Belize Snorkeling & Free Diving
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Most famous for its extensive Barrier Reef ecosystem and pristine coral reefs, Belize is the perfect place for a tropical snorkeling trip. Scuba diving has long received more attention in Belize since it is such a widely known sport, but few people realize that the snorkeling opportunities are also exceptional. The clear warm waters of the Caribbean are more salty than in temperate regions, and creates extra buoyancy for swimmers which allows anyone to feel comfortable while exploring the reefs with a mask and snorkel.
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Snorkeling is usually available wherever scuba diving is. The many shallow reefs of Belize allow snorkelers to see nearly everything that scuba divers access, along with the advantage of not having to worry about underwater safety, rigid time constraints, bulky equipment, and expense. The freedom of snorkeling, and with the security of always being on the surface, appeals to a wide range of people and is Belize’s most popular activity. Our Belize Adventure Week trip is one of the country's most popular vacations because of the variety of sports you experience on the trip.
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You can snorkel right from our shore by swimming to nearby snorkel spots, or use our kayaks to access even more areas. Seventeen spots that we explore regularly are shown here. Click on the map twice to see a larger version, a description of each snorkel site is below.
1. Practice Reef. This is where we conduct our snorkel orientations and where we also go night snorkeling. Our most accessible reef, you can walk or swim to it, and much of the surrounding sand at this patch reef is only about 3 feet deep, so you can stand up right next the coral whenever you need a break. This is the perfect first snorkel.
2. The Aquarium. Just a 2/3 mile paddle away, this is one of our all-time favorite snorkels, and it will be yours too! A very shallow reef, you can stand up all around this beautiful patch reef. Most of the incredible snorkel images on this site were taken here.
3. Dado's Reef. Named after a ship-wrecked sailor (yes really!), this reef is just a swim away. It is quite deep in places. One of the most beautiful snorkel spots you will ever see.
4. The Horseshoe. This nearby reef is accessed by kayak, although for a longer swim you can also swim there with a safety kayaker joining you. It is about a 1/2 mile from our island. This is usually our first paddle/snorkel, where you paddle to a patch, tie your boat up to the guide's boat, and jump out WITHOUT tipping over (we teach you to do this.)
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5. Lobster Rocks. What a wonderful area this is. The coral is particularly beautiful here, and on one recent snorkel we saw about 12 Caribbean Spiny Lobsters. We usually paddle to this one, but you can swim or paddleboard if you prefer.
6. Conch Central. One of our new favorites. We paddle here every week to snorkel out of the kayaks, sometime combining this one with Sea Fan City. This is a large patch reef with a lot of tropical fish.
7. Sea Fan City. The proximity to the channel means we see a lot of larger fish here, and very healthy Elkhorn Coral (not to mention a whole lot of Purple Sea Fans!)
8. The Channel. We paddle out to a deep patch reef between Long and Northeast Cayes. Huge schools of Bermuda Chub, Black Grouper and Spotted Eagle Rays are seen almost every time!
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9. Northeast Caye. There are several areas of reef over near the caye nextdoor that we like to paddle to. A fairly deep snorkel, it's nice to have your boat to hang on to if you need extra flotation. This is a gorgeous area.
10. Drift Snorkel. We swim out from the north end of our island, and then drift with the prevailing winds which takes us by three small patch reefs. Then we swim back in at the south end. A very aerobic swim!
11. The Wall. When the conditions are right we swim to this famous Belize dive site. This entire snorkel is over your head, and conditions have to be calm. Here we can see huge loggerhead turtles swimming right in front of us!
12. The Cut. A great loop snorkel, we swim from the southern end of the island along the barrier reef of the atoll from the inside. We cut through the boat channel, and return on the outside of the reef. A fantastic, long exploratory snorkel.
13. Snorkel Around the Island. We often swim almost all the way around, and the outside of the island is the best. We are not as far out as The Wall snorkel, the coral and parrot fish here are amazing!
14. Far Tortuga. An absolutely huge patch reef, we have never made it all the way around this one. This is a mile paddle, you really feel like you are way out in the middle of nowhere when you anchor here.
15. Angel Fish Paradise. Not as intimidating as the giant Far Tortuga snorkel, this one is teaming with Angel Fish and other beautiful species.
16. Sponge Forest. What a great snorkel! This patch reef is really 2 patches, we usually anchor in the middle of them. There is an amazing Star Coral canyon here, and lots of sponges and fish!
17. Atlantis. Our new find! This one is two miles away, so we don't go here every week, we need a hardy group! This is like a sunken volcano of sand. It is surrounded by deep water (about 50 feet), but is flat and only 3 feet deep on the top, you can stand up anywhere inbetween the coral patches. We see a lot of really cool stuff here, we doubt if anyone had ever explored it before we found it last March.
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When choosing Belize snorkel tours, remember that not all lodges are located on the coral reef.
If you want to avoid a long and expensive boat ride to access snorkeling spots, make sure you know that you can snorkel right off shore. Google Earth is a big help with figuring this out.
Visitors to the mainland should be aware that the Belize Barrier Reef and associated coral is a minimum of 10 miles away, and visitors to popular Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are often surprised to find out that the reef is still a half-mile away, too far for most people to swim, and the waters are full of dangerous boats used for scuba. Snorkeling tours use boats in these areas.
The best locations for snorkeling right off shore are the three atolls of Belize: Glover's Reef, Lighthouse Reef and Turneffe Islands, and the southern cayes of the Barrier Reef. In these spots the islands sit right on the reef and you can jump in and snorkel immediately.
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Serious snorkelers should not pass up a trip to visit Belize. Snorkel areas are so lush there that in one session a knowledgeable person can identify thirty fish, fifteen other creatures and many species of coral and sponges. Below is a short list of commonly seen underwater species.
A sport related to snorkeling is free diving. Free diving is simply diving as deep as scuba diving, but while holding your breath. There are many places in Belize where one can free dive to depths of 40 feet or more. The water is clear and warm, and those with a small weight belt can stay down for several minutes safely. The series at left is of one of our guides free diving to observe a small nurse shark.
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From top left, clockwise: School of Blue Tang, Queen Parrotfish, Peacock Flounder, Elkhorn Coral
For more images of Belize snorkeling near our island, visit our Belize water sports page.
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|French Angel Fish||Spotted Eagle Ray||Elkhorn||Giant Barrel|
|Queen Angel Fish||Southern Stingray||Staghorn||Yellow Tube|
|Blue Tang||Spotted Yellow Ray||Grooved Brain||Row Pore Rope|
|Stoplight Parrotfish||Bottlenose Porpoise||Symmetrical Brain||Red-Orange Branching|
|Queen Parrotfish||Atlantic-Spotted Porpoise||Knobby Brain||Orange Encrusting|
|Lizard Fish||Loggerhead Turtle||Golf Ball||Loggerhead|
|Tiger Grouper||Hawksbill Turtle||Lettuce Leaf||Stove-Pipe, gray variety|
|French Grunt||Flamingo Tongue Snails||Blade Fire||Iridescent Purple Vase|
|Queen Triggerfish||Caribbean Octopus||Purple Sea Fan||Fire|
|Trumpetfish||Common Octopus||Corky Sea Finger||Branching Tube|
|Barracuda||Caribbean Reef Squid||Red Sea Whip||Antler|
|Midnight Parrotfish||Spiny Lobster||Black||Brown Bowl|
|Creole Wrasse||Spanish Lobster||Star||Green Finger|
|Whitespotted Filefish||Green Moray Eel||Pillar||Red Boring|
|Whitelined Toadfish||Chain Moray Eel||Encrusting Fire||Brown Mound|