The Blue Hole of Belize is without a doubt its most famous marine attraction, and perhaps one of the most famous dive sites in the world. Located roughly 100km off the coast of Belize, divers from all around the world (myself included) come here to check this great dive site off the bucket list. I spent a week in Caye Caulker diving the surrounding areas, drinking, and having a great old time.
There are other “Blue Holes” in the world like the famous Blue Hole of Dahab, Egypt. Belize gets the most Instagram and Pinterest love however, as it is surrounded by a ring of colorful corals and lies in one of the most beautiful atolls in the Caribbean giving it that beautiful tropical water. I would say of all the diving I’ve done in the world, Belize and Little Cayman are the best diving in the Caribbean. Still pales in comparison to the diving in Asia but gotta take what you can get sometimes.
This post will go into detail about the diving itself, how to book it, and ultimately if it’s worth it or not.
Blue Hole of Belize Description
The Blue Hole is almost 1000 feet in diameter and over 450 feet deep. Its walls are almost perfectly vertical and fairly smooth, except at a few points where there are large ledges and overhangs. It is here that we find enormous stalactites (hanging down), stalagmites (building up) and columns (when stalactites and stalagmites meet) dating from the Pleistocene period. Due to the earthquake mentioned above, some stalactites hang at a 12-degree angle, cluing scientists such an event happened since stalactites cannot form except in a perfectly perpendicular manner. Some formations that happened after the earthquake are indeed perpendicular, and in some of the stalactites that formed before the earthquake one can see the top parts being at an angle and their bottom parts, which kept forming afterwards, being perpendicular.
When and where to go for visiting the Blue hole of Belize?
The Blue Hole of Belize is located approximately 100km east of the mainland. To dive or snorkel the Blue Hole, the launching points are the two main islands of the country, Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. I spent my time in Caye Caulker for this trip and absolutely loved it. It’s one of the most laid back, and relaxed places I’ve been to. You can also choose to engage in the nightly drinking if you so choose (I did naturally).
From Caye Caulker
From Caye Caulker, it is roughly 2.5 hours by boat to visit the Blue Hole. There are only two tour operators that make this trip on the entire island: Belize Diving Services, and Frenchies Dive Shop. Both places are of course for the diving orientated but they will allow snorkelers to also join the trip. Make sure to book this tour in advance if possible as it can fill up quickly. There are other smaller dive shops on the island and they may “offer” blue hole trips but they just actually outsource to either Frenchies or BDS.
If you are in Caye Caulker, I would recommend BDS over Frenchies purely because of their boat. BDS uses 50′ Newton boats which are much more comfortable than the speedboats Frenchies employs. If you’re going to spend 5 hours on a boat, you want it to me comfortable.
From Ambergris Caye
San Pedro has many more dive operators to choose from. It is slightly longer of a journey but the prices are roughly the same at around $300 USD for the day. Belize Pro Dive Center, Ecologic Divers, Ambergris Divers, Belize Diving Adventures, and numerous other shops make this trip.
Belize follows the Caribbean hurricane season so the best times to visit are December to June.
Price of the blue hole tour
As of 2018, the price for the Blue Hole day trip is around $300 USD without equipment rental. The two dive shops in Caye Caulker, Belize Diving Services and Frenchies both charge the same amount. The shops on San Pedro are also very similarly priced.
The day trip includes three dives: The Great Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye, and Long Caye Aquarium. You cannot pay for just the one dive in the Blue Hole (and you don’t want to either)
The price is split accordingly: $230 for the dive, tax which is another $30, and the marine park entrance fee which is $40. Without equipment, this equals to $100 per dive! This price also includes breakfast, lunch, and basic refreshments on board.
Diving the Blue Hole – First Dive
Now, onto the good stuff. The trip to the Blue Hole starts early in the morning. I was at Belize Diving Services shop by 5:30am. There were roughly 12 other divers on the trip. They served us a decent breakfast of eggs, bread, fruit, yogurt and the works. The island is as beautiful as it is enchanting during the morning hours. The sun is just barely rising but the residents and visitors are all sleeping from the night before.
They told us the ride would be choppy and that is why a 50′ Newton boat makes a huge difference. As we ventured out into the open ocean, the currents really picked up and the boat was up and down for 1 hour. I couldn’t imagine doing this in a smaller boat. My favorite part of the Newton boats is the bow in the front. Perfect place to lay down, nap, relax, and talk to other divers.
We reach the blue hole, our first dive site of the day around 8:30am. The water had changed from deep blue to a more tropical hue as we approached the outer rings of the blue hole. I figured I wouldn’t be able to see the “hole” itself, but I was very pleasantly surprised with being able to see the outline of the blue hole. I had napped, met some of my fellow divers, and was ready to go. They split the group by experience (thank goodness) with the open water divers going to 18m, and more experienced divers going much deeper.
The Blue Hole Dive
As any deep dive goes, we descend initially all the way down to our max depth. As the Blue Hole just descends into the depths for thousands of meters, you are surrounded by the open blue water. I’m a big fan of these dives as it gives you that feeling of weightlessness but I know some people are terrified of not being able to see the bottom or any coral walls. During the descent, there were sharks swimming around us. Lots of them. For this alone, I was already satisfied with the dive. As we descended deeper, the light from above slowly vanished, and the limestone caves slowly began to materialize. These giant limestone stalactites are like Jurassic age chandeliers, huge rock icicles in the abyss.
We descended to almost 45m, which is above the limit of recreational diving. The problem with this is our no deco time was only 5 minutes which meant we had very little time. Nitrogen Narcosis, the feeling of being drunk underwater, is common at these depths, but I was unaffected sadly (I want to feel this!).
We swam through the cavernous environment as we slowly ascended, amazed by the cavernous rocks the entire time. I took numerous pictures but it really doesn’t do it justice. You need to be down there in the flesh to get the most out of it.
As I am a divemaster, these depths are no problem for me but most of the other divers in the group were terrible, burning through air and being all over the place with their buoyancy.
Second Dive – Half Moon Caye
After a lengthy surface interval where we drove through a beautiful atoll, it was time for the second dive of the day. The Half Moon Caye is standard and part of every Blue Hole Day trip. It is not as advertised as much as the blue hole itself which is strange as it is a much superior dive to the first dive in the Blue hole itself.
Most dive boats take about 25 minutes to get to this site, the short trip is part of your surface interval after the Blue Hole dive. What makes this site the best in Belize? It is the sheer consistency of diverse wildlife encounters, beautiful corals and gentle conditions; I haven’t seen all that there is to see in the Caribbean but I’ve been told by many who have that this is pretty much as good as it gets. At the surface it’s the sort of scene you’d only expect to find in a photoshopped magazine ad. The pristine crescent shaped tropical island of Half Moon Caye lies in the distance. Turquoise waters and amazing visibility awaits.
Below the surface, there is a gentle sandy slope that starts on the beach of the island in the distance and gradually leads up to a drop off at around 45 Ft/ 13 M. The drop off is bordered by a crust of reef that forms an awe inspiring wall scattered with hidden tunnels; yellow and neon blue sponges, black and lilac sea fans and giant barrel sponges with abstract shaped openings. It goes down to depths of 100 Ft/30 M or more. You start off by dropping over about 30Ft/10M of water and descending on to bright white sand with patches of sea grass and, often, garden eels wave about in the current looking remarkably similar to the patches they imitate.
You then follow your dive leader toward the wall; were mounds of coral are covered by swarms of juvenile fish in shades of purple, yellow, blue, red and green. Schools of Creole wrasse zoom over bumps and dodge fans while staying in wave like formation, you may notice that they carry themselves about much like a group of commuters in a bustling city. Groupers hover over brain corals or in giant sponges; a sort of expression on their would-be faces that lies between gloomy and grumpy.
If your observant and move slowly, you will occasionally see one or 2 with their gills or mouths being cleaned by tiny fish and shrimp. (Cleaning Stations) At this point, the dive leader should have already asked you to level off at a predetermined maximum depth, usually 60Ft/18M. Though, take note, the high visibility makes it difficult to determine depth. Sunlight, on most days, easily reaches down to 100 Ft/30 M so divers must be vigilant and frequently check their depth.
Lunch Break and Birding
After the second dive, we break for lunch at the nearby island of Half Moon Caye. This is also where the third dive will be. We docked with other boats from San Pedro on the island but it was still quite empty. The crew prepared lunch for us here which consisted of rice, chicken in a Caribbean curry, plantains, and of course the most important Marie Sharpe hot sauce.
Overall, I thought lunch was quite good and it was a great time to hang out with the other divers.
After lunch, we had an optional excursion to walk 15 minutes through the island to the nearby bird sanctuary. The island is home to a huge colony of red-footed boobies. There is a viewing tower where you can see the colony with their countless nests. There are a hundred other species of birds that migrate here throughout the year, as well as resident iguanas.
Third Dive – Long Caye Aquarium
After lunch, we boat towards the third dive site nearby, Long Caye Aquarium. The Long Caye Aquarium is sometimes lost in all the hype that surrounds the Blue Hole, but I’ve been on many excursions where it was the highlight of the trip, the last stop, that has occasionally picked up the slack when the previous two were disappointing.
An excursion to the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, aka the Blue Hole trip, almost always includes a final stop at the Aquarium. Though you probably won’t see as many big marine life as seen at Half Moon Caye, what makes this dive site live up to its reputation is that it’s often teeming with schools of bermuda chubs, sergeant majors, creole wrasse, and the occasional trumpet fish. On a good day, from the moment you jump into the water, you’re surrounded by a swarm of yellow and black stripes, with blurs of blue and green darting around and popping out of coral crevices.
Overall, I found the last two dives the best dives of the day. These are by far the highlights with in my opinion, the second dive at half moon caye the better of two. Just from these two dives alone, it is worth the day trip in my opinion.
After our last dive, we quickly packed up and prepared for the 2.5 hour boat ride back to Caye Caulker. All in all, we got back to the island around 4:30. Just in time for some happy hour drinks at the Lazy Lizard where the sunsets are always perfect.
Is the blue hole worth it?
This is a question I find many people asking and struggling with. The cost is steep. Make no mistake about it. $300 for 3 dives is an incredible amount of money to pay.
This by comparison is the most expensive I’ve paid per dive in my entire history of diving. Ever. The next closest is probably Ishigaki, Japan which cost about $70 per dive (this included equipment!) and a farcry from the $19 per dive I paid in Dahab, Egypt and the $22/dive I paid witnessing the sardine run in Moalboal, Philippines. The boat ride to the Blue Hole is a whopping 2.5 hours so I know the fuel costs are high but nonetheless, $300 for the day is steep.
From an aerial perspective it is breathtaking of course, a ring of coral with turquoise water surrounding it with a dark blue circle in the middle. Incredible. It’s also incredibly expensive to charter a helicopter to fly over it so I never bothered with that option. I’m here just to talk about the scuba diving.
The dive in the blue hole is cooler than I thought
The first dive of the day tour is the Blue Hole itself. The ride to the blue hole will conjur images of big dark water surrounded by a beautiful ring of coral. When you get there, you can make out the faint outlines of the ring, but you are pretty much just diving into the dark blue sea. However, immense stalactites are the draw here and to be honest? I was quite impressed by them. The caverns and rock formations are huge and imposing, making for great underwater photos if you know what you’re doing. I reached depths of 45m on this dive so sadly, my deco limit made sure I was in and out.
Advanced Open water vs open water divers
This is a big factor in the worth it decision making for the Blue Hole. If you’re just an open water diver, you will only be allowed to dive to 18m and will not see any caves or stalactites. There is nothing to see in this dive site. 50 minutes will get old very quickly.
You must be at least an Advanced Open Water diver and even then, many of the shops require that you have 30+ dives. If you can’t dive the stalactites, then you lose out on a lot of things.
The second and third dive
The second and third dive are pure coral dives at Lighthouse Reef and Half Moon Caye. These two sites, along with Turneffe Atoll (closer to Caye caulker), are the best dive sites in the entire Belize Barrier Reef. They are absolutely worth it and the diving is impeccable here. For these two dives along, I would say it’s worth it.
In the end, $300+ is worth something different to everyone. If you want to check off that bucket list dive, have some cash sitting around, and want to do legitimately good diving, then I would certainly vote yes to this trip. The Blue Hole of Belize is a special place, and I think if you’re already all the way here, pony up the cash and just do it.