The entire reef system is a 300 kilometers (190 mi) long section of the 900 kilometers (560 mi) long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which starts from Canc˙n on the tip of the Yucat·n Peninsula and runs all the way south to Honduras; making it one of the largest coral reef systems in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The marine ecosystem supports over 500 species of fish, 100 species of hard and soft corals, and countless invertebrates. This massive and healthy reef system is what draws so many divers to Belize every year to enjoy the underwater diversity it has to offer.
However, despite this massive barrier reef system, the best diving lies further afield at three of the four true atolls in the entire hemisphere; Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Islands and Glover’s Reef. These islands offer some the best diving in the region with fish and coral filled walls that drop to depths of over 1,000 km (3,000 ft). Famous sites like Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye, Painted Wall, and Elbow thrill divers every time they submerge into the crystal clear waters found in these deeper oceanic reefs. Pelagic fish like tunas, schools of jacks and barracudas, and sometimes manta rays can be seen coming in from the blue. Gladden Spit, near Placencia, is a hot spot for whale shark encounters between March and June. The country has taken precautions to prevent the degradation of their unique reef systems and preserve it’s natural habitat. The entire region became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, and the Belize government became the first in the world to completely ban bottom trawling in 2010.
Because of it’s location in the Caribbean Sea and surrounding deep waters, the water temperatures very only slightly throughout the year. In the warmer summer months, usually temps reach up to 28 C and in the cooler winter the drop to around 25 C. The climate of Belize is distinctly separated into wet (May to November) and dry seasons (February to May), although there are significant variations in weather patterns by region. Liveaboards operate trips to the outer atolls past the barrier reef all year long. Every trip departs and returns directly from the capital of Belize City on the eastern coast.