This is a question that is repeatedly asked on the many dive message boards across the internet and the answers it receives is sometimes misleading depending on the experience of the diver whom answers.
This article is written to provide an unbiased factual information source based on the reaction of hundreds of divers that I have had the opportunity to speak to after diving the Blue Hole.
Since I was a dive operator in Belize for many years and love the country, there will be some readers that say, of course I will promote the Blue Hole in a positive manner but the real truth is I personally think for 90% of divers it's a great experience a great dive and a great addition to diving Belize.
The Great Blue Hole of Belize is 1000ft across and 460ft deep and forms an almost perfect circle. It has been a favorite fishing ground for Belizean fishermen for many years and in 1970 it was introduced to the public by Jacque Cousteau whom on his boat the Calypso charted the Blue Hole for the first time and highlighted its wonders in a TV documentary.
The Belize Blue Hole is unique in many ways, one being that it is the only Blue Hole in the world that can be seen with the naked eye from outer space.
It is a fact that thousands of years ago the Blue Hole was a cave that was above sea level, the reason we know this is because Stalactites and stalagmites cannot form underwater, and can only grow with the constant drip drip that can be seen happening to the stalactites in many above ground caves systems today.
When you consider that it takes more than 100 years for a Stalactite to grow just one inch, it’s a spectacular sight to see a 40ft stalactite that has taken literally thousands of years to reach that size. The Stalactites can be found in the Blue Hole starting at 100ft, hanging suspended from the ceiling some more than 40ft long. The Blue Hole and the surrounding area has been designated a World Heritage site due to is uniqueness and is another one of Belize's many protected areas.
(Did you know that almost one third of the country of Belize is designated as protected reserves?)
Many people don't realize it but there are only 2 dive able spots in the Blue Hole, The north side which is the more popular side for the larger boats, due to fairly easy access to that side, and then their is the south side which generally only the smaller boats can access due to wind direction and the fact that it has to be dove from within the circumference of the hole itself.
Each has only about 300ft or so of Stalactites hanging down after that is just a flat wall of basically nothing. On the North dive-site you only have Stalactites (those that hang down) with nothing but the abyss below you, on the South side it has both Stalactites and Stalagmites which can be found at around 145ft where there is a small ledge that has some Stalagmites, this is the side you are more likely to encounter the resident Shark population. In many message board posts you will read that some divers see lots of sharks while other divers see none and there is a simple explanation for this.
I dove the Blue Hole for more than 12 years and while today the Blue Hole has a large population of Caribbean Reef Sharks it will depend on how you dive the Blue hole and whom you dive it with whether you will see the resident sharks or not.
Many years ago before this large population became a near daily occurrence, we did on occasion see sharks in the Blue Hole but always on the South side, and almost NEVER when we dove the North side which was 99% of the time, because as mentioned the size of the boat we were using only allowed us to dive the south side when winds were favorable..
So why do some divers see sharks and other do not? Here’s the scoop
Nearly all the boats that dive the Blue Hole from San Pedro see the sharks on many occasions, and the reason for this is that they get to the Blue Hole FIRST before the Aggressors and other large boats, resorts etc that are located in the area.
(Make a mental note here that normally it’s the very experienced divers that usually book the liveaboards and stay at the remote Atoll resorts because that is where the best diving in Belize can usually be found)
Being the first to dive the Blue Hole affords them better visibility since the first group to dive the Blue Hole gets the best vis, the reason for this is, as you descend it causes the silt to dislodge as the bubbles rise and releases the silt causing visibility to become reduced.
(these days due to the large number of boats and divers visibility is nearly always quite bad compared to the other fantastic dives at Lighthouse Reef)
When you consider that San Pedro sends many boats a day to the Blue Hole you can understand why those that dive it later in the morning under the pretext (Lets wait till the San Pedro boats leave so its less busy) dive a site that has had probably 50 divers through it already before they get the chance to dive it.
This puts them at a distinct disadvantage as to the quality of the dive especially in the area of visibility since 40-50 divers and there bubbles will reduce visibility by up to 50% in some cases, in addition there are the Sharks.
The Sharks will sometimes follow you throughout the dive but are mainly utilized at the end of the dive since you have an extended safety stop of 10 minutes or so and while waiting out that time on the sandy ledge located at 15ft you are buzzed and entertained by up to 30 Caribbean Reef Sharks.(Not Guaranteed) The sharks are induced to come to the surface by baiting the water with sardines this will bring them to the surface from the depths of the Blue Hole and give the diver the opportunity to view these magnificent creatures during the safety stop.
The liveaboards do not bait the water or the local resorts and if this is not done the likelihood of seeing any sharks is reduced by 90% so you can clearly see that most divers that dive the Blue Hole from a liveabord or an Atoll resort will have a far inferior dive due to these reasons.
Baiting is now not allowed however some operators still do it to try and get the sharks up from the depths
In addition it is normally the very experienced divers that are usually the ones that are on the liveaboards because this normally affords them the best diving opportunities in Belize and that is absolutely correct with the EXCEPTION of the Blue Hole dive based on how they are currently running that dive.
Over the years a repeated question is posted on the various diver message boards is the Blue Hole Worth diving? And you will see the same answers time and time again from don't bother it’s a waste of time to it’s a great dive well worth it and everything in between.
Why is there such a vast difference in peoples opinions, my answer is that most regulars on message boards, that is those that post at least once a week etc are normally very active divers and have lots of experience and have had the opportunity to dive multiple places around the world and give there advice freely to others. This however can do an injustice to a fairly new diver that happens upon a message board and asks the question is the Blue Hole worth diving??
Most of the answers I have seen on message boards are negative when asking this question, mainly I believe because its a very experienced diver that maybe has 1000's of dives under his belt and when he dove the Blue Hole it was probably from a liveaboard after a bunch of other divers had dove it and because of his worldly experience he was less than impressed with the Blue Hole, so he makes his experience heard to this fairly new diver that has only dove cozumel since certification and has 20 dives under his belt, he of course thinks this expert diver knows exactly what he is talking about so decided NOT to dive the Blue Hole because of what he has been told.
When this fairly new diver gets to Belize and is asked do you want to dive the Blue Hole I receive the answer OHH no I have heard its not that good I then I ask who told you that, and I receive an answer of I read it on a message board, or my friend came to Belize and he told me, so I ask did he dive the Blue Hole while he was here then?? and I receive an answer Oh no but he had heard it was not worth it either so did not dive it when he was in Belize. I hear this time after time after time.
I then explain the Blue Hole trip and hopefully I had some guests in house that have just come back and then I don't have to say a thing they will sell them a trip for me but if I do not have divers in-house then I will tell them about the trip and encourage them to go and I usually add that if they don't think it was worth it I will refund there money, needless to say to this date I have never refunded anyone’s money normally they are extremely appreciative that I talked them into it and let them make there own mind up and I am happy to break the cycle of the OH No I heard it was not worth it mode.
Why do I do this if I made more money keeping them in house? the reason is that I am the first to say that Belize has many different areas to dive and each unique in what it has to offer, based on what a specific diver is looking for in a vacation (that's another Belize article to follow soon) I want the visiting diver to go back with a positive impression of diving Belize and anything I can do to increase there enjoyment of diving Belize then I will do that. The Blue Hole is a unique dive that if dove correctly can be an excellent addition to any divers logbook it will be less impressive to those divers with thousands of dives under there belt but the other 95% of divers will really enjoy the dive and view it as a positive DIFFERENT enjoyable dive.
So next time you see a question posted on a message board asking about the Blue Hole be sensitive to the experience of the diver asking when you answer it. Divers whom have been lucky enough to travel all over the world with thousands of dives under there belt will find it less of a thrill however the average diver will enjoy diving the Lighthouse Reef and The Great Blue Hole of Belize the possibility of sharks the eerie feeling and sheer difference, it will be a memorable diving experience for them, give them the chance to make there own judgments.