Things to do while you visit Belize.
Dives off Ambergris are usually single tank at depths of 50 to 80 feet, allowing about 35 minutes of bottom time. Diving trips run around BZ$90 for a single-tank dive, BZ$150 for a two-tank dive, BZ$90–BZ$110 for a one-tank night dive, BZ$450–BZ$500 for a three-tank full-day drive trip to Turneffe atoll, and BZ$700–750 for day trips with three dives to Lighthouse Reef. Atoll rates include breakfast, lunch and marine reserve admission. Dive gear rental is usually extra—a full package of gear including wet suit, buoyancy compensator, regulator, mask, and fins is around BZ$60–BZ$80. Snorkeling by boat around Ambergris generally costs BZ$70–BZ$100 per person for two or three hours or BZ$140–BZ$200 for a day trip, including lunch. If you go to Hol Chan Marine Reserve there's a BZ$20 park fee, but this fee is sometimes included in the quoted rate. A snorkel trip to the Blue Hole is around BZ$450–BZ$480, including the BZ$80 Marine Reserve fee. Snorkel gear rental may be additional. Prices also may not include 12.5% tax. (Businesses are supposed to include the 12.5% GST in their quoted prices, but not all do.) Most dive shops will pick you up at your hotel or at the nearest pier.
Be careful when snorkeling off docks and piers on Ambergris Caye. There’s heavy boat traffic between the reef and shore, and boat captains may not be able to see snorkelers in the water. Several snorkelers near shore have been killed or seriously injured by boats.
DIVE AND SNORKEL SITES
Bacalar Chico Marine National Park & Reserve. Development on Ambergris continues relentlessly, but most of the far north of the island remains pristine, or close to it. At the top of the caye, butting up against Mexico, Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve spans 41 square miles (105 square km) of land, reef, and sea. Here, on 11 miles (18 km) of trails you may cross paths with whitetail deer, ocelots, saltwater crocodiles, and, according to some reports, pumas and jaguars. There are excellent diving, snorkeling, and fishing opportunities, especially off Rocky Point, and a small visitor center and museum will get you oriented. You'll need a boat and a guide to take you here, where there are some small, unexcavated Mayan ruins. Be sure to bring insect repellent. An all-day snorkel trip to Bacalar Chico from San Pedro costs around BZ$170–BZ$220 per person. Trips from Sarteneja also are offered for about the same cost. North end of Ambergris Caye, Ambergris Caye, Corozal. BZ$10 or BZ$30 for weekly pass.
Belize Barrier Reef. The longest barrier reef in either the Western or Northern hemispheres (it's just a widely accepted rumor that it's the second-longest barrier reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), the Belize Barrier Reef is off the eastern shore of Ambergris Caye. From the island shore, or from the air, you see the coral reef as an almost unbroken chain of white surf. Inside the reef, the water is clear and shallow, and the reef itself is a beautiful living wall formed by billions of small coral polyps. Just outside the reef, the seabed drops sharply, and from a distance the water looks dark blue or purple. The reef is closest to shore on far north end of Ambergris Caye. In and around San Pedro town, the barrier reef is a few hundred yards off the beach. ½ mi (1 km) east of Ambergris Caye (it's closer to shore the farther north you go on the island)., Ambergris Caye, Corozal.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The reef's focal point for diving and snorkeling near Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker is the spectacular Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Maya for "little channel"). It's a 20-minute boat ride from San Pedro, and about 30 minutes from Caye Caulker. Hol Chan is a break in the reef about 100 feet wide and 20 to 35 feet deep, through which tremendous volumes of water pass with the tides. Shark-Ray Alley, now a part of Hol Chan, is famous as a place to swim, snorkel, and dive with sharks (nearly all are nurse sharks) and Southern sting rays.
Especially during peak visitor periods to the cayes or when several cruise ships are docked off Belize City, snorkel tour boats can stack up at Hol Chan. Check locally to see when Hol Chan may be less busy, and consider visiting in early morning before most of the tours arrive.
The expanded 21-square-mi (55-square-km) park has a miniature Blue Hole and a 12-foot-deep cave whose entrance often attracts the fairy basslet, an iridescent purple-and-yellow fish frequently seen here. The reserve is also home to a large moray eel population.
Varying in depth from 50 feet to 100 feet, Hol Chan's canyons lie between buttresses of coral running perpendicular to the reef, separated by white, sandy channels. You may find tunnel-like passageways from one canyon to the next. It's exciting to explore because as you come over each hill you don't know what you'll see in the "valley." Because fishing generally is off-limits here, divers and snorkelers can see abundant marine life, including spotted eagle rays and sharks. There are throngs of squirrelfish, butterfly fish, parrotfish, and queen angelfish, as well as Nassau groupers, barracuda, and large shoals of yellowtail snappers. Unfortunately, also here are lionfish, an invasive Indo-Pacific species that is eating its way—destroying small native fish—from Venezuela to the North Carolina coast. Altogether, more than 160 species of fish have been identified in the marine reserve, along with 40 species of coral, and five kinds of sponges. Hawksbill, loggerhead, and green turtles have also been found here, along with spotted and common dolphins, West Indian manatees, sting rays and several species of sharks.
The currents through the reef can be strong here at times, so tell your guide if you're not a strong swimmer and ask for a snorkel vest or float. Also, although the nurse sharks are normally docile and very used to humans, they are wild creatures that on rare occasions have bitten snorkelers or divers who disturbed them. off southern tip of Ambergris Caye, Ambergris Caye, Corozal. 526/2247 Hol Chan office in San Pedro. www.holchanbelize.org. BZ$20, normally included in snorkel or dive tour charge.
Shark-Ray Alley. Shark-Ray Alley is a sandbar within Hol Chan Marine Reserve where you can snorkel alongside nurse sharks (which can bite but rarely do) and stingrays (which gather here to be fed) and near even larger numbers of day-trippers from San Pedro and from cruise ships. Sliding into the water is a small feat of personal bravery—the sight of sharks and rays brushing past is spectacular yet daunting. Although they shouldn't, guides touch and hold sharks and rays, and sometimes encourage visitors to pet these sea creatures (which you shouldn't do, either). The Hol Chan Marine Reserve office is on Caribena Street in San Pedro. A night dive at Shark-Ray Alley is a special treat: bioluminescence causes the water to light up, and many nocturnal animals emerge, such as octopus and spider crab. Because of the strong current you'll need above-average swimming skills. Southern tip of Ambergris Caye in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Ambergris Caye, Corozal. 226/2247 Hol Chan office on Caribena St. in San Pedro. www.holchanbelize.org. BZ$20 marine reserve fee included as a part of Hol Chan fee.
DIVE SHOPS AND OPERATORS
Many dive shops and resorts have diving courses. A half-day basic familiarization course or "resort course" costs around BZ$300–BZ$350. A complete four-day PADI open-water certification course costs BZ$800–BZ$1,000. One popular variant is a referral course, where the academic and pool training is done at home, or online, but not the required dives. The cost for two days in Belize is about BZ$550–BZ$650. Prices for dive courses vary a little from island to island, generally being least expensive on Caye Caulker. However, even prices on Ambergris Caye, which tends to have higher costs for most activities, are a little lower than on the mainland.
If you're staying on Ambergris Caye, Glover's Reef is out of the question for a day trip by boat. Even with perfect weather—which it often isn't—a trip to Lighthouse Reef takes between two and three hours. Most trips to Lighthouse and the Blue Hole depart at 6 am and return at 5:30 or 6 pm, making for a long day in the sun and water. Turneffe is more accessible, though it's still a long and costly day trip, and you're unlikely to reach the atoll's southern tip, which has the best diving.
Amigos del Mar. Amigos del Mar, established in 1987, is perhaps the island's most consistently recommended dive operation. The PADI facility has a dozen dive boats and offers a range of local dives as well as trips to Turneffe Atoll and Lighthouse Reef in a fast 56-foot dive boat. Amigos charges BZ$150 per person for a local two-tank dive, not including equipment rental (if needed) or 12.5% tax, and BZ$600 for a 12-hour trip to the Blue Hole, including BZ$80 park fee and lunch but not equipment rental or tax. An open water certification course is BZ$900. Amigos also offers snorkel and fishing trips. On a pier off Barrier Reef Dr., near Mayan Princess Hotel, San Pedro Town, Belize. 226/2706 or 800/882–6159. www.amigosdivebelize.com.
Ecologic Divers. This PADI shop has won a good reputation for safety, service, and ecologically sound practices. Local two-tank dives go out daily at 9 and 2 and cost BZ$150, not including any equipment rental or 12.5% tax. Full-day Turneffe trips are BZ$500 including breakfast and lunch, but not 12.5% tax. On pier at north end of San Pedro, just south of The Phoenix resort, San Pedro Town, Belize. 226/4118; 800/244–7774 in U.S. and Canada. www.ecologicdivers.com.
Hugh Parkey's Belize Dive Connection. The long-established Hugh Parkey's Belize Dive Connection has moved its main dive shop operation from Belize City to the dock of the SunBreeze Hotel in San Pedro. The late Hugh Parkey was a pioneer in diving in Belize, and this dive operation maintains Parkey's legacy of excellence. BDC has a 46-ft dive boat and does trips to the barrier reef as well as to Turneffe and Lighthouse atolls. Dive/hotel packages with SunBreeze are offered. SunBreeze Hotel Pier, Beachfront, San Pedro Town, Belize. 220/4024. www.hpbelizeadventures.com.
Lil' Alphonse Tours. Offering snorkeling only, Lil' Alphonse himself usually captains the tours, doing a fabulous job making snorkelers feel comfortable in the water. Coconut Dr., across street from Changes in Latitudes B&B, San Pedro Town, Belize. 226/3136. www.ambergriscaye.com/alfonso.
SEAduced by Belize. This well-run snorkeling, sailing, and tour company does full-day snorkeling trips to Bacalar Chico and to Mexico Rocks and Robles Point. Trips include a lovely beach barbecue. SEAduced also does Hol Chan snorkel tours, plus mainland trips to Maya sites and cave tubing. This locally run company offers sailing cruises as well. Vilma Linda Plaza, Tarpon St., San Pedro Town, Belize. 226/2254. www.seaducedbybelize.com.
SEArious Adventures. This long-established snorkeling and sailing shop does day snorkel trips to Caye Caulker (BZ$100 plus park fees and equipment rental), along with a variety of other snorkel and sail trips. It also offers day sails and mainland tours. Beachfront, on dock, between Tarpon and Black Coral St., San Pedro Town, Belize. 226/4202. www.seariousadventures.com.
White Sands Dive Shop. White Sands Dive Shop isn't at White Sands Resort but at Las Terrazas. Never mind, this PADI dive center is run by Elbert Greer, a noted diver and birder who has taught scuba in San Pedro for more than 20 years, getting some 2,500 divers certified. A daily scheduled dive and snorkel boat picks up at island resorts starting around 9 am. Las Terrazas, Ambergris Caye, Corozal. 226/2405. www.whitesandsdiveshop.com.
|Snorkel with Tammy Lemus and her husband for a great experience.|
HOW TO CHOOSE A DIVE MASTER
Many dive masters in Belize are former anglers who began diving on the side and ended up doing it full-time. The best have an intimate knowledge of the reef and a superb eye for coral and marine life.
When choosing a dive master or dive shop, first check the web. Participants on forums and newsgroups such as www.ambergriscaye.com and www.scubaboard.com field many questions on diving and dive shops in Belize. On islands where there are multiple dive shops, spend some time talking to dive masters to see which ones make you feel most comfortable. Find out about their backgrounds and experience, as well as the actual crew that would be going out with you. Are they dive masters, instructors, or just crew? Get a sense of how the dive master feels about reef and sea life conservation.
To read more about Diving you can click here: http://www.fodors.com/world/mexico-and-central-america/belize/the-cayes-and-atolls/ambergris-caye-and-san-pedro/things-to-do/sports-activities/scuba-diving-and-snorkeling-2674593
within the Maya Mountains is the second highest mountain in Belize. The highest peak in the country, Doyle's Delight at a height of 1,124 metres (3,688 ft), is located 57 kilometres (35 mi) southwest of Victoria Peak. Victoria Peak is situated in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Victoria Peak is situated in the Stann Creek District of Belize, in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, and is home to many flora and fauna common to Belize. It was pronounced a natural monument in 1998, comprising about 4,847 acres bordered by the Sittee River Forest Reserve, Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, and Chiquibul National Park
Victoria Peak is situated in a broad-leaved montane elfin forest. The tropical evergreen jungle has been damaged by hurricanes such as Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and fires caused by occasional lightning. These environmental factors have caused the ecosystem to become stunted. Along with averages of 100 inches of rainfall per year, Victoria peak is often windswept and cloud covered and the soil is poor as the various surrounding vegetation takes up all of the nutrients. The mountain is found covered with non-calcareous rock, along with the growth of many different plant species. Many of the plants that thrive in this diverse forest are used for medicinal practices, food, or even as guides and trail markers ensuring the Maya hunters do not become lost in the forest. The vegetation begins at the base of the mountain with moist, tropical forest, transforming into elfin shrubland, characterized by sphagnum moss and a tree canopy of about 2–3m (6-10 ft) high. Just ahead of the summit is rich, humid forest that is dense with secondary growth among mature tree stands, yet with a relatively clear forest floor. The base of the mountain is compiled of sedge marsh that eventually turns to orange groves as the elevation increases slightly. The many species of trees inhabiting the peak include mahogany, cedar, banak, waika, swivelstick, quamwood, yemeri, negrito, santa maria, rosewood and many more.
Frequent species of plants that are characteristic to Victoria Peak and the Cockscomb range are Clusia sp. and Myrica cerifera, two plants species which form thick stands that average about 1-2 m (3-6 ft) tall. Shrubs such as these are very often accompanied by “beard lichen” growing amongst the branches. Bromeliads and orchids are also numerous, such as the orange flowering orchid, Epidendrum ibaguense or the scarlet orchid, also known as dragon's tongue. Epidendrum ibaguense, or the fiery-coloured orchid, is a rare species of orchid that only grows at higher elevations. One of the other more common plant species seen is the hot lips bush, it is most frequently spotted along the trail edges and is characterized by its ‘pouting’ red flower. As many as 300 species of birds can be spotted in the Cockscomb Basin itself. There are many native species that reside in the Belizean forests on Victoria Peak, as well as seasonal migrants that average about 18% of the bird population. Of those, there are critically endangered species present such as the ornate hawk-eagle, keel-billed motmot, and the scarlet macaw.
Other common birds of Victoria Peak and the Cockscomb Basin include: great curassow, crested guan, clay-coloured robins, social flycatchers, collared-seed eaters, crimson-collared tanagers and masked tanagers, bat falcons, Montezuma’s oropendola, as well as white-collared manakins, paraque, the slaty-breasted tinamou, chestnut headed oropendolas, parrots, toucans, and Agami heron to name a few.
Actun Tunichil Muknal
Archaeological Cave of great significance. Many artifacts remain, most famously the "crystal maiden" anongst other remains of sacrifice.
The closest, and most accessible Mayan ruin site from Belize City. The famous "Jade head" was discovered at the site, but now remains in the national archives in Belize City.
The closest site to the town of San Ignacio. A short (but steep) walk from town, you can walk to the site from the downtown core.
Rumored to be the largest site in Belize, it still remains largely unexcavated. Its remote setting in the Chicibul Rainforest Reserve makes it one of the more adventurous sites to explore and one of the most popular day trips from San Ignacio.
One of Belize's northernmost sites, there is an impressive relief that has been restored, overlooking the bay of Chetemal.
One of the most interesting sites in Belize, it was occupied for the greatest length of history. Lamani is both an ancient Mayan and colonial history site, making it a fascinating day trip. The ruins can be accessed by road, or by taking the more popular river trip down the New River to the banks of the New River lagoon, which sits beneath the site.
Meaning "Place of fallen stones", the name reflects that many of the large stones where cut to fit one another, rather than mortared together. The site is also famous for its large collection of ceramic objects or charms that were found on the site. It's most infamous find was the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull, which has drawn much controversy on whether it was actually found on the site.
Nim Li Punit
Is a medium sized site, which has several pyramid structures. The site's most interesting artifacts include a range of stellae, which remain in both finished and unfinished states.
Is the closest site to the Guatemalan border, and has the second largest pyramid in Belize (next to Caracol). El Castillo, has been refurbished with a very impressive relief carving, which appears in many photos of Mayan sites of Belize. Translated into the "stone woman", the name is rumored to be after a ghost that has been seen on the site.
Actun Tunichil Muknal (the Cave of the Crystal Sepulchre), also known locally as ATM, is a cave in Belize, near San Ignacio, Cayo District, notable as a Maya archaeological site that includes skeletons, ceramics, and stoneware. There are several areas of skeletal remains in the main chamber. The best-known is "The Crystal Maiden", the skeleton of an adolescent (now thought to be a teenage boy), possibly a sacrifice victim, whose bones have been calcified to a sparkling, crystallized appearance.
The ceramics at the site are significant partly because they are marked with "kill holes", which indicate that they were used for ceremonial purposes. Many of the Maya artifacts and remains are completely calcified to the cave floor. One artifact, named the "Monkey Pot", is one of just four of its type found in Central America. The Maya also modified cave formations here, in some instances to create altars for the offerings, in others to create silhouettes of faces and animals or to project a shadow image into the cave. The cave is extensively decorated with cave formations in the upper passages.
Animal life in the cave includes a large population of bats, large freshwater crabs, crayfish, catfish and other tropical fish. Large invertebrates like Amblypygi and various predatory spiders also inhabit the cave. Agouti and otters may also use the cave. These and many other species are quite common in river caves of this size in Belize.
Other Maya archaeological sites in the vicinity are Cahal Pech, Chaa Creek, El Pilar and Xunantunich.
Actun Tunichil Muknal should not be confused with Actun Tun Kul in the Chiquibul Cave System.