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Belize is rightly considered one of the top scuba diving and snorkeling destinations on the planet. The Belize Barrier Reef, second only to Australia's Great Barrier Reef, runs the length of its coastline, and the country has three open-ocean atolls. Diving and snorkeling are superb all along the barrier reef; the following are just a few of the truly standout sites and dives.

  • Shark-Ray Alley & Hol Chan Marine Reserve (Northern Cayes and Atolls): These two very popular snorkeling sites are threatened with overcrowding but still live up to their billing. Shark-Ray Alley guarantees a very close encounter with schools of large stingrays and nurse sharks. The experience provides a substantial adrenaline rush for all but the most nonchalant and veteran divers. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is an excellent snorkeling destination comprised of a narrow channel cutting through a rich and well-maintained shallow coral reef.
  • Caye Caulker (Northern Cayes and Atolls): If you're looking for a relaxed vacation spot to serve as a base for some good snorkeling, you can't do much better than Caye Caulker, which has some excellent and easily accessible snorkeling sites. It's also much less developed and less crowded than its more popular neighbor, Ambergris Caye. Many of the dive sites are a very short boat ride from shore.
  • Turneffe Island & Lighthouse Reef Atolls (Northern Cayes and Atolls): For many divers coming to Belize, these spots are the holy grail, and justifiably so. Both of these mid-ocean atoll formations feature nearly endless opportunities for world-class wall, drift, and coral-garden diving. As a cherry to top this cake, this is also where you'll find the Blue Hole. A host of dive operators all across Belize offer day trips to dive these sites, although these usually involve a 90-minute to 3-hour ride each way. Alternatively, you can stay at one of the very few lodges out here, or take a vacation on a live-aboard dive boat.
  • Glover's Reef Atoll (Southern Belize): Glover's Reef is the third of Belize's mid-ocean atolls. The diving here is spectacular and underexploited. Unlike the Turneffe Island and Lighthouse Reef atolls, far fewer day-trippers visit the dive sites around Glover's Reef Atoll. The best way to really take advantage of the diving and snorkeling is to stay out here, and for this, Glover's Atoll Resort (tel. 520-5016; www.glovers.com.bz) is your best option.
  • Gladden Spit (Southern Belize): More or less due east of Placencia, Gladden Spit is a world-renowned spot for diving with massive whale sharks. This mid-ocean site is the natural spawning ground for a variety of marine species. Whale sharks come regularly to feed on the energetically rich and very plentiful reproductive effluence. Whale-shark sightings are fairly common here from late March through June, and to a lesser extent from August to October and in December and January. Since the sharks tend to feed and cruise close to the surface, snorkelers and divers alike can enjoy the spectacle.
  • Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.