At least, that what I thought. The island is 45 minutes by water taxi from Belize city, and 40 mins. by water taxi from Ambergris (isla Bonita, made famous by Madonna).
It is a tiny and touristic island, with only 3 dirt roads: One on each side of the island and one in the middle. There are numerous guesthouses and hotels and 10-20 restaurants… Coconut palms, nice white sand and turquoise waters… But there isn’t really any beaches!
And the weather wasn’t nice… It was overcast and rather cold… So not much sunburn here… I decided to go diving. Anyway, that was why I had come here, as Caye Caulker is the starting point for the famous Blue Hole…
After walking around for a while, and stopping at the 3 diveshops on the island, it was clear, that prices wasen’t going to distinguish the dive centers…
I chose to dive with Belize Diving Services… A wise choice… They are very safety oriented, their rental equipment is very good, even includes computers, they specify EXACTLY what you can expect from a dive – no negative surprises – and their service, equipment (even dive computers!), boat and dive masters are outstanding…
Hol Chan (2 dives)
I dived Hol Chan (outside the marine park), to be more precise:
Tacklebox: 30m, 12 nurse sharks and beautiful canyons and corals.. Some other marine life – but all in all fantastic (due to the many sharks)
Esmeralda: Close to Tacklebox and a reef with some canyon formations. More marine life, but in general small stuff. However, the dive ended with a very appreciated visit by two dolphins who played for all to short.
Lighthouse / Blue Hole
Belize Diving Services does not do the Blue Hole. Chip, the owner, who is a technical diver, thinks it is to dangerous for the average diver and overrated. So I had to go to another operator. Bernd and Verena also spoke to Frenchies so we did the trip with them…
I must admit, I didn’t feel especially good about this dive operator: When I inquired about diving with them, I didn’t feel welcome, and asking about equipment and especially dive computers (for the blue hole: 40 meter deep), he looked at my watch, and told me, that I had a nice watch, and that could do… I then told him, that the watch might tell me the time, but not decompression time or depth… A great start and baseline for the safety… The equipment was old and worn, and actually I had trouble breathing in my regulator at 40 meters depth. But it worked!
We met at 5.30 am for a breakfast (some bread, butter and coffee). The transport was in their large dive boat, and we were 17 guests and 4 divemasters crammed into the boat. Actually we were a couple of persons more than they ment, there was room for – but as I was one of them, I didn’t complain: I got to do the dive!
Off we went, and we were warned, that it would be somewhat bumpy and rocky on the outward, but worse on the return. They didn’ lie. The trip was 2 hours, and very bumpy… It was windy, and cold.
Blue hole: A sinkhole in the Lighthouse reef, some 70 miles off Belize coast. The sinkhole has a diameter of 300m and is aparently the largest of its kind. Down we went: A group of 8 divers with 2 dive masters (one in front, one in the back). Straight down to the stalactites at 40 meter. And after 5 minutes there, straight (but slow) to the safety stop at 5 meter. The visibility was app. 5-10 meter, and there wasen’t any marine life. My opinion? Vastly Overrated. Do centote diving in Playa Del Carmen instead. Dive time: 25 min. incl. safety stop. I still had more than ½ a tank.
Oh, one of the divers in my group had some problems and was (from app. 30 meters depth) escorted by one of the dive masters to the surface. She didn’t do the 2nd dive. Another got a mask pressure and got blue eyes… In short: there was issues and the safety and dive briefing could have been better to avoid these issues.
The dive masters told me, that on a good day, with great visibility, this is an outstanding dive. OK. But now I have been there, and I am not impressed.
Lighthouse aquarium: A great wall dive a bit further from land than the Blue Hole. 30 meters depth. The wall is beautiful, wast in size, and there is lots of marine life. A much better dive, than the blue hole in my opinion. However, the visibilty was bad, and there was no current, so we only did ½ the wall (and apparently the least interesting part according to the dive masters)… On this dive our dive master wasen’t leading the dive… He was – around – and we basically did what we wanted. Again not really any check for deco-time … The dive ended at 40 mins. beacuse that was the maximum dive time… I still had more than ½ a tank.
Half Moon Island: Another wall dive. Beautiful, better visibility, 18 meters depth. Our dive master was on the spot for this dive, and we had some swimthroughs and lots of marine life and corals. However, still brownish – like in Cozumel. the best of the 3 dives that day… Dive time: 40 mins. I still had more than ½ a tank.
On the way back it became REALLY bumpy and long (3 hours), and several had to sit and get completely soaked and cold in the back of the boat – and even throw up… I just got my spine adjusted from the hard breaking through the large (2-3 m) waves… The captain did his best, and he did very very good, but still, this wasn’t pleasent to say the least.
All in all: A couple of ok dives, but worth 5 hours of rough sea? No way. I’d prefer Hol Chan anytime. In good conditions (i.e. not windy) – well, thats another story – but now I am uncertain if it is worth it: Hol Chan USD 100 / 2 dives. Blue Hole USD 180 / 3 dives?
Oh, Belize Diving Services did NOT go out: they thought it was to windy, hence to risky… Which of the dive companies, who values safety… Judge for yourself. And choose wisely.