Snorkelers and divers visit Belize to explore its spectacular reef. The 185-mile-long barrier reef ranks as the longest chain of coral in the Americas and the second longest in the world (Australia’s reef is the longest). The colorful underwater gardens—70 types of hard coral alone—as well as the caves and walls harbor more than 400 species of fish.
Top Bases for Exploring Belize’s Reefs
Northern Belize: Ambergris Caye
To explore the northern cayes, base yourself at Ambergris Caye.
The must-do from here: snorkel or dive Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Located about four miles from the caye’s southern town of San Pedro, Hol Chan is reachable within a 30-minute boat ride. We float above schools of rainbow colored fish, spot a turtle, moray eels, giant barrel sponges and a barracuda. Most guided outings to Hol Chan also feature a stop at Shark Ray Alley, a sandbar in six to eight feet of water frequented by nurse sharks and stingrays.
Mexico Rocks, part of the Bacalar Reef Marine Reserve, off the north and northeast of Ambergris Caye, also has excellent visibility. View colorful coral and near the underwater cave, look for lobsters, spider crabs and sand sharks. From Ambergris Caye, divers can arrange boat trips to the more distant but celebrated dive sites of Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef Atoll, and Turneffe Islands Atoll. At Turneffe typical sightings include hawksbill turtles, eagle rays and even hammerhead sharks.
Southern Belize: Placencia
In Placencia, in the Stann Creek District, sand lovers will find enough shore for sunning but the beaches here, while among Belize’s best, don’t compare to those on top Caribbean islands. From Placencia’s village you can get access to southern Belize’s lagoon and sea adventures.
A good base is Robert’s Grove, a 22-acre, beachfront, full-service resort with comfortable rooms, pools, a dive center, spa and marina. Robert’s Grove offers various packages that include excursions. You can also contact outfitters in the village.
From Robert’s Grove, we cross the lagoon to reach certain snorkel sites. We see white egrets and pair of dolphins frolicking in the water. Where the lagoon meets the sea, our boat gets so close to manatees that we can hear the whoosh of their exhales as they push their bulbous noses above the surface. Snorkeling at Laughingbird Caye National Park, a small isle 11 miles off the coast of Placencia, we spot schools of blue tang, parrotfish and groupers, and then relax on the island’s sugar white sand beach.
At Robert’s Caye, a one-acre island, 10 miles (30 minutes by boat) from Placencia, we snorkel above purple fan, tube, fire and other colorful coral and view angelfish, trumpet fish and other tropical beauties as well as discover starfish nearly as big as footballs. A private island, Robert’s Caye features a small bar and restaurant as well as four rustic, but comfortable cabins each with an en suite bathroom. Stay for one night or more; groups are welcome to rent the entire island.