The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world; only the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is bigger. At around 190 miles long, it is also the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. It boasts one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world and is home to over 100 species of coral, 500 species of fish and countless species of invertebrates. Since only 10 percent of the reef has been thoroughly studied, many more species have yet to be discovered.
The Belize Barrier Reef is also the country’s most popular tourist attraction; about half of Belize’s 260,000 visitors come to explore the reef. It is particularly popular with snorkelers and scuba divers.
1. Main Attractions of the Belize Barrier Reef
1.1 Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole is a giant submarine sinkhole about 43 miles off the coast of the Belize mainland. It is 407 feet deep, 984 feet across and has a funnel-like shape, and it is the largest natural formation of its type in the world. Jacques Cousteau was the first person in the world to explore it during the 1970s, and he considered it one of his favorite diving sites. It boasts crystal-clear water and lots of stalactites and coral formations. Many fish live in the Blue Hole including midnight parrotfish, groupers and several species of shark.
1.2 San Pedro on Ambergris Caye
The town of San Pedro boasts the most popular spots for snorkeling in Belize. Ambergris Caye, the largest of the islands off the coast of Belize, is near the reef and is known for its sparkling clear and shallow water. Most snorkelers visit at least one of the four most popular locations: Mexico Rocks, Tres Cocos, Shark Ray Alley, and Hol ChanMarine Reserve. Visitors will need to take a boat to reach these locations. They are all inside the barrier reef, and most trips take about half a day. Some of the trips can be combined.
1.3 South Water Caye Marine Reserve
The South Water Caye Marine Reserve (SWCMR) covers 117,878 acres, which makes it Belize’s largest marine reserve. It includes part of the Belize Barrier Reef and was established in 1996. The Reserve is comprised of a variety of marine and shore habitats, including rare littoral forests. The reefs within the reserve are home to such threatened and endangered animals as the West Indian manatee, the hawksbill turtle, the black grouper, and the Nassau grouper. Many birds including the magnificent frigatebird and brown booby live on the cayes or islands within the reserve.
2. Other Things to Do at the Belize Barrier Reef
2.1 Go Kitesurfing
A local company called Kitexplorer that has been operating on Caye Caulker for roughly a decade has set up shop in San Pedro. Kitesurfing, also called kiteboarding, is what it sounds like: you surf while hooked up to a large kite. Kitexplorer offers a half-day trip from San Pedro to a pristine island where you go surfing. The company will take anybody of any experience level from novice to experienced. If you have never gone kitesurfing before, they will provide lessons, which are held in a lagoon with waist-deep water. Kitexplorer also provides rental equipment.
2.2 Go Bird Spotting
Belize is home to over 600 bird species, and some of them live on the cayes. The Man-O-War Caye is a bird sanctuary located behind the Tobacco Reef. Its best-known residents are the brown booby and the magnificent frigatebird, which is also known as the man-o-war. The Half-Moon Caye National Monument is located on the Lighthouse Reef and is home to over 120 bird species, most famously the red-footed booby. Most of the birds are migrants, and many people like to watch the migrations.
3. Best Accommodations Near the Belize Barrier Reef
3.1 Island Magic Beach Resort
Located on Caye Caulker, a small island located within the Barrier Reef, the Island Magic Beach Resort offers a variety of packages, including at least two tailored for divers and snorkelers. The resort also provides activities like fishing trips and Mayan temple tours. The rooms, which can accommodate up to four people, have a price range from $120.00 to $279.00 per night. Guests must pay by VISA or Mastercard. A deposit equivalent to a single night’s stay is needed to confirm a room, and guests must pay the rest no later than 15 days before their arrival.
3.2 Royal Palm Island Resort
The Royal Palm Island Resort is located about nine miles from Belize City and one mile from the Reef. It works with local guides and companies to provide a variety of activities and experiences like sea kayaking and fishing. The resort’s two-bedroom cottages can accommodate up to five people. Depending on the season, each person will pay between $307.23 and $382.53. There are reduced rates for children under 12.
4. How to Reach the Belize Barrier Reef
Visitors can reach Belize by air or by boat. Commercial planes all land at the Philip Goldson International Airport in Ladyville, which is 10 miles from Belize City. Tourists coming by private plane will have to get permission from both the Civil Aviation Department and the Belize Airport Authority at the airport. Some cruise ships also stop at Belize. Once on Belize, visitors will need to take a boat to reach the reef.
Belize may be a small country, but it has a lot to offer. It has roughly 200 islands between the Belize Barrier Reef and the Belize mainland, including the inhabited Ambergris Caye. The Reef is home to hundreds of fish, while the cayes has countless birds. The Belize Barrier Reef offers some of the best sites for diving, snorkeling and many other water sports.
Images taken from depositphotos.com.