The tiny country of Belize, located in Central America just south of Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula, is a fascinating assortment of natural beauty, ancient Mayan culture and modern day attractions. Our journey took us some 20 miles offshore to the remote atoll of Lighthouse Reef. It is here that divers can explore some of the most exquisite coral formations of the second largest barrier reef in the world. With dramatic drop-offs beginning as shallow as 35 feet and dropping to thousands of feet just minutes from shore, divers are treated to wall dives that rival the best in the world. Lighthouse Reef is also home to the fabled Great Blue Hole, a seemingly bottomless lagoon in the middle of the reef.
Our expedition was based on the Northern Caye of Lighthouse Reef, a small sand spit of an island that is home to a very small dive resort, a short landing strip for small planes and a large swamp which covered much of the island. From here, our diving originated each day. We explored some of the locations nearby to the island, such as West Point, First Choice, Bernie's Choice and Two-Point Reef. Here, we encountered schools of angelfish and Bermuda Chub. We also found a large Spotted Drum nervously guarding the entrance to his modest home in the reef.
The walls of Lighthouse Reef, however, are much more dramatic as you head further south towards the islands of Long Caye and Half Moon Caye. Nearby the island of Long Caye, we found ourselves exploring breathtaking vertical walls teeming with marine life. The sites are colorfully named by the local dive operations. The Aquarium was our favorite site. Here, the fish life was impressive. We found large schools of Black Durgen along with healthy sized Barracuda, Trumpetfish and Tiger Grouper. We also explored the site known as Cathedral Reef, which boasts of large hard coral formations, including the rarely seen Pillar Coral. Deeper along these walls, we found large trees of Black Coral and huge, undamaged Barrel Sponges.
Half Moon Caye is a Belize Natural Monument. This is a tiny island of 45 acres which only rises 10 feet above sea level. However, within such a tiny island exist two distinct eco-systems. To the west, there is a lush forest of vegetation nourished by the droppings of thousands of sea birds. 98 Species of birds live here, including about 4000 endangered red-footed boobie birds. These birds can be seen nesting in the trees and guarding their young against opportunistic Frigate Birds who are forever circling above in search of an easy meal. On the eastern side of the island, there is less vegetation and more coconut palms. In these sandy stretches, endangered Loggerhead and Hawksbill Turtles often come to lay their eggs.
Offshore from Half Moon Caye, the diving is equally spectacular. The aptly named Half Moon Wall is an exceptional dive and is actually part of the Half Moon Caye Natural Monument. Here, we spotted Hawskbill Turtles and Eagle Rays gliding along the wall. Along the sandy back end of the reef, we observed large colonies of the shy Garden Eels and healthy specimens of the Spanish Hogfish searching for bits of food in the sand.
The most famous dive in the Lighthouse Reef area is the Great Blue Hole. Viewed from the air, it appears as an almost perfectly circular deep blue hole in the surrounding shallow reef area. In the 1970s, Jacques Cousteau made this location famous and divers have been returning here ever since. The hold is actually the remains of a collapsed cave system. The deep blue water gives the appearance of a bottomless hole in the reef, although the hole does end at 412 feet. We dove into the Blue Hole amid a strong thunderstorm, although the chaotic surface conditions did not impede the dive in anyway. Descending over a sandy ledge, we dropped into the hole and began exploring the its rocky walls. At 135 feet, we found the remnants of the old cave systems. Eerily, the stalactites and stalagmites that used to be part of the cave system still remain intact, a reminder of the times when this entire system was above water. The Great Blue hole does not boast rich communities of marine life and is largely a dive into geological history. Still, it is a fascinating experience and very much an integral part of any expedition to the Lighthouse Reef area.
Our diving complete, we closed our journey with a visit to Altun Ha, the rediscovered remains of an ancient Mayan civilization that has long vanished from the area. In addition to Altun Ha, Belize is home to other Mayan Sites, such as Lamanai, Cahal Pech, Xunantunich and Lubaantun.
Our visit to Belize was a fascinating one and we look forward to sharing with the public as part of one of our upcoming presentations called "Ancient Discoveries: In the Shadow of the Maya".
With the exception of cruise ship passengers, all visitors to Belize must present a valid passport before entering the country. Please note that driver's licenses and birth certificates are not approved travel documents and cannot be used to enter the country. Passports must be valid up until time of departure. Visas are required for nationals from some countries while others do not. Some citizens may also need clearance from the Director of Immigration in order to enter Belize as well, so make sure all your papers are in order before you leave.
No vaccinations are required for entrance into Belize. However, as an extra precaution please, consult your physician for advice in respect to anti-malarial medication, and gamma globulin, typhoid, and hepatitis shots. Make sure your tetanus shots are up to date. If you have any physical or medical limitations, or allergies of any kind, please advise your trip provider when booking your expedition, so that they may better serve you and make your stay is s pleasant and comfortable as possible.
The weather is hot, for the most part, and light weight summer clothing should be what you primarily take with you to Belize. Loose fitting, micro-fiber clothes are best. During the winter months (November - February) temperatures can drop into the 50's and 60's inland, so bring at least one or two warm outfits with long pants and sleeves.
Normal daytime temperatures reach the 90's and the evenings are typically in the 70's. Belize's rainy season is June - October, however rain is possible any time of the year and comes in heavy downpours. Rain gear and waterproof footwear as well as plenty of sun block are strongly recommended, no matter when your visit is scheduled. The height of the dry season is during the months of April and May.
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