Designated in 1996 as one of seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites along Belize’s extensive barrier reef and outlying atolls, Lighthouse Reef is home to one of the wonders of the world, the Great Blue Hole, an immense limestone hole 1,000 feet across in the seafloor with depths of more than 400 feet. The sunlight shimmers on the surrounding calm, shallow water that’s as translucent as glass, revealing the rich array of oranges, purples, browns, and greens of the reef system within the embrace of the coral atoll. And then the color changes to a deep blue over the hole, accounting for the rather uncreative but descriptive name: the Great Blue Hole. Passing over the hole in an airplane it looks almost like a deep blue eye peering up from a turquoise sea. Gaining World Heritage status isn’t easy. It requires a combination of factors to come together perfectly – the site must contain outstanding diversity of marine plants and animals, have exceptional natural beauty, and serve as a habitat for rare and endangered species. The Great Blue Hole clearly meets these criteria.
The scuba diving is amazing in the Great Blue Hole. If you’re a beginner, diving into the hole, which starts at about 30 feet down, to a comfortable depth is like no other drop-off you’ve ever experienced. The walls are fairly sheer to more than 100 feet down. The surrounding reef teems with anglefish, butterfly fish, small groupers, and many other species. The occasional blacktip tiger shark or hammerhead are also in evidence among the elkhorn corals, anemones, and sea fans. More experienced divers can go deep into the hole to swim among the huge stalactites. The visibility is typically 200 feet. The dive masters running these tours know what they’re doing, so even if you are a beginner, you are sure to have an experienced guide to take you as deep as safety and common sense allow. The snorkeling on the surrounding reef is some of the best in Belize.
When sailing in Belize waters on a Placencia yacht charter, you typically fly to Belize City for the short air connection to the Moorings base at Laru Beya Marina in Placencia Lagoon. Since the Great Blue Hole lies about 60 miles southeast of Belize City along the reef system, a guided dive excursion with hired skipper is required by Belize law when visting the reef. Planning a trip there while you’re in Belize is as easy as building in an extra day for your sailing vacation. Many dive boats operate out of Belize City, so you’ll have lots of choices. And, of course, Belize is also famous for its Mayan ruins. You may want to build in extra time for a whirlwind Mayan sightseeing tour as well.