Scuba Diving Ambergris Caye & Caye Caulker
Ambergris Caye is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belize. Ample amenities and a restful ambiance while Caye Caulker has managed to retain an unspoiled and traditional feel.
The clam waters are dense with coral gardens, colorful sponges, a multitude of tropical Caribbean reef fish, and water visibility that exceeds 150ft (46m). Diving the barrier reef off Ambergris Caye & Caye Calulker is full of variety with classic spur-and-groove reefs with deep canyons, swim-throughs, undercuts, coral gardens and sand flats.
White sands border some of the warmest, clearest water to be found anywhere in the world. World-class snorkeling, diving, sailing, kayaking, and windsurfing in the turquoise Western Caribbean waters. On land, you’ll be immersed in a friendly, laid back atmosphere that offers hotels, restaurants, and services to suit every whim.
Belize’s Ambergris Caye (pronounced “key”), a 20-mile-long, two-mile-wide tropical spit of sand with coconut trees, mangrove trees and is cooled by trade winds. Golf carts, bicycles, and your own two feet are the main modes of transportation on the sand-covered streets of San Pedro, the island’s only town. But don’t let the slow pace fool you. The locals are ready to welcome you with plenty of places to eat, drink, and be merry-or leave you alone if you so desire.
Topside of Ambergris Caye, San Pedro is one of those quirky, laid-back beach towns that divers take to instantly. Thanks to a just-right mix, you have all the conveniences of home while still reveling in that world-away feeling. Visitor services include gift shops, banks, grocery stores, museums, and even a small casino. Many businesses have their own dive/snorkel shops on the premises. Most also handle fishing trips as well as the rental of windsurfers, kayaks, jet-skis, sailboats, and other gear. San Pedranos are also experienced guides and recreation outfitters eager to make your daytrips picture perfect. And there’s no language problem, English is the official language of this former British colony, independent since 1981.
Cosmopolitan ranges of cuisines are available at many restaurants. When it comes to nightlife, the bigger hotels offer live entertainment and dancing in addition to their on-site bars and restaurants. Beyond-the-hotel nightlife, try the music and dance scenes along the shoreline. For those who really want to get away from it all, there are secluded resorts that specialize in diving, fishing, boating, or simply stretching out in a hammock with a cold drink and a hot bestseller. Parts of Ambergris Caye are even more remote, comprising of government-protected reserves where you can see endangered sea turtles swim ashore to lay their eggs, ospreys dive for fish in backwater lagoons, and archaeologists hunt for artifacts among ruins left by the ancient Maya civilization. Dozens of fishing, diving, and snorkeling sites are a short distance away, including Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark/Ray Alley. Underwater national parks flourish with tropical fish of every size, color, and description, along with exotic corals, sponges, and sea fans. If you don’t want to get wet, you can view this amazing panorama on a glass-bottom boat ride.
Day trips can easily be arranged to the mainland. Popular and worthwhile destinations include the Maya ruins at Lamanai, or Altun Ha; the howler monkey reserve and Belize Zoo west of Belize City; and soft-adventure horseback, mountain bike, or canoe trips in the jungles of the Cayo District.
SCUBA DIVING AMBERGRIS CAYE
The largest and most popular of the 200 Belize offshore cayes boasts 25 miles (40 km) of the Belize Barrier Reef less than 0.6 miles (1 km) offshore. Ambergris Caye is just a 20-minute plane ride from Belize City. The clam waters are dense with coral gardens, colorful sponges, a multitude of tropical Caribbean reef fish, and water visibility that exceeds 150ft (46m). Diving the barrier reef off Ambergris Caye is full of variety with classic spur-and-groove reefs with deep canyons, swim-throughs, undercuts, coral gardens and sand flats. Permanent mooring bouys and natural resource management initiatives such as Hol Chan Marine Reserve protect the reefs from anchor damage. Divers enjoy macro photography of vase and tube sponges and coral pinnacles with countless little reef creatures. Observant divers search ledges and gullies, or ceilings of overhangs to find invertebrates including the red-banded coral shrimp, brittle stars, nudibranchs, tubeworms, and tunicates of every imaginable color. Outside the reef coral formations drop into the depths. Many diving spots are shallow and excellent for snorkelers as well.
The east coast of the atoll features spur-and-groove reefs. Long reef fingers that jut out on the ocean side of the main barrier reef, perpendicular to the coastline. These create a vast number of gullies, canyons, ledges, tunnels and caverns that offer a home for marine creatures and for scuba divers to explore. To the south of the island there runs a line of cayes and reefs inside of which you will find well-protected shallow water that offers great diving. Shark Ray Alley is here and is rated one of the Caribbean’s best animal dives and is a great site for encounters with sharks and rays. The animals come here to profit from fishing boats’ scraps tossed overboard, so they are not shy, resulting in some excellent photo opportunities.
The many marine parks here mean that fishing restrictions are in place in several areas. Hol Chan Marine Reserve, aka ‘The Cut’, is one such small marine reserve popular among divers from Ambergris Caye. It promises an easy dive with pelagics such as barracuda in the depths and often large animals in the shallow seagrass beds like sharks and rays.
There are a number of different ecosytems to be found here so the species variety is wider than may be found elsewhere. You can expect mangrove cayes, coral reefs, seagrass beds and lagoons, all offering something different.
SCUBA DIVING CAULKERS CAYE
Set in the turquoise blue of the Caribbean Sea and an hour’s boat ride from Belize City, Caye Caulker has managed to retain an unspoiled and traditional feel while providing good facilities for tourists. This is mainly due to the ongoing efforts of the locals and resident expats who have fought off big developments. The boat ride to Caye Caulker is a treat in itself but there are some flights to the tiny airstrip if your sea legs fail you. Caye Caulker does not have all-inclusive resorts where it can be hard to get a feel for the locals and their culture. Things have stayed small and accessible with a range of hotels, guesthouses and hostels to choose from, and everything is in walking distance of, well, everything. There are very few cars on the island; most transport is by golf buggy or bike. You can walk from end to end, about five miles, in an hour. The ocean surrounding Caye Caulker is part of a marine reserve, full of tropical fish, manta rays, dolphins, sharks and turtles. If you ask around, enterprising local fishermen will also bring you out to the reef for snorkeling, a cold beer and a chat about life. Caye Caulker is a great spot to do very little for a week or two. Caribbean life in general moves at a slow pace, and out there you can happily pass the days just diving, eating, drinking and lying on the beach.
CAULKERS CAYE – Highlight Dive Sites
Rock Beauty – A visual beauty this 60 ft dive located in Caye Caulker Marine Reserve offers healthy corals especially healthy fan corals.
Island Queen Canyons – a mix of steep wall drops, coral caverns and tunnels featuring all types of marine life.
Sand Trap – Tons of soft corals make this a wonderful dive for most skill levels to enjoy.
North Cut – You’ll see brilliant coral and sponge formations, as well as a wealth of colorful marine life.
DIVING SEASON: Diving is good all year-round. The best conditions for diving are generally considered to be from March to December, although outside this period it is common to still find optimum conditions. The first few months of this period (March to June) are considered by some to represent the very best months.
VISIBILITY: Visibility remains constant year-round away from the mainland shore. You can expect the viz to run from 80 – 100′.
WATER TEMPERATURE: August to October tend to be the months with the warmest water temperatures at around 82 – 84º F (28 or 29° C). Even at the lower end of the annual water temperature range, Belize is very much a warm water destination. The temperature rarely dips below 77º F (26° C) even around the cooler months of January and February. Seldom would you need more than a shortie and many scuba divers choose not to use an exposure suit at all during the warmer months. Air temperatures remain relatively constant around the 80º F (27° C) mark.
WEATHER: Belize can be dived year round. February and March represent the driest months. March to June experiences occasional rainfall and August to October, “the wet season”, represents the more likely period for hurricanes.
DIVE ACCESS: For some, this choice is a straight one between liveaboards and resorts. Belize liveaboards have the obvious benefit of being able to visit a wider area and allow you to be on top of the sites rather than have to take boat rides from the resort. Some people prefer to be stationed on dry land and to dive the best sites within reach from a resort.
MARINE LIFE: October and November is when thousands of groupers mate and give birth to their young in the shallows of the cayes.
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