Belize’s spectacular Barrier Reef, with its dazzling variety of underwater life, string of exquisite cayes (pronounced “keys”) and extensive opportunities for all kinds of watersports, is the country’s main attraction for most first-time visitors. The longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere, it runs the entire length of the coastline, usually 15 to 40km from the mainland, with most of the cayes lying in shallow water behind the shelter of the reef. Caye Caulker is the most popular destination for budget travellers. The town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, meanwhile, has transformed from a predominantly fishing community to one dominated by tourism. There are still some beautiful spots though, notably the protected sections of reef at either end of the caye: Bacalar Chico National Park and Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Beyond the barrier reef are two of Belize’s three atolls, the Turneffe Islands and Lighthouse Reef, regularly visited on day-trips from San Pedro and Caye Caulker. Lighthouse Reef encompasses two of the most spectacular diving and snorkelling sites in the country – Half Moon Caye Natural Monument and the Blue Hole, an enormous collapsed cave.