Ben fumbles with my buoyancy compensator and I start to sink. The boat casts a dark shadow across the white sandy floor. It’s only five meters or so to the bottom; I can see Bill’s group already disappearing into the planktonic haze.
The sand shifts beneath my fins as I try to belie my status as a novice and show some composure on the seabed. I exchange an “ok” with Ben, and we head into the coral canyons. I glance back up at the boat; another group is starting to descend.
My breathing settles and minutes seem like hours. Coral rises all around me like a towering sculpture garden: staghorn, pillar, table, brain, great star, elkhorn, sea fans. The fish are equally varied and colorful – they look significantly more at home than me. After twenty minutes I’ve lost all sense of direction until I spot the dark underbelly of our boat again. Reluctantly, I relinquish the comforting embrace and serenity of the water, and breach the surface to a cacophony of chatter at the back of the boat.
That was my introduction to scuba diving, ten years ago on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef: a fleeting twenty-minute dive. Nevertheless, this reef set the bar exceptionally high. I’ve since learned that submarine environments don’t always live up to our dreams. Vietnam is cold. The UK is cold and murky. Belize, however, offers scuba divers a chance to experience an underwater utopia.
It’s frequently exalted as one of the best places in the world to dive, and you’ll find it significantly less crowded than Australia’s east coast. Jacques Cousteau visited Belize in the ‘70s aboard his mobile laboratory, the Calypso, and declared it “one of the four must-dive locations on this blue planet.” Cousteau really put Belize on the diving map with that one. It’s hard to argue with a man of such world-renowned diving expertise. I mean, he co-developed the aqua-lung back in the forties. But you don’t have to listen to any testimonials or endorsements. These turquoise waters speak for themselves.
Eight reasons why you’re sure to find world-class scuba diving in Belize:
- The 185-mile-long Belize Barrier Reef is the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere.
- The Great Blue Hole on Lighthouse Reef Atoll is the largest sinkhole in the world, over 400 feet deep.
- Water temperature fluctuates between a comfortable 75 and a very pleasant 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Visibility is often in excess of 100 feet.
- Gladden Spit near Placencia is a hotspot for whale sharks between March and June.
- Resorts, hotels, and vacation home rentals on Belize’s islands and cayes provide crash pads and luxury landing places for divers caught between dives.
- The barrier reef lies extremely close to shore, minimizing transfer time to dive sites, maximizing time spent in the water.
- Diving options abound, with seven UNESCO-recognized marine parks for shallow-water divers, as well as deep-water options like the Great Blue Hole for advanced divers.
I wish I’d been as close to the reef in Australia as you can get in Belize. The journey back to Cairns from the Great Barrier Reef took much longer than I expected – even the quickest boats take about ninety minutes to cover the approximately 70 kilometers back to port. When Amble Resorts’ eco-development on Long Caye is completed, divers will have unprecedented access to the best scuba diving sites in Belize, enjoying luxurious accommodations in a pristine natural environment located fifteen minutes from the Great Blue Hole. It’s this kind of proximity to world-class dive sites that makes Belize such an incredible destination for scuba divers.