The barrier reef off Ambergris Caye is part of the world’s longest reef. Divers can visit two marine reserves, which protect sea turtles and a healthy reef system.

Diving in Belize is renowned for its massive and healthy coral reefs, the variety of pelagic and reef fish, and the clear, comfortable water (wet-suits are usually optional). The Belize Barrier Reef runs just a few hundred yards off of Ambergris Caye. A wide range of dive opportunities are found in a relatively small area close to shore, maximizing variety and minimizing boat and travel time.

Diving and Snorkeling at Hol Chan National Marine Reserve off Ambergris Caye

The Hol Chan National Marine Reserve is located just four miles south of San Pedro, on the southern end of Ambergris Caye. “Hol Chan” is Mayan for “little channel,” and refers to the narrow, shallow pass, or “quebrada,” through the reef. Originally established to protect the area around the pass, the reserve now interlinks coral reef, seagrass and mangrove habitats.

The main dive site is on the protected side of the reef, just inside the pass. Fish are pushed through the pass by the currents, then thrive in nutrient-rich waters where they are protected from fishermen. The result is the kind of diving seen in nature documentaries, with teeming schools of more than 160 species of fish, as well as almost 40 species of coral. Because it’s both shallow (between 20 and 30 feet) and clear, Hol Chan is also a good snorkeling site. A visit to Shark-Ray Alley, just a minute or two away, offers the chance to get up close and personal with gentle nurse sharks and swooping rays.

Belize’s Bacalar Chico National Marine Reserve

Founded in 1996, Bacalar Chico National Marine Reserve covers the northern part of Ambergris Caye, all the way north to the Mexican border. It contains important nesting sites for endangered green and loggerhead sea turtles, and features Rocky Point, the only place on the Meso-American Reef where the reef actually touches the shoreline.

Tranquility Bay Resort is the only resort located inside the marine reserve’s boundaries.The resort’s small dive operation (most gear rental available) arranges custom trips for guests. Guests at other resorts can also book a dive if there is room..

Open-Water Scuba Diving Over Belize’s Meso-American Reef

The Belize Barrier Reef is just that: a barrier that protects the shoreline from the typically white-capped seas. It is broken at several points by passes through the coral, which allow dive boats access to the rougher water and the deeper canyons and walls of the open side of the reef.

Diving through the coral canyons is like following a maze underwater. The coral system is healthy and colorful, and in addition to reef fish, reef sharks, nurse sharks, and sea turtles are plentiful. The surface water here is typically a bit rough: Whitecaps are common, and swells can exceed 10 feet. Boat rides to dive sites, while short, can be a bit of an adventure. Divers prone to seasickness should bring Dramamine. And everyone should bring a camera.