From the air, the Great Blue Hole in Belize looks like a bottomless void of blue so deep it borders on black. From the deck of a dive boat, this world-class diving destination makes you feel like Alice gazing into the rabbit hole. Who will you be once you return to the surface after exploring these depths?
Forty years ago, famed underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau clued us in on an incredible secret. Cousteau went on numerous dives in the Great Blue Hole; he descended as deep as is humanly possible, then covered the remaining depth in his ship, the Calypso. Belizeans had revered this mysterious underwater geological formation for centuries, but the rest of the world remained largely unaware of it until the 1970s, when Cousteau documented his exploration of the Great Blue Hole for television. Now a Belize National Monument and World Heritage Site, the Great Blue Hole gives advanced divers a chance to investigate an otherworldly realm.
Located approximately 45 miles off mainland Belize in Central America, this circular limestone sinkhole is fenced by a dark circle of coral, almost perfectly round and 1000 feet across. Your dive boat parks right in the middle of the Great Blue Hole. The dive master wastes little time in jump starting your adventure. With one tank of air strapped to your back, you and your dive buddy jump in and slowly descend. You know you might see 9-foot Caribbean reef sharks, bull sharks and hammerheads, but you left your apprehension on the boat. Now you’re part of this world, just another creature floating through this stoic stone that carves an abyss into the flowing sea. You didn’t journey here just to see a lot of fun, friendly, colorful fish. You came for the drama.
Plunging into this giant underwater hourglass, you and your fellow diver proceed cautiously. For the first 50 feet you follow a sandy ledge which turns into a sheer wall, very smooth and almost completely vertical like the side of a steep mountain. Absolute buoyancy control is imperative, which is why this dive is reserved for practiced divers.
Visibility approaches 200 feet and the water welcomes you with its warmth but unnerves you with its vacancy. A short while into your dive, you find yourself alone in this place. An absence of animal life contributes to the sense of mystery you encounter this far down. You know you’ve gone 110 feet below the surface when the sheer wall ends in an overhang and you come across stalactite formations three feet in diameter (larger than most oak trees) angling outward, allowing you to swim underneath into an enormous cave. Suddenly, you feel as though you’ve entered a church. Not only because of the cathedral-like scenery; this place radiates a kind of hallowed energy. The Great Blue Hole gives shape to an ancient, eternal source of wonder, larger-than-life and beyond time. It humbles you, defining your mortality with the dangers of its depths. As a human designed to live and breathe above the surface, you cannot safely reach the bottom of the Great Blue Hole. At a depth of 140 feet, you only have about 8 minutes of safe breathing time. Below you lies another 250 feet of water. Above you, the sun shines distantly. Your partner signals you that it’s time to go.
Your visit to the Great Blue Hole was brief, but somehow, you’re a different person from the one who left the boat 25 minutes ago. That happens when you submerge yourself in one of the globe’s great mysteries. It’s a moving experience akin to finding religion. The only way to truly understand what’s down the rabbit hole is to accept the risk of finding out.