No matter how much planning you do or how well you try to avoid it, a scuba diver on vacation to Belize may come to the most heart breaking moment they ever experienced, the 24 hour no fly rule. That barrier that says no more diving on these wonderful dive sites. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the northern hemisphere. Water temperatures range from a slightly cool winter temperature of 26° C/79° F to a summertime heated swimming pool warm of 30° C/85° F.
The diving is generally considered in three different regions with different highlights. The outer atolls: Turneffe Island, Lighthouse Reef and Glover's Reef are located 30 to 60 miles (50 to 100 km) off shore and are three of only four atolls in the Northern Hemisphere. Being Atolls they present both shallow lagoon diving and deep wall diving. The options are almost endless. Turneffe Island has over 70 dive sites, and Glover's Reef has over 50 miles(80km) of fringing reef. The Lighthouse Reef is the home of the world famous Blue Hole. A circular hole in the reef that is 1,000 feet (330 meters) across and 450 feet (135 meters) deep. Liveaboards and a few dive resorts on the Atolls is the best way to dive here. A few day boats come out to the Blue hole.
The Northern portion of the reef is where the majority of the dive operators are and the diving is outstanding. The southern portion of the reef is more like a wilderness, towns are smaller and the diving and tourist industry not as mature. The further south you go the further offshore the reef gets and the lagoon gets deeper. This is actually an advantage as whales and whale sharks are more comfortable in the slightly deeper water.
This Central American country is a rise star in the tourism industry thanks to it mostly untouched bio-diversity. While visits to the mountains and rainforest are a key element, scuba diving and snorkeling are becoming a larger portion. Costa Rica has both an Atlantic and a Pacific Oceans coasts. The majority of the diving is on the Pacific Coast and outlining islands are one of the bigger draws. Water Temperatures are nice at 78 - 84º F (26 - 29º C).
From December to March the waters are alive with humpback whales, whale sharks, manta Rays and other large species. At this time you may encounter thermocline and currents that are as cool as 68° F/19°C.
Three Northwest sites are often on the best of list of divers. There is the Cano Island Biological Reserve located about 14 miles from Drake bay. Protected by the government, the number of visitors including divers are limited each day. Coral around the site is average at best, however the visibility often exceeds 100 feet/30 meters. While the coral is average what is found outstanding are the schools of fish both in variety and quantity. The types of large species include multiple species of whales, sharks, rays, and turtles as well as others.
Catalina Islands is another highly regarded site not only because of the variety of pelagic species but also because of the underwater arches, caves and caverns. Corals in the area are considered highly vibrant. Bat Islands has been noted to have the longest season for the migratory whales and a large variety of tear round pelagic visitors.
The highlight of Costa Rica may be Isla del Coco. Cocos Islands is an island 550km off the coast of Costa Rico that has more dive sites than residence. About 20 dive sites are around the island, which is a National Park who's only residence is 11 park rangers. Large Pelagic species following the nutrient rich current to the surface are found here in large numbers. Scalloped hammerhead sharks can be seen in groups of over a hundred.
The largest of the seven islands and fifty cays that make up the Bay Islands, Roatan is a diving destination that offers some of the best diving of any type.
The islands are the tops of mountains of an underwater mountain range, that intercepts the Meso American Barrier Reef. It is also at the edge of the Cayman trench one of the deepest points in the Caribbean. Year round the water temperature will be around 81-88° F (27-31° C). Visibility is very good, while it will drop to 80 feet in the rainy season.
The visibility and the trench are the main factors that give Roatan its reputation for outstanding wall dives. Dive sites are available for all skill levels. Many of the dive sites are acceptable for a wide range of divers,Valley of the kings is an example, with a coral bed at 20 feet is idea for novice divers, a coral shelf at 40 feet is an area that more experienced divers with enjoy with a range of pelagic fish available.
Advanced divers can enter some of the channels at around 40 feet that exit at 100 feet. .The island is also known for its outstanding shore dives, many of the over 100 dive sites are shore dives.
Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras
Utila is the third largest of the Bay islands but only 11km long and 4 km wide at its widest point. Many divers compare it to Roatán or even Key West, as they were 20 years ago.
Laid back, relaxing with the majority of the population of the island living in the town of East Harbour, that’s a majority of the 3,500. The town is spread out so it not a problem but many hotels recommend that tourist get a rental while they stay to get around the town. Bicycle rentals can be found around town easily. Utila is a backpacker and a divers haven.
Accommodations are very affordable rooms in private homes for less than $10 a night but if you want to spurge you can rent one of the nearby Cays. An $165 a night will get you your own island with accommodations for 10 people. Arrange for your tanks and you can dive from the island.
Utila is surrounded by reefs and is considered the last portion of the Mesoamerican barrier reef system. The island has over 50 dive sites around it and some of the other cays have their own dive sites. Utila may be the least expensive training in the world with open water, advance open water and rescue diving courses available under $260 each. Buying a package of ten boat dives come out at less than $25 a dive.
One other difference about this island from the other bay islands and Honduras is the British influence. The island and associated cays were sparingly populated when in the 1860's people from the British Colony of the Caymans started to settle here. The British influence remained strong and English is widely spoken.