Hemingway took great pleasure in the unspoiled beauty of the Florida Keys – in his day, the remoteness of the islands was beyond compare. Although Hemingway’s keys are now developed, there still parts of the Caribbean that offer you another chance to enjoy nature in its purest form.
If you strike out from the Belize shoreline and venture beyond the Belize Barrier Reef, you’ll find three Caribbean gems swathed in azure ocean waters: Lighthouse Reef Atoll, Glover’s Reef Atoll, and Turneffe Atoll. These anomalies of the sea were first explained by none other than Charles Darwin; in 1842 Darwin characterized ‘the atoll’ as a combination of island and coral reef extending deep into the water, defying definitions of ‘island’ and ‘coral reef’ by their association. The island gradually eroded until it came to rest below the surface, dwarfed by an ever-growing reef, thus creating the standard structure of an atoll.
Belize’s atolls adhere to this structure; each features a very steep outer rim that gives rise to some impressive wall dives, as well as a perimeter rim of reef flats and islands, and the central lagoon. However, each Belizean atoll promises a distinctive perspective for divers, snorkelers, anglers, and nature-lovers alike.
Lighthouse Reef Atoll
Named one of the top ten diving sites in the world by Jacques Cousteau, the Great Blue Hole represents the biggest draw for visitors to this most easterly atoll in Belize. But the famous limestone sinkhole is hardly the atoll’s sole attraction. The 18-mile-long Lighthouse Reef plays host to the spectacular Half Moon Caye Natural Monument where endangered bird and turtle species nest by the thousands. Combine that with Half Moon Wall and the wall at beautiful Long Caye and you have some of the best opportunities to explore the ‘real’ Caribbean. Dramatic dropoffs create a breathtaking habitat for brightly-colored fish and a multitude of coral species. And for anyone looking to enjoy a luxurious, immersed-in-nature experience, the future eco-resort Zophora on Long Caye will be a perfect home base.
Glover’s Reef Atoll
Go swashbuckling through Belize history with a visit to Glover’s Reef Atoll located 36 miles out from the mainland. The atoll takes its name from the 18th century English pirate John Glover, who rested on Glover’s Reef between his attacks on Spanish merchant ships to plunder their gold and valuables (Lonely Planet Guidebook, Belize). Today, the atoll itself is the treasure – Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve is the largest marine reserve in the country and holds status as a UN World Heritage Site. Spectacular fishing and dive opportunities among the more than 700 patch reefs make this atoll a favorite among adventure travelers.
More than 200 mangrove islands comprise Turneffe Atoll. Turneffe carries a reputation as the best fishing spot in Belize – the maze of mangroves plays host to an abundance of fish nurseries and aquatic wildlife. Bonefish, permit, and tarpon dart wildly through the waters, giving avid anglers a winning chance at catching a grand slam. Located only 25 miles off the mainland, the waters surrounding Turneffe Atoll boast a shipwreck, steep coral walls, shallow reefs, and great viewing opportunities for eagle rays.
Whether you plan on diving, fishing, or seizing treasures of unspoiled natural beauty, you won’t find a better place to do it than on one of these wonders resting in Belize’s calm Caribbean waters. Centuries of geological history brought these atolls into being, and the maintenance of marine reserves and a commitment to sustainable development ensures that travelers will be enjoying the Belizean atolls for a long time.