Part Two of the Scuba Diving Belize Ambergris Trip Report by Cedric Beust
Ambergris Caye features Belize’s Barrier Reef on its East Coast that is the second largest in the world (160 miles), right behind the Australian Great Barrier Reef. The reef can be seen from the shore thanks to the white crest of waves hitting it constantly (and the distinct change in color the sea takes beyond it). The boat ride to local dive sites is typically anywhere between ten and twenty-five minutes and operators will pick you up on the pier in front of your hotel, with all the gear that you rented and your tanks set up and ready to go.
You will pretty much be doing drift dives exclusively, although the current is softer than Cozumel. The dive profiles are fairly similar: the maximum depth is usually in the 90-100 feet range and features amazing corrals and swim throughs.
The aquatic population is what you would expect in the Caribbean: nurse sharks, moray eels, turtles, various rays (which you can sometimes see directly from the pier, swimming lazily in two feet of water), etc.
The local dives I liked most are Cypress Gardens and Victoria Tunnel. Some of the others that we dove are: Tres Cocos, Esmeralda, Tuffy Canyon, Cypress Tunnel, etc. Picture:- Scuba diving in Belize.
The Great Belize Blue Hole
There are two atolls southeast of Ambergris Caye: Turneffe Island and Lighthouse Reef , where the Belize Blue Hole is located. It is an ancient collapsed cave situated sixty miles southeast of San Pedro and it was explored and made popular by famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau in the seventies.
The boat will pick you up at around 5:30am and it takes a couple of hours to get there, via Caye Caulker, another small and interesting island south of Ambergris Caye.
The Belize Blue Hole is about 1000 feet wide and 420 feet deep. The dive will take you to the maximum allowed depth for recreational diving: 130 feet. It is an advanced dive and not to be undertaken lightly.
The profile is as follows: you drop at thirty feet on a sandy bottom, which then slopes down at 45 degrees to the edge of the volcano. Then you drop along the wall and swim under until you reach 130 feet. The maximum bottom time for this dive is eight minutes, and the total dive time is about twenty-five minutes, including a five-minute safety stop (you will have two more dives to do on this excursion, hence the conservative figures). Picture: The Great Belize Blue Hole.
The biggest problem on this dive is equalizing. Not only are you diving deep, but you are getting there fast, so if you tend to have equalizing problem, make sure you notify your divemaster early and he will take special care of you. However, if he fails to take you to the bottom with the rest of the group in time, you will be asked to surface and wait there. There is no unaccompanied diving in the Blue Hole.
If you make it down, you will be treated to the sight of impressive stalactites and stalagmites, which have accreted there for thousands of years before the crater collapsed. It’s the closest you can come to cave-diving without being cave-certified. Sea life is not absent, and you will see entire schools of Caribbean Reef sharks and also Bull sharks, which are quite different from the Nurse sharks we have seen so far.
Another note of caution: be aware of nitrogen narcosis. As in all dives below 100 feet, there is a distinct possibility of you suffering from this, and as a matter of fact, it happened to me during that dive. I was at 130 feet and I started feeling a bit “loopy”. I immediately ascended a few feet while trying hard to do so at a safe pace, but I can’t say I was very successful at that. The narcosis eventually subsided at 120 feet, which I made my new depth for the rest of the dive. Remember: nitrogen narcosis is not dangerous in itself, but it impairs your judgment and you might make a bad decision under its effect, the worst one being ascending too fast.
If you are not very experienced, I strongly recommend diving the Belize Blue Hole in the strictest buddy terms: hold hands with your buddy and don’t let go. Make sure they are aware of the symptoms of nitrogen narcosis and that they won’t let you ascend too fast if you become intoxicated. If you respect these simple guidelines, you will enjoy your experience greatly and there is no doubt that these eight minutes inside the volcano will stay etched in your memory for a very long time.
After this dive, the boat will take you to two more locations in Half-Moon Caye for two beautiful wall dives towering above a 3000-foot deep abyss. Lunch will take place in an isolated island where a bird observatory has been set up, but where I actually enjoyed more looking at giant hermit crabs and iguanas.
You will be back in Ambergris Caye at around 5pm, ready to relax before celebrating your extreme diving with a few Margaritas.
The Blue Hole excursion is not cheap but I definitely recommend it, not just for the first dive, but for the overall feeling of breaking away from Ambergris Caye, going on the open ocean for a few hours, diving walls (the second location was the best dive of the entire stay for me) and exploring islands lost in the middle of the ocean.
Belize Night Dive
Night diving takes places in Hol Chan Cut, which is one of the openings in the reef, south of San Pedro. It’s a shallow dive (no more than forty feet) and a great opportunity to see some unusual sea life. Even if you’ve never dived at night, be assured that it’s a fairly easy experience, and even though you won’t help feeling nervous in the first few minutes, all worries will soon dissipate once you have submerged and you resume your familiar patterns underwater.
You will find a lot of Eagle rays sleeping on the bottom, giving you a great opportunity to lie down on the sand and get a very close look at these amazing animals. I was also lucky to be treated to a Spotted Eel, which suddenly unfurled its colorful outstretched body right in front of me. It disappeared so fast that I blamed myself for not reacting quick enough, but luckily for me, it trapped itself in a corner of the reef, forcing itself to make its way back to me.
I was able to take a couple of pictures as it quickly snapped by, still giving me a pretty good view of its impressive row of teeth. Later, I also spotted a puffer fish (quite a funny fish to observe) and a small octopus, nested deep in a crack of the reef.
Belize Shark Ray Alley
Fishermen used to dump their unused catches at this location, which quickly became a popular feeding ground for all kinds of sea life and in particular, Eagle rays and Nurse sharks. It is a snorkeling location mostly made of a sandy bottom, ideal to spend some surface time in-between dives. The rays and sharks are very friendly and you can safely touch them as long as you limit your contact to soft brushes (no wrestling or grabbing).
Belize Hol Chan
Hol Chan is another snorkeling spot, not far from Ray Shark Alley, but its profile is a bit different: it’s a canyon that goes down to thirty feet featuring corals and reef similar to those you see scuba diving. The shallow depth will only allow you to see a fraction of what you see at sixty feet and deeper, but it’s a good way to give snorkelers a glimpse of what awaits them in the depths.
Above: First picture Courtesy Andres Madrigal
Third picture courtesy Joan Warwick.