• Image about Belize

Belize is famous as a dive destination, but there’s more to this Central American country than what’s underwater.

Photographs by Scott Wintrow.

About 60 miles off the coast of Belize, over fields of brain coral and schools of multihued tropical fish, lies scuba diving’s crown jewel. It measures more than 1,000 feet in diameter and is hemmed with underwater vegetation. Its color is a shade of blue not found elsewhere in the azure Caribbean Sea. And on a topographic map, it is the closest cousin to an intergalactic cosmic fissure.

It is the Blue Hole, the result of a seismic anomaly that occurred during the last glacial period, nearly 110,000 years ago, when sea levels were much lower. Yet it wasn’t until 1972, when Jacques Cousteau motored his trusty sleuth, the Calypso, over the opening to chart its depths, that the Blue Hole became a household name in diving circles.

This was the trip I’d been looking for. I wanted to retrace Cousteau’s wake and see this giant hole beneath the water firsthand. I wanted to see the storied stalagmites and the sheer limestone walls that plummet into the abyss. Of course, I knew I couldn’t dive the thing -- not all of it, anyway. At 400 feet deep, it has been ventured by only a select few scuba elite. That, coupled with the fact that I’ve never dived farther down than the deep end of the public pool, made it clear I had my work cut out for me. Still, what better way to learn to dive than to bow before diving’s Acropolis? And I figured while I was in Central America, I’d see what Belize is all about. After all, at 8,900 square miles, it’s smaller than Massachusetts, so I could cover some serious ground in a short amount of time.

Little did I know then that the Blue Hole and all its subaquatic majesty would actually pale in comparison to the rest of this Central American country.