Anna’s Favourite Warm Water Dive Destination #2 – Belize’s Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole – Lighthouse Reef Atoll – Belize – Caribbean Sea
Where is the Great Blue Hole and what’s so special about it? Imagine this…it’s 1971, you’re scoping out the shallow reefs and coral heads, singing “Just my Imagination” by the Temptations. You’re 60 miles from the Belize mainland, south of Mexico, North of Honduras, west of Cuba, but it’s not a pleasure dive, you’re helping navigate a channel guiding Captain Jacques Cousteau’s huge wood hulled exploration ship the “Calypso” through the remote, untouched and uninhabited Lighthouse Reef. The aim? The Great Blue Hole.
What is it? The Blue Hole is an immense, perfectly circular sinkhole 400m wide, 120m deep in the middle of the Atoll. 50 years ago, Cousteau and his dive team explored it for the first time. Once a colossal terrestrial cave (into which the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica would fit) boasting immense 6-8 metre stalactites and stalagmites, the sea level hundreds of metres below what it is today, it succumbed over millennia to rising sea levels. The roof collapsed, flooding the space below and leaving an incredible mark on the seascape.
Why should I dive it? 60 miles off the mainland, strikingly visible by air, the Blue Hole as a dive site is often maligned – “boring… it’s a hole… dangerous… waste of time”. Divers mention a 2+ hour, early, bumpy boat ride out to the atoll (you have to cross a reef four times getting there for a day trip) an unfeasibly deep (40m), stupidly short (20min) and annoyingly busy dive (shared with other boats) with no fish or reef. Other divers marvel: “breath taking… a thrill… unique…!” but all divers rave about the next two dives that are usually packaged on the same day – Half Moon Caye wall and the Aquarium. An insider secret for you… why not stay on the island next to the Blue Hole and get there before everyone else, in 12 minutes? Why not stay a week to dive the other UNESCO world heritage sites that everyone raves about before being whisked back to their hotel (60 miles away…)? Turtles, shark, grouper, unbelievable coral… The Blue Hole is an amazing experience and needs to be understood in context. No, it’s not a pretty wall dive. No, there won’t be schools of fish, teeming with nudis or the usual reef suspects but then, you don’t dive Scapa either and complain you didn’t see fish. You may get to see hammerheads, blacktip reef sharks, bumphead parrotfish and the fabled three flippered turtle “Lefty”. Don’t expect to arrive there and see the iconic aerial shot either (sounds logical) so rearrange your expectations!
When to go? Between November and April/June is “tourist season”; do your homework on the “shoulder” season though for fewer visitors and better prices (October, July).
What to take? You should ideally have your Deep Dive Specialty for the Great Blue Hole so you can enjoy the dive and really get the most out of it. I would also take a camera (my favourite is the Olympus TG series – incredible macro, great in relative low light) – but reserve it for the reef dives – without a serious light rig and more time, you’re best off focusing your attention wholly on enjoying the dive experience at the Blue Hole.
There is only one Dive operation with accommodation in the Atoll, at Long Caye, which happens to be surrounded by the best dive sites – arguably in Belize – including the two everyone raves about, as mentioned above. You can literally roll out of bed (or your hammock) into the dive boat, come back for late breakfast or lunch – up to four dives a day. Hassle free, it’s a “liveashore”… like a liveaboard but on an island, fabulous food and you’ll share with an absolute maximum of 6 or 7 others. Huracan Diving Lodge.
The 7 Belizean UNESCO world Heritage sites in the Meso-American Barrier Reef which stretches from Mexico down to Honduras are all diveable. Just remember that the closer to the mainland, the less spectacular they’re likely to be precisely because they’re so easily accessible. The ones above, Glover’s Reef and South Water Caye are my favourites. Remote, beautiful, laid-back, each with a different vibe.
Belize has an astounding array of cultures you’ve never have heard of… Kriol, Mestizo, Garinagu – amazing food and traditions, and not a single Pizza Hut or McDonalds.
The forested interior is really wild and home to jaguar and many other incredible species. Almost everyone speaks English and you could be hiking in a jungle in the morning and scuba diving in the afternoon – the country’s about the size of Wales with a population of fewer than 400,000. What’s not to like??
Splurge. Do put aside a couple of hundred dollars and take a “puddle jumper” plane ride over the Blue Hole. Alternatively, take a helicopter over the Blue Hole then land on the beach if you’re staying out at Huracan Dive Lodge. That’s what credit cards are for. You will not regret it.
Fun fact: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin once owned land on Long Caye, which had been earmarked as a sort of Retired diver community. Nearest light pollution 60 miles away.