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.Read More
Looking after the reef
Looking after the reef
Coral reefs are among the most fragile ecosystems on earth. Colonies grow less than 5cm a year; once damaged, the coral is far more susceptible to bacterial infection, which can quickly lead to large-scale irreversible deterioration. All licensed tour guides in Belize are trained in reef ecology, and should brief you on reef precautions. If exploring independently, keep the following points in mind:
• Never anchor boats on the reef – use the permanently secured buoys.
• Never touch or stand on the reef.
• Don’t remove shells, sponges or other creatures, or buy reef products from souvenir shops.
• Avoid disturbing the seabed around corals – clouds of sand smother coral colonies.
• If you’re a beginner or out-of-practice diver, practise away from the reef first.
• Don’t use suntan lotion in reef areas – the oils remain on the water’s surface; instead, wear a T-shirt to guard against sunburn.
• Don’t feed or interfere with fish or marine life; this can harm not only sea creatures, but snorkellers and divers too – large fish may attack, trying to get their share.