Belize Bucket List: Scuba Dive the Great Blue Hole

The Great Blue Hole is one of the most unique natural wonders in the world. Located off the coast of Belize, this massive circular sinkhole is over 1,000 feet wide and 480 feet deep, making it the only marine cavern visible from space! 😮

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courtesy of Google images

(Note how the blue hole gets increasingly darker in the center, due to the increasing depths of the hole.)

It has been discovered that the Great Blue Hole was formed during the last Ice Age, when this whole area was above sea level. When you dive in the Blue Hole you can even seen gigantic stalactites that are hang from this limestone cavern.

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gigantic stalactites at the Blue Hole

Jacques Cousteau first discovered the Blue Hole, and named it one of the top 10 diving sites in the world! It’s now a World Heritage Site as well. Now as a visitor, your options for viewing the Great Blue Hole are either to fly over it or dive into it, and being an aspiring daredevil, I decided to do the latter. 😉

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picnic table at Half Moon Caye

Belize Bucket List: Diving the Great Blue Hole 

The company I chose to dive with was Frenchie’s Diving, by far one of my favorite dive companies yet. They were masters of costumer service, and their instructors were incredibly knowledgeable as well. The day flowed effortlessly, and the staff provided good communication throughout. 😀

Now, we started the dive day at their shop on Caye Caulker, at 5:30 AM for a light breakfast of coffee, bread, and assorted spreads.

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cinnamon raisin bread, peanut butter, jam, hot dogs, cheese and watermelon

During brekkie I chatted with a solo traveler and film editor from Paris. We decided to pair up and become dive buddies. I learned how she had worked on a film that had just been selected for the Cannes Film Festival in May. Anyway, from there we boarded the boat and began a 2-hour ride through some turbulent waters until we finally reached Lighthouse Reef Atoll, a ring-shaped coral reef, where we would be making our three dives for the day.

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getting ready for the bumpy ride

Our first dive site at Lighthouse Reef was at the south end of the Great Blue Hole.

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map of Blue Hole courtesy of Google images

After gearing up, our guide split us up into two groups: open water and advanced open water divers. The open water divers would be descending the Blue Hole up to 18 meters, while the advanced open water divers (myself included), would be diving to 40 meters. After making a stride jump in the water, I started the descent with my dive master, Jose. It literally felt like we were swimming towards a bottomless black pit. Very eerie!G0245328_1493246865722_highAs we reached our max depth of about 40 meters, we were greeted by these enormous stalactites hanging from above. They looked to be the length of our speed boat!E7B311D0B0ACA838190E4178515892AFWe spent about 8 minutes at this depth, weaving through the limestone cavern, which is when I started to feel a bit of nitrogen narcosis. Nitrogen narcosis is similar to state of drunkenness, which develops from breathing gases at higher pressures. No worries, it’s completely reversible as soon as you ascend. 🙂

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Feelin’ the buzz

Anyway, from there we began our slow ascent up the Blue Hole, making a 5-minute safety stop before reaching the surface. As a side note, due to poor circulation within the Blue Hole, the marine life here is quite limited, although we did spot a reef shark and a huge Black Grouper on our way up. There is; however, a plethora of bacteria on these limestone rocks, as well as, a few hammerheads that like to frequent these waters.

FDB0C80BE053444B22B90737AA2CD69FHere’s a short video of my dive in the Great Blue Hole. Hope you enjoy. 🙂

After our dive, we took a mandatory surface interval, where the crew offered us light snacks, of fresh fruit and Doritos.

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divers munching on Doritos
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hanging with Carlos, our driver/dive master
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I need my sunnies in this pic (Hah!), but check out the different hues of blue you’ll find along the edges of the Blue Hole! ❤

Anyway, after the break, we made our second dive at Lighthouse Reef Atoll, at a dive site called Half Moon Caye Wall.G0495667_1493246005453_highThe visibility during this dive was absolutely incredible! G0555707_1493245908933_highWe were able to spot an array of coral, fish, reef sharks, eels, sting rays, eagle rays, and sea turtles. Here’s a short video of the dive. Highlights included a Gray Angelfish (:48), Princess Parrotfish (:09), and lots of Pufferfish(:14).

Afterwards we took lunch at a Half Moon Caye, an island and protected natural monument. The water there is absolutely stunning! ❤IMG_20170426_200052_139There could be worse spots to take lunch. 😉DSC_187320170426_130017For lunch, the crew served up typical Belizean cuisine: stewed chicken, rice with beans, macaroni salad, and bottled Fanta.DSC_1871DSC_1868DSC_1870DSC_1869After lunch, we also got the chance to visit the island’s sanctuary of Red-footed Boobies, a unique bird species, which likes to nest and raise their chicks on these native Orange-flowered Ziricote trees.IMG_20170426_200553_294DSC_1908

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the females always look uglier :/
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booby baby 😛
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juvenile boobies appear speckled

Here are a few other shots from my walk to the sanctuary’s observation deck. 🙂DSC_1883

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iguana
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red crab and sea sponge

Just gorgeous! IMG_20170426_195834_567Anyway, after lunch we made our final dive at a site called The Aquarium, which is aptly named for its abundance of marine life and beautiful coral forests.G0605763_1493245767448_highOn the ride back, we capped off this spectacular dive day with some celebratory rum punch, along with chips with salsa, provided by the crew. Overall, three unBELIZEable dives, and something to add to any divers bucket list! 😀

Cost: 260 USD for scuba diving and 145 USD for snorkeling the three dive sites, which includes gear rental, park fee, breakfast, lunch, drinks and snacks.

Side note: The company has divers stop in the evening before, to fit them with appropriate gear, check their qualifications, and secure payment.

Where is Caye Caulker?

To do these dives, I spent two nights on Caye Caulker, an island next to Ambergris Caye, off the mainland of Belize.

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Caye Caulker shops (bike and surfboard rental)

Getting there:

To get there from San Pedro, I took the Belize Ocean Ferry, which cost 9 USD and took 30 minutes. Strangely, this company was the cheapest, yet it had barely any passengers compared to other boats. Fine by me! I saved 5 USD and had the whole boat to myself. 😀

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riding solo while the other boat is jam packed
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views of San Pedro, riding from Ambergris Caye to Caye Caulker

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Where NOT to stay:

Now I try to pick good hostels, but sometimes I get a dud. I ended up staying on at a place called Juan’s Guesthouse, which was dirty, and had an unfriendly staff. Ironically, my other option was a place called Dirty McNasty’s Hostel, which is apparently really great! Hah!

What to do on Caye Caulker:

Caye Caulker is much more chilled out than Ambergris Caye. Instead of big restaurants and souvenir shops, you’ll find locals selling handmade shell jewelry on the roadside, as well as, grilling up fresh caught fish next to a makeshift tent restaurant. DSC_1841

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local food stand
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local jewelry stand

Now most people visiting Caye Caulker spend there days at the Split, a large channel, widened further by Hurricane Hattie, that literally splits the island in two.

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the lagoon at the Split

The Split’s lagoon is filled with crystal clear water, and people can choose from either swimming, kayaking or just chilling with a few Belikin beers.

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kayaking at the Split

There’s even a place next door called Sip n’ Dip, where you can do just that. 😀DSC_1838

Well, that wraps up my time on Caye Caulker. Next up I’ll be heading inland, to explore more of the natural beauty of Belize. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 🙂

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Caye Caulker pier
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