Surrounded by extensive colourful coral, the majority of the islands are uninhabited, or home only to the local fishermen. Ambergris Caye, at about 40 kilometres in length, is the most developed and is characterised by a ring of white sands around a mangrove swamp, the shores of which are dotted with swaying palms and the waters clear as crystal. Despite its paradise-like appearance, Ambergris was actually named after a dark grey/black substance produced in the digestive systems of whales, but don’t let this put you off, it is not what you’ll be thinking of as you sip rum to the gentle sounds of reggae drifting down the beach! The second largest is Caye Caulker, a sandbar on a limestone shelf where the main method transport is walking, or you can rent a bike or golf cart. Many people prefer to base themselves here as it is a little quieter, and just as good a base for diving and snorkelling.
Heading further out, there is less human impact, meaning more protected coral and some unbelievable dive sites for enthusiasts. Glovers Reef Atoll is a Marine Resort, World Heritage Site and is the most remote of the atolls, about 70 miles southeast of Belize City. Lighthouse Reef atoll features striking coral formations and is one of few islands to have an airstrip. This is the closest atoll to the Blue Hole, a thrilling experience for experienced divers. The aerial view is striking enough, a dark circle of water about 300 metres in diameter and 160 metres depth. Here you can delve into the dark, clear depths alongside giant groupers and nurse sharks, as well as several types of reef shark. South east of here is Half Moon Caye National Monument, the country’s first national park and home to some wonderful wildlife, from reptiles and turtles, to thousands of red-footed boobies and frigate birds, known for their presence on the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
Other islands include Southwater Caye, perhaps the most idyllic and best for diving, St Georges Caye, steeped in history and Tobacco Caye which was used for years as a trading post and fishing camp.