Belize: Barrier Reef and Great Blue Hole Tour

We spent the second half of our trip to Belize in the cayes (pronounced ‘keys’), opting to stay on Caye Caulker based on reports that it’s more relaxed and less populated than Ambergris Caye. The reports were true, and our plan to stay on Caye Caulker and take a day trip over to Ambergris Caye ended up being one of the best decisions of the trip.

Although Caye Caulker was more our vibe, we wanted to experience Ambergris Caye’s San Pedro and planned a day-trip around our roundtrip flight over the Belize Barrier Reef and Great Blue Hole.

Our original plan:

  • take the water taxi to San Pedro
  • catch our reserved flight out over the Barrier Reef and Great Blue Hole
  • grab some food at one of the highly rated restaurants
  • explore downtown
  • take the final water taxi back of the day back to Caye Caulker for sunset

What ended up happening:

  • the water taxi was late but then we almost missed it because it turned out the tickets I bought online needed processed onsite
  • we rushed to the airport, concerned about missing our flight, to discover our flight was delayed
  • only one of the restaurants we wanted to check out was open
  • our walk around downtown was exceedingly hot and filled with the fumes of the 1 million golf carts speeding around the narrow streets
  • we called it and exchanged our return tickets for the mid-day water taxi back to Caye Caulker

While our visit wasn’t exactly all I hoped it would be, it did have a few redeeming qualities, which I’ve highlighted below!.

Downtown San Pedro

The area immediately around the water taxi landing has shops and restaurants, children’s play areas, and the now iconic colorful name sign we found in each place we visited the second half of our trip.

I’m not sure if it was the day of the week, or the early-ish hour, or the rising temperature, but there just wasn’t much going on downtown while we were there. Shops and restaurants weren’t open yet, and the people we did see were all riding around on diesel-fueled golf carts that filled the streets with noise and exhaust.

Perhaps if we’d headed over later in the day we would have experienced the bustling energy most people use to describe this place. To be fair, we didn’t explore outside of downtown and many people who enjoy staying in San Pedro seem to spend most of their time at the resorts. Had we rented our own golf cart, maybe we would have discovered more to occupy our afternoon.

As things stood, an hour or so was sufficient to see the downtown highlights, many of which were on the water near the water taxi landing.

Flight Over the Belize Barrier Reef and Great Blue Hole

The true highlight of our time in San Pedro was actually leaving Ambergris Caye for our Maya Air flight over the Belize Barrier Reef and Great Blue Hole.

We were seated directly behind the pilot in our tiny aircraft and grabbed window seats on either side of the plane so we’d have equal opportunity views!

Belize Barrier Reef

As soon as we were beyond the major cayes the Belize Barrier Reef came into view.

The coastal area of Belize is an outstanding natural system consisting of the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, offshore atolls, several hundred sand cayes, mangrove forests, coastal lagoons and estuaries. The system’s seven sites illustrate the evolutionary history of reef development and are a significant habitat for threatened species, including marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile.

The Belize Barrier Reef is 180 miles long, making it the second largest coral reef in the world. Seeing it from overhead really brought its sheer size into perspective, and I was fascinated by how it wound through the water, which transitioned through every imaginable shade of blue.

It was amazing how how clearly we could make out the underwater landscape from above, interspersed with hundreds of little cayes.

Great Blue Hole

Of course the final destination of our flight was the Great Blue Hole.

The Great Blue Hole is a large underwater sinkhole off the coast of Belize. It lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef, a small atoll 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the mainland of Belize City.

The hole is circular in shape, over 300 metres (984 ft.) across and 125 metres (410 ft.) deep. The world’s largest natural formation of its kind, the Great Blue Hole is part of the larger Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage Site of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Our pilot made multiple passes around the Great Blue Hole so everyone on both sides of the plane would have plenty of opportunity to see and photograph it.

I’m so glad I took my non-drowsy motion sickness pill ahead of time – there were moments where the horizon was at a 30-40 degree slope and I had one moment where I really had to take deep breaths and try to focus on the horizon as it leveled back out.

It was worth overcoming the momentary discomfort to see this amazing natural formation with my own eyes!

Waterfront Dining in San Pedro

While I was bummed so many of the restaurants on my list were still closed at lunchtime, I was happy we found a seat at the bar of Blue Water Grill. We were tucked well away from the heat of the sun and could still enjoy the views over the small sandy beach in one direction and a palm tree-lined swimming pool in the other.

There were a number of reserved tables and a couple very large youth groups, but it didn’t feel like long before our shrimp po’boy and grilled snapper sandwich were served. This was a relaxing spot for a tasty meal, and a bit of a hidden gem.

Bonus: We made one other quick foodie stop at DandE’s Frozen Custard for a small after lunch treat. Unfortunately they only serve out a window and there was no shade, seating, or even substantial sidewalk around so we had to enjoy our snacks as we wove among the golf carts, headed back toward the water ferry.

If I’m being honest, San Pedro was one of my least favorite places we visited in Belize, and I’m so happy we opted to spend the second half of our trip on Caye Caulker instead!

2 thoughts on “Belize: Barrier Reef and Great Blue Hole Tour

  1. Pingback: One Week in Belize Itinerary – Heather's Compass

  2. Pingback: Belize: Why to Stay on Caye Caulker – Heather's Compass

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