It is one of Belize’s most popular dive sites, and an awesome natural wonder that continues to fascinate. First brought to the world’s attention in the 1970’s by Jacques Cousteau, the Great Blue Hole is one of the deepest marine sinkholes on the planet, and attracts adventurous divers and all kinds of tourists who come to swim, snorkel the surrounding reef and dive deep into its depths in search of underwater adventure, and the thrill of the unknown. At over four hundred feet deep, only the most skilled divers plumb the depths, while newbies are better off shallow diving or snorkeling. Its deep, pitch blue-black center seems unfathomable from the surface, and once the light of day becomes distant, it may prove dangerously disorienting to neophytes.
The Great Blue Hole has also become central to a new theory to explain the disappearance of the Mayan civilization. By studying the sediment in the surrounding lagoons as well as the stalactites found deep in the hole itself, scientists have determined that a massive drought occurred over the course of a century, probably between 800 and 900 AD. The presence of the stalactites themselves suggest that much of the hole was dry land at that time, filling in as global water levels rose. As we learn more about how such a drought can affect a population, it is proving to be a valid theory in explaining the Mayan demise.
Prior to the last ice age, most of the hole was certainly dry; a maze of limestone caves and caverns leading to who knows where, leading some to consider the mysterious side of things, perhaps even seeing this geological phenomena as the gateway to another world. The Mayans themselves told stories of a legendary place named Xibalba, an underworld ruled by the Mayan death gods and their minions. Xibalba in the Mayan tongue means ‘gateway to death’, in sense, and translates loosely as ‘place of fear’. Since Xibalba was believed to be in the vicinity of Coban, Guatemala, it is certainly close enough.
Some suggest that the Mayan people returned to their ancestral homes through this gateway, never to be seen or heard from again. Other legends include stories of adventure seekers who claim there is treasure to be had deep in the caves, far below where most can go. Everything from Nazi gold to ancient artifacts are rumored to be hidden there, and ancient astronaut theorists espouse that this is where Atlantis may have been, the blasting off of an ill-fated starship having created the almost perfectly round hole in the first place.
Though there are plenty of rock-solid geological facts to explain the formation and existence of the Great Blue Hole, maybe it’s just a little bit more romantic to imagine that there is more to it. Whatever you choose to believe, the Great Blue Hole is must-see, must-do ocean adventure for anybody living in or visiting Belize. Whether you ascribe to the scientific, the fantastical, the pirate lore or the ancient legend, it’s always a great escape for the day. Located at Lighthouse Reef, it’s about a two and a half hour boat ride from Ambergris Caye, and there are plenty of experienced dive outfitters ready to take you there.