I had long waited an opportunity to visit Belize’s Lighthouse Reef Atoll, the most famous atoll of the world’s 2nd largest barrier reef system. Made famous by Jacques Cousteau in 1971 when he visited and dove the Blue Hole and declared it one of top ten dive sites in the world. At 1000 feet in diameter and 407 feet deep, it is regarded as Belize’s star diving attraction.
The Sun Dancer would be our host for a long awaited week of diving out at Lighthouse Reef Atoll. The largest liveaboard in the Caribbean, at 138 feet, the Sun Dancer is one of the most comfortable and well-appointed dive yachts I have had the pleasure to cruise on. Think of her as your floating boutique hotel for divers. She departs Belize City every Saturday for a 7 night cruise to the best of Belize’s reef systems. Comfortable cabins with ensuite bathrooms and even with small flat screen TV’s with DVD player. An expansive rooftop sundeck with lounge chairs and hammocks to take in the sea views, sunsets, or to just relax and suntan or read your book. A spacious and comfortable main salon that serves as dining area and lounge on the upper deck complete with a large TV cinema system, a self-serve beverage and snack counter, a computer workstation for guests, and an outside bar and seating area. The main deck of the ship has all of the cabins save one and has a very comfortable, efficient and spacious dive deck located at the stern of the vessel. All of the diving is conducted directly from the vessel with easy access and egress from the water from the very large dive platform.
We were greeted at the airport by Sun Dancer staff and transferred to the vessels dock at the Fort George Radisson hotel for the 3pm boarding time. All of our baggage was handled by the staff and forwarded to the vessel while we awaited boarding at the hotel bar while enjoying a beverage and meeting our shipboard diving mates for the week. Upon boarding we were escorted to the main salon for Captain Eddy Anderson’s welcome cocktail reception and briefing where we were introduced to the shipboard staff and all of the amenities, services and safety procedures aboard ship. We were shown to our cabins where our bags awaited us, unpacked and prepared our dive gear while the ship set sail for Lighthouse Reef Atoll. We would arrive at the atoll in the middle of the night, as it is some 50 – 60 miles offshore, and the most remote of Belize’s reef atolls.
We awoke the next morning moored at our first dive site and awaiting our site briefing for the first highly anticipated dive of many. What I can tell you without equivocation is that Lighthouse Reef does not disappoint and it was the most impressive, fun and easy diving that I have experienced in the Caribbean. Having travelled to many tropical destinations worldwide, I provide this comparison to the Caribbeans best diving destinations such as Little Cayman, Bonaire, Curacao, Grand Cayman, Turks & Caicos, Utila, Roatan and more. Lighthouse Reef is all of these destinations rolled into one and much more.
Lighthouse reef boasts an extremely healthy marine environment with both abundant hard and soft corals due to the very clean nutrient rich waters found far offshore. The reef is a kaleidoscope of colors and the very colorful tube sponges and enormous elephant ear sponges will impress. Very large schools of small and medium fish, a great many more groupers than encountered anywhere in the Caribbean and larger fish like Barracuda, Tarpon, Chubs in numbers. Multiple shark sightings are common on almost every dive, including regular sightings of eagle rays and southern stingrays. The macro life is also the most impressive and diverse I have seen for the Caribbean. I would have previously dubbed Bonaire or Curacao the macro capital of the Caribbean, but would now restate that Lighthouse Reef would rival any reef in the Caribbean for macro life photography. Tiny shrimp, pipehorses, sea horses, and a new find for my photo archive the Neck Crab, one of the most fascinating coral crabs I have had the pleasure to photograph.
Diving is up to 5 times per day directly from the vessel, no tenders, and changing dive sites at mid-day after two morning dives, followed by two afternoon dives and a night dive each day. The reef at Lighthouse Atoll typically starts in 20 – 30 feet of water with an easy giant stride entry off the rear deck platform of the Sun Dancer. Reef structure is highly variable with sand channels, canyons, chutes and beautiful sheer walls. Multi-level dive profiles are possible at almost every dive site and extend both available bottom and air supply by being able to finish the dives in shallower waters. Currents are almost non-existent or very mild and easy to escape by staying close to reef structure. Safety stops are a breeze as the Sun dancer boasts a special retractable solid aluminum deco bar that is some 20 feet wide and hangs solidly at 15 feet. The divemasters Megan, Simon, Karim and Captain Eddy, all rotate shifts in the water, and it was a joy to dive with each. Back aboard ship the crew awaits with hot showers and warm towels draped across your shoulders and snacks and refreshments have been prepared by the chefs.
Dining aboard ship was the best I have experienced on any liveaboard. Kudos to executive Chef Jerry and chef Pedro who consistently receive best in fleet food service awards amongst the entire Dancer and Aggressor fleet. I have to say that every meal was delicious, and I especially looked forward to every nights dining experience and the at the table service provided by the Elia and the rest of the crew. I especially enjoyed the lionfish fry that was offered with appetizers during our farewell gathering.
Alas we arrived back at the dock in Belize City Friday afternoon and off we went to go river cave tubing at Cave’s Branch. Just 45 minutes from downtown Belize City, Cave’s Branch summed up in a phrase, is a wonderful jungle river cavern experience, fun and easy for people of all ages, and I highly recommend it to any who visit Belize. Walking through the jungle with our guide Rudy, we arrived at the Cave’s Branch River where some of us jumped from a small cliff into a sinkhole, we then crossed the shallow for an hour with our guide. As is customary the last evening, we dined ashore at restaurant Celebrity which was a 10 minute walk from the ships dock. The meal and service was excellent and we returned to the ship to spend our last night reminiscing about our weeks adventures late into the night with our newfound dive mates. In the morning we disembarked to the hotel and awaited our transfers back to airport.
If you want to experience the easy liveaboard dive style in your own floating boutique dive hotel at the best dive sites and reefs that the Caribbean and Belize have to offer, then try the Sun dancer and you too will surely be impressed as I was. I will return very soon to Belize, my new favorite dive destination.
Written by Michael O’Meara