23/07/2024

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Great Blue Hole Belize: Scenic Flight & Photos

11 min read
Great Blue Hole Belize: Scenic Flight & Photos

The Great Blue Hole in Belize is probably one of the most famous travel photos ever. It’s also the biggest underwater sinkhole in the world, and it looks even more amazing if you see it in person!

Touring the Blue Hole is one of the top ‘bucket list’ things to do in Central America. You can enjoy a scenic flight over the reef in a small plane or helicopter, and take photos of it from above, or hop on a boat and go scuba diving inside the sinkhole itself.

I got a chance to fly over the Great Blue Hole in a little prop plane recently, and it was an amazing experience! We circled the Blue Hole several times at low altitude to see what it looks like up close, and then flew over some other sights in the Caribbean Sea.

This travel blog will share my experience with the Blue Hole Belize flight, which company to use, flight costs and safety thoughts, and everything else you need to know before you go. Then, I’ll share some fun facts about this natural wonder in the Caribbean!

What Is The Great Blue Hole?

The Great Blue Hole is an underwater sinkhole.

It’s believed to have been a cave at some point in time when the water levels were lower, but then it became submerged as the water levels rose.

Think of the Blue Hole kind of like the cenotes in Central America, except this one is underwater instead of on land, and it’s filled with seawater instead of fresh water.
 

Where Is The Great Blue Hole In Belize?

The Great Blue Hole is located in the Caribbean Sea. It’s part of the Central American country of Belize, which is a little country sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala.

The Blue Hole is part of the Belize Barrier Reef, which is actually the second largest coral reef system in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

More specifically, the Blue Hole is located in a marine atoll called Lighthouse Reef, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) off shore from Belize City, so you need a boat, plane, or helicopter to get there.

Great Blue Hole Belize Flight Tropic Air

Epic! The Great Blue Hole Belize flight.

 

Blue Hole Belize Flight: What To Expect

Scenic flights over the Blue Hole are available every day of the week in Belize, departing from either Belize City Municipal, Caye Caulker, or San Pedro. They’re currently offered by three main companies: Tropic Air, Maya Island Air, or Astrum Helicopters.

My flight with Tropic Air began with the quickest and easiest check-in process ever, and then I was handed a very unique and fancy plastic boarding pass with some fun facts about the Great Blue Hole printed on it. I was kind of wishing I could keep this as a souvenir from my flight!

After a short wait in the lobby, one of the pilots came over and gave me a quick rundown of what sights we would see in Belize and where we would be going on a map, and then we headed out to the tarmac for our flight.

Blue Hole Flight Boarding Pass Airport

A very unique boarding pass for my Great Blue Hole Belize flight

If this is your first time flying in a puddle jumper plane, you’re in for a very exciting ride. This was the tiniest prop plane I’ve ever seen! It was only a 4-seater, with two pilot seats in the front and two passenger seats in the back.

I later found out that Tropic Air also has 11-seater planes for some of their tours, so it probably just depends how many people are in your group. As it turns out, I was by myself this time.

I booked my flight as a shared tour, but I ended up being the only passenger there, so I got to enjoy a private tour instead, while a student pilot practiced the route with help from a more experienced second pilot.

Tropic Air Belize Flight

The smallest plane I’ve ever seen!

Plane Flight

Preparing for takeoff

I have to say, lifting off the ground in a plane this small is a bit scary at first, but you forget about that once you’re in the air.

Right away, we had amazing views of Belize City, followed by some small islands, mangroves, coral reefs, and the turquoise blue water of the Caribbean Sea.

I’ve been able to see these kinds of sights from above many times with today’s drones, so it wasn’t completely new to me, but it’s still different being up there yourself and seeing it with your own eyes.

After about 20 minutes of flying over the ocean, we reached the Great Blue Hole of Belize. It’s so impressive in person! My photos don’t really do it justice at all. Every seat in the plane had great views out the window.

The pilot flew down to a low altitude and circled the Blue Hole several times, so I could see it up close and take pictures. It was perfect.

Great Blue Hole Belize Flight Tropic Air

The Great Blue Hole Belize

After leaving the Great Blue Hole, we passed a rusty old shipwreck stranded on the reef, which was another nice photo opportunity.

Our total flight time was only about 1 hour from takeoff to landing, but it didn’t feel too rushed at all. We got to see a lot of things during the flight, and I was able to take tons of pictures.

My only gripe is the windows on the plane, which were too thick, scratched, and dirty for serious photo work. I asked beforehand about doing a doors-off flight (or at least opening a small window), but neither of the two prop plane companies I asked were able to do that.

I didn’t check with Astrum Helicopters, but that might be an option with them. Maybe I’m being too picky. I just think something as fantastic as the Blue Hole really calls for opening a door or window so you can take the best pictures possible.

Overall, though, it wasn’t a huge deal. I was still able to get some decent pictures, and the flight itself was amazing!

Belize Shipwreck

A shipwreck we flew over during the Blue Hole tour

 

Tropic Air vs Maya Island Air

So which company is better for the Blue Hole flights? Tropic Air, or Maya Island Air?

Actually, they’re both good companies and there’s not much difference at all between them in terms of price, safety, reputation, customer service, or the overall flight experience. Both companies were happy to answer any questions I asked them before I arrived in Belize.

One thing you should know is that Tropic and Maya fly on different days of the week, so you’ll want to look at their schedules and pick the company that works best for your time in Belize.

The third company, Astrum Helicopters, offers a slightly different flight to the Blue Hole since they’re using helicopters instead of prop planes. I can’t comment on this directly since I didn’t fly with them, but I’m sure it’s also a great experience.
 

Is A Booking Needed?

Yes. Regardless of which company you choose for your Blue Hole tour, an advance booking is needed. Even though these are pretty casual flights, you can’t just show up at the airport and hop on a plane without a booking.

The flights are pretty popular with tourists. I would recommend making a reservation at least a month in advance, but ideally even earlier. Otherwise, if you’re a latecomer, you still might be able to grab a seat if you’re lucky.

Flight Plane Window

Window views

Reef Flight Belize

Flying over the reef

 

When Is The Best Time To Fly?

There’s no bad time to visit Belize, and the Blue Hole tours operate all year round.

However, if you want the best chance of a clear and sunny day, then it’s ideal to go sometime in the months from December to May. This is Belize’s dry season, and there’s less rain in these months.

The wet season in Belize generally lasts from June to November. Even though there’s more chance of rain and clouds at this time, you can still visit the Blue Hole and usually you’ll have a great experience.
 

What Is The Flight Cost?

The Blue Hole flights are not exactly cheap, of course. I paid almost $300 USD per person for my flight in 2023, which was supposed to be a shared tour, but since I was the only passenger it ended up being a private tour for the same price.

The prices are very similar between Tropic Air and Maya Island Air, so there’s not much difference there. I didn’t get a quote from Astrum Helicopters, but I’ve heard they are a bit more expensive than the prop plane flights.

You can get a current price quote for each of these options on the official websites for Tropic Air, Maya Island Air, or Astrum Helicopters.

Tropic Air Belize Flight

Back on land! They let me take some photos after the flight.

 

Is It Safe?

Sure, I think the flights are plenty safe. I don’t know if I’d want to be in tiny planes every day as my occupation, but I’m sure one time in the air is very safe if you go by the statistics.

Flying is never without some risks of course, and I’ll admit it’s a little bit scary to fly in helicopter or a tiny prop plane like this, but all of the companies running the Blue Hole tours have a good reputation for safety.

Tropic Air was founded in 1979, and today they carry almost 300,000 passengers a year, on over 200 flights a day throughout Belize and nearby countries. According to their website, they’re the first regional airline in Latin America to qualify for registration on IATA’s Industry Standard Safety Assessment.

Maya Island Air was founded in 1962, and today they offer 250 scheduled flights a day to destinations in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico.

Astrum Helicopters is a relatively recent company established in 2006, but their website says their staff has many decades of experience in aviation.

Overall, I would feel pretty safe flying with any of these companies, and none of them have ever had any major safety incidents to date, while doing lots of tours at the Great Blue Hole!
 

Is It Worth It?

Yes, it’s worth it! If you’re already in Belize or Central America, I think the Blue Hole flight is absolutely worth it. I’m sure the scuba diving would be a fun experience too, although I’d much rather do the flight.

I know it’s not cheap, but this is one of the most spectacular natural features in the world, and the best way to see it is from above!

Great Blue Hole Belize Flight Tropic Air

What a trip! One last photo of the Great Blue Hole Belize.

 

Fun Facts About The Great Blue Hole Belize

  • How big is it?
    The Great Blue Hole is big. Very big. It’s actually the biggest underwater sinkhole in the world, with a width of 318 meters (1,043 feet) and a depth of 124 meters (407 feet). It’s shaped like an almost perfect circle, and the total surface area is 70,650 square meters (760,500 square feet).
  • How did it get its name?
    The nickname of the ‘Great Blue Hole’ apparently came from British diver Ned Middleton, who lived in Belize for six months. He wrote about it in his book ‘Ten Years Underwater,’ which was published in 1988.
  • Can you scuba dive it?
    Yes, you can scuba dive the Blue Hole in Belize, although it’s only allowed for advanced divers. The famous French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau explored the Blue Hole in 1971 and described it as one of the top 10 best dive sites in the world.
     
    Going deep into the Blue Hole is challenging and dangerous, and people have disappeared at the bottom, only for their bodies to be found many years later. Snorkeling or doing shallow dives near the surface is another option, but it won’t allow you to see much.
     
    Inside the deepest corners of the Blue Hole, you can see giant stalactites, stalagmites, passageways, and other interesting cave features. However, the only way to see the circular shape of the Blue Hole is to fly over it.
  • What kinds of animals live there?
    The Blue Hole is home to many kinds of coral and fish species, including hammerhead sharks, parrotfish, and giant grouper fish. The area also has occasional sightings of rays, dolphins, manatees, and other wildlife. If you keep your eyes peeled, you might even spot some of these animals on your Blue Hole flight.
  • What is the UNESCO status?
    The Great Blue Hole is part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, which has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, because of its unique natural features and beauty, as well as the animal species that call it home.
  • Which airport is used for the flights?
    The Blue Hole tours depart from three different airports: Belize City Municipal / TZA (not the international airport but a smaller one in the city itself), Caye Caulker, or San Pedro in Ambergris Caye.
  • Which seat is best?
    All passengers get a window seat on the Blue Hole scenic flights, so there’s not really a best seat. You should have great views in any seat. If you get a choice, I would grab the seat with the clearest window, ideally one that has no smudges or scratches on it.
  • How early do I need to show up?
    Ask your tour provider, but in my case I was told to show up at the airport and check in 30 minutes before my flight, and that was plenty of time.
  • What can I bring?
    They allow one small carry-on bag only. I brought a camera bag, but I didn’t ask if they allow full size backpacks. I also carried my phone in my pocket, of course, and used that for some quick photos and videos as well.
  • Do I need to bring my passport?
    Again, double check with your company, but in my case they said I could bring any form of ID. I kept my passport safe and hidden back at my hotel in Belize.

 

More Belize Travel Tips

Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed this guide for flying over the Great Blue Hole in Belize.

I have lots of other travel guides for Central America, including the famous Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza and Tikal Guatemala, so don’t forget to check those before you go!

Happy travels!

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