Diving Belize Part 1: Ambergris Caye

In my first installment of the “Diving Belize” series, Diving Belize Part 1 introduces you to scuba diving on the beautiful tropical island of Ambergris Caye (pronounced “key”). Ambergris Caye is a 25-mile-long island peninsula located 57 miles N-NE of Belize City in the Caribbean Sea. Travel to Ambergris Caye is a 15-minute flight from Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport or a 1 ½ hour ferry ride from the ferry terminal at Belize City. The island has many resorts to choose from, along with lots of popular over-the-water restaurants and bars. The island includes a variety of daytime activities for the non-divers and a hopping nightlife for the partygoers. Scuba diving is the most popular activity on the island with many reputable dive shops to service you. Belize law requires all dives to be led by a licensed dive guide, and a dive master, which is great for solo divers traveling without a dive buddy. Ambergris Caye is arguably one of the best dive destinations in the Caribbean and has been a favorite dive destination since the mid-80s. One of the main benefits of scuba diving Ambergris Caye is the island’s proximity to the Belize Barrier Reef, which is only one-quarter mile east of the island. Most of the dive sites featured in this article are only a 5–15 minute boat ride from the dock. If you are an avid diver, you can do two dives in the morning, have lunch at one of the many casual restaurants (shirt and shoes not required of course!), then go for an afternoon dive before returning to your hotel room.

A map of some of the many dive sites on Ambergris Caye

Tackle Box Canyons

A Caribbean Reef Shark at Tackle Box

Tackle Box Canyons or Tackle Box is a popular dive site located on the Belize Barrier Reef at San Pedro Central Park. Diving from 60 – 100 feet (18-30 meters), the site features deep canyons cuts from 60 feet (18 meters) sloping to 100 feet (30 meters) or more. The canyon walls are covered with corals and sponges that are home to a variety of colorful marine life. If you like diving with sharks, then Tackle Box is the dive site for you! The reef sharks typically range from 4 feet (1.5 meters) to 7 feet (2+ meters) and will swim in close for some great photos. Tackle Box is also a great site to spot a sea turtle, a spotted eagle ray, or even a pod of dolphins.

Esmeralda Canyons

The reef at Esmeralda Canyons

Esmeralda Canyons is a dive site located just south of San Pedro Central Park on the Belize Barrier Reef and is a favorite dive site on Ambergris Caye. Esmeralda Canyons is one of the shallower dive sites on the island and is suitable for divers at all skill levels. Diving from 35-75 feet (11-23 meters), Esmeralda Canyons starts at 40 feet (12 meters ) and descends deeper down the tall narrow canyons to 75 feet (23 meters). Esmeralda Canyons has an abundance of marine life, colorful corals, sponges, and vibrantly colored fish. The best time to dive in Esmeralda Canyons is during a sunlit mid-morning. Toward the end of the dive, with the morning sun in the east, the shallow part of the reef is brilliantly lit for a panoramic view.

Victoria Tunnels

An old Loggerhead Turtle at Victoria Tunnels

Victoria Tunnels is a 5-minute boat ride just south of San Pedro Central Park on the Belize Barrier Reef. With a spur and groove reef descending from 50-100 feet (15-30 meters), Victoria Tunnels has a wide variety of marine life including many species of fish, vibrant corals, and sponges. Victoria Tunnels has deep grooves that also have a variety of swim-throughs and tunnels to enjoy.

Paradise Canyons

A Sharp Nose Puffer at Paradise Canyons

Paradise Canyons is a dive site located just 5 minutes north of San Pedro on the Belize Barrier Reef. Diving from 60-70 feet (18-21 meters) along the finger reef canyons that extend outward creating a variety of interesting coral formations. Paradise Canyons also hosts a variety of corals, sponges, and unique tropical fish. On a good day, with visibility of 100+ feet and great lighting, Paradise Canyons is an excellent site for wide-angle shots of beautiful coral formations with divers in the background. Ending the dive at shallow coral formations, there are also lots of opportunities to hunt for macro critters.

Palapa Canyons

A tiny Blenny hiding in the reef at Palapa Canyons

Palapa Canyons is a dive site located 5 minutes north of San Pedro on the Belize Barrier Reef. Dropping in on the shallow part of the reef at 50 feet (22 meters) and then descending from 50-80 feet (16-25 meters) along the finger reef canyons. The canyons extend out to deeper waters creating a variety of interesting coral formations and lighting for wide-angle shots. Palapa Canyons also hosts a variety of corals, sponges, and unique tropical fish to photograph. At the shallow part of the reef, there are lots of macro opportunities to find tiny Blennies hiding in holes in the coral rock.

Tres Cocos

A Flamingo Tongue Snail on the coral at Tres Cocos

Tres Cocos is a dive site located 1 ½ miles north of San Pedro on the Belize Barrier Reef. Tres Cocos is one of the deeper dives on the Belize Barrier Reef, with a tongue and groove reef descending from 50 – 110 feet (15 – 34 meters) or more. The reef starts as a flat reef at 45 feet and then drops off to a deep dive as you venture further out. The marine life on Tres Cocos is plentiful with lots of species of reef fish, beautiful coral formations, and colorful sponges. The flat part of the reef at Tres Cocos is a perfect night dive if conditions are calm because the wide cut at Tres Cocos is easier to navigate. At night, you will see a variety of nocturnal marine life that are not active during the day, such as octopus and diamond squid.

Pescador Tunnels

Coral and sponges at Pescador Tunnels

Pescador Tunnels is a dive site located 2 ½ miles north of San Pedro on the Belize Barrier Reef. Diving from 60-100 feet (18-30 meters), the site has many coral tunnels and swim-throughs to enjoy. You can swim from tunnel to tunnel at a depth of about 70-90 feet (21-27 meters) for an entertaining dive. I recommend practicing good buoyancy and careful fin kicks as to not stir up silt for the divers behind you. If you don’t feel like swimming through the tunnels, you can stay at the top of the reef at around 60 feet (18 meters) and follow the bubbles of the divers in the tunnels below.

Mexico Canyons

Feather Duster Worms at Mexico Canyons

Mexico Canyons is a dive site located 4 miles north of San Pedro on the Belize Barrier Reef. Initially dropping onto a shallow part of the reef at about 60 feet (20 meters), then descends into deep canyon walls at 70-90 feet (21-28 meters). The deep canyon walls host lots of interesting marine life and the overgrown canyons can provide a challenging dive to navigate. Ending the dive back at the shallow parts of the reef, there are lots of opportunities to spot interesting macro subjects to photograph.