Punta Azul Snorkeling
The 25th most popular snorkel dive spot in Belize.
Sunday 14 August 2016 06:42 GMT
Northeast of Belize City off Ambergris Caye, the snorkeling at Punta Azul is popular for the diverse marine life in the formations carved by the strong currents. Ambergris Caye has a 25 mile long barrier reef located about a half mile off the eastern shore. Inside the barrier reef, there are shallow sandy, seagrass flats popular with turtles, conchs, resting nurse sharks and also heavy surface boat traffic. The barrier reef itself is popular for its staghorn and elkhorn coral formations but is not known for quantities of reef fish.
The boat-accessed Punta Azul snorkeling dive site has a canyon formation that is habitat for spider crabs, lobsters, barracuda, nurse shark, spotted eagle ray, southern sting ray, lionfish and snapper. It is a 20 minute boat ride north from San Pedro. While known more as a scuba dive site, this site has good water clarity, but can be deep for snorkelers. There is a really nice maze of coral reefs to explore to the north of the buoy markers.
To reach San Pedro on Ambergis Caye, fly into Belize City International Airport. There are two small inter-island airlines that operate a 20 minute flight to San Pedro airport on Ambergis Caye. Note, even if you reserve a specific inter-island flight at a specific time, only after you check-in with the inter-island carrier are you really assigned to an actual flight at an actual time. While there is a ferry service from downtown Belize City to Ambergris Caye, there are only informal taxis (in personally owned vehicles) from the airport along slow roads thru run-down neighborhoods to the ferry dock, which is located in a very sketchy area. Hence, the ferry service does not tend to be a very popular option with tourists.
All of the popular Ambergris Caye snorkeling dive sites are boat access. There are several dive boat charters out of San Pedro that also pick up from the numerous hotel boat docks.
After a long day of snorkeling at Basil Jones, you can check out the dock bar at X'tan Ha Resort for a cold drink. Alternately, another local favorite is the Green Parrot Beach Bar located in the Portofino Beach Resort about six miles north of San Pedro (they have a complementary water taxi 501-226-5096).
When considering a trip to Ambergris Caye for a snorkeling vacation, there are a few things you should be aware of before planning. First, due to shallow sea grass beds and heavy boat traffic, there really isn't any snorkeling accessible from the shoreline. A boat is definitely required to get to the good snorkeling dive sites. Even with a sea kayak, you'll need to be very careful of the fast boats and the changing offshore winds making your return challenging. Second, Ambergris Caye seems to be over flowing with trash. You can expect to find plenty of trash in the water and washing up on shore. The inland roads are lined with smelly trash, too. Third, the bugs and ants may drive you crazy until you get used to routinely using plenty of bug spray. The no-see-ums and small fire ants are particularly annoying. Fourth, the island roads are in pretty bad shape, and once outside of downtown San Pedro, you'll encounter flooding and large pot holes. Again, travel by boat is the best way to go. Keep in mind that the local water taxi is more of a water bus that stops at every dock as needed. It's a value, but can take quite some time to get up the coastline. Fifth, the price of food on the island is quite high and variety is limited. So, make sure to pack as much food in your bags when you head down. While there are numerous small markets, their prices are double those at the two Super Buy grocery stores on the island. Lastly, the dive shops are very scuba oriented and have very little or no supples. So bring your own gear and backup supplies. The general level of professionalism seems pretty laid back.
While many tourists use one of the many scuba dive tour charters companies to reach the boat access snorkeling sites, all the charters seem to offer the exact same two trips. The two typical trips combine either Hol Chan/Shark Ray Alley or they combine Tres Cocos / Mexico Rocks. You may find a tour for snorkeling along with a beach BBQ, but there is limited snorkeling and way too much time on shore at a crowded dirty beach. These snorkeling beach BBQ trips also may sell you on offering two or three dive sites during the trip, but it may turn out that you'll only go to one site. The best option to enjoying Ambergris Caye snorkeling is to stay at a resort near your desired offshore reef dives and use the resorts boat service. Alternately, you can look at the downtown San Pedro piers for a local guide with a dive permit and strike a dear for some boat services.
Overall, Punta Azul is the 25th most popular snorkel dive spot of all 44 snorkeling dives in Belize. Several of the better snorkeling spots are nearby Punta Azul including Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley, Mexico Rocks, Tuffy Rocks, Tackle Box Canyon and Esmeralda.