Belize should definitely be included in the top five countries on any scuba diving traveller’s bucket list. The country is naturally diverse with stunning beaches and lush rainforest, and the people boast a rich and eclectic culture that mixes ancient Mayan beliefs with the practices of modern-day Mexico and Guatemala. Not least of all, Belize’s crystal-clear water offers some astounding diving opportunities, especially in the world’s largest marine sinkhole, dubbed appropriately; The Great Blue Hole.
While it deserves its space on most dive experts’ list of must-dive destinations, the Great Blue Hole is rather unlike typical tropical dive sites that bring divers face-to-face with fascinating and fantastic flora and fauna. Instead, diving the Great Blue Hole is unique unto itself. If you are planning a trip to Belize with a trusted travel site like flights.com there are a few facts you should know before sailing to the spot, oxygen tank in hand.
The Great Blue Hole was formed during a past ice age, when water levels were lower and the sea floor was more exposed to erosion from rain, wind, and chemical weathering. Basically, the hole is a steep vertical cave, and it boasts stunning stalactites to prove it. A handful of similar submarine sinkholes exist, including Dean’s Blue Hole in the Bahamas and the Red Sea Blue Hole, which is commonly regarded as one of the most dangerous diving spots in the world.
However, none are as grand or gorgeous as Belize’s Great Blue Hole, which is nearly a perfect circle measuring 984 feet (300 meters) across. The hole has a depth of about 407 feet (124 meters). Though the hole has existed for several tens of thousands of years — some estimations go as far back as the mid-Pleistocene, roughly 153,000 years ago — it has only recently been discovered and explored. In fact, the hole was made famous by none other than marine explorer Jacques Cousteau when he made the first measurements of the hole in 1971. Later, Cousteau named the hole as one of the top 10 diving sites in the world — a title it still boasts today.
Even though master divers and tour guides will remain with tourists and visiting divers throughout the duration of the dive, most companies require interested parties to claim a certain number of diving hours before they can don flippers and oxygen tanks. Most dives last at least 30 minutes and reach depths of about 150 feet (46 meters) which can be taxing for novice divers. Additionally, because the hole extends much farther down than most recreational divers will ever venture — and because visibility stretches only about 200 feet (61 meters) — it feels very much like a bottomless pit, which can be unnerving to those uncomfortable in the water.
Adventurous divers eager for new marine experiences will find them in spades as they venture down the Great Blue Hole. Though the hole isn’t surfeit with colour like other tropical reef dive sites, it does offer fantastic views unlike anywhere else on Earth.
A common site for divers who reach depths of about 60 feet (18 meters) is the slow, streamlined silhouette of sharks. Various species of the famous marine predator live and hunt in the hole, including:
- Caribbean reef sharks
- Hammerhead sharks
- Lemon sharks
- Black tip sharks
- Bull sharks
However, for the most part, diving the Great Blue Hole is eerily, beautifully quiet and still. The main attraction of the site is the magnificent underwater cavern, which is filled with sharp, tooth-shaped stalactites that are millions of years old. The geologic formations are eye-catching, especially in the half-light so far beneath the surface of the water. Divers typically spend much of the dive exploring the cave, as it is certainly the most fascinating and unique aspect of the Great Blue Hole.
Alternatives to Diving
If, after you see the Great Blue Hole in person, you aren’t certain that you are up for the challenge of diving in this terrifying albeit spectacular submarine sinkhole, Belize still offers plenty of worthy adventures on land and water to keep you occupied.
Visitors uninterested in diving can still take boat trips to the hole. Swimming and snorkeling around the perimeter of the hole is common; some of the brightest color is found in the first six feet of the dive, which is well within reach of strong swimmers. The surrounding atoll is also rich in marine flora and fauna, as it is a small section of a large barrier reef, which makes broader snorkelling adventures around the island of Ambergris Caye a must.