Shallow walls? Sounds like an oxymoron in diving the Caribbean, right? Diving spectacular coral walls should, and usually does mean deep diving and accompanying techniques, gear and experience.
But Belize is different. Coral walls are abundant and beautiful, as beautiful as any in the Caribbean, but start in as little as 10 feet of water. Current is light and the walls are vertical. A beginning diver with just a basic mastery of buoyancy control can experience wall diving here for the first time in a most spectacular fashion.
The best walls off Belize lie at Lighthouse Reef atoll, the furthest offshore of Belize’s three atolls. Only four true coral atolls (circular ring reef structures) exist off North American waters — Belize has three of them and Lighthouse Reef is considered by many to be the best.
Over two dozen dive sites are located at a variety of locations around the atoll. These are not all just straight up walls. Several have deep cuts, bends, caves, swim-throughs and overhangs that make for fascinating exploration.
Tarpon Wall easily lives up to its name with the giant silvery fish greeting you at the bottom of the boat and then scattered across the wall and in the deep cuts. Grouper, snapper and fairy bassets are seen on every dive. The reef crests here at 15 feet before dropping vertically in a spectacular array of sheet coral and huge sponges.
For the diver looking for a lot of colorful reef fish, the Cathedral is the spot. Silver Caves gains its name from the clouds of tiny fish that pulse and swirl avoiding predatory groupers and tarpon. A personal favorite dive site of mine is Quebrada (Spanish roughly translated to mean “The Break”). Here the vertical starts in very shallow water. Cruise along the wall and it bends, then “breaks” with a huge slide and gash of massive coral boulders. Turtles and eagle rays are often seen here.
Half Moon Caye is certainly worth a walk-about with its protected red-footed booby and frigate nesting area. Nearby offshore is the very popular Half Moon Wall. Snow white sand at about 40 feet spills through many deep cuts in the reef leading to the wall, vertical from 15 feet to whatever. Water here is exceptionally clear with visibility of 150 feet common. While you’d be tempted to spend all your time on the wall and in the cuts with its huge sponges and coral faces, you can easily spend the second half of your dive, or a second dive, exploring the shallow environs spying on the morays, mounds of brain and star coral, and multiple cleaning stations where larger fish come to have small parasites picked clean by tiny fish.
Lighthouse Reef is an excellent place for the serious beginning diver to become fully indoctrinated on what Caribbean wall diving is all about. Currents are minimal, seas are generally calm and always warm and clear. And with the vertical walls, intermediate and advanced divers will not be lacking in underwater adventures. And then there is always the famous Blue Hole at the center of the lagoon. Not for beginners, this creepy place is a must-do for any advanced diver.
There are currently no resorts on Lighthouse Reef but plenty to the west at nearby Turneffe Islands, Ambrergris Caye, the Barrier Reef Islands and the mainland. We chose, however, to dive Lighthouse Reef from the Belize Aggressor, a luxury live-aboard out of Belize City on the mainland. We spent nearly the entire week on Lighthouse Reef with several aboard diving four or even five dives a day! Peter Hughes and Nekton also run live-aboard operations to the reef.