Snorkeling in Belize
Snorkeling Belize will bring visitors face to face with the second largest barrier reef in the world. A 300-kilometer stretch of coral, the Belize Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and boasts seven protected areas that also include mangroves, cays, and atolls. Belize snorkeling thrives on this diversity of environments, and offers abundant fish and mammal marine life in a variety of habitats. The Belize Barrier Reef is not the only wonder of this small Central American country; its rainforest teems with tropical animals and plants, and incredible temple ruins conjure up the days when ancient Mayans built their empire.
Marine Life in Belize
Within Belize's fringing reefs, pinnacles, off-shore atolls, and breathtaking underwater karst formations, snorkel sites may host reef sharks, nurse sharks, turtles, stingrays and eagle rays, schools of jacks and snapper, and a whole host of decorated reef fish and intriguing invertebrates. Some snorkel spots, in season, also host whale sharks! Dolphins are often sighted on traverses between Belizeís best snorkel sites. What's more, a few rare, at-risk species enjoy protection in the reef system, like manatees, American crocodiles, and Hawksbill and Green Sea Turtles.
Best Snorkel Sites in Belize
In the north, the Belize Barrier Reef begins with Ambergris, often cited as the premier area for a snorkel tour in Belize. It is relatively near the shore, and enjoys good visibility due to the absence of rivers. Farther to sea, the outer atolls each offer a unique snorkeling experience, with Glover's Reef (an atoll in the south) particularly nice in its shallow, coral-covered interior. The southern barrier reefís visibility can be impacted by river runoff during the rainy season, but it is also less frequented by tourists. In addition, a site called Gladden Spit, off the coast of the southern town Placencia, hosts awe-inspiring whale shark gatherings from March through June.
Some say a snorkel trip to Belize is not complete without visiting the Great Blue Hole. This iconic site is a round crater more than 120 meters deep, and is primarily a dive site. However, healthy hard and soft corals grow around the rim with some colorful reef fish, and big sharks, groupers, and barracuda can sometimes be seen below. This site lies 50 miles out to sea from the Belizean coastline, so make sure youíre comfortable with long crossings before you book a tour.
Turneffe Reef Atoll is the largest atoll in the western hemisphere, and the closest to the Belizean coastline. It proudly hosts the holy triumvirate of tropical marine ecosystems: mangroves, seagrass, and coral reef. These three habitats support each other and bolster the area's stock of marine species, and all three can be explored through snorkeling tours around Turneffe's several hundred mangrove islands. The reef offers hard and soft corals, diverse fish species, rays, lobsters, and turtles, but if you can tear yourself away, make sure to check out the juvenile sharks and snappers in the mangroves, and the rare manatee in the seagrass.
Lighthouse Reef is the farthest atoll from Belize's mainland, and actually includes the Great Blue Hole as one of its sites. However, it offers more snorkeling-centered sites as well, in the shallow waters of Half Moon Cay and along Long Cay Wall. Half Moon Cay, in particular, allows snorkelers to get intimate with the reef at 1 or 2 meters' depth, viewing coral up close, hunting for snails and other critters, and photographing colorful reef fish. Long Cay Wall has great visibility, but the surface currents can be strong, and the bountiful marine life lies far below, at diving depths. Many boats have taken to fish feeding to bring wildlife closer, which can unfortunately interfere with the marine food web and put the fish themselves at risk.
One of the best snorkel sites in Belize is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, one zone of which is the famous Shark Ray Alley. Plentiful Nurse Sharks and Southern Stingrays are fed by guides in this area, to the delight of many tourists. Wherever you stand in the debate on fish-feeding, it's advisable to leave the feeding to the guides, just in case the animals get too demanding. Hol Chan Cut, on the other hand, is a natural conservation success, where a ban on fishing has fostered a local fish population boom; now, schools of snappers, barracuda, and jacks, as well as big groupers, can be observed even in the shallows. Eagle Rays and other pelagics patrol along the slope.
Best Time to Snorkel in Belize
Snorkel sites in Belize can be visited year-round, but the rainy months from around June through October/November can make near-shore snorkel sites a bit murky. Some recommend snorkeling in the morning whenever possible, as winds can pick up in the afternoon and cause choppy surface conditions. The water temperature ranges from 26 to 29 C, and visibility can reach 40 meters in good conditions. Currents are strong in some areas, but snorkel tours often split the group into different experience levels so everyone stays comfortable at the site they explore. Note that getting to Belize snorkeling sites usually requires a boat journey- another reason to think about wind and waves.
To snorkel with Whale Sharks at Gladden Spit, experienced snorkelers should visit between March and June, when large snappers school to mate, creating the spawn that the Whale Sharks gather to feed on.
How Do I Get To Belize?
Belize can be reached from around the world, usually with a transfer in Miami, Florida. American Airlines and British Airways are just two of the many airlines that frequent this route. It takes about 11 hours to get to Belize from the United Kingdom. From the United States, however, the trip ranges from 3 to 5 hours.
Visas are not usually required to enter Belize, though you should always check the most current immigration policies before setting out. However, a valid passport, proof of onward or return ticket, and proof of sufficient funds for travel are required. There is also a departure tax of 35 USD, which can only be paid in USD, not in other currencies.