The Great Blue Hole is one of those places you see a photo of and then dream of visiting for the rest of your life. Diving the Great Blue Hole is a dream come true for virtually any scuba addict, and one look at an aerial view shows exactly why!
Situated towards the centre of a coral reef and almost perfectly spherical in shape, the Great Blue Hole is a natural sinkhole roughly 300 m in diameter and 125 m deep.
Stalactites in its underwater caves confirm that part of this geological marvel was once above ground. Scientists believe that a series of dry caves was flooded by the melting of the last Ice Age. Under the pressure of so much water, the ceilings caved in, giving rise to the spectacular formation we see today.
WHAT’S THE APPEAL OF THE GREAT BLUE HOLE?
What makes the Great Blue Hole so impressive is the ring of coral reef that surrounds it. Here, the ocean is so shallow that the reef is occasionally exposed at low tide. From the air, this creates a spectacular effect, but even from a boat, the contrast between shallow turquoise water and the great depths of the sinkhole is clear to see.
The famous underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau declared the Great Blue Hole to be one of the world’s top ten dive sites and, in 2012, the Discovery Channel ranked it first on its list of the ’10 Most Amazing Places on Earth’. It’s also a Belize National Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
DIVING THE GREAT BLUE HOLE
To explore the Great Blue Hole, you have to don scuba gear. Series 16 of The Bachelor was a bit misleading, when Ben and one of his suitors jumped gallantly from a helicopter before snorkelling at its centre. It was definitely a good plug for the Belize Tourism Board, but from this vantage point, they would have seen absolutely nothing beneath the surface.
Even if you dive, you could be disappointed if you’ve come to the Great Blue Hole to see marine life. Although some animals do inhabit it, they’re usually not the main attraction.
WHY IS DIVING THE GREAT BLUE HOLE SO POPULAR?
1. It’s an exhilarating experience. Passing over a ‘drop-off’ and sinking 40 m into a deep, dark void is not something you get to do every day.
2. If you go down to the depth limits of recreational diving, there are some fascinating rock formations.
3. While there may not be any colourful fish in the depths of the Great Blue Hole, divers are often greeted by a shiver of Caribbean reef sharks. At first, they appear as nothing more than shadows in the abyss, but gradually they grow in size and clarity as their inquisitive nature gets the better of them.
4. This has become known, to the dismay of some, as a ‘bucket list dive’. If that’s your reason for visiting, so be it. The chances are you will indeed gain some street cred for your troubles.
BELIZE DIVING SERVICES
Belize Diving Services is located on the tiny Caribbean island of Caye Caulker, which is about 30 km northeast of Belize City. You’ll want to visit Caye Caulker anyway as it’s a fantastic place to relax, try some delicious Caribbean cuisine and, with some luck, swim with manatees in Belize‘s tropical waters.
While there are plenty of dive shops on Caye Caulker, and indeed at other locations on and near the coast of mainland Belize, Belize Diving Services is one of few approved by PADI. They’re very professional and they employ local divers with experience of leading deep dive expeditions. They also have a spacious, comfortable dive boat with plenty of shade from the relentless tropical sunshine.
DIVING THE GREAT BLUE HOLE AS A DAY TRIP
Belize Diving Services run a number of trips, but they usually only visit the Great Blue Hole on Mondays and Fridays.
It’s a good idea to book in advance and to confirm the night before that they have the minimum number of divers required for the trip to go ahead (rarely an issue as it’s so popular). The trip takes at least 10 hours and sets off super early, so you should avoid the temptation to drink Caribbean rum the night before and, instead, get to bed at a reasonable hour.
Following a hearty breakfast of bagels and scrambled eggs at 5:15, the trip departs at 6 am. Equipment will have been sized up at the time of booking, but you need to check that everything is present and in working order.
The boat ride to the Great Blue Hole can be choppy and takes at least two hours each way. There are three dives in total.
THE DIVE ITSELF
Diving the Great Blue Hole is a brilliant option for advanced divers who, with at least 25 dives in their log book, are permitted by most companies to pass down to 40 m. Those with less experience only head to 24 m.
Advanced divers should be aware that they are at risk of nitrogen narcosis when they’re diving deep. This should be taken very seriously but isn’t something to be overly concerned about. All divers should also be aware of the PADI guidelines for their particular certification level. Small groups of four or five divers are each allocated a divemaster or instructor who keeps a close eye out for any signs. If you feel light-headed or giddy, you should start to head back towards the surface at a safe pace and the effects will reverse themselves.
Less experienced divers might not reach the limestone formations, but they can still say they’ve dived one of the most famous sites in the world. One advantage of not going so deep is that your air supply lasts longer, enabling you to explore some of the reef surrounding the Great Blue Hole.
HALF MOON CAYE WALL AND LONG CAYE AQUARIUM
For those divers who were disappointed by the lack of pretty coral and marine life while diving the Great Blue Hole site, the rest of the day more than makes up for it.
At Half Moon Caye and Long Caye, the feelings of apprehension and nervous excitement that dominated the first dive of the day are replaced with that sense of extreme relaxation only a diver can achieve.
Here, you’re likely to see a deluge of animals, including colourful sea fans, giant barrel sponges, turtles, eagle rays, octopuses, eels, reef sharks and sting rays.
Between the second and third dives, the boat moors at Half Moon Caye.
First, the dive crew serve up some delicious hot chicken and rice with non-alcoholic punch, which you can eat at picnic tables on the beach.
A short stroll away, there’s a deck among the trees from which you can observe a red-footed booby colony. On the way, locals may offer to demonstrate the coconut slicing technique, after which you can drink its contents.
The real stars of the island, though, are the hermit crabs, which scurry by with unnerving frequency. If you’re extremely lucky, you might get to see them line up in order of size and hand down the shells they’ve outgrown.
IS IT WORTH IT?
If you’re a certified diver in Belize, you have to try diving the Great Blue Hole. At around US$300, it might seem like a pricey activity for Central America, but when you consider that gear rental, park fees, lunch, a tropical island visit and three dives are included, it’s actually a bargain. Throw in the fact that you’ll get to visit one of the best dive sites in Central America and its a steal.
If you’re keen to get into diving before your trip, the online magazine DIVE.in is a great resource and, if you want to get some practice in closer to home, check out their top 10 Dive Sites in Europe!
I received 50% off my day trip with Belize Diving Services. They did not request that I write a favourable review and all opinions expressed are my own. For more information on tours and dive schedules, or to make a reservation, contact email@example.com.