The variety of dive sites and sheltered conditions within the Lighthouse Atoll and the Half Moon Caye National Monument make this fabulous place much more than just the home of the Great Blue Hole.
There are four atolls outside the Indo-Pacific area, and three of those are found in Belize, the Lighthouse Reef Atoll (LHR) is considered the most mature of these three. It is 72 km (45 miles) from the Belize mainland and has some of the most pristine coral reefs found in the Caribbean.
She is 28 miles (45 km) long and varies in width from 2 to 6 miles (3 to 10km). Within this area are six coral cayes (islands) and two marine reserves.
The Lighthouse Reef Atoll is a protected marine reserve and together with seven other marine reserves, they make the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, (which is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System) and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Two out of the seven marine reserves in Belize can be found within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll which are The Great Blue Hole and Half Moon Caye.
The other marine reserves in Belize are:
- Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve
- South Water Caye Marine Reserve
- Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve
- Laughing Bird Caye National Park
- Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve.
While there are hundreds of blue holes around the world in places like the Bahamas, Guam, Palau, the Red Sea and Australia, when someone says they want to dive the Blue Hole, it is the Great Blue Hole of Belize that people think of.
While it is not the deepest, the Great Blue Hole of Belize is the largest across and it fits the textbook definition of a blue hole perfectly. Good old Jacques Cousteau even called it one of the best dive sites in the world.
While not taking anything away from the great dives of the Blue Hole, the fact is that most divers come out to dive the site and by past other dive sites that are well worth the visit.
Famous Dive Sites Found in within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll
There are over sixty dive sites within the area of the LHR including a few shipwrecks. Of these sixty, there are fifteen considered “World Renowned” here are what may be considered the top three.
The Blue Hole:
Aerial photographs showing the dark blue circular hole surrounded by light blue water over the shallow reef and the circular fringing reef around it make this the most recognized dive site in the world.
The Blue Hole measures approximately 310 meters across (1,000 feet). The first 15 meters has a sandy slope before it drops mostly vertical to a depth of over 120 meters. The Blue Hole is a dream dive for deep technical divers. However, recreational divers can experience the dive too.
When you plan on diving here, and you should, it is best to prepare yourself and be certified as an AOWD and it helps to become certified as a Deep diver and Nitrox diver as well.
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Long Caye Wall:
Long Caye sits at the western side of the Atoll near the southern tip. The Caye is about 3.6 km or 2 1/4 miles in length and 1.2 km or 3/4 mile wide at its widest point. On the western side of the Atoll, towards the open sea, are ten of the Atolls best dive sites. Some of these are shallow sloping reefs while others are vertical walls.
Long Caye Ridge, also called Long Caye Wall, is named for a ridge of coral reefs sticking out from the main reef. A spur-and-groove formation on the reef leads out to a sheer wall. The wall starts at only 40 feet/ 12 meters making it a depth that Open Water Divers can dive.
The visibility averages at 80 feet/24 meters, and there is little or no current. Giant gorgonians and huge sponges are found at the lip of the wall and along its face. Both the coral and sponge coverage are healthy and create an incredible array of colors.
Half Moon Wall:
Half Moon wall is the southern face of Half Moon Caye home of the Half Moon Caye National Monument. It is considered one of the most diverse dives in the Caribbean. A small rim reef has a variety of marine life both large and small. The shore side of the rim slopes down to a sandy bottom. The wall portion of the sloping reef has some coral spurs and deeper grooves. Many of the grooves are 30 feet/9 meters deep.
Overhangs and massive corals and sponges will create a tunnel effect in many of them. The reef top reaches the wall at around 30 feet/9 meters deep with the grooves twice as deep. Divers will enjoy little or no current and visibility over 100 feet 30 meters.
Half Moon Caye National Monument
When you dive Half Moon Wall, you will probably have lunch and spend your surface interval on Half Moon Caye. This National Monument was first declared a protected area, a Crown Reserve, in 1928 making it the oldest wildlife reserve in Belize.
Half Moon Caye is famous for its resident colony of Red- footed Boobies. Bird watchers from all over the world visit this small island every year, not just for the Boobies but also for the other 120 different species of birds found here. Some are permanent residents while others are making a migratory stop.
An observation deck is available that allows you to climb to tree top level to look out for the birds nests high in the trees. There are also a few small trails that enable you to walk into the jungle.
The Other 2 Atolls of Belize
Turneffe Atoll at 30 miles (48 km) long and 10 miles (16 km) wide, is the largest and closest to the Belize mainland of the three Atolls. The Turneffe Atoll was declared a national marine reserve by the government of Belize on 22 November 2012.
It is a well-known scuba destination, and it also has one of the best saltwater fishing destinations in the world. The Turneffe Flats is a large section of the lagoon with mangroves and seagrass habitat with water shallow enough for fisherman to wade in.
Unlike the other two atolls, it also has over 400 islands and cays with 150 that have savanna and littoral forest. The Turneffe Atoll represents 15% of Belize’s coral reefs, and sadly much of it is rated poorly in health. However, the sections of healthy reefs provide over 70 dive sites with large gorgonians, vast coral gardens, huge barrel and tube sponges, and over 200 cataloged species of reef fish.
The outer perimeter of the Turneffe Atoll consists is build out of a relatively healthy fringing reef. The northern and eastern sides of the atoll have a beautiful reef crest, which extends to great reef flats.
This side of the lagoon is well known for impressive wall and drift dives. The Western side of the atoll is mostly below the surface varying from just below sea level to 18 meters or 60 feet deep.
The lagoon near the westward wall is home to turtles, spotted eagle rays, and large schools of groupers. Divers will find gentle currents and relaxed diving conditions suitable for all levels.
Glovers Reef Atoll
Glovers Reef is considered being the most biologically developed and the most intact with only three breaks in its reef line that lead to the sea. The atoll is situated approximately 45 km off the coast of Belize and is the southernmost of the three atolls.
Glovers Reef Atoll is oval-shaped, measuring 32km long and 12km wide and having an approximately 35,000 hectares lagoon. Closer to the Barrier reefs there are 500 species of fish, 134 bird species, and three varieties of nesting sea turtles.
Eight species of sharks and rays and more than twenty species of aggregating reef fish use the lagoon as a breeding grounds and nursery. It is also the largest of the last known Nassau grouper spawning aggregations.
When is the best time to go Diving in Belize?
Diving in Belize can be enjoyed year-round, thanks to its clear waters and excellent visibility. The average temperature is 26 degrees Celsius, or 79 degrees Fahrenheit, but you can expect different weather patterns depending on the elevation you are at.
Summer temperatures can get as high as 36 degrees Celsius, or 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter lows can hit 16 degrees Celsius, or 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Though Belize has high humidity, around 85%, tropical sea breezes will cool you down and keep you comfortable.
Between October and January, be advised that there may be lower temperatures, especially at night. The rainy season, also known as the green season, runs from June to November, but mainly consists of scattered showers.
February through May is considered the dry season. Regarding water temperatures, Belize averages at around 24-28 degrees Celsius, or 75-84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Article written by Rutger Thole who is an avid scuba diver and loves to travel, dive and write about scuba diving. Based in Amsterdam, he runs bookyourdive.com and at least twice a year he plans a dive trip of the beaten track.