The Blue Hole is a bit of a Marmite attraction where Belize is concerned; ask people if they’d recommend you to ‘Scuba Dive Belize Blue Hole’ and you get a mixed response. People either rave about how awesome it was or grumble about how over-rated the attraction is.
Regardless of people’s opinions, Blue Hole was something I was eager to do and had been on my bucket list for a long time. There was no question about shall I, shan’t I before forking out a small fortune, donning the scuba gear and jumping into the Worlds biggest sink hole in the middle of the ocean.
However, I was still intrigued to hear what other people’s experiences were and to find out if it was really worth the $350 price tag that comes when you Scuba Dive Belize Blue Hole (I say Belize Blue Hole, as there are several other ‘Blue Hole’s around the World).
The GREAT Blue Hole - Some facts
1. Belize is home to the biggest underwater sinkhole in the World, hence the word ‘GREAT’
2. It is situated in an area called Lighthouse Reef just over 60miles from Belize City.
3. It’s nearly perfectly circular in shape, with a diameter of 318m and a depth of 125m.
4. The Blue Hole has UNESCO status.
So what are the main grumbles?
Unless you roll with the rich and famous, $350 is a lot of money for just a single day excursion in a Central American country. However, the price alone wasn’t the only thing that people took a grumble too.
Complaint #1 ‘But it's too expensive!’
Belize Blue Hole is situated in a National park… in the middle of the ocean…..miles from land….in a relatively expensive country – some of your fee ($40 at time of writing) will go towards the Park Entry.
What’s also included in this 12 hour ‘day trip’ is the pickup and drop off at your hotel, a massive buffet breakfast, the insurance for the Dive Company to take you on a deep dive. then there’s the fully equipped dive boat for the 2+hr journey out to the site which costs fuel and maintenance, you also get three tank dives (a single tank dive in this area is about $30 alone! first is the Blue Hole, then two neighbouring site, we did Half Moon Caye and The Aquarium, a stop off on a National Reservve to see the Red Footed Boobies, a captain, skipper, dive masters and the rest of the crew all fully trained – all the dive equipment and my favourite bit, food! So much food, and an open bar for the return journey home – so in reality the $350 price tag for a single day trip, is a lot BUT you do get quite a lot for your money.
Complaint #2 ‘The dive was too short!’
So if you dive Belize Blue Hole you are doing what’s called a deep recreational dive, it’s approximately 40m. The dive is done with regular air (Nitrox wasn’t an option here). Regardless of air choice, you only have a limited bottom time and to put it in easy terms, the deeper the dive the less bottom time you have.
So yes, I can agree with some that the dive is ‘too short’, but it’s enough time to see what there is to see. This dive is the shortest one of the day, but it’s also the deepest one, the entire dive was done n dusted in about 35 minutes. (That’s including relatively fast decent, short swim to the perimeter of the Blue Hole at approximately 12m deep at the drop off, bottom time, ascent and safety stop). The actual bottom time was about 10 minutes.
If you have a dive computer it will be going mad on this dive, there was constant beeping’s from fellow divers. So yes, it’s a short dive, especially as a typical dive for me lasts about 50minutes, and usually the only reason I have to surface is because my dive buddy will have run out of air. Although I’d naturally want to have a longer bottom time, 10 minutes is enough time to see what you go there for– the awesome rock formations!
Complaint #3 ‘But there's nothing to see at The Blue Hole!’
This was by far the biggest complaint from all disgruntled divers I met; that there was nothing to see. My mind boggles, as I’m not sure what they expecting to see. You don’t dive Belize Blue Hole to see aquatic life.
Granted, there are critters, corals and fish to look at around the perimeter wall at the top. This is where the snorkelers and divers part ways. The snorkelers said they saw quite a bit and all enjoyed seeing the BLue Hole from above.
The scuba divers on the other hand get to experience the beautiful blue abyss that goes down beyond visibility. Deep down into this massive…. errrr Blue Hole. On the decent, it’s downright impressive to see the sheer straight walls only broken up with the (relative) small alcove. This alcove is where the scuba divers stop. The alcove is filled with stalactites and columns from a bygone time when the Blue Hole was above sea-level. I struggled to understand how anyone could not be impressed by the sheer size of this natural spectacle.
So yes, if you’re expecting to see a ton of fish, then Blue Hole is rubbish for that. BUT that’s not what you are here to see, you are here to see this awesome natural formation. One thing to be sure of is having a good mask will give you the best chances of seeing anything. A leaking mask is no fun. Your two options are to either rent, and chance something will fit. Or to purchase your own mask.
So what's the typical itinerary?
I booked my dive through with Neptune’s Cove (a smaller company that I was using for lots of other local dives). Neptune’s Cove only have a small dive boat for using just off the shores of San Pedro so they pally up with a larger company Amigos del Mar who have the large boat to get out to Blue Hole.
Timings are approximate and will vary from day-to-day.
5.20am - Pick up time
I was picked up from the dock outside my hostel (I was staying on the sea front) by one of the water taxis, I got to meet a few of the other divers who were staying on my end of the island. It was only a short 5 minute journey in the dark to drop us at the main Amigos del Mar dive shop.
5.30am - Breakfast is served!
That’s after you’ve been inside the shop to register and show them your dive certificates. DO NOT FORGET TO TAKE YOUR LOG BOOK/CARD / PROOF THAT YOU CAN DIVE!
They double check your equipment and get you to counter sign for everything– if it’s not on the boat then you won’t have it and essentially you won’t be able to dive! So, check then double check that you have EVERYTHING that you will need on the day. After the formalities, THEN you can chill and eat the delicious buffet breakfast – the cinnamon bread was delicious, lots of fresh fruit, coffee, cheeses etc.
You also get to meet the other divers on the trip – there will be lots of people mingling about (crew, shop staff, divers, snorkelers) It gets quite busy and at times chaotic so just keep out of the way of the staff and chill.
6.00am - Watch sunrise from top deck.
The sun was starting to rise just as we were departing on our 2 ½ hour journey out – IF you get travel sick take the tablets BEFORE you get on the boat. The first few minutes or so were relatively calm while we were protected by the shallow waters of the island but then it gets choppy out in the open sea.
We had a couple of pukers on our boat who opted to sit at the back end of the boat with the bucket of shame (or for some, over the side and feeding the fish!) For those who weren’t seasick, the breakfast also comes onto the boat with us, so if you don’t get your fill on land then you certainly have time to do it now!
The sunrise is stunning, it was nearly a clear day on the day when I went with just a few clouds in the sky, so it was a very pretty pinky-orange sunrise. The crew will let you sit on the top of the boat, which was chilled, although breezy (take a shirt to cover up!). Again, if you are susceptible to motion sickness it’s probably not the most stable place to sit. Walking about and going up and down the ladder is and interesting affair. It felt like I’d had a few too many! Just make sure to hold on.
During this ride out, the Dive Masters will come around at some point and ask to see your certification to check your dive experience/level. You will also have your briefing on the boat, put into groups and buddied up.
8.30am - Dive #1 The Blue Hole.
We were put into 1 of 4 groups on the boat, four were Scuba Divers (grouped into ability and language – we had one French group) and one for Snorkelers. With the exception of the Snorkel group, this was the only dive where all four Scuba Dive groups were diving ‘en mass’.
We assembled on the surface in our smaller groups and with our Dive Buddies, until we were given the go-ahead to descend.
This was the one part of the day I enjoyed the least. it felt more like a school trip out where the Dive masters were ushering us – constantly! It became quite annoying that they wouldn’t leave people alone. The second I stopped to take a picture I would have one of the ‘ushers’ on my back signalling me to speed up.
My only conclusion for this ‘technique’ was that there was a mix of divers. There were totally new divers who’d just passed their certificate the day before, as well as advanced divers (there were even dive masters out on a jolly in our group!)
9.15am - Second breakfast & surface 'tour'!
Back onto the boat and more food – more cinnamon bread! And fruit. As well as our interval period to ‘gas off’. This also included a boat ride around the perimeter of the Blue Hole to try and take a photo. In all honesty the pictures taken at sea level were not very impressive, the Blue Hole only shows up as a slightly darker or lighter patch (like sailing over a reef).
10.45am - Dive site #2 - Half Moon Caye
So, after the jaunt around the perimeter of the Blue Hole and the ride to the next site our interval time is up. Time to don the wetsuit again for dive number 2, Half Moon Caye.
This time we are in our smaller dive groups which made for a much nicer experience. The dive masters by this time seemed to have worked out who were capable and who needed more assistance.
For the disgruntled fishy lovers this is where the day redeems itself. Its colourful with corals and rocky formations along with an abundance of fish to look at. This was a much more typical dive in terms on bottom time too, although my dive buddy ran out of air fairly quickly. My highlights on this dive, Moray Eels and Caribbean Reef Shark!
12noon - Lunchtime on Half Moon Caye Sanctuary.
Dive number 2 done, and yes you guessed it, more food! Lunch is served on land. The boat stops off on a beautiful desert island, really in the middle of no-where. Like the dive site, this is called Half Moon Caye.
The Caye was made into Belize’s first designated site for wildlife protection in 1928. It’s home to a huge colony of Red Footed Boobies and Frigate Birds. Don’t forget to look down though! There are hundreds of Hermit Crabs. At first you don’t notice them, but then the more you look you realise that the ground is crawling with them!
The stop off here is about an hour – but that included eating time (so as a hint, wolf down lunch and use the remainder of the time exploring) There is a look-out tower conveniently placed at nesting height where you are pretty much eye-to-eye with the birds – nosy and smelly but each with a cute ball of fluff in its nest.
It would have been nice to have spent a lot longer here but we were now chivvied along to get back on the boat to head to the third dive destination, The Aquarium.
1.30pm Dive #3 - The Aquarium.
Again, much like the previous dive spot at Half Moon Caye, there is a ton of stuff to see at this dive site. As its name suggests, there are a lot of pretty fish!
Corals, rays, eels, along with a plethora of vivid fish, this is certainly the most visually stunning dive with regards to colour! The Aquarium was a typical dive in terms on bottom time, 50 minutes due to my dive buddy’s air.
2.30pm - Homeward bound and Happy Hour!
With the third and final dive over and we were on the home strait and our long journey back to San Pedro. But first off, as if we hadn’t eaten enough all day out come the Snicker bars! My first chocolate since being away! And it was delicious – one couple even smuggled out a second one (Myron & Danika, I’m talking to you!)
Then the grand finale of the day, they bring out the rum punch – Pineapple and Malibu (or their local equivalent of it). With plenty of ice it’s a much welcome treat to finish the day off with.
The drink kept flowing, which certainly made the journey back go quick. It’s questionable as to how much I managed to drink; trying to get said drink into your mouth while on a boat in choppy seas meant that most of us were covered in sticky rum and juice come the end of the journey. Out of the three-large cupful’s I’m pretty sure the boat deck got the lions share.
5pm - Arrive back in San Pedro
So, Scuba Dive Belize Blue Hole, is it worth it?
YES YES YES!
Dive Belize Blue Hole was one of the best things I did on my month-long trip. It was everything as amazing that I had hoped it would be, and more.
I loved the quality of the dives, the sheer awesomeness and grandeur of the Blue Hole, I’d made a ton of new friends, saw beautiful aquatic life and fed enough food to last me a week!
Let the grumblers grumble away!
Are you planning a trip to the Blue Hole in Belize? Or have you dived the Blue Hole yourself? What did you think of the experience? I’d love to hear from you.