The Great Blue Hole is no doubt on many divers’ bucket lists awaiting to be ticked off. Given that I was new to scuba diving, it had honestly not been awaiting so long on my bucket list. I even did not have any chance to write it down, but there it was. As a diving newbie, I was heading to Belize to dive in the world’s second-longest barrier reef and the legendary Great Blue Hole. Yep, that’s right, I was literally diving head-first into the deep blue.
The Great Blue Hole is the world’s largest natural submarine sinkhole, circular in shape, measuring 300 meters/1000 feet in diameter, and a depth of 124 meters/406 feet. It lies off the coast of Belize, in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. The world became aware of its existence upon Jacques Cousteau’s research in 1971, and it is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This remarkable, world-famous dive spot can be reached from many places in Belize on a day tour. My choice was the small coral island of Caye Caulker, from where I arrived at the Blue Hole after a 2.5-hour long bumpy boat ride on a choppy sea. I did a single, very short, deep dive in a trance to offer my respect for Mother Nature. However, simply doing this hadn’t come easy.
I was newly certified last year, and I did not feel confident enough after the course. I had not had the opportunity to dive again since then. As a result, I wasn’t sure whether to attempt to dive the famous spot as a newbie or not. I could only find very little and discrepant information on the experience level required, or how the dive would look like if it is really that freaking difficult or not. I did not know what exactly to expect. After all the research, I imagined literally a deep blue hole, where you enter a dark void without any orientation point around you. Everyone was saying the same: “There is no bottom…” Can you imagine how my anxiety had increased over time? I was anyway not yet comfortable with diving, and reading or hearing horror scenarios on top was not what I needed. But I was not going to give up, not at all. It was just another terrifying obstacle I had to overcome. Hence, I came up with a plan: first I would do my advanced open water diver course, where most people actually think the course is for more experienced divers, but PADI claims it is for newly certified divers to gain more experience under the supervision of a dive instructor. Great, that fits perfectly with my plan! If this step works fine, I would then dive the Blue Hole with the same staff and equipment I had success with just a few days ago -following the motto “Never change a winning team”.
Gladly, everything worked out well according to the plan, even though it was not an easy process. First of all, the sea was choppy making getting in and out of the water a real pain. Moreover, I had yet to find out that I could get seasick within a 10-minute boat ride off to the local reef. For the very first 10 minutes of my first dive out there in the ocean, I was second-guessing myself about whether I should rather be giving up to bring an end to all the stress and struggle. As I was confused with such thoughts, seasick, and upset, the silhouette of a huge sea turtle appeared in the distance, and it started swimming towards me, as if it was trying to encourage me. It was the moment I said, “No, you are not giving up, this is an amazing experience and worth every effort!”. I was amazed, mesmerized, and instantaneously in love with scuba diving. With every dive afterward, I got more and more confidence, but I still had respect for a bottomless pit of mystery. So, I opted for having my own dive master for the Blue Hole day to keep the anxiety level at its minimum.
Now the big question: how did the dive look like at all?
To begin, the Great Blue Hole is deep, and bottomless as far as the recreational dive limit is concerned. However, one thing that put me at ease was the fact that the dive begins with a descent of 12 meters/40 feet to a sandy limestone shelf. This means there was still a solid bottom underneath my feet and a reference before heading to the deep end. Upon gathering at this shelf, we were freely descending into the darkness by following the gentle inclination of the shelf that leads up to a dark abyss. The first glimpse into the deep blue off the shelf, I was thrilled for a second or two. I was in the watery void as if flying through the universe…honestly, a bit terrified…but then I got my bearings almost immediately. I knew behind me was the shelf, and a limestone wall to my left was the only reference, as we further descended (not to mention the calming effect of being accompanied by the best buddy of all times!).
We continued our descent swimming close to the wall up to 30 meters/100 feet, where we veered off towards the silhouettes of the huge stalactites coming down from the overhang in a cavern forged during the last ice age. When we reached our maximum depth, 40 meters/130 feet, the cavern appeared in front of us. As we continued past the immense stalactites formed eons ago, I now felt as if I were in an eerie, otherworldly tale. It was deep, it was deep blue, and it was void -except for little sparkling lights resembling the stars glimmering brightly in the sky. Oh, and the Caribbean Great White Shark (aka reef shark :-)) pictured above was circling its territory in the void blue.
After a few minutes (at that depth bottom time is quite short, my dive computer displayed 3 minutes bottom time only), we began our slow ascent from our maximum depth. We came up past the sparse marine life again, and I found myself on the same sandy shelf. Finally, the shape of the dive boat appeared above and the dive leader signaled to do a safety stop. In total, I finished a 25-minute dive. That’s it, I just dived the legendary Great Blue Hole!
Diving the Great Blue Hole was a distant dream and a big challenge itself. But I did it: I dived the Blue Hole at the beginning of my dive career. It is one of those moments that stand far out in my life, above and beyond all others. It is an enormous achievement for me, I couldn’t have succeeded in doing so without all the special people I’ve encountered along the way.
When I look back as little as seven years ago, I was not even a good swimmer. I was applying sort of a “dog style”, at which Tom was laughing heartily. So, I started taking swim lessons, where Denise was eagerly correcting my technique even long after the course was over. Thank you Denise for your dedication, and thank you Grandma Lotte for sponsoring the swim course (it was a good investment, believe me!). Some years later, the consensus was that I became a good swimmer, and then I started with the open water diver course in Germany. The dive training in the pool had come with a lot of struggles for me so I ended up finishing the open water dives in Jamaica, in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. Thank you, Franz (from Marine Life Divers, Negril) for taking away my anxiety seamlessly. Your 30-minute briefing in a soft and calm voice explaining each and every bit of the dive was the perfect way to put me at ease. Although I was literally shaking in my boots, I was surprised by myself getting calm long before the briefing was over. Your calmness certainly rubbed off on me. And Mario lately, my instructor for the advanced course and the perfect buddy for the Blue Hole dive: thank you for making me a comfortable diver. I might still have more trust in you than in myself, but I am way more confident now. Also, thanks for giving me the nickname “little fighter”. No two other words could describe me better 🙂 Last but not least, a very special thanks to my dear hubby Tom, who has always been supportive, although he hates water and all sort of water activities.
I feel so lucky to have met such amazing people. Without you guys, I wouldn’t be now here writing this post as an advanced scuba diver, no longer a dog swimmer, and no longer afraid of small or big marine species…Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I am the master of the universe now, but I feel great satisfaction that I have overcome my own self-doubts and fears. And I am madly in love with scuba diving. It is sort of a mediation, it is relaxing, and it makes me say “Yes, that’s me!”. I am a water rat, a challenge-lover, a little fighter…
If you ask me, I’ve just started and I will continue exploring this beautiful world above and underwater while further developing my skills, and getting over my fears one by one. You can most probably find me in the water, or in the mountains somewhere around the world. Why not join in?!
The Blue Hole does not offer much of marine life, except for some sharks and a few fishes hanging around. If abundant marine life is what you are after, it may be a disappointing dive for you. I found the dive itself not that difficult or frightening, given that you have a reference point all the time, no current to speak of, and there is enough light at all times (it is darker at depth but not night-dark, so no need for a torch). But if you are not experienced enough, you might easily get anxious. So, you should know your limits and act accordingly.
I did the tour with Frenchie’s Diving from Caye Caulker, and I had an amazing time (click to read my Tripadvisor review). The tour was an expensive 3 tank-dive for 240 USD, but mainly due to the distance and the marine park entrance fee of 40 USD per person (as of April 2014). Other dive/snorkel stops of the day were Half Moon Caye Wall and Long Caye Aquarium. Lunch break was taken on the Half Moon Caye, and you should not miss out on a quick tour of the island to the bird observatory platform.
The other dive sites of the day were excellent with turquoise waters, incredible sea life, and corals gently swaying in the current. And actually, they are bottomless too, as both walls drop off on the other side of the coral down to some 2000 feet or more.
You can find below and here some photos of the rest of the day.