As I’ve mentioned, Ambergris Caye is a majestical oceanic paradise. There’s also an eerie natural phenomenon that we simply couldn’t resist… The UNESCO Heritage Site, Belize’s Great Blue Hole! Maybe you’ve heard of it, or seen pictures, but basically it’s a sinkhole in the ocean that goes down about 400 feet. In order to get to the caverns, where a variety of spindling stalactites trap air, divers have to descend 135 feet. Our trip was led by the phenomenal Amigos Del Mar, whom I highly recommend. Not only did we have the chance to see the Great Blue Hole, but we also had two additional dives that day—including swimming with an 8-foot shark.
Most trips leave quite early in the morning, before 6 am, in order to hit all three dive spots during daytime. The spectacularly smooth and stunning boat ride out to the Great Blue Hole is a few hours. Amigos Del Mar, our diveshop, had tons of fresh pineapple, coffee, and pastries. If you plan to dive the Great Blue Hole, be sure to get sufficiently hydrated and nourished prior to getting in the water. Nitrogen narcosis is a serious threat, especially when diving down so dangerously deep. To put it in perspective, PADI Open Water Diver allows you to dive up to 60 ft. With additional training, you can get your Advanced Open Water, which allows you to dive 100 ft. PADI states the limit for recreational scuba diving is 130 ft—we reached 141 ft.
Boating in Belize is particularly delightful, thanks to the abundance of sea life. Botttlenose dolphins (aka the cutest!) make their homes in these warm waters. With how pristine and preserved the area is, and the exuberance of fish, I’d probably make Belize my home as well, if I were a dolphin. But anyways, the point being a playful pod of these gorgeous creatures followed our boat for about half an hour. Tell me this isn’t one of the most adorable dolphin dances you’ve ever seen?!
Although the dolphins were my favorite part of the boat ride, I know I can’t get away without sharing this majestic treat of nature. We knew we would have good luck upon seeing this lovely double rainbow. My friend was wishing for sharks, and I was just hoping to make it out alive.
As I’m drifting down, feeling the temperature drop by the second, I had a guilty flashback of signing an agreement on my PADI certification that I would only dive down a maximum of 60 feet. In my defense, the group I went with was extremely experienced, and my diving buddy was one of my best pals. Nothing could go wrong…
And it didn’t.
Floating down to the seemingly bottomless pit of the blue hole is definitely a surreal experience. Peering into the drop sent chills down my spine, but the good way. Like…A haunted house. Or s&m. Anyways, having a flashlight would be very helpful, especially if the sun is hiding. If you’re uncomfortable diving to the 130 ft to reach the caverns, you can still scuba around the hole and try to find sharks. But I must say, the caverns were pretty cool! You can actually swim through the massive stalactites and feel dry air bubbles on the cavern ceiling. Due to the ridiculous depth, our air ran out quickly, and the first dive was pretty short.
The only downside of scuba diving the Great Blue Hole as opposed to say, flying over it, is the lack of view! If you aren’t scuba certified, I highly recommend taking the Maya Air or Tropic Air flight, which is an hour and costs $200. Then send me photos please, because it looks absolutely beautiful!
The next dive proved to be a little more stressful for me. Having pretty much no experience, I was getting really freaked out by the 2-foot barracudas. Don’t know much about barracudas? They’re squirrely as hell with razor-sharp teeth and a bad attitude. Like the newbie I am, I was swimming between the underwater caves, trying to get to the fishies, when I notice the barracuda that had previously been swimming 30 feet away was now floating in front me, staring me down. Part of me is thinking, “Oh, it’s going down,” while the other part was hoping he was interested in my blinking, shiny GoPro. I wiggle my stick a few feet away from me, and to my deepest dismay, the little fucker starts swimming towards me FAST.
I duck my head down, start scuttling as fast as possible, and go… nowhere. My scuba gear had gotten caught on a crevice. After panicking for a few seconds, I finally caught up to Michelle and desperately tried to get my shit together before they made me turn back. I refuse to be the weakest link in group activities, especially when my dear, brave friend is my diving buddy.
So, there is basically no communication underwater because you can’t speak. I knew I couldn’t explain my freakout with the barracuda, so I just kept pointing to my mouth as I tried to do the deepest yoga breaths I could possibly manage. She promptly took my hand signal of, “I’m just trying to catch my breath” as “I vomited in my regulator.” Which I guess happens often. We had a good laugh on the boat about that one.
Plenty of fish were interested in our scuba group, drawn to the bubbles and noises of our equipment. A sweet, plump little grouper was following us around, trying to be our pet. I’m not even kidding, one person would give it a little belly rub, then the grouper would move along to the next person in the group and hover around until he got what he wanted. Which was a belly rub.
We unfortunately caught the attention of a baby black-tip shark. You might be thinking, “Stop being a lil bitch, baby sharks ain’t nothing.” But with every baby shark, comes a momma shark. And this one was circling us.
Okay, I’m being ever-so slightly dramatic on this one. As the least experienced diver, and a Florida girl, I’m still a little frightened of all sharks except nursing, whale, and leopard sharks. Basically, I like the sharks that are known for being docile. Can you blame me? They did get pretty close to us though…
We took a pit stop on the gorgeous Half Moon Caye for lunch, hermit crab chasing, and red-footed boobies! Seriously, the palm tree lined island is home to hundreds of these adorable little flatbill birds. The feet turn bright red in adulthood, so it’s easy to tell which birds are still young. Walking along the path to where the boobies live are thousands of hermit crabs, with colors from deep purple to tangerine orange to sky blue. Have to admit I was SO tempted to bring one of these little hermits home, but it wouldn’t be very ecofriendly of me, would it? And I certainly wasn’t drinking, so I had no excuse. You’ll just have to go see these creatures by yourself!
Six hours after we started, I was struggling to keep up with the rest of the group. If the crew hadn’t been so patient and reassuring, I might’ve had to tap out for a nap on the last dive. I’m SO glad I didn’t! Have you ever wanted something, even though it was kinda scary and could be potentially dangerous? That’s exactly how I felt on my last dive, hoping for more sharks. And we got em! Using the reef on the left side to keep eyes on the sharks, we watched as the massive black tips became interested in a lion fish that had been speared by another group’s divemaster.
Once the feeding frenzy was over, I started to panic. The sharks seemed to believe we had more food, and continuously circled us. Unfortunately, being so inexperienced, my buoyancy was askew and I kept floating above the group and sharks. Since sharks enjoy attacking from the bottom, I was rightly terrified and starting to flail around to stay level with the group. Shell grabbed my hand to hold me still and calm me down because she’s the best. At one point, we had our backs against the reef (sorry mother nature) as an 8-footer rushed us—I totally thought he was going to take my flipper! Everyone else was calm as a sea cucumber, and here I am, sucking my air so hard that I had to use the dive master’s spare regulator on every.single.dive. You can see it in the video above.
This is one of the reasons I’m against chumming—the practice of using dead fish to attract larger aquatic species. But that’s another rant for another time. Although I highly recommending joining the wild world of scuba diving, Ambergris Caye provides nature adventures for every level of traveler. You can even swim with sharks at the worlds second largest reef.