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Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world (second only to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia). In its entirety, the reef runs along the east coast of Mexico and Central America, with Belize’s section of reef running the entire length of the country – 175 miles.
The waters off Belize are multiple shades of blue crystal clear water and is home to hundreds of islands (called cayes, pronounced keys). Some of these islands are large enough for small villages or guesthouses, while others are barely large enough for a boat to dock. Two of the most popular islands are Ambergris Caye, home to the lively town of San Pedro, and Caye Caulker, a more laid-back destination where hammock swinging is a legitimate activity. Both islands are easily accessible by water taxi (an hour ride from Belize City) or a 15-30 minute flight from most coastal cities.
The reef itself is a “must experience” for visitors to Belize. More than 100 kinds of coral and 500 species of fish surround this stretch of the Carribean. Tour guides can arrange a variety of snorkeling or diving excursions. One of the most popular includes snorkeling the reef at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and then venturing on to Shark Ray Alley, where docile nurse sharks and southern sting rays congregate.
One of the area’s most well-known sites is the Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef – a location Jacques Cousteau called one of the four “must dive” sites on the planet. This geographic phenomenon is a perfectly circular limestone sinkhole that spans 300 feet across and 412 feet deep. Divers enjoy the sheer walls and the unique stalactite formations which angle back, allowing you dive underneath monstrous overhangs.
For non-divers, experiencing the Blue Hole from the sky is also an amazing venture. Private helicopter charters by Astrum Helicopters are available but should be booked in advance.