THE OUTER REEFS, BELIZE
The undiscovered barrier reef
Season: Year-round diving
Visibility: 30-40m/100-130ft, sometimes up to 60m/200ft
Water Temperature: 26-29°C/77-84°F
Diving: Walls, atolls, coral gardens
Willing to share options on liveaboards
The small but stunningly beautiful country of Belize borders Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to the north. To the west and south lie the jungles of Guatemala, and beyond that the plains, mountains and islands of Honduras. The inland portion of Belize has the Mayan Mountains and extensive tropical rainforests, while its seas contain a barrier reef 170 miles in length that is second only to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Beyond the barrier reef, Belize has three atolls, or circular coral reefs, the outsides of which are sheer drop-offs. The inside of the atolls are coral strewn lagoons containing patch and fringing reefs. Because of their structure, diving in and around atolls has the distinct advantage of always offering a leeward side, whatever direction the wind comes from!
Added to the wonderfully rich and diverse natural resources of the reef and of the land, Belize has reasonable economic prosperity with a low population and a stable government. Most Belizeans are aware of their country’s natural wealth and work hard to preserve it. A visit to Belize is the choice for those who crave the adventure of top quality diving in a unique wilderness.
THE OUTER REEFS
Unchallenged as Belize’s premier diving area, the Outer Reefs have fascinated the most seasoned Caribbean divers, who have delighted in discovering their untouched coral gardens, walls and wrecks. The Outer Reefs have little in the way of dry land but many walls and shallow reefs. The Outer Reefs offer, without doubt, the very best diving in Belize. Here one can dive the Great Blue Hole – a dive that is certainly one of the most unusual diving experiences on earth. There are many listed dive sites around these reefs and islands. Gigantic basket sponges, forests of gorgonians, and 3-metre Purple Sea Fans are here to be discovered. Barracudas, giant groupers, spider crabs and angelfish are just a few of the inhabitants living undisturbed in this amazing nature reserve.
The Great Blue Hole was made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1972. This 300 metres wide hole is sunk into the bottom of a shallow lagoon. A slanting wall provides a gentle introduction to this weirdly wonderful dive, but apprehension may well take over as you descend over a vertical wall into the deep gloom below. Leaving the sunlight behind, at the depth of 40 metres, a strange landscape appears under the overhang. Glistening quartz and limestone stalactites, some over 12 metres long, form a maze through which to swim. Deeper into the cathedral-like cave, stalagmites rise from the floor like huge stone teeth. Although described as an architectural dive rather than one noted for its wildlife, the Great Blue Hole does have some aquatic life, including Jewfish, shrimps and possibly a visiting barracuda, shark or tuna. Naturally, at this depth, there is very little time to explore and it is most important to note that this dive, for safety reasons, is only for those divers with experience of deeper diving.
Two small tropical islands, Half Moon Caye and Long Caye, offer sheltered dive sites with consistently high visibility. Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, established in 1982, was the first reserve created to protect Belize’s natural beauty. This wondrously beautiful island is home to many birds as well as Hawksbill and Loggerhead Turtles. Climb the two and a half metre ‘central ridge’ on the island to see the unbelievable view of 4,000 Red-footed Boobies (a gannet-like seabird) perched in the canopy of every tree. Magnificent Frigatebirds, Mangrove Warblers, Ospreys and White-crowned Pigeons also make their homes here. The main concern is to preserve the plant and animal life. Nothing must be removed from the island – not even sand! Visibility in this area is usually in the region of 70 metres and diving takes place just about anywhere round the island. Several shipwrecks litter the sea bed and provide habitats for many reef fish. There are wall dives with tunnels, enormous coral formations, and undercuts decorated with large and colourful displays of sponges and corals – all teeming with wildlife! Diving in the vicinity of sand-fringed, palm-crowded Long Caye, you may encounter magnificent Manta Rays and slumbering, docile Nurse Sharks. Wherever you dive here, the reefs are teeming with fish; butterflyfish, grunts of many varieties, Schoolmasters and other snappers, and jacks all occur in numbers. You should also find the colourful green, blue and yellow Queen Triggerfish performing its fascinating feeding behaviour – blowing water under sea urchins to upturn them and then attacking the vulnerable underside. Hat Cay Drop-off has some quite unique marine life. Some of the basket sponges on the rim of the drop-off are large enough to hide a diver. Deepwater gorgonians and giant yellow tube sponges will reward the diver who takes time to search for unusual invertebrates among the coral growth.
If you are staying at Turneffe Island Lodge, your diving package will include a full day excursion to The Outer Reefs on one day of the week (usually Tuesday). The first dive of the day will be The Blue Hole, followed by Half Moon Caye Wall. Following a picnic lunch on Half Moon Caye will be third dive on Long Caye Wall.
At night, if you are staying on Sun Dancer or Belize Aggressor, big quartz lights illuminate the reef under the boat and whether you stay near the boat or explore further away there are amazing and wonderful sights awaiting discovery. Sleeping Scrawled Filefish, large silver tarpon or perhaps formations of reef squid are among the sights that can be seen. With the large lights guiding you back to the boat, making your exit point quite clear, hot showers to welcome you on board and the promise of a night-cap to complete the evening, night dives are something to remember!
THE TURNEFFE ISLANDS & GLOVER’S REEF
If you stay at Turneffe Island Lodge, you will also visit dive sites around the Turneffe Islands. Here, the splendid, shallow, 3.6 metre dive at Aquarium is a great spot for underwater photography and for the last dive of the day. A variety of small corals and a profusion of small fish make this a very beautiful dive. The Sayonara was the transport boat of the Turneffe Islands Lodge. She was taken out of service in 1985 and sunk to provide and additional dive site. Now her wreckage lies in 12-14 metres of water and although she is rapidly disintegrating she still provides a home for many reef fish, including some rather large barracudas. Sayonara rests on a sandy slope with patch reefs featuring many coral heads. The Elbow can be found off the southern end of Turneffe Atoll and is famous for its fish population. Large schools of snappers, Permits and Horse-eye Jacks are frequent visitors here.
Divers who take a liveaboard boat will have the opportunity to explore the dive sites of Glover’s Reef. Between Long Caye and Northeast Caye is one of the four navigable channels through Glover’s Reef. Long Caye Cut is generally shallow with lots of sandy patches and some coral. Tame Midnight and Blue Parrotfish are abundant and for some reason grow larger here than in other locations in the Caribbean, sometimes up to 1.2 metres in length! An excellent spot for a night dive, Octopus Alley lies east of Southwest Caye. As the name implies octopus are common here as are trunkfish and many crustaceans such as lobsters, crabs and shrimps.
COMBINATIONS: Why not combine a week on one of the Belize liveaboards with a week at Turneffe Island Lodge, diving, enjoying their other watersports or just relaxing? Talk to us about the possibilities.
FLIGHTS: From about $562 return from Miami or Houston to Belize City.