Diving Ambergris Caye

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Ambergris Caye, Belize

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Country: Belize  Area: Belize

Water Temp: 24 - 29°C (75 - 84°F)

Visibility: 10 - 40m (33 - 131 ft)

Depth Range: 5 - 30m (16 - 98 ft)

Hawksbill Turtle Nesting Season

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The most popular of Belize’s diving destinations, with access to the second largest barrier reef in the World and one of the most famous Blue Holes! Ambergris Caye has some great relaxed, fun diving to match its peoples laid back relaxed attitude.

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Ambergris Caye is the largest of Belize’s islands located right next to the second largest reef in the world. Belize is located south of Mexico.

The Meso American Barrier Reef also known as the Great Western Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This runs alongside most of Central America from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula down to Panama. Belize’s shore runs parallel with this reef and Ambergris Caye is a perfect place to dive this reef as at points it is only a mile away!

Nurse sharks, Credit

Belize is one of the few places in the world still to be home to Manatee’s, which live in the shallow, warm water and feed on the sea grass. Lots of places have seasonal manatees which migrate in the winter to warmer waters, but Belize’s year round warm water means they don’t need to migrate so they stay year round. There are a few places you can sight this gentle creatures along Belize’s coast and also around the Cays with many tours that can take you to the best places from most of the islands and mainland.

At The Barrier Reef, Ambergris Caye, Credit

Ambergris Caye is protected from the reef which gives lagoon like diving conditions inside the reef with very calm waters, little current and great year round visibility which only decreases from Caribbean storms. The outside of the reef is a lot deeper with more challenging dive sites, this variation makes Ambergris Caye an ideal place for new and experienced divers.

There is a huge choice of dive sites, most of which are reached by short boat trips, the further afield sites can be visited on day trips or sometimes an overnight trip staying on another smaller Caye. Liveaboards also are available; these leave from Belize City and visit all the top sites in this over 5 days to a week.

Climate & Sea conditions

The climate is tropical with dry and rainy seasons, the dry season is from November to March and the wet season April to October. In regards to diving you shouldn’t pay much attention to the seasons as you can dive year round.  Actually some of the best diving is in the rainy season from April to June, which also happens to be Whale Shark Season where they can be sighted at Gladden Spit.

Hurricane season is June to November so during this time there may be weather to affect diving schedules.

The water temperature varies from 24C in the cooler winter/dry months and up to 29/30C in the summer/wet months.

More Fish! Credit

Marine Conservation

A number of Belizean and international NGOs work to conserve the marine ecosystem around Ambergris Caye. Green Reef is one of the oldest conservation organizations here, having been established in 1996. Over the years, the organization has set up mooring buoys, coral and jewfish monitoring programs, and led research and advocacy projects related to the Nassau Grouper. They work with local communities on environmental education and public awareness initiatives, and have also extended their work to indigenous plant and birdlife conservation projects. Much of their work is conducted through the generosity of local and international volunteers. Other organizations focus their efforts on particular species, including crocodiles and sea turtles.

Currently, Ambergris Caye does not fall into a protected marine park. Local companies and organizations are however lobbying the Belizean government to institute a protected area.

 
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Shore Diving

The nearest dive sites are roughly a mile off shore and are best accessed by boat.

Boat Diving

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is Belize’s first marine protected area and is located in the south of Ambergris Caye. Hol Chan in Mayan is translated to “Little Channel” and was named such for the break in the reef at this point. The protection of this area means it has lots of vibrant, healthy coral with loads of life living on it. Diving these sites is usually teamed with the site “Shark Ray Alley” which is well known for its abundance of sharks, rays and turtles! This shallow area is great for divers or snorkelers to experience the thrill of getting within touching distance of Rays and Nurse Sharks, this is the best area in the Caribbean for an encounter with these placid bottom dwellers

Spotted Eagle Rays, Credit

The outer reef is home to three coral atolls; Lighthouse Reef, Glover’s Reef and Turneffe Reef. These are three of only four of these remarkable atolls in the whole western hemisphere. There are frequent diving day trips from most Ambergris Caye dive centres to all of these atolls to undertake the spectacular diving in these locations.

Lighthouse Reef Atoll is home to the most famous dive site of Belize, the Blue Hole! This natural phenomenon was one of the many sites to be made famous by Jacques Cousteau’s documentaries and is now a very hyped up dive site which divers across the world will travel to dive. The 150m deep hole is thought to be a cave that collapsed in the Ice Age and still has some very old 25m stalactites. Not a particularly interesting dive for marine life, although sometimes you might see some Reef Sharks, Bull Sharks or a dolphin in the blue, the Blue Hole is more an experience deep dive that you do to say you have dived the famous Great Blue Hole!

Fish off the Barrier Reef, Credit

Glover’s and Turneffe Reef Atolls have many less known but spectacular dive sites with a diverse marine life. The Elbow on Turneffe is the areas ultimate wall dive, it often has strong currents, but it is these currents that bring the huge amount of marine life to the area with the chance to spot a large ray or Hammerhead shark out in the blue depths. There is a huge amount of other marine life on this atoll including turtles, nurse sharks, seahorses and the rare white spotted toadfish. The shallows and flats are also home to the manatee.

Liveaboard Diving

No liveaboards travel near the Ambergris Caye. The only liveaboard in Belize, the Sun Dancer II departs from Belize City and sails to the Blue Hole located further south.

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How to Get there

Ambergris Caye is close to Belize so can be reached easily from the US and Mexico with many flights into Belize’s International airport just north of Belize City. Other International visitors will usually have to get flights changing in one of the main US of Mexico airports such as Cancun or LA. Another option is to catch a bus from Cancun down into Belize.

Diver in Ambergris Caye, Credit

All the cays including Ambergris Caye can then be reached by a short small propeller flight from Belize City or by boat. If possible then the plane journey is recommended for the fun ride and also the spectacular views of the reef and cays from above.

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Where to Eat & Drink

San Pedro is the only town on Ambergris Caye, and is the center of all things tourism. The city has a wide variety of restaurants, many of which serve classic Belizean fare. Local specialities include rice and beans, stewed chicken and potato salad. There are also a number of restaurants influenced by neighbouring countries, which serve plenty of tamales, burriotos, tacos, bollos and panades. There is of course no end in seafood to try, with lobster, mussels and scallops being local favourites. Tropical fruits are a great snack any time of day, and availability varies seasonally. San Pedro also has a number of international-styled restaurants, with Chinese, American, Indian and Italian style dishes.

Dine by the sea, Credit

If you feel like treating yourself to an especially fantastic meal, San Pedro would be the place to do it. Here, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in the country, including Capricorn, Habaneros and La Palmilla. Not to worry though – there are plenty of backpacker friendly restaurants all through town.

In terms of nightlife, there are two main clubs in San Pedro. Here, local DJs play local and international favourites – with the occasional karaoke night tucked in. Aside from the clubs, there are plenty of beach and reggae bars with a laid-back tropical vibe. Otherwise, restaurants often feature local bands. Check with your hotel to hear about current hotspots!

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Other Activities

There is much more to Belize than its diving. It’s a destination that hasn’t yet become over touristy and still has many unspoilt areas of beauty. There are exciting caves to explore and many Mayan temples and pyramid structures which you have to trek through the jungle to see.

On Ambergris Caye, most of the activities revolve around the ocean. Sport fishing is very popular, with numerous options for fly and deep sea fishing adventures. Belize hosts a number of tournaments for those interested in competitive fishing.

Ambergris Caye, Belize, Credit

Sailing is also a great way to explore the area. Local guides happily take guests out around surrounding cayes on day trips or on sunset cruises. There are also plenty of kayaks to rent if you’d rather head out independently.

If you’re keen to explore the land, the best way to do so is to rent a golf cart and drive to the southernmost point of the island. Golf carts are the most common method of transportation here. Otherwise, head north with a pair of binoculars and explore the vibrant birdlife in the mangroves and lagoons.

Belize is a country that many people don’t consider for a diving holiday as there are so many other more popular destinations, but the easy diving conditions, great marine life teamed with jungle wildlife, caves and the Mayan history, makes it a great varied holiday destination with someone for everyone!

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Tips

Note that there are no car rentals on Ambergris Caye – only golf carts! For about USD 60/day, you can rent a cart to putter around the island. There is quite literally no end to rental companies that run both independently and out of lodges.

Moray Eel, Credit

Remember that in spite of its location, Belize is an English speaking country.

Belize’s only hyperbaric chamber is conveniently located in San Pedro.

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