South Water Caye Marine Reserve

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Diver above coral and fish at South Water Caye Marine Reserve
Photo by Hudson and Emily

Just off the coast of Southern Belize lies South Water Caye Marine Reserve, a popular diving and snorkeling destination known for its rich biodiversity. The reserve has extensive mangrove systems, seagrass beds, and coral reefs that provide valuable habitats for a wide range of marine species.

Established in 1996, it is the second-largest marine reserve in Belize. It covers an area of approximately 47,700 hectares (117,875 acres), spanning from north of Tobacco Caye to the Grand Channel, a cut five miles south of South Water Caye.

Visiting South Water Caye Marine Reserve

South Water Caye with Hamanasi Snorkeling Guide

The South Water Caye Marine Reserve is located just off the coast of Hopkins and it is a popular spot for divers and snorkelers staying on the coast or offshore cayes of Southern Belize.

Divers, for example, can expect wall dives interspersed with sand channels and spur and groove formations. While snorkelers can enjoy a shoreline full of coral reefs that make up the southern part of Belize’s Barrier Reef. And both divers and snorkelers are able to easily see many colorful fishes, moray eels, barracuda, king mackerel, eagle rays, southern stingrays, and turtles.

The reserve is also an excellent beach destination with many small palm-filled islands that are perfect for lounging and relaxing. Birders are also in for a treat since the reserve also includes Man of War Caye, a nesting site for the rare brown booby and magnificent frigatebird.

Staying at South Water Caye Marine Reserve

South Water Caye Marine Reserve

There are a few lodging options for anyone that wishes to stay at or near South Water Caye Marine Reserve.

On South Water Caye, which is in the middle of the marine reserve, you can find Pelican Beach Resort. On Tobacco Caye, which sits at the northern end of the reserve, you can find Tobacco Caye Paradise, which offers over-the-water cabins. Finally, for a lodging option on the nearby coast, I recommend Hamanasi Resort in Hopkins.

Pelican Beach Resort in South Water Caye

Pelican Reef Resort

Situated in South Water Caye, Pelican Reef Resort takes up 3 1/2 acres of the island. The resort caters to guests that are looking for a laid-back vacation and are interested in snorkeling right off the beach, going on kayaking and bird-watching adventures and simply relaxing on the beach by spending the day on hammocks.

Overwater Bungalows in Caribbean Colors

Tobacco Caye Paradise

One of the best cheap hotels in Belize, Tobacco Caye Paradise is located on Tobacco Caye, one of the tiniest islands in Belize. The hotel offers rustic over-the-water bungalows that are painted in bright Caribbean colours. There are 5 one-bedroom cabanas, and 1 two-bedroom cabana for families.

Pool and Beach at Hamanasi

Hamanasi Resort

Located in Hopkins Village, Hamanasi is one of the most prestigious adventure and dive resorts in Belize. It is equipped with a PADI 5-Star Dive Center and has been leading dive trips for over 20 years. The resort does daily excursions to the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, which is approximately 30 minutes away by dive boat.

Here’s a video of what South Water Caye Marine Reserve is like: