Scuba Diving in Belize – What to Expect


Last week, I shared part 1 of the adventures Matt and had while in Belize, featuring what we got into while on property at our island resort and some of the yummy food we ate. Check that blog post out first in case you missed it!

And today, I’m excited to share part 2 of our Belize adventures, with the focus on scuba diving!

(I know, my hair looks good right? Gotta love that windy boat life!)

Scuba Diving in Belize

As I mentioned in my first recap post, Matt and I chose our trip location of Belize (and the resort where we stayed) for one specific purpose: the scuba diving!

I reignited my passion for scuba diving last summer on a girl’s trip in Turks and Caicos, but the last time Matt and I dove together was in 2017, on Maui in Hawaii. We were so excited to get back out there together!

anne and matt mauney scuba diving

The island resort where we stayed, called Turneffe Island Resort, is located at the southern elbow of the Turneffe Atoll, which is one of three Caribbean atolls of the Belize Barrier Reef.

The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest coral reef system in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and is home to a large diversity of plants and animals. As human population in the Belize Barrier Reef area is much more sparse than the corresponding areas near other coral reefs, pollution is lower, and the warm, relatively clear water makes for great diving.

Matt and I spent a whole week in Belize, but we decided on the 3 (instead of the 6) day dive package as we wanted to build in some time for relaxing as well. This ended up working out really well, especially as we were able to add on an additional night dive later on in our trip!

Our dive days were Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday; we arrived on Saturday evening, had dinner, and got right to bed so we were ready for our first big day of diving! No sleeping in on our dive days – we were up early for breakfast, then ready to leave for our dive by 8am most days.

sunrise on turneffe island resort

Scuba Diving Near Turneffe Island Resort

The location of our resort meant that we were able to do spectacular reef dives within a 5 to 10 minute boat road of the resort, which was amazing. The first morning, Matt and I showed up for the dive (at the docks right next to where our little cottage was) with a bag of stuff in tow and were quickly told we wouldn’t need anything since we’d be going a few minutes out in a small speedboat, immediately getting in the water, and then coming right back before doing it again later in the day!

One fun thing is that the boat captain always had chilled sliced oranges (which actually have green rinds in Belize – fascinating!) for us when we got out of the water – it was incredibly delicious and such a treat to get the salt water taste out of our mouths!

green orange in belize

That first morning we all got fitted for gear (except for those who brought their own – we didn’t), then sorted into dive groups (of about 6 to 8 people) which we stayed in for the rest of the trip. We liked this – it was nice having the same divemaster (shout out to our divemaster Hilario, who was great!) and group the whole time.

I opted for a wetsuit, although some in our group didn’t use them – the water temperature was warm enough that you’d be okay without one but I felt more comfortable with, especially as a buffer between me and all the other gear.

On Sunday and Monday of our trip we did 4 dives total – 2 each day – all of which were beautiful reefs. I was a little nervous on our first dive but quickly settled in once I got the hang of everything again.

Matt and I didn’t dive with cameras, but lucky for us some of the others in our group did and shared their photos! Thank you to Lance, one of the guys diving with us, as well as our divemaster Hilario, for letting me use some of their photos in this post! Any underwater pictures are credited to them.

In addition to the beautiful, colorful reef itself, highlights from our dives included stunning schools of neon blue fish (called Blue Tang, I think):

diving in belize

Turtles (we saw one swimming around when we were in our boat, and another later when we were actually diving):

belize turtle seen while scuba diving.

Beautiful sting rays swimming along the bottom, barracudas, huge moray eels hiding in the reef (no pictures of those sadly), and also TONS of sharks!

reef shark seen while scuba diving in belize.

We saw mostly reef sharks, but there were also a couple nurse sharks sleeping on the sandy bottom as well. Reef sharks (unlike nurse sharks) are awake during the day and ended up hanging out with us on most of our dives!

Reef sharks are not aggressive but are quite curious. The ones we saw were probably about 6 to 8 feet – big, but not totally enormous.

reef shark in belize.

On our very first dive, I was exploring the reef and turned around and saw multiple sharks coming right towards me and I got a bit nervous and starting trying to swim backwards with my arms, but when I turned and looked at our divemaster he made a “calm” symbol with his hands, and then wrote “Is my pet” on his whiteboard. 🙂

The reef sharks would swim within a foot or so of us and tended to follow us around, making big loops around us. So, I got used to them quickly!

reef shark in belize

One of the reasons the sharks hung out with us a lot is because a couple people in our group (one of the other diver hotel guests, plus our divemaster) were hunting lionfish!

This is what a lionfish looks like; they are spotted and striped with lots of crazy billowy fins and venomous spikes that stick out in all directions and look like feathers.

a lionfish on the belize reef

Lionfish, which are native to the Pacific, are an invasive species in the Atlantic with no natural predators. They reproduce quickly and abundantly and eat local juvenile fish, throwing off the natural balance within the reef system.

As a result, divers who carry spears (and know how to use them, obviously) are encouraged to kill the lionfish upon sight. Our divemaster and one of the other divers carried spears (powered by a piece of elastic that gets stretched to turn the spear into a slingshot) on all our dives, and anytime we pointed out a lionfish to them they would kill it, then stuff it in the reef and wait for the sharks to notice.

As soon as the lionfish was dead, the reef sharks would come over and chow down on it, which was incredible to watch and made our dives quite action packed!

reef shark in belize

One of our dives had us in an area not frequented by sharks, so we saved the dead lionfish (by stuffing them into a bag our divemaster carried) and brought them back to the resort, where we enjoyed lionfish ceviche as our appetizer before dinner – so good! It does not get fresher than that. 🙂

lionfish ceviche at turneffe island resort

We also got to try fried lionfish, which was really buttery and flaky and not fishy tasting at all. Delicious!

Diving the Blue Hole in Belize

For divers and snorkelers staying at our resort, Tuesdays are big days – Blue Hole days! In addition to the Blue Hole dive, we also did two other dives for a total of 3 dives that day. We were so tired by evening, as you can imagine!

Everyone going to the Blue Hole gets up early and gets onto one of the larger hotel boats (vs. the small speedboats we took to the super close local dives) for a 1.5 hour ride to the Blue Hole.

scuba diving gear ready on a boat in belize

The Blue Hole is a giant marine sinkhole near the center of Lighthouse Reef. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major bucket list dive. It’s a really unique dive in that it’s very deep – you go down to 130 feet – and in that you can swim through the huge stalactites that formed before the area became submerged.

The Blue Hole was originally a glacial cave (over 100,000 years ago), ultimately collapsing under the weight of the rising ocean to form a marine sinkhole almost 1,000 feet across and more than 400 feet deep. It’s beautiful to see when you pull up in a boat – the center of the sinkhole appears a much deeper blue than the shallow waters around it. Apparently you can even see it from space!

I was a bit nervous for such a deep dive, but our divemaster Hilario calmed my nerves by reminding me to just stay close to him. He also shared that he has done over 500 dives at the Blue Hole, and was involved in the behind the scenes of the filming of a Discovery Channel documentary about the Blue Hole, so he knows what he’s doing!

After a briefing from the dive masters about what to expect, we all got geared up and jumped in! We started by descending 40 feet to a sandy shelf that surrounds the Blue Hole. Once everyone was okay and ears were equalized, we headed down into the drop off, descending freely into the endless deep blue (cool/crazy!).

Once we started making our way down (swimming at an angle, rather than directly down, as it is easier on the ears), I was more excited than nervous. Interestingly once we made it past about 50 feet and my ears cleared I didn’t notice any difference in pressure from that point on.

Once we made it about 120 feet down the sheer wall, we found the massive stalactites, and began the coolest, most unique part of this dive, which is swimming through them.

stalactites at the blue hole in belize

Words can’t describe how cool and unique this dive was. It was really otherworldly down there, and very eerie. Even though it was so deep and the cave part itself was dark, it was still easy to see because of the light coming from above, and the water being so clear. It was so beautiful.

diving in the blue hole

It was crazy looking at our dive watches – which show us how many minutes we can safely stay at our current depth – and seeing only 4 or 5 minutes! Yikes.

Here are some pictures of me and Matt exploring the caves from our divemaster Hilario:

swimming through stalactites in the blue hole

When we came out of the caves, I looked down and, amidst the absolute endless-ness that was the deep hole, I could spy the faint outline of a shark, swimming super deep below us. (Creepy/cool!)

After our 5 minute tour of the deep, we began to slowly make our way back up, and found ourselves back on the sandy shelf we began on. At this point we were treated to a stunning show of tiny shimmering air bubbles bursting out of small holes in the sandy floor. Even cooler is that they were actually our own air bubbles that we exhaled in the caves, making their way up from the depths of the cavern by seeping through the cracks in the cavern roof on their way to the surface.

We made it back up to the surface after 29 minutes of bottom time – about half what most of our dives in Belize were, since we went so deep. Definitely one of the coolest dives I’ve ever done. So glad I didn’t chicken out. 🙂

Amped up on adrenaline, we all got back on the boat and took a ride to Half Moon Caye (about 8 miles away) to drop off some of the staff (who would get lunch set up for us) and to use the bathrooms. Then, it was back out for another dive a few minutes away which featured some absolutely gorgeous reef, as well as some of the biggest fish (lots of friendly grouper) of any of the dives. We also saw a sting ray, some sharks, a sea turtle, and an octopus hiding out in his reef home!

diving with sharks in half moon caye in belize

From there, we headed back to Half Moon Caye for lunch.

turneffe island resort boat docked at half moon bay

Half Moon Caye is a nature preserve that is home to a ton of hermit crabs, iguanas, red-footed boobies and soaring frigate birds.

We were all hungry and ready for lunch before exploring, though! We had a delicious spread of fried chicken, salad, and pasta salad with fruit. So good.

a plate of food at half moon caye

Hi hermit crab – they were everywhere!

a hermit crab in the sand on half moon caye in belize

After lunch, we had a bit of time to walk around and explore the island before getting back on the boat, so Matt and I took a little hike.

walking around half moon caye in belize

One of the best views on the island is found by walking up some stairs to a viewing area amidst the trees that puts you eye-to-eye with the island’s birds as they nest.

nesting birds at half moon caye

By the time Matt and I made it back to the boat, it had started absolutely pouring. Oh well, we were off to do one more dive so the rain didn’t bother us as we’d be wet again soon anyway! Just glad it held off during lunch and most of our walk.

Our last dive of the day was at Long Caye Wall, and it was probably the most amazing dive I’ve ever done. It was a wall dive, where the reef was on basically a cliff and behind you and below you was the deep abyss. It was crazy cool and the colors and fish were amazing.

We also once again had a whole bunch of sharks hanging out with us and eating the lionfish that our group killed! It was so amazing to watch the sharks eat the lionfish from only 10 feet away. Totally surreal.

reef shark with scuba divers in belize
reef shark in belize

Back on the boat, we had about a 45 minute ride to get back to Turneffe Island Resort, and we enjoyed some celebratory beers with our dive group after a really fun adventurous day.

That was our last official day of diving, but Matt and I did end up adding on one additional dive – a night dive – later on in the trip, on Thursday. This was perfect timing as we had been able to rest up and relax by this point so we felt excited to get back out there, and we weren’t tired from already diving all day (there was a night dive offered on Monday night as well, but there was no way I wanted to do that after already diving multiple times that day, and knowing we’d be up early for the Blue Hole day on Tuesday).

Matt had never done a night dive before, so he was excited to try something new. I did a night dive once before, in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia while studying abroad in college, but it was forever ago so I didn’t remember too much about it besides it being quiet and eerie!

I didn’t get any pictures from the night dive, but it was really beautiful and just as eerie as I remembered. Everything was very still and quiet and we each had flashlights we used to explore the reef, which was cool as the light really made some of the colors pop.

One of the most amazing things from the night dive, though, was that when we came out of the water around 9:30pm and got back in the speed boat, it had gotten incredibly calm and clear out and the stars were AMAZING. The moon was also stunning – it was setting on the horizon and appeared as a huge neon orange fingernail. It was one of those “my brain can’t even compute how amazing this is right now” type moments were you just pinch yourself like, is this real life? How lucky am I to be out in the middle of the ocean at night experiencing this absolute beautiful world of ours?

It was such an amazing trip and Matt and I were really sad to say goodbye to Belize and to Turneffe Island Resort. I hope we can come back again someday!

"come as strangers leave as friends" sign

Fellow scuba diving fans – what’s the most amazing place you’ve gone scuba diving? Would love some recs for future trips!

Source link: by Anne Mauney, MPH, RD at