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Lesser-known but just as spectacular is the South Water Caye Marine Reserve. It is one of the largest reserves in the Belize Barrier Reef System at nearly 117,875 acres (approximately 47,700 hectares). A ring of islands and mangrove forests make up the reserve and create a sheltered oasis for visitors and rare marine life. South Water Caye is known for its dense, red mangroves that thrive alongside coral outcrops and the rare diamond-shaped reefs known as faro. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, “the sheltered waters and mangrove systems of the Pelican Cayes in the southern area of the Marine Reserve have been identified as one of the most biodiverse marine systems within the western hemisphere, supporting several endemic species, and species new to science.” This reserve is also significant due to its variety of fish and abundance of Spiny Lobster and conch. If you are lucky, you might see local artisanal fishers in this area, towing dugout canoes attached to their waists and using traditional free-dive techniques to fish.
The dazzlingly clear, sheltered waters are also perfect for diving, snorkeling, fishing, and kayaking. Divers see dramatic and colorful coral spur and groove formations. If the beach is more your speed, the southern portion of the reserve is well known for its sandy beaches. Since the reef is only a short swim from the shore, you can swim to nature’s aquarium in between relaxing in your hammock. “We went because we wanted to walk into the water and swim to the reef. This is truly not only possible but uniquely wonderful and satisfying,” said one TripAdvisor visitor.
The coastal towns of Placencia, Dangriga, and Hopkins are good starting points for South Water Caye visits. These communities can be accessed by rental car, resort transfer van, bus, or via a short flight on a local carrier from Belize City. Choose to stay on the mainland and do guided day trips to the reserve or instead stay on one of the reef islands for a truly immersive experience. There are a range of more rustic, budget-friendly options as well as upscale resorts. See our responsible visitation guidelines before visiting so you can do your part to protect the Belize Barrier Reef for future generations to enjoy.