to explore. The high visibility in combination with the colorful reef makes the aquarium an incredible dive to end the day. We stayed at about 18m for a total dive time of 50 minutes.
Diving with Whale Sharks in Belize
Whale shark diving has been on my dive bucket list for a long time. I was so excited to be in Belize during the whale shark season, which runs from April to June.
For ten days during the full moon during these months, snappers spawn around Gladden Spit which attracts numerous whale sharks, who dine on the caviar.
Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t so lucky to see the whale sharks while diving in Belize.
We did find the massive spawns of snapper and followed along with them hoping that a whale shark would appear but alas, no luck.
After lunch on the boat, we went out for our second dive, hoping for better luck. While we didn’t see whale sharks, we did see two playful dolphins and a bull shark!
I’d never seen dolphins diving before; it was so much fun to watch them play with each other in the water.
I dived Gladden Spit at the beginning of the season (April), so the whale sharks hadn’t arrived in yet. It is nature, after all!
It’s not a guarantee that you will see whale sharks in Belize, but the sightings have been frequent in the past five years (apparently).
If you plan to visit Belize to dive with whale sharks I recommend having some flexibility in your schedule.
Tips for Scuba Diving in Belize
- If you don’t know how to dive, Belize is a great place to learn. It’s not as cheap as neighbouring countries like Honduras and Mexico, but it’s home to some of the best dive sites in Central America.
- Choose a reputable company. When it comes to diving, the company you choose makes a massive difference in your experience. And like most things in life, you pay for what you get.
- Ask around town or do a quick Google search to see what others say about the company before booking. I dove with Belize Diving Services in Caye Caulker, which was a great experience.
- Make sure to check your equipment before jumping in the water. Even with a reputable company, it’s always important to check that the dive equipment is in working order.
- Dive Equipment was an additional cost to my dive in Belize, so if you plan to do a lot of diving there it might be worth it to bring your own equipment.
- A dive computer can be helpful to monitor your depth and ensure you stay within safe limits. Most dive companies will not give you one for the dive,, so you must rely on the dive master if you don’t have your own.
Getting to Belize
Smushed between Mexico and Guatemala, Belize is a logical stop on the backpacker trail through Central America.
There are over 265 cays and islands in the waters of Belize, but San Pedro and Caye Caulker are the two islands most travelers stay.
Further South on the mainland of Belize are the towns of Placencia and Hopkins. These two towns are great bases if you want to dive in Gladden Spit, where you can see whale sharks.
It is also possible to dive the blue hole from Placencia, but it’s about 4 hours by boat, so tour operators won’t go without a large group. If you want to dive the blue hole, I recommend staying on San Pedro or Caye Caulker.
Flying via Belize City
If you fly into Belize City, it’s relatively easy to get to any of these places. The easiest way is to take another regional flight from the Belize International Airport, while the cheapest way is to take the ferry or bus.
If you want to go via boat to Caye Caulker or San Pedro from Belize City, take a taxi to the ferry terminal from the airport. You can catch a boat to the islands at the ferry terminal.
It is possible to book online in advance, but the boats are so frequent that you won’t have a problem just showing up.
If you plan to visit Hopkins or Placencia, get a taxi to the Belize bus terminal and catch a local bus which takes 4-5 hours.
If you plan to travel by land from Mexico, you can get a bus from the Cancun bus terminal to Belize City, which takes about 8 hours.
Another option is to go from Cancun to Bacalar, a lovely seaside town in Mexico. Stay for a day or two and then head to the nearby town of Chetumal (a 30-minute drive), where you can get a boat to either San Pedro or Caye Caulker.
From Guatemala, there are busses from the town of Flores (near the ancient ruins of Tikal) to Belize city. The bus ride takes about 4 hours.
Ambergris Caye (San Pedro) vs. Caye Caulker
Ambergris Caye has a population of roughly 14,000 people and most people stay in the main town on the island, San Pedro.
The island is busy with countless options for accommodation, dining, shopping, and nightlife on the island. Ambergris Caye is 40km long, so the best way to get around is to rent a golf cart.
Caye Caulker is a much smaller island, only 8km long, with a population of just 1,500. You can easily walk or bike around the entire island.
Most accommodations and restaurants are found in Caye Caulker village, next to the ferry terminal.
The island is laid back and prides itself on the motto ‘go slow’, which they enforce. A local gave me a speeding ticket once for walking too briskly! Caye Caulker’s laid-back pace is charming.
Where to stay: The first time I visited Caye Caulker, I stayed at Dirty McNasty’s Party Hostel. This place is exactly as it sounds. If you want a party hostel, it can be a good time, but otherwise, I’d stay away.
This time around I stayed at Yuma’s House, which has much more of a chill vibe. It’s still a social hostel, but you can actually get some sleep there.
The surrounding dive sites are accessible from both San Pedro and Caye Caulker so if you’ve come to Belize to dive then either island will do.
There is more to do in San Pedro, but I prefer Caye Caulker. San Pedro has more resorts, attracting families, whereas most backpackers flock to Caye Caulker
In the end, they are both amazing tropical islands with white sand beaches surrounded by turquoise blue waters, so you can’t go wrong. If you have the time, check out both!
There is a daily ferry service between the two so it’s easy to get between them.
About the Author
Lora is a full-time digital nomad on a quest to visit every country and pet as many dogs as possible. Over the last 15 years, she has traveled solo to 70+ countries and six continents. She currently calls Puerto Vallarta, Mexico home, where she runs the website Take Me To Puerto Vallarta.