Belize snorkeling is really pretty fantastic. We have taken numerous snorkel boat trips out to the barrier reef, all around Ambergris Caye, and out past the reef to the outer atolls of Lighthouse Reef & Glover's Reef, including a terrifying open ocean trip to the famous Blue Hole.
We have also sailed a catamaran the entire length of the country hitting every snorkel spot that we could down the barrier reef. We privately chartered the boat, with a captain, from a company that is no longer in business on Ambergris Caye. We did a one way charter leaving the boat in Placencia.
Below we share all of our experiences with you, and tell what snorkel spots we think are the best, and which to avoid. You will also find tons of pictures and many videos so you can tell what it is like.
Belize has the second longest barrier reef in the world, nearly the entire length of the country (about 192 miles). All of the snorkeling is located on this barrier reef (or the offshore atolls), and much of it is quickly accessible for snorkeling by boat.
In fact, that may be one of the only downsides to Belize snorkeling, you have to use a boat for nearly everything.
Check out the map. The light blue areas inside the reef are very shallow, averaging 20 feet. The atolls are thirty to sixty miles offshore across deep waters. And you can also see that the barrier reef is dotted with cayes (low, mangrove covered islands).
The most popular Belize snorkeling starts from the little town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye. Notice that the reef is very close to Ambergris, which is one reason this is the most popular spot. The underwater clarity is also better up north, because there are more rain forest rivers down south.
Ambergris Caye Snorkeling -This is the most popular caye to snorkel from, and provides the easiest reef access and best accommodations in Belize. Some of the Ambergris spots are below, and there are more described on the Ambergris page at the link above.
There are three offshore atolls that have some great Belize snorkeling. Needless to say, these all take fairly long boat rides to get to, across open ocean.
Lighthouse Reef Atoll - This is the furthest out atoll and it is surrounded by reef and is shallow in the center, only about 10 feet on average, with literally hundreds of coral heads dotting the interior. This is the home of the famous Blue Hole that you can see at right.
Turneffe Islands Atoll is the closest of the three atolls. It is different from the other two because it is actually a collection of several hundred mangrove covered cayes within a reef. The snorkeling is supposed to be good but we have not been able to snorkel it much.
Glovers Reef Atoll -This is the most southern atoll, and in our minds this is the best for Belize snorkeling of the three outer atolls. Surrounded by a reef, the interior is once again shallow, and there are nearly a thousand coral heads dotting the interior. You could spend weeks on weeks snorkeling here, and there are a few rustic resorts on Glovers.
Finally, south of Ambergris, there are innumerable Belize snorkeling places inside of the barrier reef, and around the hundreds of cayes all the way down to Placencia. Although as mentioned above, the water clarity is lower the farther south you get. Also there are fewer cayes, providing less weather protection in these southern areas. Here are few we have explored.
Rendezvous Caye - This picturesque little island looks like it comes straight out of a movie, and is one of the better snorkel spots around Belize.
Colson Caye - Another excellent little snorkel spot at a patch reef just south of Rendezvous.
Carrie Bow Caye - The snorkeling here, next to the cut in the barrier reef is worth checking out.
Gladden Cayes - Located close to Gladden Spit which is another break in the barrier reef, these patch reefs are in perfect depths and have lots of life.
Pompion Caye - This caye is nearly due east from Placencia, on the barrier reef edge, and is worth exploring, although the reef health and visibility is not as good as further north.
Little Water Caye - This spot is closer to Placencia, and while decent suffers from cloudier water.
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Best Time Of Day For Belize Snorkeling
As with other spots in the world, try to snorkel in the mornings. The winds tend to pick up in the afternoons, and the best sea life and calmest waters are almost always had on morning trips. So avoid afternoon snorkel boat trips. And we recommend you avoid boat trips out to the atolls if the winds have been up.
Best Season For Belize Snorkeling
You want to go during the non-rainy season. The wet season starts around May in the south and June in the north, and lasts until November. With the rain comes mosquitoes, which is not fun and possibly dangerous.
We went during April. The weather was perfect, and the prices were not as high as a few months earlier, and it was not as crowded. The down side was that we tried for days and days to get a boat trip to Bacalar Chico, but never managed, because there was not enough people signing up for the trip.
Oh, the third reason not to go during the wet season, hurricanes.
Where To Stay
For the purpose of snorkeling, you are going to want to spend most of your time at either Ambergris Caye, or if you like things a little less touristy, then Caye Caulker. You may also want to spend a little time at Placencia, where you can take some nice snorkel boat trips from. Or it is also possible to stay out on one of the outer atolls. See TripAdvisor for reviews on hotels in Belize.
Avoid Belize City
Belize City is very poor, and has a bit of crime directed at tourists, so we recommend you avoid spending any time there. Plus there is really no snorkeling available from Belize City.
Don't Forget Vaccinations
Visit your travel vaccination clinic many months before your trip, because you will most likely need to get a variety of vaccinations, including preventive pills for Malaria that you need to take well in advance of your trip. In addition to vaccinations we recommend that you protect yourself with the best mosquito repellents made, and long sleeve clothing.
We have really enjoyed the Belize culture, particularly lazing around drinking Belikin Beer. Just about everyone we met was kind in this poor country, and the mix of cultures and languages was a real treat (but we were thankful they spoke English also).