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The Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole (Credit: www.flickr.com by Mr.Ice Gallano)

Diving the Great Blue Hole: Largest Sea Hole in the World

The Great Blue Hole of Belize is an underwater sinkhole that is 984 feet (300 meters) across and 410 ft (125 meters) deep, making it the largest of its kind in the world. Like other sinkholes found on the mainland, the Great Blue Hole of Belize was at one time a series of dry, limestone caverns with entrances located above the water. The caverns formed over millions of years as water slowly eroded away the softer areas of the limestone. The residues left by constant dripping of water over millions of years also formed the huge, forty foot long stalactites and stalagmites that decorate the caverns deep within the Great Blue Hole of Belize.

The Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole (Credit: www.flickr.com by Mr.Ice Gallano)

The eroding water eventually carved out the large caves in the Great Blue Hole of Belize until there was nothing to support the ceiling which then crashed four hundred feet down to the floor of the sinkhole. The collapse of the ceiling of the sinkhole of the Great Blue Hole of Belize may have been related to an earthquake or it may have occurred when there wasn’t anything left to support it. In any case, evidence for an earthquake that affected the Great Blue Hole of Belize is demonstrated by the thirty-degree tilt of the stalactites in the Great Blue Hole of Belize.

The formation of the Great Blue Hole of Belize sinkhole occurred before the last ice age. It wasn’t until after the glaciers melted that sea levels rose to flood the Great Blue Hole of Belize and make it one of the world’s top dive sites. A dive into the Great Blue Hole of Belize typically involves a careful descent over the rim, down to around 130 feet. On the way down into the Great Blue Hole of Belize, divers face the wall to avoid disorientation and thus can also watch the colorful corals and other invertebrates that live in the first thirty feet of the Great Blue Hole of Belize’s walls. Unlike the walls of coral reefs that descend into the oceanic abyss, those of the Great Blue Hole of Belize harbor far fewer life forms. Although the Lighthouse Reef above the Great Blue Hole of Belize is filled with colorful reef life (and is therefore excellent for snorkeling), the Great Blue Hole of Belize has very few fish other than Blacktip Reef, and sometimes other shark species. The shapes of the Blacktip Reef Sharks that live at 160 feet in the Great Blue Hole of Belize are often seen as one descends into this flooded sinkhole. Their shapes are easily visible because the general lack of life in the Great Blue Hole of Belize makes for very clear water with excellent viewing conditions. Despite this, it gets rather dim down at 130 feet, and a diving light is necessary to view the impressive stalactites and shelves of the Great Blue Hole of Belize.

Brain and Tube Corals
Brain and Tube Corals at the Great Blue Hole ( Credit : www.flickr.com by jayhem)

At depths of more than 200 feet into the Great Blue Hole of Belize (dive trips usually don’t go beyond 130 feet), there are openings into a series of caverns. This part of the Great Blue Hole of Belize has been little explored and should only be entered by fully equipped, highly experienced cave divers because of the dangers due to the changes in depth and decreased visibility due to the easily disturbed,  silty floor of the caverns. There are more caves and tunnels in the Great Blue Hole of Belize, but whether they are connected to cave systems on the mainland has yet to be determined. In the meantime, experienced divers can marvel in the upper half of the Great Blue Hole of Belize for one of the most memorable diving experiences of their life.

Things to consider before diving into the Great Blue Hole

Popularized by Jacques Cousteau when he featured it on one of his shows, the Great Blue Hole of Belize was one of his top ten favorite dive sites in the world. Although it’s rumored that his son Philippe died on a dive in the Great Blue Hole of Belize, this is false as Philippe perished in a tragic helicopter accident in Portugal. This rumor probably started because several other divers have lost their lives at the Great Blue Hole of Belize. The main danger in diving this site, and the reason that people have died at the Great Blue Hole of Belize is getting lost in the caves found within the Great Blue Hole of Belize. Therefore, a dive into the Great Blue Hole of Belize should never be attempted by inexperienced divers, and should only be done with an experienced, professional guide. Luckily, there are quite a few dive masters in Belize that fall into this category and thousands of folks have safely beheld the wonders of the Great Blue Hole of Belize. As dives into the Great Blue Hole of Belize go below 100 feet, they require careful, timed stops for decompression to avoid accumulating deadly nitrogen in the bloodstream.

Diving the Blue Hole
Diving the Blue Hole (Photo Credit: www.flickr.com, by Tim Snell)

Diving companies and tours to the Great Blue Hole of Belize

A number of diving companies with professional, experienced dive masters offer dive tours to the Great Blue Hole of Belize. Some dive tours to the Great Blue Hole of Belize can be booked out of hotels on Long Caye and the Turneffe Islands, while others are based out of Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker and Belize City. The Ambergris Blue Hole dive center offers snorkeling on Lighthouse Reef in addition to dives into the Great Blue Hole of Belize, while out of Belize City, Peter Hughes Diving is one of the most experienced operators for dives into the Great Blue Hole of Belize. Two of the more established companies on Caye Caulker that offer dives into the Great Blue Hole of Belize is Big Fish Diving and Frenchie’s Diving.

A firsthand look into diving the Blue Hole

It was a bright, sunny morning as the boat came to a halt and carefully anchored near the Great Blue Hole of Belize at Lighthouse Reef. The boat the tourists had chartered from Caye Caulker gently rocked in the calm waters near the Great Blue Hole of Belize as the dive master checked the gear of her clients. Although she had done dozens of trips to the Great Blue Hole of Belize, she was acutely aware of the many risks associated with a descent into the Great Blue Hole of Belize. Since all of the participants were experienced divers who had made past dives that reached depths of over one hundred feet, she wasn’t too worried about their diving abilities. With their experience, she was pretty sure that she wouldn’t have to calm down any panicked divers like she had to with that tourist whom she had guided at the Great Blue Hole of Belize last month. He had been so intent upon diving into the Great Blue Hole of Belize that he had lied about his diving experience. Everything went fine during that descent into the Great Blue Hole of Belize and his deceit that had endangered both him and her would have never surfaced if he would have just remained calm upon becoming disoriented in the Great Blue Hole of Belize. The rookie diver had turned away from the wall as they went down into the deep blue depths of the Great Blue Hole of Belize, and because of the lack of light and experience had panicked. The dive master immediately became aware of the dangerous situation in the Great Blue Hole of Belize upon seeing his agitated movements and a long stream of bubbles; an indication that he was probably yelling or worse, screaming. She had calmly, yet rapidly swam over to him and calmed him down by looking into his face mask as she gently swam him over towards the inside wall of the Great Blue Hole of Belize. Upon seeing the wall and becoming oriented once again, the rookie diver eased his tight grip on her arm that had left bruises and completed the rest of the dive in the Great Blue Hole of Belize without any further problems. Although even experienced divers in the Great Blue Hole of Belize sometimes became disoriented and ended up panicking, she couldn’t help but be annoyed that he had lied about his experience. Today’s divers though, definitely seemed to know what they were doing by the way they talked and handled their equipment and despite having dived the Great Blue Hole of Belize several times, she felt almost as excited as these first timers at the Great Blue Hole of Belize as they swam into the depths of one of the best dive sites in the world; the Great Blue Hole of Belize.

Midnight Parrotfish
Midnight Parrotfish Inside the Great Blue Hole ( Credit: www.flickr.com by Zach)

Transport to the Great Blue Hole of Belize

For those diving or snorkeling around the Great Blue Hole of Belize, arrival by boat is compulsory. Although one could sail to the Great Blue Hole of Belize on their own, taking one of the many dive tours offered to this national monument is a much easier option especially because of the difficulties in obtaining charts of the surrounding reefs. Situated about 60 miles (96 ks) from the mainland, the boat ride to the Great Blue Hole of Belize usually takes about two hours from Caye Caulker. Forty-five minutes into the ride to the Great Blue Hole of Belize, the boat passes through the calm, beautiful waters of the Turneffe Atoll.  Along with this twenty minute portion of the ride, dolphins may accompany the boat and sea turtles might be encountered. After the calm waters of  Turneffe Atoll, the boat rides on the choppier waters of the open ocean for around forty minutes until the calmer waters of Lighthouse Atoll are reached. Motoring across the clear turquoise waters of the reef, visitors will know they have arrived at the Great Blue Hole of Belize upon seeing the large, circular patch of deep indigo water.

Luxury Hotels

The closest lodging to the Great Blue Hole of Belize is on Long Caye, an island situated on the Lighthouse Reef. The Lighthouse Cabins and Calypso Beach Resort both offer tranquil accommodation with a kitchen available for their guests as well as dive packages for the nearby Great Blue Hole of Belize.

The second closest lodging to the Great Blue Hole of Belize is in the Turneffe Islands. The few hotels on these islands are all expensive lodges or resorts geared towards fishing and diving clientele. They offer all inclusive packages, usually at weekly rates, and also offer diving tours to the Great Blue Hole of Belize. The Blackbird Caye Resort is located on the small island of the same name and offers snorkeling tours to nearby reefs of the Turneffe Islands in addition to fishing and diving packages. Sharing Blackbird Caye is the Turneffe Flats Lodge. This lodge has spacious apartments for its guests and has diving tours that are usually less crowded than other companies or lodges. Their trips to the Great Blue Hole of Belize tend to have a better guide to guest ratio because the rest of their guests are out on guided fishing trips. The fanciest hotel in the Turneffe Islands is the Turneffe Island Lodge. This lodge pampers its guests with beautiful rooms and excellent service. Guests that visit the Great Blue Hole of Belize from the Turneffe Island Lodge pay for this attention though as the cheapest weekly packages for this hotel cost over 5,000 dollars.

The Blackbird Caye Resort
The Blackbird Caye Resort

Other expensive resorts with all inclusive packages, including diving tours to the Great Blue Hole of Belize, are found on Caye Chapel and Cayo Espanto. The majority of divers that make the descent into the Great Blue Hole of Belize visit on day trips from Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye. Both of these popular island destinations have a wide variety and number of hotels to choose from for visitors to Great Blue Hole of Belize.

Dining near the Great Blue Hole of Belize

As dive trips to the Great Blue Hole of Belize are essentially done as day excursions, most boats provide coffee and sweet buns in the morning and either stop somewhere for lunch on the way back from the Great Blue Hole of Belize or serve lunch on the boat. All of the nearby resorts have their own restaurants, while visitors diving the Great Blue Hole of Belize on day trips from San Pedro and Caye Caulker have a wide variety of restaurants to choose from for dinner at these two beautiful islands.

Weather at the Great Blue Hole of Belize

The weather around the Great Blue Hole of Belize is similar to that experienced on Caye Caulker; warm and humid throughout the year with more frequent rains at the Great Blue Hole of Belize from June to August, and October to January. From August to October, hurricanes are possible around the Great Blue Hole of Belize although they don’t occur on an annual basis. Although the Great Blue Hole of Belize is far enough from the coasts of mainland Belize not to have its water clarity be as affected as much as other sites during the rainy season, the dry season is still the ideal time to visit the Great Blue Hole of Belize.

Related Posts:
Visiting Ambergris Caye, Belize
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Visiting Lamanai Mayan Ruins of Belize

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