Thousands of Scuba Divers flock to Belize annually, and most of them only have the Belize Blue Hole to check off their bucket list. It is perhaps the most famous dive site in Belize, definitely one of the most advertised by domestic tourism investors, yet it disappoints many divers. Imagine, after weeks or months of anticipation and after all the hyped up articles and advertisements with cliché captions, you complete a dive and realize you would be just fine if you never did it again?
This is the reaction I have mostly seen over the hundreds of trips I have supervised at the Great Blue Hole, and I feel obligated to mention, before I go any further, that this dive site is a tad overrated, and could be very disappointing if you are the type of diver who prefers colourful coral reef diving.
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It saddens me to say that the Blue Hole has become known only as a “bucket list dive”, because, for most, it’s the type you absolutely must get off your list but really don’t care if you ever visit again. There’s hope however, for I think false assumptions and expectations are one of the main causes of disappointment. This dive site is different, it is the sort of novelty dive that, given the right conditions, can be enjoyed if approached with the right mindset and expectations. So here I will describe exactly what it is like to dive Belize’s Great Blue Hole.
Diving the Belize Blue Hole
To begin, there is a lot to be enjoyed from the Blue Hole dive but it also requires a certain level of experience and responsibility that some new divers just don’t have. On a day where the visibility is excellent and the wildlife are roaming, it can be an otherworldly experience.
The dive begins with a descent of 40Ft/12M to a sandy limestone shelf that surrounds the Blue Hole. The shelf begins as a wall at about 1ft or 1/3 of a meter and is covered with coral until about 18ft or 6 meters where it becomes a gentle sandy incline that leads up to a dark abyss. If you dive off the local dive boats, you are given about a minute or two to descend and equalize then you are led to the drop off where you will descend freely into the darkness. As you descend, the depths drain the colors to a gloomy hue not much different from the natural light you see right after dusk. The only reference is a limestone wall to your left.
At about 60 feet, you begin to see silhouettes with that familiar streamlined shape, of one of the ocean’s most fascinating predators. Soon enough, depending on your luck, you descend past 10 to 15 Caribbean Reef Sharks circling off to your right in the in the watery void. Your descent is continuous up until about 100 Ft/ 30 meters where you veer off toward grayscale columns hanging off a ceiling in a cavern carved out of by erosion during the last ice age.
You now feel as though you are in a sort of gothic tale; quiet, overcast, and eerie. It’s as though you are personally experiencing a vague memory of a dive story being retold by a stranger in a dimly lit bar after a few beers. Then, you suddenly hear the clear sound of your dive leader banging on his tank, a tone that travels clearly, as though he is right next to you. It jolts you back into reality. You look in front of you and see him telling you to level off, you are at your maximum depth; 132Ft/40M, and the cavern appears in front of you.
You feel buzzed and realize that you are experiencing what your dive leader spoke of just a few minutes before you jumped in the water; the effects of the sometimes unavoidable Nitrogen Narcosis. You now recall him saying, that you should not be afraid of the effects and that it wears off as soon as you come up shallower, and that you might like it if you stay calm. You don’t ascend, you continue to follow your dive leader and realize that it does feel, at the least, interesting.
You continue past enormous stalactites that hang from the ceiling like Stone Age chandeliers, a sure reminder of Actun Tunichil Muknal, the jungle caving expedition you had probably done earlier in the week if you were previously in the jungle. These cave formations have existed several millennia before Christopher Columbus’s famous voyage, in the distance, some 40 feet above you, the silhouettes of shark’s still circle their territory, occasionally you see one or two shoot up from the blackness below like jet fighters at an air show; bolting toward shallower depths above. On uncommon occasions a hammer head that lives near the area may appear out of the darkness, keep an open eye, a hammer head sighting can make any dive exciting. Though I must admit, after hundreds of dives there, I’ve only met him/her twice.
After five minutes that seemed more like ten, you begin your slow ascent from your maximum depth, then all of a sudden, before you even notice, your Nitrogen buzz is gone. You come up past the sharks again, occasionally a curious one comes within arm’s reach inspecting the visitors in its territory. You again find yourself on the sandy shelf, this time you are treated to tiny bubbles dancing out of tiny holes in the sandy floor, they are the bubbles that you exhaled at your maximum depth seeping through the cracks in cavern roof on their way to the surface. Finally, the shape of your dive boat appears above and your dive leader signals for you to do a safety stop. In total, you finish a 30 minute dive at the most, but 25 to 27 minutes is the norm, one last potential disappointment to mentally prepare for just in case you are the sort of diver who loves 60 minute dives.
How To Be Prepared
The Blue Hole, with just a dash of luck, can be a worthy experience, but it is also important to be aware of the dangers of this type of dive, and the personal duties you have as a diver, even when under the supervision of an experienced Dive Master. I shall share a few tips but if you are really unsure about your capabilities or if any of what I mention is completely new to you, you should do a little more diving or get some deep training before you dive at such depths.
First, ascend until you get the signal from the DM and ascend when they tell you to. Second, if you have a dive computer or are renting one, adjust your depth according to your No Decompression Limit (NDL). If you have a rental computer, this is rather obvious, make sure you are briefed on how to use it and always ascend at a reasonable rate. Be sure to take the steps necessary to remove as much potential causes of stress and you will definitely have a better dive. Lastly, find a Dive Buddy who will not be one of those stress factors and not be the cause of stress for another diver.
Many divers come up unmoved by what the site has to offer but maybe, just maybe, if your expectations weren’t inflated, and the conditions were excellent, the dive will be UNFORGETTABLE.