Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef System
Last month, I went to Belize for ten days with 3 of my best friends from college. Unlike last year in Rio, which was lots of tours and dance clubs and wine with a side of beach, this trip was fully focused on sun, sand, and the Caribbean sea. San Pedro, Belize seemed like a perfect place to enjoy crystal waters and salty breezes without a bit of worrying or planning. And while my love of visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites borders on obsession, it was perfect that for this one, instead of trekking through hot archeological sites or getting up before dawn to get the perfect photo of a jungle temple, this UNESCO site visit was an afternoon snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef System, spotting sharks, rays, and a morae eel.
Since the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is Belize’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, it seemed like the country and I were in complete agreement about how I should be spedning my time. As much as I love walking through the jungle to get to a Mayan site, or taking a bus two hours to get to rural Uruguay, to visit this World Heritage Site, we got picked up by boat and motored lazily through the Caribbean in the afternoon. Lovely!
One of my friends visited multiple times as a scuba diver, but I am not ready to take the scuba plunge. This was my first time snorkeling, and I was way more nervous than I needed to be ahead of time. Once I was in the water, I couldn’t believe how much fun it was. I definitely will be snorkeling more when the opportunities arise.
Obviously, I had heard of the Great Barrier Reef in Austrailia, but I hadn’t heard of the Believe Barrier Reef before, even though it’s the world’s second largest barrier reef.
From UNESCO’s decription:
The largest reef complex in the Atlantic-Caribbean region it represents the second largest reef system in the world. The seven protected areas that constitute the BBRRS comprise 12% of the entire Reef Complex.
The unique array of reef types within one self-contained area distinguishes the BBRRS from other reef systems. The site is one of the most pristine reef ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere and was referred to ‘as the most remarkable reef in the West Indies’ by Charles Darwin. Outside of the reef complex the property contains three atolls; Turneffe Island, Lighthouse Reef and Glover’s Reef. The Barrier Reef and atolls exhibit some of the best reef growth in the Caribbean. The reef complex is comprised of approximately 450 sand and mangrove cayes.
Because this is an underwater site, you get there by boat. There are tour boats, scuba, sea kayaking, and snorkeling options, plus you could charter a boat. Depending on if you want to see it above or below water and what your adventure level is, you can choose from highly adventurous to pure lazy.
Since you can get there so many different ways, the cost to get in varies. For our trip, we went snorkeling with the Belize Pro Dive Center. We chose them because my friend had already done her scuba diving with them, and found them to be wonderful people with a very professional set up. It cost $52 for entrance fees, tour fees, and equipment. I also spent $25 renting a GoPro, which I thought was well worth it.
Things to Do While You’re There
Again, this depends on what you want to do. For me, snorkeling was really cool. We stayed in the marine reserves. There are trips that go out to the Great Blue Hole, though we didn’t do any on this trip.
On our trip, we saw manta rays, nurse sharks, a moray eel, and tons of beautiful coral and fish. The scariest part for me was seeing the morae eel and knowing it had just been near my foot, but nothing bad happened. The kinds of sharks we saw are mostly harmless, but it was unnerving being told to jump off the boat basically on top of them.
Tips for Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef
- If you are like me and feel like something didn’t happen if you don’t grab a pic of it, definitely see about renting a camera or bringing your own underwater camera.
- Sunblock! The boat out will take a little while. Don’t get caught in the hot Belize sun without sunscreen.
- Trust your guides
- Do some research ahead of time about what type of adventure you want to have
- Bring a water bottle on the boat
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