Diving Sapodilla Cayes

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Sapodilla Cayes, Belize


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Country: Belize  Area: Belize

Water Temp: 26 - 30°C (79 - 86°F)

Visibility: 5 - 40m (16 - 131 ft)

Groupers spawning - Jan, Hawksbill Turtle Nesting - Early Jun to Late Aug, Green Turtles Nesting - Early Mar to Late October, Whale Shark Season - Full Moon Mar to Jun, Lobster Closed Season - 14th Feb to 15th June, Queen Conch closed Season - 1st July to 1st Oct

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The Belize barrier reef, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the second largest barrier reef in the world and boasts an incredible spectacle of marine life. The Sapodilla Caye is made up of 8 small beautiful islands located 35 miles from mainland Belize and situated on the continental shelf. The diving and snorkelling in this dive location is rather special.

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The Sapodilla Cayes are a migratory path for Whale sharks. Visitors get a rare chance to swim with the Whale sharks without having to compete with other divers/snorkelers. This is one of the primary reasons for visiting the Sapodilla Cayes, not so many other divers in the area!! Very rare in this day and age to be on an amazing coral reef with huge varieties of wildlife and not have to share it with other dive boats!

Southern Belize is a migratory path for Whale sharks. The official Whale shark season is March – June, however during the past few years they have been sighted around the full moon as early as February and as late as October.

Blue wrasse, Credit

Another great reason to visit around the full moon is the String of Pearls night dive. Natural phenomena found during and up to 10 days after the full moon. Descend, turn your torch off and wait!! Watch the reef come alive and experience this amazing spectacle light show, has to be seen to be believed!!

There is only one shallow wreck in the area, a100-foot barge that went down around 100 years ago, it is in 2-5 metres of water and is surrounded by a huge variety of marine life.


The dry season in Belize is December through May. Rainy season is June through November; however it rains mostly during the night. It gets humid during the rainy season, however we do get a breeze on the island during the night.

Visibility is excellent from March through June; on some days it can get as good as 30-40 metres!  The visibility in the Caribbean is always good and the diving is always top class, with water temperatures averaging 28 degrees and dropping no lower than a comfortable 26 degrees. 

Hurricane season in the Caribbean is officially June through to November. However, hurricanes rarely hit Southern Belize. Hurricanes are more predictable in October.

Parrotfish, Credit

Marine Conservation

The Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve (SCMR) is co-managed by the Belize Fisheries department and Southern Environmental Association. Under this co-management agreement SEA assumes control of site management (including visitation), enforcement, scientific monitoring, research and is authorized to police within and between parks in the Southern Barrier Reef Complex. SEA works closely with the local stakeholder committees who participate in formulating policy that enhance the management of the parks and also with community members to improve the management of their marine resources. SEA takes practical, hands on approach to conservation and management of the Southern Barrier Reef Complex.

Based in the SCMR is ReefCI, a not-for-profit Marine conservation company located on an idyllic, beautiful, tropical private island. The organisation has been in operation for over 8 years and sustains itself by offering all-inclusive Monday-Friday Marine Conservation SCUBA diving packages. Divers help with various projects such as Reef Check surveys; Coral watch bleaching surveys, commercial fish and species surveys, turtle projects and removing the invasive Lionfish. ReefCI also offer a comprehensive suite of PADI courses.

All Content, Dive & Marine Life Information and Photos kindly supplied by ReefCI.

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Shore Diving

Shore dives are shallow, max depth 8 metres and abundant with marine life. There are little or no currents and visibility is generally excellent. The corals are abundant and healthy and you can often spot Nurse Sharks, Eagle rays, Stingrays, Turtles, Moray eels, Lobsters, Conch and beautiful schools of tropical fish.

Shore diving is available for novice and experienced divers. Night shore dives are availiable where our guest can spot Octopus, Rays, Lobsters and a variety of other interesting marine life.

Diver, Credit

Boat Diving

The majority of diving at the Sapodilla Cayes are boat dives. There are a large variety of dive sites suitable for both the novice and experienced diver. Dive conditions are generally very good with little or no currents, warm water, good visibility and calm seas. For the more experienced diver, there is a variety of amazing wall dive sites. The continental shelf enables some great sloping and sheer walls where there is a huge abundance of marine life. There are also a number of shallow dive sites on the reef flats or on top of the walls, suitable for both the experienced and novice diver.

Corals and sponges, Credit

Typical sightings are: Eagle rays, sting rays, Hawksbill and Loggerhead turtles, Nurse sharks, Hammerhead sharks, Reef sharks, Silky sharks, Moray eels, Lobsters, Conch, Groupers and a huge variety of tropical fish species, and of course, the incredible majestic Whale shark.

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How to Get there

The nearest base for the Sapodilla Cayes is Punta Gorda, a small, sleepy fishing town in Toledo district, South Belize.

Belize International Airport (Phillip Goldson) is the closest international airport and is only a short hop skip and a jump from the United States with flights taking as little as 2 hours and at very reasonable prices! The major airlines servicing Belize out of the United States are American Airlines, Continental Airlines and TACA airlines, with Delta and US Air flying limited routes.

Fish hovering alone, Credit

At present there are no direct flights from Europe, so if travelling from the UK or Europe you will need to fly to the US and then catch a connection down to Belize International. You can however get direct flights from London Gatwick airport into Cancun, Mexico, via British Airways, which can work out significantly cheaper or even cheaper if you don’t take the direct flight and pass the US. From Cancun, ADO (Mexico’s first class bus service) run safe and comfortable overnight buses direct into Belize City. They leave Cancun around 10pm and arrive in Belize City before 8am; the cost is only US$47 per person.

From Belize City you have two options. You can fly down to Punta Gorda or take the bus. There are two operators, Tropic Air and Maya Island Air. The flight takes around an hour, costs US$145 / GBP 75 one-way and is an exciting ride. Have your camera ready as you fly low enough to take in all the beautiful scenery with the jungle on one side and the reef on the other.

For the more adventurous and budget conscious you can catch an express bus from Belize City bus station which leaves around 3.30-4pm and costs less than US$15. The journey takes around 4-6 hours and takes you through some of Belize’s most breath-taking countryside. The bus arrives at Punta Gorda between 8-9pm.

Another International Hub in Central America is Guatemala City and flights via the US are often very reasonably priced. From Guatemala City you can catch a bus to Puerto Barrios taking 4-6 hours then a 45-minute water taxi across to Belize, arriving in Punta Gorda.

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Where to Eat & Drink

In the Sapodilla Cayes, ReefCI have small comfortable Oceanside cabanas on Tom Owens Caye and offer amazing locally sourced fresh organic food. The meals are a fusion of local and international dishes and cater for all dietary requirements. Also on offer is a great value three course meals and a fun and informative conservation talk for visiting sailboats which is best to arrange in advance.

The sea, Credit

The University of Belize has a research station based on Hunting Caye and food and lodgings can be arranged on Lime Caye through Garbutts Marine Services in Punta Gorda.

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Other Activities

There are plenty of things to do in Belize, besides diving, like taking a trip to the ancient Mayan ruins (dating back to 500AD). Lim Ni Punit or Lubaantun are both about a 45 minute drive from Punta Gorda.  Lim Ni Punit has the most amazing views over the jungle and Lubaantun is famous for its crystal skull! There are combined trip including Mayan Ruins, jungle tours, visiting traditional Mayan villages and the amazing waterfalls. Take a boat trip up one of the spectacular rivers and discover the incredible wildlife, the many varieties of birds, howler monkeys and iguanas in the trees.

Hammocks, Credit

Visit the nearby Blue Creek National Park for spectacular rivers and waterfalls where you can swim through the amazing caves at Blue Creek where you eventually get to an underground waterfall.  There are more stunning waterfalls at San Antonio and Rio Blanco.

The more adventurous can also go on jungle kayak trips, nature lover can go bird watching and chocoholics can visit a cacao farm and see firsthand how chocolate is made!  Fishing trips to Port Honduras Marine Reserve are very popular or seeing the Manatees at Pains Creek National Park.

There is cheap bike hire, Mayan village stays and even private lessons at the local Garifuna drumming school, the hands-on fun way to learn about Garifuna drumming and culture. There is something for everyone in or around Punta Gorda!

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If going to the Sapodilla Cayes on your own, be sure to use a registered Tour guide and Dive master. It is illegal to snorkel or dive without a registered Tour guide or reputable operator.

If you want to mix your diving with some interesting cultural events then visit in May, September or November. Punta Gorda hosts the Toledo Cacao Fest in May. September celebrations for Belize Independence and the Battle of the drums and Garifuna Settlement day celebrations in November.

Eel hiding, Credit

There is no hyperbaric chamber located in Sapodilla Cayes. The nearest is located in Belize City.

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Rating 10/10

INCREDIBLE experience!

Sapodilla Cayes19 Nov 2012 - 24 Nov 2012

I took at group of 9 ppl to Reef CI's program on Tom Owens Caye in Belize last week, and it was AMAZING!

The diving was GORGEOUS! I loved all the beautiful corals, sponges, and critters we saw. Yogi and Tracey were fantastic divemasters and Polly was a superb leader. Every single dive included a briefing. The whole crew was extremely professional, fun, and attentive.

Everyone is still raving about the Lionfish ceviche and Thanksgiving feast. No one was hungry - in fact, I think we all consistently overate!

Polly knows so much about reef conservation, I wanted to pick her brain the whole time.

The RCI team is WONDERFUL! I can’t express my appreciation for how truly awesome they made the entire experience.

Highlight: Thanksgiving feast we help catch (free diving for lobster, conch, and fish) and bonfire punta dance party. The RCI crew made every effort to ensure our whole group had a good time. I also LOVED the buoyancy dive – I laughed so hard watching my friends drill their heads into the sand upside down and then racing them without fins on the bottom. SO FUN!


Katie Evett

Nice! Feast part does also sound rather awesome :)

Rating 10/10

A unique diving experience!!!

Sapodilla Cayes17 Jun 2012 - 2 Jul 2012 with ReefCI

ReefCI was an amazing and unique experience. The people are warm and friendly. The staff is awesome and knowledgeable. The diving is in a marine park where you are the only people diving. No underwater traffic jams, can't emphasize that enough. The food is amazing and varied. The acre island you live is on is peaceful and so beautiful. I can't say enough wonderful things about this organization. Diving in great places. actually helping preserve the ecology of a place you fall in love with, diving with interesting and unique people, making friends, eating great food, and doing it all in a beautiful and relaxing environment. A++ highly recommend this for people who like to get off the beaten track.

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Rating 10/10

Diving in Paradise with ReefCI

Sapodilla Cayes2 Jun 2012 - 17 Jun 2012 with ReefCI

Diving with ReefCI was so much more than just a vacation.. What an incredible experience!!

Tom Owens Caye is a piece of paradise. One acre spotted with palm trees, hammocks and coral cabanas.. perfect for soaking in the Caribbean.

Diving was great! Different sites each day, from lovely shallow spots to a gorgeous 100 ft wall dive, even a night dive to glimpse the String of Pearls! Visiting ReefCI during the full moon also gave me the opportunity to swim with whale sharks- an absolutely breathtaking experience.

What sets ReefCI apart is their dedication to marine conservation. Founder Polly has an amazing passion for the work she does and has created an opportunity for guests to contribute hands-on to the many ongoing research projects.

One week just wasn't enough..

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George Taylor

Sounds great - great shots!

Tracy Allen

The whale shark and spotted drum photos were taken by ReefCI founder Polly. Great photographer!

Rating 10/10

ReefCI on Tom Owen's Caye

Sapodilla Cayes3 Jun 2012 - 23 Jun 2012

My trip with ReefCI was an incredible experience and I would go back in a heartbeat. They run a smooth operation in an isolated little island in Belize with incredible views, stellar dives, and impeccable service. They do all this while managing to keep it affordable enough so that a student like myself can even participate.

I would recommend ReefCI to any level diver because the diversity of their dive sites allows divers of any skill to dive every site without losing any quality. Between the whale shark sightings, the string of pearls night dives, the lionfish spearfishing, and the deep dives, I saw everything I could've hoped for.

Life on the island is relaxed and simple. I was expecting to rough it but it was quite the opposite. Oceanview rooms took on a whole new meaning.

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Rating 9/10

Dream Diving

Sapodilla Cayes28 May 2012 - 8 Jun 2012 with ReefCI

Reef CI provide unbeatable value for money, especially if you opt for one of their PADI courses, thrown in for free. In addition you get all of this:

1) Four nights on a tiny private tropical island with good company and fabulous food

2) Training in fish and coral identification and surveying from knowledgeable staff

3) The opportunity to spear lion fish, fillet them and eat them for tea - delicious!

4) The opportunity to dive in a marine reserve unmolested by other boats and divers - we never shared a dive site

5) The opportunity to swim with whale sharks and experience the phenomenal 'String of Pearls' around the full moon

Hats off to Polly for setting this up and thanks to her, Roland and the rest of the team for sharing it with the rest of us. My advice - just do it!

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