Belize - one of the smallest countries in Central America - packs a lot within its borders, from the hemisphere's longest reef and the amazing Blue Hole, to whale sharks, atolls, Mayan ruins and jungle trekking. It's the ultimate location for dive travel.
Deciding where to stay in Belize is harder than it seems - your choices range from the quaint ambience of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye to the dive-only atolls to the nature-loving South.
The barrier reef off Ambergris Caye starts five miles north of the Mexican border and is so near shore that dive sites are only five minutes away. Experienced divers like to visit Hol Chan Cut: Strong tidal currents make it tricky to dive this site, but also supply food to filter feeders such as sea fans, sponges and gorgonians and to fish like grunts and mutton snappers. Divers stay close to the channel sides where irregularities in the walls blunt much of the current's strength.
Three of the four true atolls in the hemisphere - Lighthouse Reef, Turneffe Islands and Glover's Reef - lie 30 to 60 miles off the mainland, beyond the immense barrier reef, and offer fish- and coral-packed walls that plummet 3,000 feet below. Ranked among Belize's best wall dives, the Elbow at Turneffe's southern tip is a busy intersection of currents and big fish; you'll see schools of jacks, permit and barrel sponges. The walls at Lighthouse Reef's Half Moon Caye are shot through with innumerable tunnels and swim-throughs and packed with huge barrel and tube sponges, yellowtail snappers, eagle rays and garden eels.
Gladden Spit, near Placencia, is a hot dive travel spot for whale shark encounters between March and June. Placencia dive operators take small groups of divers to this reserve, where whale sharks, drawn by spawning dog and cubera snappers, come in search of an easy meal.