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This far south, the reef is as much as 20 miles (33 km) offshore, necessitating boat rides of 45 minutes to nearly two hours to reach dive sites. Because this part of the reef has fewer cuts and channels, it's also more difficult to get out to the seaward side, where you'll find the best diving. As a result, most of the diving in this region is done from offshore cayes, which are surrounded by small reefs, usually with gently sloping drop-offs of about 80–100 feet. This isn't the place for spectacular wall dives—you're better off staying in the north or heading out to the atolls. Near Moho Caye, southeast of Placencia, you'll find brilliant red-and-yellow corals and sponges that rarely appear elsewhere in Belize.
Two marine reserves off Placencia are popular snorkeling and diving spots. Laughing Bird Caye, Belize's smallest marine reserve, about 13 miles (22 km) off Placencia, is a popular spot for snorkeling. Whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, gentle giants of the sea, appear off Placencia in the Gladden Spit area, part of the Gladden Spit and Silk Caves Marine Reserves 26 miles (43 km) east of Placencia, in late spring and early summer. You can snorkel or dive with them on day trips (around BZ$180–BZ$200 for snorkel trips, BZ$330–BZ$370 for dives) from Placencia. The best time to see whale sharks is three or four days before and after a full moon, March through June. Admission fee to each of these marine reserves is BZ$20; the admission typically is included in the dive or snorkel shop fee.
Diving costs a little more in Placencia than most other places in Belize, in part due to the distance to the reef and the atolls. Full-day trips to the reef, including two-tank dive, all gear, and lunch, run BZ$190–BZ$260 per person. Two- and three-tank dive trips to Glover's Atoll are around BZ$300–BZ$450. Snorkeling trips start at around BZ$80–BZ$130, and a snorkeling tour to Glover's Atoll is around BZ$175–BZ$220.
Most of the larger resorts, like the Inn at Robert's Grove and Turtle Inn, have dive shops and also offer snorkel trips. Avadon Divers and the Splash Dive Center are considered two of the best dive shops in the region.
Avadon Divers. Avadon Divers, which won a recent Belize Tourism Board award for "Best Tour Operator of the Year," is generally considered one of the best dive operations in southern Belize. Besides diving and snorkeling on the reef and atolls, including whale shark trips in late spring and early summer, Avadon also does kayaking and fishing trips along with tours on the mainland to Maya sites, nature preserves, and ziplines. Placencia Rd., just south of airstrip, Placencia. 503/3377; 888/509–5617 in U.S. www.avadondiversbelize.com.
Ocean Motion. For snorkeling trips check with Ocean Motion, on the Sidewalk in the heart of Placencia Village. A full-day snorkeling trip to Laughing Bird Caye is BZ$130 per person and a day trip to Ranguana Caye is BZ$150. Rates include taxes, snorkel gear, and a lunch grilled on a caye. Ocean Motion also does mainland trips to Monkey River, Maya sites near Punta Gorda, and to other destinations. Ocean Motion, Placencia. 523/3363. www.oceanmotionplacencia.com.
Seahorse Dive Shop. Brian Young runs the long-established Seahorse Dive Shop. Local reef dives are BZ$250 including tax, lunch, reserve admission, and gear. Glovers Atoll diving is BZ$340 including tax, gear, park fees, and lunch. If you don't dive, you can snorkel Glovers Atoll for BZ$170. Whale shark diving is BZ$370 and snorkeling is BZ$200 including all fees, gear, and lunch. on dock at end of main road in Placencia village, Placencia Village. 523/3166. www.belizescuba.com.