Complete Guide To Go Snorkeling In Belize
Featuring the second largest barrier reef in the world, snorkeling in Belize offers some of the best underwater viewing experiences in the Caribbean. The country is home to hundreds of cays and features several marine parks with fantastic healthy coral reefs and abundant sea life. Add this premiere destination to your bucket list and enjoy swimming along nurse sharks, manatees, rays, whales and turtles at the best Belize snorkeling spots!
Table of Contents
- Belize snorkeling conditions
- What are the best months to snorkel in Belize?
- Best spots to go snorkeling in Belize
- Where to stay in Belize for snorkeling?
Belize snorkeling conditions
There is a lot to discover both for beginners and advanced underwater explorers here, but due to the shoreline’s characteristics, beach snorkeling in Belize is limited.
Most reefs are located about 20-60 miles offshore, therefore are reachable by boat only, so plan your vacation accordingly and accept that you have to sign up for boat tours if you wish to access the best Belize snorkel spots.
What are the best months to snorkel in Belize?
The weather conditions are generally good year-round making snorkeling possible in all seasons. The climate is subtropical. Due to high humidity, it can rain anytime so make sure that your Belize packing list includes a rain jacket.
The dry season runs from December to May when you can expect little to no rain making these the best months for snorkeling. March and April are especially recommended when the water is the calmest and clearest.
There is wet season from June to October which means rainfall will impact a few hours of the day, but otherwise these months are a little warmer with average temperatures around 80- 84°F (27-29°C). This isn’t a bad time to come either as accommodation prices are lower than in the main season, but you need to prepare for interruptions due to weather conditions and/or trip cancellations.
To cut it short, if you are looking for the best visibility and warmest waters, arrive between April and early June before the rainy season starts and when the sea conditions are optimal for snorkeling. Moreover, this is the whale shark season too!
Do you need a wetsuit for snorkeling in Belize?
Regarding the sea temperatures, there isn’t much to worry about since the Caribbean Sea is warm enough year-round. In winter, expect to enjoy 79-80F/25.6-26.6C warm water, while in the summer months, it typically goes up to 84-85F/28.8-29.4C.
Such temperatures are comfortable for swimming without a wetsuit but if you know that you tend to feel cold or planning to do long snorkeling sessions, a 3mm shorty can come in handy. Wearing UV protection clothing (rash guard) is a must tough in all seasons to avoid sunburn, so make sure to pack it along with your regular gear.
Best spots to go snorkeling in Belize
If you prefer to explore areas that are still welcoming to tourists but aren’t filled with them, then you should visit Ambergris Caye. This stretch of area is home to several types of reef fish like snappers, angelfish, damselfish, and you can experience swimming with nurse sharks and stingrays too.
Actually, Ambergris Caye offers some of the best Belize offshore snorkeling so if you don’t want to take boats to the outer reef, this is a great place. If you decide to take a boat trip, you can easily get to the nearby Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos from here. Both of these fantastic Belize snorkeling spots are available from a short ride from San Pedro and feature shallow reefs that are excellent for beginners too.
The Split – Caye Caulker
Although there are no real reefs around Caye Caulker, you’ll also find plenty of sea life here which makes it a nice spot to visit for beginners. From smaller creatures such as crabs, sea horses and lobsters to colorful parrot fish and stingrays, many creatures can be found lurking around this Caye.
There is a very interesting shore snorkel spot here too, called The Split. It is technically a channel on the northern tip of the island that splits Caye Caulker. The channel is about 20-25ft/6-7.6m deep and provides a home to a variety of aquatic life like sponges, anemones, certain corals and fish species. On the sandy bottom, you can spot sea stars too.
Caye Caulker lies close to the area where sea cows can be seen (Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary), so if you want to see these beautiful, friendly creatures, you can easily sign up for a manatee-watching tour here. Swimming with them is prohibited tough, but you can do this if you are lucky enough to encounter one while snorkeling at one of the reefs.
To get to Caye Caulker, the easiest is taking a water taxi ride from Belize City. There are several companies available offering roundtrips and also island hopping.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
You can check off an item on your bucket list when you visit Hol Chan since this is the place where you can go snorkeling with sharks in Belize. This location is a 3 square miles marine reserve and is famous for its vibrant display of sea life and reef system. If you want to swim with colorful fish, nurse sharks, large stingrays and turtles, then this is the place to snorkel.
The park is technically a 20 yards-wide, 25 ft deep channel in the barrier reef that was dedicated to a national park in 1987 in order to keep the area safe from over-fishing and allow the reef and marine life to recover.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve is definitely one of the most popular snorkeling spots in Belize so it is easy to access it via boat from Ambergris Caye. Because of its popularity, it is always busy, so try to book a morning trip to avoid crowds.
Shark Ray Alley
There is a special Belize snorkeling spot in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve where a large number of harmless nurse sharks and also stingrays gather, called Shark Ray Alley.
The reason why so many sharks come to this place is simple, yet interesting: local fishermen used to clean their daily catch here throwing the morsels in the water, so technically they were feeding the sharks and that’s why they always return to the area.
Now there is no feeding needed; the sharks are already coming (and huge stingrays too) when they hear the motorboats creating a local attraction for snorkelers and divers.
This is definitely a unique experience for snorkeling in Belize and although these sharks are harmless, it might take a few minutes until you get used to the feeling that they swim close and their skin is touching yours. And the best is, that just a little south of shark point, there are fantastic corals in shallow water, so if you have time, ask your boatman to stop there too!
Tip: Belize is often compared to other popular Caribbean Islands in terms of snorkeling conditions. To get a clear picture of what destination you should visit, see here more guides:
Roatan snorkel spots
Snorkeling in Cozumel
Glover’s Reef Atoll
Glover’s Reef, an UNSECO World Heritage Site on the remote Southwest Caye atoll offers the most fantastic snorkeling in Belize with incredibly diverse marine life.
Exploring Glover’s Reef Atoll is an honor in itself. While snorkeling here you will have a chance to see everything from sea urchins, starfish, sea cucumber, damselfish, angelfish to nurse sharks and stingrays. This fantastic reef life is just a short swim away from the shore, but you can easily take trips to the nearby coral shelf too!
This interesting feature of Glover’s Reef is called The Wall. It’s an underwater cliff where the Caribbean Sea’s open water area begins and the reef here drops 2500 feet. While you may not be able to snorkel to the bottom, you can see where the cliff suddenly drops off into the deep ocean. It’s eerie and fascinating.
This may be not the top Belize snorkeling location, but definitely worth checking for cruise ship passengers. Harvest Caye is a recently built island where ships dock. It’s essentially an artificial private island that offers plenty of activities, shopping, and has nice beaches you can enjoy.
Snorkeling from the shore might not be that enjoyable because the water is shallow and often murky because of the sandy bottom, but you join a snorkel trip leaving from the marine that takes you to the reef that is teeming with life including hard and soft corals and various sea creatures like rays, sea stars and critters.
One of the world’s most fascinating places is the Blue Hole in Belize which is the largest ocean sinkhole in the entire world and can even be seen from space. If you’re looking for unique snorkeling in Belize, then you will find it at the Blue Hole!
The hole spans 1,000 feet and is 400 feet deep. It was created 15.000 years ago when the existing limestone cave collapsed as sea levels rose. The area around the hole is packed full of reefs to explore.
Some sea life you may encounter in the Blue Hole are Caribbean Reef Sharks, spotted drums, parrotfish, and several others. It’s also possible to dive in the Blue Hole, but you need to be experienced.
Laughing Bird Caye
If you’re wondering where to go snorkeling in Belize to find an extraordinary variety of marine life, then you need to go to Laughing Bird Caye which is a national park and World Heritage Site in the central lagoon of the Belize Barrier Reef, 11 miles offshore of Placencia.
Snorkelers who have visited this area in the past have reported seeing incredible snapper schools, barracuda, nurse sharks, turtles and lobsters.
There are plenty of tours available ready to show you the best spots to snorkel. If you sign up for a Laughing Bird Caye trip, usually you will visit additional good snorkel spots too such as Lark Cayes where you can snorkel over huge coral heads.
Silk Cays – Turtle Alley
There are many extraordinary places for snorkeling in Belize, and Silk Cayes is one of them where you’ll find tons of sea life and healthy reefs. This protected area lies 36 kilometers East of Placencia and several operators offer tours there.
The most famous spot of the area is Turtle Alley where you can certainly expect to see happy sea turtles swimming around, including a resident Loggerhead that is measuring more than 4ft in length!
But there’s far more to discover. Nurse and lemon sharks, as well as stingrays also make their home in this area.
Half Moon Caye
Half Moon Caye on the Lighthouse Reef, not so far from the famous Blue Hole has a fantastic ecosystem to explore. The conservation area here measures 45 acres. It is home to the nesting Red Footed Booby Bird, and there are tons of snorkeling fun just waiting to be had.
The area features a great variety of marine life found here including hermit crabs, reef sharks, large groupers, and also different turtle species like loggerhead, green and hawksbill.
Gladden Spit – Placencia
Most probably the most exciting Belize snorkeling experience is swimming with the world’s largest fish, the whale shark! These gentle filter feeders -that grow up to 60ft long- are a seasonal attraction here.
They can be seen in the Gladden Spit Marine Reserve, near Placencia every year between March and June as they migrate through the area. Tour operators monitor the whale sharks’ migration to ensure a high chance of an encounter. (Hint: the best is scheduling your trip for the full moon period).
Whale shark snorkeling and diving is regulated by the Belizean sustainable tourism practice so time slots are allocated for each tour operator to avoid crowding. There are also special guidelines you should follow for your own and for the creatures’ safety, please take these very seriously and you will certainly have an unforgettable, lifetime experience!
If you want more advanced Belize snorkeling experiences, then you should attempt to snorkel in Long Caye. Also called The Aquarium, this location is home to several species of fish. It’s better suited for advanced snorkelers because of the often-strong ocean currents.
Divers will enjoy this area the most, but all in all, this is a great place for snorkeling in Belize because the amazingly clear water makes observing sea life easier than ever. You’ll be able to see sponges, fans, and other reef structures. Should you wish to decide to spend a few days in this dreamy environment, there is even a hotel here, Itza Resort.
If you want to explore the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, then you should consider snorkeling in Tobacco Caye.
The island is only 5 acres long and only 30 inhabitants occupy it. To get the most out of your snorkeling, you should consider staying at the Tobacco Caye Paradise Resort.
You’re situated right on the water and able to enjoy its fresh food and relaxing environment the whole time. It also offers rentals for snorkeling, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
20 miles off the coast of Belize City, Turneffe is the largest atoll of the Mesoamerican Reef System, surrounded by deep waters on all sides.
Consisting of more than 150 bigger- and larger islands, it is one of the region’s ecologically most important areas and therefore was declared as a marine reserve too. With its clean, warm waters and extreme biodiversity, Turneffe offers the best snorkeling in Belize and in the whole Caribbean.
Thanks to these surrounding nutrient-rich waters and their protection status, Turneffe’s vibrant reefs have healthy stony and soft corals that are frequented by larger fish like tarpons, groupers and sharks. The mangrove shallows, and seagrass beds are nursing grounds for juvenile fish and invertebrates including threatened species.
Coco Plum Caye
Snorkeling in the Coco Plum Caye area means you should first book a room at the Coco Plum Island Resort. It’s a private island with adorable cabanas. Since it’s adult-only, it is a perfect honeymoon destination. If you are looking for a Belize snorkeling spot where tourists don’t clog up the beach, then this is the area for you.
You’ll find some of the favorites when you snorkel in this area: sea turtles, stingrays, groupers, and reef sharks are regular visitors on the reef. But if you wish to just sunbathe on this picture-perfect island, we can guarantee that you will have an excellent time!
Where to stay in Belize for snorkeling?
Belize offers a variety of accommodations for its visitors. To decide what resort to choose, consider if you want to stay at a remote location where you can focus on relaxation while enjoying Belize’s underwater wonders, or prefer a more central location where you can explore local life too.
In the first case, choose a resort at one of the outer atolls like Ambergris Caye, Glover’s Reef or Turneffe, while if you don’t mind spending your vacation at a more touristy location, we recommend staying in Caye Caulker or Placencia.
See our recommendation on some Belize snorkeling resorts below:
Tranquility Bay Resort – Ambergris Caye
If you prefer to do shore snorkeling instead of signing up for boat excursions, the best is to stay at Tranquility Bay Resort. At this unique beachfront accommodation, you can access fantastic marine life directly from the beach.
This resort is found at the northern end of Ambergris Caye. It is away from the tourist zone and getting here takes a bit of effort, but if you want to spend your vacation fully relaxed while enjoying first-class snorkeling, this is definitely a place to consider booking!
Glover’s Atoll Resort – Glover’s Reef
If you’re interested in exploring incredibly diverse marine life, then make a reservation at the Glover’s Atoll Resort. It’s situated right next to the reef and allows you to easily start your snorkeling adventures right from the beach.
They even have over-the-water rooms available where you can have access to fantastic sea life directly from your room, but you can take boat trips too to the nearby coral shelf!
Those who really want to unplug and just be in the water all day long will find Glover’s Atoll Hotel the best snorkeling resort in Belize.
Turneffe Island Resort – Turneffe Atoll
A family-friendly secluded private island resort with fantastic white sand beaches and services/amenities to please everyone. The staff is very hospitable and highly qualified to provide guests with a safe and fun dive and snorkel experience.
Many excellent reef sites are just about 5-10 minutes boat ride from the resort, and Belize’s popular snorkeling sites such as the Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef Atoll or Half Moon Caye are also not too far from Turneffe.
Iguana Reef Inn – Caye Caulker
Book your stay at Iguana Reef Inn if you want to stay in Caye Caulker. The hotel is situated right on the water’s edge and is nestled within an authentic Caribbean town. Its architecture, alone, heralds the Old Caribbean style.
You can snorkel right from the beach or join excursions organized by the resort. The shore snorkeling is not exceptional since there is no reef here but you can see huge stingrays, seahorses, crabs and some fish. It is also easy to get to the Split snorkel spot from here.
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