Manatee Tour, Caye Caulker
The first full day in Belize we took a trip with Driftwood Dive shop to see the manatees. The open outboard picked up guests from various hotels, and then sped to the mantee area. Here they turn off the engines and pole the boats into the area. Not only do the boats not use motors, but they are limited to a certain number at one time. We were not allowed to get out of the boat or touch the manatees. I understand that these restrictions were initiated by the Belizians running the tours themselves.
Manatees are hard to photograph because the water reflects into the camera and conceals their outline. Also they only stick their nostrils up out of the water to breathe and not their whole head. Also they don't breathe very often, so you are waiting and waiting, and just as your camera shuts down, they stick their nostrils out and they are back under again before you can turn it on again.
Nostrils of a manatee are sticking out in the first picture.
Three or four years later, I got to see manatees in the marinas in Florida where they were easier to observe and photograph. One of these pictures are some manatees in Titusville and Marathon.
The endangered West Indian manatee makes its home not far from Caye Caulker. You can join a day tour that will take you out to Swallow Caye, a protected area for the manatees to live and breed in. These gentle slow-moving "sea cows" can grow to 12 feet long and weigh up to 1000lbs.
The manatees are very shy, so you must be quiet and patient while looking for them in the murky waters of Swallow Caye. It was very exciting to finally see one surface within 15 feet of our boat. After that, we saw about 7 more, some in groups of two or three.
You must go with a qualified guide, Chocolate is the best on the island. He has spent the last 20 yrs of his life fighting for the protection of the manatees. However, Chocolate doesn't go out everyday and unf he didn't make a trip in the 5 days that I was on Caye Caulker, so I ended up going with Anwar Tours. It cost 110BZ and included a snorkel stop at Sargeant's Caye and a lunch stop on St.George's Caye. Lunch not incl in the cost of the trip.
Also be forewarned that the manatees don't spend alot of time above the water. You will proby only see their nostrils and only for a few moments before they submerge again. They spend their time underwater feeding on the roots of turtle grass. As you can imagine, this rooting around in the mud makes the water quite murky, so you will only see faint shadows of these giant animals. Nevertheless, it is still a thrill and if you love nature and wildlife, I would recommend the trip. Don't expect any spectacular photos tho!
Don’t go with anyone but Chocolate on a manatee tour. Yes, it’s his real name! He probably knows more about these creatures than anyone else on earth, and has worked for decades to protect them and their habitat. He’s quite the local character - a very brown, very weathered 76 year-old man with a bushy white mustache. He doesn’t do a boat tour every day, so plan ahead, and bring your own lunch (it’s a full day tour – you go snorkelling at Sargeant’s Caye after seeing the manatees). His stories about the manatees, the history of the area, and his own life are worth it.
The manatees like to stay under water, surfacing just enough to stick their noses out and get some more air, so don’t expect to get an awesome picture of them. We saw quite a few, and they came quite close to the boat. This was okay because once you’re in Swallow Caye Marine Reserve they slow the boat way down, and sometimes just turn the motor off completely and pole the boat around, so as not to injure the manatees.
We had a very special treat the day we went out – a manatee playing and surfacing with a dolphin! Chocolate said in all his years he’d never seen anything like it. Lucky us!
Cost - $90BZ ($45US)