Introducing Blue Hole National Park
The 575-acre St Herman’s Blue Hole National Park (admission BZ$10; 8am-4:30pm) contains one of the few caves in Belize that you can visit independently. The visitors center (where flashlights can be rented for BZ$5) is 11 miles along the Hummingbird Hwy from Belmopan. From here a 500yd trail leads to St Herman’s Cave. A path leads 300yd into the cave alongside an underground river. To explore deeper in the extensive cave system, with its huge caverns and classic Maya ceremonial chambers containing calcified skeletons and artifacts, you must have a guide.
Highly experienced Kekchi Maya guide Marcos Cucul (600-3116; www.mayaguide.bz) can sometimes be found at the visitors center (when he isn’t leading jungle survival tours deep in the bush). With over a decade’s experience as an area guide, Cucul enjoys an excellent reputation. A three-hour spelunk costs BZ$100 per person. There’s also a 1.5-mile above-ground jungle loop trail starting near the cave entrance, with a lookout tower at the area’s highest point.
The Blue Hole for which the park is named is just off the highway, 1 mile east of the visitors center (an off-road trail connects the two). This is a 25ft-deep sapphire-blue swimming hole inside a 328ft-wide cenote that was formed when the roof caved in on one of the Sibun River’s underground tributaries. A popular stop on the Hummingbird Hwy, the Blue Hole always makes for a refreshing dip, except after rain when it’s murky and uninviting. An attendant at the Blue Hole parking area will collect your park fee if you don’t have a ticket from the visitors center. Buses along the Hummingbird Hwy will drop you at the visitors center or Blue Hole entrance (BZ$2, 20 minutes from Belmopan; BZ$4.50, 1¼ hours from Dangriga).
At the center of Lighthouse Reef is the world-famous Blue Hole Natural Monument (marine fee BZ$80). The Blue Hole is an incomparable natural wonder and an unparalleled diving experience. It may not be the best dive in Belize, but it certainly ranks among the most popular. The image of the Blue Hole – a deep blue pupil with an aquamarine border surrounded by the lighter shades of the reef – has become a logo for tourist publicity and a symbol of Belize.
Inside a sheer-sided wall drops about 100ft to an undercut filled with stalactites. Deep blue in the center the hole forms a perfect 1000ft-diameter circle on the surface. Inside, it is said to be 430ft deep, but as much as 200ft of this may now be filled with silt and other natural debris.
You drop quickly to 130ft where you swim beneath an overhang, observing stalactites above you and, usually, a school of reef sharks below you. You might see four or five varieties of shark. Although the water is clear, light levels are low as you wend your way through the formations. A good dive light will enable you to appreciate the sponge and invertebrate life. Because of the depth, ascent begins after eight minutes; the brevity of the dive does disappoint some divers.
This trip is usually combined with other dives at Lighthouse Reef. Experienced divers will tell you that those other dives are the real highlight of the trip. But judging from its popularity – most dive shops make twice-weekly runs to the Blue Hole – plenty want to make the deep descent.
On day trips the Blue Hole will be your first dive, which can be nerve-racking if you’re unfamiliar with the dive master and the other divers, or if you haven’t been underwater lately. It may be worth doing some local dives with your dive masters before setting out cold on a Blue Hole trip. An alternative is to take an overnight trip to Lighthouse Reef.
Snorkelers can enjoy a trip to the Blue Hole, too, as there’s plenty to see around the shallow inner perimeter of the circular reef. But it’s an expensive trip and you’ll probably have to tag along on a dive boat.
Note: this trip involves two hours each way by boat in possibly rough, open waters. Also, there’s a BZ$80 marine-park fee for diving or snorkeling at the Blue Hole, usually separate from the dive fees.
Perhaps the most iconic of all Belizean caving experiences can be had at Cave’s Branch, the main staging ground for what is quickly becoming Belize’s most popular non-nautical activity, cave-tubing. You’ll need a guide to go through the area’s underground river and cave network. Highly recommended is Vitalino Reyes (602-8975; cavetubing.bz), a pioneer of the pursuit who begins his tubing trips with fascinating, information-filled jungle walks. During the walk, Vitalino will show you which plants are good to eat, which ones will hurt you, and which ones will help you if you confuse the first with the second. Vitalino is also an entomologist who delights in introducing his charges to tasty jungle bugs; he also has a penchant for handling tarantulas.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009
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