Belize may be one of the smallest countries in Central America, but it’s big on adventure. If you like water sports, you’re even more likely to fall in love with the country. Thanks to a few sizable barrier islands, the second-largest reef in the world, and fabulously clear water, there are dozens of locations that could contend for the title of the best snorkeling in Belize (or even the best snorkeling in all of Central America.)
Most people arrive in the country through Belize City. Fortunately, the capital is also the country’s primary port, and one of the best places to visit in Central America, so it’s easy to find whatever type of snorkel, dive, or boat tour you have in mind. Much of Belize’s best snorkeling is near Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker, and nearly all of the best sites are along the 600-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef. The reef’s numbers are quite staggering—nearly 500 species of fish and 50 species of coral call the reef home, as do sharks, rays, turtles, dolphins, and the rare West Indian manatee.
Belize has clear water, an incredibly healthy reef system, and plenty of locations to jump in the water with amazing wildlife. Here are some of the best places to go snorkeling in Belize, from protected reefs to sandy-bottom areas of the ocean perfect for making friends with a curious nurse shark or cute stingray.
Shark Ray Alley on Caye Caulker
Belize may be known for amazing jungle and ruins, but for snorkelers, it’s also known for the small islands off its coast. Caye Caulker (pronounced “Key” Caulker, like the Florida Keys) is home to some of the best snorkeling in Belize.
Caye Caulker doesn’t have many cars, but it has plenty of boats, so be sure to book a spot on one heading to Shark Ray Alley. The shallow snorkeling site is just a few minutes off the beach. As soon as your boat arrives, you’ll notice nurse sharks and stingrays approaching, attracted by the prospect of food from the boats.
When you step into the water, the curious creatures will start to swim up to you. They won’t let you touch them (nor should you), but since you’ll be floating just a few feet above them, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for amazing photos.
The Belize Barrier Reef
The Belize Barrier Reef is the official name for the 200 or so miles of the longer Mesoamerican Reef that are within Belize. The entire Mesoamerican Reef is the second-largest reef in the world (just behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef,) so as you might imagine, it’s home to some of the most beautiful snorkeling in Belize.
There are dozens of scuba and snorkel sites along the reef, and all offer the chance for amazing sights. Aside from substantial coral formations, you might see sea turtles, various rays, eels, jellyfish, goofy-looking cowfish, or even the elusive frogfish. The visibility on the reef is almost always excellent, so whether you snorkel or dive, you should have a wonderful view of the underwater world.
Remember that most sites along the Mesoamerican Reef require a boat ride to get there, meaning you’ll be in open water. If you’re not a strong swimmer, be sure to have a PDF and fins, and ask a guide to stay near you in the water.
Starfish Island (Bannister Caye)
Starfish Island is a private island with more than 600 feet of sandy beach, plus amenities like bars, a restaurant, a kids play area, and several thatched-roof palapas for a bit of shade.
But the real draw here is the opportunity for fantastic snorkeling, both off the beach and on the way to the island. The trip to the island from Belize City is relatively quick, so most boats will make a stop or two along the way where you can strap on snorkel gear and jump in.
If you’ve never snorkeled before, you may want to practice in the gentle, shallow water just off of Starfish Island’s beach (and yes, you almost certainly will see starfish).
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
To take an all-day adventure to some of the best snorkeling in Belize, book a trip from Belize City to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve near Ambergris Caye. The large marine park is divided into four sections, based on the underwater wildlife and terrain: the Cut (or Channel), the Sea Grass Beds, the Mangroves, and Shark Ray Alley (which isn’t the same Shark Ray Alley as the one by Caye Caulker.)
More than 160 species of fish live in the reserve, as do corals, sea turtles, and marine mammals like the protected West Indian manatee. Some of the easily recognized fish you’re likely to see are small yellow and blue damselfish, purple and orange royal grammas, trumpetfish, and various striped butterflyfish. If you keep an eye on the open water, rather than on the reefs, you could see smaller sharks like blacktips or nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays, or even a dolphin.
Only about 30 minutes by boat from Belize City, Goff’s Caye is one of the best places for snorkeling in Belize that can be visited in a morning. The island has a sandy white beach and clear water, so it’s easy to snorkel right off the shore.
The small island is home to shorebirds like brown boobies, diving cormorants, and red-chested frigatebirds. Underwater, you’ll see dozens of fish and coral species, lobsters, conch, starfish, stingrays, or just about any other creature you’d find in the reef—most species have been spotted in this area. The reef here is exceptionally healthy, making it a great spot to see a large amount of wildlife in one location.
If you’re not keen on getting close to sharks of any kind, consider booking a Belize snorkeling trip that heads to Mexico Rocks. The site is very popular for snorkeling, and since it’s near Ambergris Caye, it’s often paired with stops at Shark Ray Alley or the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The reef separates Mexico Rocks from the ocean and blocks most waves, currents, and swells.
Mexico Rocks is a shallow site, with an average depth of around 12 to 15 feet, so it’s easy to see the creatures underneath. The coral formations here are massive, providing shelter for animals like spiny lobster, eels, anemones, and shrimp. Of course, that attracts fish, which in turn attract sea turtles. Because the water is shallow, the site rarely sees anything larger than a turtle, so you’re unlikely to see sharks (though harmless nurse sharks do occasionally make an appearance.)
Turneffe Atoll is one of the largest atolls, or circle-shaped islands, off the coast of Belize. This protected marine reserve is a popular spot for day-trippers since it only takes about 30 minutes to reach the island from Belize City.
Because the reef around Turneffe is enormous, there’s a chance of seeing nearly every type of marine creature here, including manatees. Since it’s illegal in Belize to swim with manatees in their protected habitats (like Swallow Caye), your best bet of getting in the water with the gentle mammals is to see them nearby in the wild. Whether you see manatees or not, the reef here is very lively, and the sites here are considered some of the best for snorkeling in Belize.
If you have any time to spend on Turneffe Atoll, take a few minutes to walk around the island. Because of the healthy fish population around the reef, many seabirds call the island home. There are also a few small lodges on the island where you can grab a cold drink while you click through your amazing underwater photos.
The Split on Caye Caulker doesn’t have a very exciting name—it’s just the channel that splits the north and south parts of the island—but it’s a different story once you look underwater. It’s also one of the few places where you can snorkel directly from the shore without taking a boat to a site. And it’s right next to the Lazy Lizard, the island’s most famous toes-in-the-sand bar.
At The Split, you can walk right into the water and see the underwater world at your leisure. This site is best on days with calm water, because fish can sometimes move too quickly through the channel when the water is moving fast. While the site isn’t as lively as a coral reef, it’s arguably the easiest place to snorkel since it requires no scheduling or pre-planning (beyond having a snorkel and mask handy.)
If there aren’t too many fish underwater, you can always head up to the bar and enjoy a fruity drink as you sit in the surf. Just be ready to throw your snorkel back on if you get a peek of something colorful moving through the water.
The Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole isn’t just the most famous site in Belize—it’s one of the most famous in the world. At more than 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep, it’s the world’s largest underwater sinkhole. It’s also a deeper blue than the rest of the ocean, providing amazing views as you approach.
Famous diver and scientist Jacques Cousteau called it one of the five best scuba diving sites in the world. The reefs around the Blue Hole just before the drop off are teeming with life, probably because the Blue Hole and the atoll around it is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. At around 100 feet down, divers can usually see large fish and sharks like blacktips, hammerheads, or reef sharks. Snorkelers often see these creatures when they come to the shallower waters to feed on the smaller animals around the reef.
The Blue Hole is hard to do in just a day, as it’s a three-hour boat ride to get there from Caye Caulker, but it’s one of the world’s most impressive sights and well worth planning a return trip to Belize.
Belize is truly a country filled with adventure, and it’d be hard to overstate how much there is to do both above and under the water. While snorkeling (and scuba diving) are some of the most popular activities in the country, you can also explore some of the land-based wonders, too. Consider a river tubing trip through ancient caves, a trip into the jungle to the massive Mayan ruins at Xunantunich, or a birdwatching tour to find toucans, honeycreepers, and more.
On cruises to Belize, you’ll spend a full day visiting this beautiful country and other stunning destinations in the Caribbean. Whether you like watersports, hiking, or ancient history, you’ll absolutely find it in Belize.
Discover our cruise itineraries to Belize and book your next snorkeling-filled vacation today.