The number one dive region in Belize and home of the Great Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef is a diver's paradise and it's no wonder people come from all over the world to dive here. Day trips are offered from all over the country; in the south from Dangriga and Placencia, Caye Caulker, Belize City and the most popular departure area of Ambergris Caye. Liveaboard trips are also a favourite amongst divers, the boats mainly leave from Belize City.
The sites of Lighthouse Reef are 70km from the mainland, more from the southern towns, so expect a full day on the water. The private island of Long Caye has a resort which is right on the doorstep and now offers diving. It's best to stay here if you want to really see all the sites. There are 15 dive spots in the immediate area so it'll keep you busy for a good few days.
The sea life on Lighthouse reef is incredibly diverse, with many different types of sharks, rays, groupers, big schools of fish and awesome wall diving where you can hunt for the great macro life hiding in the cracks. There are all sorts of blennies, nudibranchs, triplefins and juvenile fish just waiting for the photographers to snap a great picture.
Dive trips will start at the blue hole, which is a spectacular sight to see from the surface but not so fabulous under the water compared to some of the other sites in the area. Most guides will take all divers directly to 40 metres, so if you're an open water diver, it's best to do your advanced beforehand or dive another location. At 40 metres though there are some amazing stalagtites under the overhang and you will most likely see reef and bull sharks, though on the outer rim of the hole in shallow water there is some lovely corals and anemones, great for snorkelling.
After your first dive you will most likely head to either Eagle Ray Wall, a sheer wall with eagle rays soaring by, black coral, large schools of jack and snapper or a passing turtle in the blue, or Half Moon Caye with beautiful colourful corals, eels, turtles, rays and loads of tropical fish. The last dive will most likely be at a site such as the Aquarium, which is very much like an aquarium and you can stay shallow to enjoy the wonderful life on the reef here.
If you have more time, you might visit sites such as Silver Caves, which is an excellent night dive if you're staying on a liveaboard, drifting along the Painted Wall or shark spotting at Nurse Shark Ridge and Shark Point, where a hammerhead might even show his face.
There's never a dull moment on the diving around Lighthouse Reef. A few good days of diving here will keep you satisfied for a while, we hope to hear all about your great diving experiences so rate your favourite site and dive centre so we can all share in your experiences.
(By Kelly Luckman)
Trips out to the Lighthouse Reef are mainly focused on divers, especially the day trips which can be very rough on the boat ride out there. If you look carefully though, you'll find some great tours focused on non-divers and liveaboard trips so you can see the beauty of the area that lies above the water as well as below.
If your budget permits then you can stay on the resort at Long Island or Northern Caye, there's some great activities available from these places. Some liveaboard trips allow you to stay at the basecamp on Half Moon Caye, these adventures usually leave from Belize City.
There are six cayes on the Lighthouse Reef, all with different ecosystems and special features from mangroves to jungles, shallow reefs and bird nesting sites, to learn about the different environments is a wonderful experience and well worth it. There are around 100 species of birds that have made their homes on the cayes, in particular the endangered Red-Footed Booby, so if bird watching is your thing, then this will excite you no end.
Adventure activities include sea kayaking; whether you're a beginner or advanced, everyone will enjoy this. There's also sea kayak sailing, just add a sail to your kayak and off you go! You can try your hand at some sports fishing, snorkel the gorgeous crystal blue waters and visit the many wreck in the area or climb into the trees to capture that amazing bird photo.
Relaxation is the key on Lighthouse Reef. Chill on one of the beautiful beaches on offer, walk the island trails or learn about the ecology of the reef and mangrove systems, Belize culture and of course the birds. Start your day with a sunrise yoga session on the beach and watch the colours change as the new day dawns.
This really is paradise on earth and the best way to spend your holiday in Belize. You don't have to be a diver to enjoy the Lighthouse Reef, but it's definitely recommended to spend a few days rather than do a day trip. You don't want to be rushed, only relaxed. This slice of heaven is waiting for you.
(By Kelly Luckman)