Diving the Blue Hole

Belize is known as a diver’s Mecca.  The world’s second longest barrier reef sits just a couple minutes off the coast of Ambergris Caye and the reef system is one of the better protected natural resources on the planet.  But above and beyond the phenomenal diving that is generally available in Belize there is a holy grail of sorts: the Blue Hole.  The Blue Hole is rather famous, mostly for the views of it from above.  It is a huge hole – over 400 feet deep – in the middle of a limestone-based reef and shallows.  It also appears from the air to be almost perfectly round which makes for some great photos if you happen to be flying over top of it.  But if you’re flying over it then you aren’t diving down into it, and that is really where the fun begins.

Getting out to the Blue Hole is something of an ordeal.  It isn’t cheap at about $250/person and it isn’t quick at over two hours each way just for the boat ride there and back from San Pedro.  But the dive operators make sure to keep their customers busy throughout the (very long) day, from arrival at the docks at 5:30-6am through to the return almost twelve hours later.  Oh, and did I mention that there is a lot of diving?

Looking up from 100′ below the surface in the Blue Hole

There are three dives on the day trip.  The first – the Blue Hole itself – goes down to about 130 feet below the surface, deeper than just about any other commonly visited recreational dive site.  The Hole isn’t teeming with aquatic life (though we did see a shark, some lobster and tons of little goby fish) so that isn’t an attraction at all.  But it does have some pretty amazing underwater rock formations that come from the erosion of the limestone that forms the Hole.  Unfortunately, because of the significant depth that the formations are seen at, there isn’t a whole lot of time spent viewing them.  Most folks will get to spend 5-8 minutes at that depth before beginning the ascent to shallower water where there is a seemingly interminable stop to let the nitrogen seep out of the bloodstream, all while floating over the abyss and staring at a lot of nothing.

After the Blue Hole there are two other dives that fill out the rest of the day trip – Half Moon Caye Wall and The Aquarium.  For many who make the trip out to the Blue Hole these are the dives that they really go for.  The reefs are pristine and teeming with life.  From barracuda to angelfish to eels to nurse sharks to dozens of other species that make up a typical Caribbean dive experience, the range is simply amazing.

The scorpionfish does a great job of blending in on the reef. I was singing Heart’s Barracuda quite a bit on this dive
Swimming with the turtles is always fun. These tiny blue shrimp were fun to watch on top of the coral head.

In addition to all the diving there is a brief lunch break at Half Moon Caye.  The Caye is a wildlife sanctuary and a national park and serves as a rookery for the red-footed boobie.  There is an observation deck from which hundreds of the birds are visible.  Probably not worth a trip in its own right unless birding is really your thing, but it makes for a nice distraction during the non-dive time of the day.  And on the boat ride home there is plenty of rum punch of one sort or another being served.  That certainly helps the long boat ride home pass more quickly.

Diving the Blue Hole is quite amazing and certainly is a “bucket list” item for folks who dive, but it was also probably the least fantastic dive of the week.

Lots more photos from the diving in Belize – both at the Blue Hole and just off Ambergris Caye – can be found here.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.