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Caribbean reef shark and friends

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef is the second longest barrier reef in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's eastern coast and is the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere. The reef system includes many protected areas and parks including the Belize Barrier Reef, Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve, and the Cayos Cochinos Marine Park.

The reef system extends along the coast of four countries and includes several offshore islands.


  • The Inner Reef
  • The Middle Reef
  • The Outer Reef


Other destinations[edit]


The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (MBRS) is also known as the Mesoamerican reef and often abbreviated MAR. It is composed of a string of barrier and fringing reefs, atolls and patch corals, lagoons, sea grass beds and mangrove stretching over 1,000 km (620 mi) from Isla Contoy at the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, through the barrier reefs of Belize and Guatemala and then down to the Bay Islands of Honduras. The reef system includes various protected areas and parks including the Belize Barrier Reef, Arrecifes de Cozumel National Park, Arrecifes de Xcalak National Park, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Sian Ka'an biosphere reserve, and the Cayos Cochinos Marine Park.

The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef structure is the largest coral reef in the Western Hemisphere and the second largest barrier reef in the world. The reef ecosystem provides a habitat for countless marine species and is a vital natural resource for coastal communities throughout the region. The reef supports major fisheries and local food supplies, provides coastal protection from storms, and supports a robust and growing marine tourism industry.

The reef system is home to more than 65 species of stony coral, 350 species of mollusk and more than 500 species of fish. The reef is home to numerous endangered and protected species, including the sea turtles (Green turtle, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Leatherback turtle, and the Hawksbill turtle), the Queen Conch, the West Indian Manatee, the Splendid toadfish, the American crocodile, the Morelet's Crocodile, the Nassau grouper, Elkhorn coral, and black coral.

The reef system is home to estimated 1,000-1,500 manatees, one of the worlds largest population of these creatures. Some northern areas of the reef system near Isla Contoy are home to the Whale shark, the largest fish on the planet. These normally solitary fish congregate there in social groups to eat and to mate.

In the recent past initiatives such as the Coral Friendly Guidelines for Tourists have identified divers, snorkelers and other coral reef visitors as some of the strongest and most effective advocates for coral reef conservation. The previous ICRAN Mesoamerican Reef Alliance (MAR) project that drew to a close in 2007 was an example of a collaborative effort aimed at confronting the decline of the Mesoamerican coral reef ecosystem by improving economic and environmental sustainability through capacity building activities, the development of better practices, and building of partnerships with the private sector. In July 2006 voluntary standards were unanimously approved across the 4 countries of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System and included marine tour operator associations, park managers and conservation NGOs, the cruise ship industry, scientists, and concerned divers. The program was the world's first adoption of voluntary sustainable tourism environmental performance standards for reef marine recreation providers. Participants have agreed to adopt conservation process and marine tourism environmental business practices supporting conservation, sustainability and effectively managed marine parks. Visitors to the region may prefer to use providers who have adopted the voluntary standards in their business activities upon the reef.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

  • Belize City's Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport (BZE IATA) in Belize is at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean.
  • San Pedro Town Airport (SPR IATA) serves San Pedro and Ambergris Caye, the largest island of Belize, in the northeast of the country in the Caribbean Sea.
  • Cancún International Airport (CUN IATA) provides a gateway to the reef and the Mundo Maya (Riviera Maya). The airport is in Cancún, Quintana Roo, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, and is Mexico's second busiest airport.
  • Cozumel International Airport (CZM IATA) is an international airport in the island of Cozumel, Quintana Roo, on the Caribbean coast near Cancún, Mexico. It handles national and international air traffic for the island of Cozumel and may be convenient for nearby areas on the mainland
  • Tulum International Airport (TQO IATA is a new international airport between the coastal town of Tulum and the inland town of Felipe Carillo Puerto. It handles mostly national flights until March 2024 when several international routes begin service.
  • Roatán's Juan Manuel Gálvez International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Manuel Gálvez) (RTB IATA) is on the island of Roatán in the Bay Islands Department in Honduras.
  • La Ceiba's Golosón International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Golosón) (LCE IATA) is on the western side of the city of La Ceiba, in the Atlántida Department on the north coast of Honduras. It is also known as La Ceiba Airport (Aeropuerto de La Ceiba)
  • San Pedro Sula's Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport (Aeropuerto Internacional Ramón Villeda Morales) (SAP IATA), also known as La Mesa International Airport, is 11 km (6.8 mi) from the city of San Pedro Sula, in the Cortés Department in Honduras. San Pedro Sula is connected to nearby port of Puerto Cortés on the Caribbean coast, 55 km north of San Pedro Sula via a modern 4-lane highway that covers the entire route between both Honduran cities. This is the major international airport in Honduras
  • Puerto Barrios Airport (PBR IATA) (Aeropuerto de Puerto Barrios or formerly Base Aérea de Izabal) serves the city of Puerto Barrios, the port of Santo Tomás de Castilla and the Guatemalan Caribbean in Guatemala. It is on the Gulf of Honduras in the northern part of the city of Puerto Barrios, near the shore of Amatique Bay. Being near the port of Santo Tomás de Castilla, the airport is of special interest for cruise ship operators, who carry passengers to important attractions throughout the country on chartered flights

By ship[edit]

Many cruise lines operate in this area.

Dive operators travel to the reef from the 4 nations that border the reef system.

  • Santo Tomás de Castillabay, is a port serving the city of Puerto Barrios in Guatemala, on the Gulf of Honduras. The port of Santo Tomás de Castillabay is close to the Puerto Barrios Airport (Aeropuerto de Puerto Barrios) and serves as a port and embarkation point for many of the local cruise ship operators.
  • Belize City is the largest city in the Central American nation of Belize at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean. The city is the country's principal port and its financial and industrial hub. Cruise ships drop anchor outside the port and are tended by local boats.
  • Puerto Cortés is on the Caribbean coast, north of San Pedro Sula and east of Omoa. It is in a natural bay and is the main sea port of Honduras and considered the most important seaport in Central America. Puerto Cortes is connected to the nearby industrial city of San Pedro Sula via a modern 4-lane highway that covers the entire route of 55 km between both Honduran cities.
  • Cozumel is an island in the Mexican Caribbean about 20 km east of Playa del Carmen. It is a popular base for scuba diving trips into the reef system and a popular stop for several major cruise lines.
  • Mahahual in the Costa Maya region of Mexico is cruise ship port in the southern part of Mexico's Caribbean coast.

Get around[edit]

The region has domestic air links supplied by many regional carriers.

  • Aero Caribbean, Belize City, Havana, Guatemala City
  • AeroCaribe de Honduras, Roatan, Puerto Lempira, San Pedro Sula
  • Aerolineas Sosa, Tegucigalpa , Brus Laguna, Guanaja Island, La Ceiba, Puerto Lempira, Utila Island, Roatán, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa
  • Aeroméxico, Cancún, Havana, Mexico City, Miami, Monterrey
  • Aeroméxico Connect, Mexico City
  • Aerotucán, Cancún, Cozumel
  • Central American Airways, La Ceiba, Tegucigalpa, Roatan, San Pedro Sula
  • Maya Island Air, Belize City, Cancún, Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, Corozal, Dangriga, Guatemala City, San Pedro Sula, Placencia, Punta Gorda, San Pedro [Ambergris Caye], Savannah
  • MAYAir Cancún, Ciudad del Carmen, Cozumel, Mérida, Villahermosa
  • Avianca, Belize City, Cancún, Flores, Guatemala City, La Ceiba, Tegucigalpa, San José de Costa Rica, San Salvador, Cancún, La Ceiba, Tegucigalpa, Roatan, San Pedro Sula
  • Tropic Air, Belize City, Belmopan, Caye Caulker, Corozal, Dangriga, Flores, Kanantik, Placencia, Punta Gorda, San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), Sarteneja
  • Lanhsa, Roatan Island, Utila Island, Guanaja Island, San Pedro Sula
  • Volaris, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Puebla, Tijuana, Toluca


This region is one of the world's most significant aquatic areas, there is a lot to see including national parks and aquatic reserves.


  • Turtle watching, all species of sea turtle are endangered and need protection, always use care and respect when swimming near them.
  • Whale watching
  • Diving, choose tour operators that use mooring buoys or drift diving techniques rather than anchors that can cause reef damage.
  • Snorkelling
  • Underwater Cleanup. Clean up the reef following guidelines developed by the Coral Reef Alliance.


Please see the individual destination articles for details.


Please see the individual destination articles for details.

Stay safe[edit]

Conditions throughout the area have many variables and there are no universally applicable guidelines for the region. Please see the individual destination articles for details.

Go next[edit]

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