Belize, a stunning central American country,
nestles between Mexico to the North, Guatemala to the
West and Honduras to the South. A thin strip of a country
of lush rainforest and rugged, pine-covered mountains.
Rich in cultural heritage, Belize, like all Latin American
countries that flank the Caribbean, is a million miles
from your atypical Caribbean destination.
For over a thousand years the Maya built up civilisations of astounding
beauty and intricacy among the forests and along the rivers of Belize;
the magnificent temples of Altun Ha and Caracol are testament to
the skills and artistry of these people. Today the descendants of
this civilisation stand proudly as both Belizeans and as Maya.
The low-lying coastal plain of Belize is a maze of waterways and
swamps resplendent with the cries of egrets and the chattering of
insects; mangroves flank the shoreline near estuaries. Out from
the coast the sea is studded with forested islands surrounded by
pure white beaches. These islands mark the edge of the Belize Barrier
Reef, the largest reef system in the Western Hemisphere. A broken
stretch of reef runs down the entire length of Belize, starting
at Ambergris Cay in the North and finishing at the Sapodilla Cays
in the South.
Beyond the Barrier Reef lie 3 of only 4 true coral atolls in the
Caribbean, Turneffe Island Reef, Glovers Reef and Lighthouse Reef.
These oval reefs rise to the surface, exposed at low tide, with
a central lagoon perhaps 50ft deep. The sandy lagoon floor, interspersed
with coral heads, reflects the light upwards, giving the water a
wonderful turquoise luminescence. Protected by the outer reefs,
the lagoons offer calm protected waters. The outer walls of these
atolls drop into the deep abyss of the Western Caribbean, sometimes
vertically and sometimes in a stepped pattern, with sand gullies
and tongue-and-groove formations providing ideal habitats for fish,
corals and the occasional resting spot for a sleepy nurse shark!
The finest diving in Belize is on these outer atolls, where optimum
conditions for prolific coral growth can be found. The clear waters
are teeming with wrasse, snapper, barracuda, French angelfish and
the occasional eagle ray or manta rays swoops past the coral and
sponge covered reefs.
For many the highlight of a trip to Belize is to dive the Great
Blue Hole, in the centre of Lighthouse Reef's lagoon. At some point
in the distant past the roof of a massive under ground cave collapsed,
leaving behind an almost circular hole in the sea bed. At a depth
of 80-120ft massive stalactites hang down, encrusted with algae
and weed. The cool green water offers limited visibility compared
with the clear reefs outside, and a torch is essential to see the
stalactites in all their majesty. For us, the highlight is swimming
and diving with Honey, an exceedingly friendly dolphin who is happy
to tag along for an entire dive. Her playfulness is a delight, and
she is very photogenic!
Because the best diving is on the remote reefs that are inaccessible
from the mainland, another fine way to dive them is from a live-aboard
dive vessel. We offer two, the Belize Aggressor III and
the Sun Dancer. Each offers a similar 7-night itinerary
from Saturday to Saturday, with approximately 5½ days diving
on Belize's atolls. These boats allow access to Turneffe Island,
Lighthouse Reef and, when the weather allows, Glover's Reef.
For those who enojy their diving from the comfort of a hotel we
recommend Lighthouse Reef Resort, an exclusive property on Lighthouse