Belize Snorkeling – Amazing Barrier Reef and Atolls

Belize snorkeling is great. 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 and 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 Belize snorkeling experiences with you, and tell what spots we think are the best, and which to avoid. You will also find many pictures so you can tell what it is like.

Belize snorkeling, reef and snorkeler.

Where Are the Best Belize Snorkeling Spots?

Belize Snorkeling Overview Map

The second longest barrier reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, borders nearly the entire length of the country of Belize (about 192 miles). All Belize 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 30-60 miles offshore across deep waters. And you can also see that the barrier reef is dotted with cayes (low, mangrove covered islands).

Ambergris Caye – San Pedro Area

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 visibility 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.

Gray Angelfish seen while snorkeling Belize
  • Shark Ray Alley – This exciting snorkel is in shallow water in a feeding area which attracts harmless nurse sharks and lots of rays and fish and has some nice corals close.
  • Hol Chan Cut – This cut in the barrier reef offers shallow and deeper waters with bigger fish species, and currents.
  • Tres Cocos – This shallow area is right on the barrier reef edge, and has a lot of fish a good bit of current.
  • Mexico Rocks -This is actually a patch reef area that is great for beginners and experienced alike.

Say, if you love snorkeling, you will also love our free monthly snorkeling newsletter!

Outer Atolls

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.

Blue Hole of Belize
Aerial view of the famous Blue Hole of Belize

Lighthouse Reef Atoll – This is the farthest out atoll and it is surrounded by reef and is shallow in the center, only about 10 feet on average, with countless coral heads dotting the interior. This is the home of the famous Blue Hole, see image.

  • Blue Hole -This iconic spot is one of the more famous dive spots in the world. We snorkeled it and suggest you skip it. Read why.
  • Half Moon Caye -This is a great snorkel spot, with a shallow area that is perfect depths for a snorkeler.
  • Long Caye Wall– Generally this spot is for divers, and really it is too deep for snorkelers, but we still enjoyed it.

Foggy Masks, Fin Blisters and Angry Snorkels!

Poorly fitting, cheap gear, can ruin your trip. See our snorkeling equipment reviews and fitting suggestions to make sure your next trip is great.

Hogfish and corals seen while snorkeling on Belize

Turneffe Atoll – This 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. You could choose to stay at one of the resorts on this atoll.

Our trip partner is now offering an organized group snorkel trip to Turneffe Island Resort, which includes two boat snorkel trips per day.

Glover’s 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 myriad coral heads dotting the interior. You could spend weeks on weeks snorkeling here, and there are a few rustic resorts on Glover’s.

If you are looking for a unique way to snorkel these two outer atolls of Belize, Glover’s Reef and Turneffe, consider this liveaboard snorkeling trip offered by our partner Ben.

Belize Snorkeling Cayes South of Ambergris

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 visibility 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.

Sailing charter catamaran on blue waters of Belize

Rendezvous Caye – This picturesque little island looks like it comes straight out of a movie, and is one of the better Belize snorkeling spots.

Colson Caye – Another excellent little snorkel spot at a patch reef just south of Rendezvous.

Carrie Bow Caye – The snorkeling is next to the cut in the barrier reef and 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 are not as good as farther north.

Little Water Caye – This spot is closer to Placencia, and while decent suffers from cloudier water.

General Belize Snorkeling Travel Tips

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

Corals and trumpetfish in Belize

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 good, and the prices were not as high as a few months earlier, and it was not as crowded. The downside 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.

Note: Our suggestions are based on knowledge of the area. We hope you find them helpful. You can help us if you use the link(s) below. We may make a small commission, at no extra cost to you.

Where to Stay

For the purpose of snorkeling, the best place to stay would be on one of the outer atolls, Turneffe or Glover’s Reef. The most popular place to stay is Ambergris Caye, but if you like things a little less touristy, then you could try Caye Caulker. You may also want to spend a little time at Placencia, where you can take some nice snorkel boat trips from. See TripAdvisor for reviews of hotels in Belize.

You could also opt for a private catamaran charter like we did. It is a great way to explore the barrier reef and the outer atolls.

Avoid Belize City

Belize City has a lot of obvious poverty, 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 sleeved clothing.

Belize Culture and Food

We enjoyed the Belize culture, particularly lazing around drinking Belikin Beer. Just about everyone we met was kind in this country, and the mix of cultures and languages was a real treat (but we were thankful they spoke English also).

Downtown San Pedro in Belize

More Belize Snorkeling Tips