Day trips to offshore atolls provide great diving adventures combined with luxury resort livingWith 170 miles of barrier reef and three enormous coral atolls, location is the key to diving Belize. That said, the most popular destination for divers is Ambergris Caye, with its great selection of beach resorts and dive operators. The barrier reef that parallels the island for some 25 miles is only 500 yards offshore. Local diving at Ambergris is good and occasionally great, especially for beginner and intermediate divers. But experienced divers will look forward to the all-day dive trips to Turneffe and Lighthouse atolls. Trips to the atolls are nothing new, but now many Ambergris dive operators are running newer, larger and faster dive boats. This has softened the ride and shortened the travel time considerably.Off the CayeImagine a 1,000-foot wide circle of ink blue surrounded by a shallow fringe of golden reef. That is the Great Blue Hole. Located in the northern part of Lighthouse atoll, it is the largest ocean hole in the world, big enough to be photographed from outer space. For divers it's a surreal trip through an emerald world as strange as a faraway planet. Unnerving at first, you drop through a virtual nothing, your eyes straining to find a focus. Then, at 100 feet, the cathedral appears, an enormous bell-shaped cavern that cuts beneath the lip of the hole. Here, geology is center stage. Dipping beneath, your guide leads you through a stony forest of stalactites, some over 35 feet long. Spectacular caverns laced with monstrous dripstones are a time capsule created eons ago during the last Ice Age. Bottom time is short, but those precious minutes will be remembered forever. The contrast between the Great Blue Hole and the Elbow at the southern end of Turneffe Island Atoll is a testament to the great diversity of the Belize's diving. The Elbow brings you back from geology to biology in a most dramatic way. Turneffe is surrounded by mangrove islands that are breeding grounds for most of the marine life in the area. The Elbow is like a theater for all the atoll's critters. Deep and remote, at the far apex of the reef, monumental coral pinnacles strain for the surface, then drop exhausted to a blue infinity below. On this stage, reef fish and pelagics gather in schools so dense that they appear like a pixilated single image. Groupers, 100 or more, roam the reef while snappers and grunts fill the blue spaces nearby. Farther away are great schools of goggle eyed jacks. The solitary hunters - barracuda, sharks, kingfish and mackerel - cut through the schools in search of meals. At the Elbow you witness the entire food chain, from plankton to pelagic. Reef and wall diving elsewhere along the atolls is only slightly less dramatic and potentially even more beautiful. Walls and drop-offs surround the outer fringing reefs beginning at 25 feet. Typically surmounted by spurs and grooves, they descend vertically and sometimes undercut. Consistently decorated with clusters of yellow tube sponge, orange elephant ear sponges and black coral, the walls look like underwater bouquets. Trips to the atolls from Ambergris are a great diversion from the laid-back simplicity of Ambergris Caye's reefs and the easy pace of San Pedro town. Make an effort to get out to one or both of these places for the very best of Belize diving. Relaxed ResortRamon's Village Resort on Ambergris Caye is one of the many dive resorts that run atoll trips. The 42-foot Miss Gina custom dive boat is among largest and most comfortable on the Caye. The full-service PADI dive center is located at the dock, along with six six-pack boats equipped for local diving. The property has 61 air-conditioned, thatched-roof, cabana-style rooms, plus pool and restaurant and bar. For reservations or more information, click on the home page below. For general information about visiting Belize, click on the home page below.
Find exclusive opportunities and packages offered to Society members on the member benefits site.