Snorkel, Caye Caulker
Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world, after Australia’s, so don’t miss snorkelling here. The water’s pretty shallow around much of it, and there are tons of colorful fish to enjoy. Their natural inclination is to hide from you if you’re swimming all around, so just stop and float for a bit around some coral, and they’ll come out to have a peek at you and go about their business once you’re not splashing around. You’ll also come across lots of conchs on the ocean floor, in their beautiful shells. There are bunches of tour guides who set up shop on Front Street to take you here or on any snorkelling or diving tour you want.
This is a really fun snorkelling trip, even the second time around for us. The tour guides/boat drivers throw out food to attract the nurse sharks and stingrays, so they’re busy eating while you float around and watch them. They’ll swim right under you in only 4 to 8 feet of water, so you’re super close. We even saw a spotted eagle ray here, with a tail about six feet long. The first time we did this, 9 years ago, I was nervous about the sharks and didn’t get in right away, but after watching everyone else having a great time I joined in after about five minutes. Nurse sharks are not as dangerous as other kinds of sharks. Don’t use fins here, and don’t step on anything, and you should be just fine!
The highlight of our stay on Caye Caulker was a 3-hour snorkeling trip we made just a short distance off-shore one morning. There are numerous dive shops set up along the streets of Caye Caulker, so we wandered into Hicaco Tours one night to make enquiries for the next day. The operator said the weather may by 'iffy' in the morning, but he put us down as first on the list for a 10:30 AM trip to the reef, providing at least 4 people had signed up by then. When we returned the next day, there was a long list that turned into 13 passengers and 2 crew when we finally did leave. There was a large group from the Netherlands and a couple from England readying to leave, and we were all soon outfitted with life-jackets, flippers, masks and snorkels (all for our price of US$45 for two). A 115-HP Yamaha engine was soon powering our open boat out to the reef!
Having mastered our equipment at the first dive site, the boat then took us to Caye Caulker's own 'Shark-Ray Alley' where we were encouraged to interact with the placid Nurse Sharks and Southern Sting-rays to be found there. The place was full of the creatures and they readily approached us, having been conditioned to this by numerous other tourist visits. This photo shows our guide in the water with one of the Sting-rays, showing us how it is done!
The second photo shows the numerous Rays milling about beside our boat and finally the third photo is an underwater shot I took as I approached one of the rays!
These half day trips are great, with tours at 10:30 am to 1:30 pm & 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, weather permitting.
The final stop in our snorkeling excursion was at the inside of the reef wall itself. This enabled us to swim right up to the various channels and inlets along the backside of the reef, paying attention not to actually touch anything, where we could examine it up close. We had some really great views of colourful fish here, but I guess I was overly excited from the sharks and rays, managing to forget to bring the underwater camera with me for this session! We lingered here for quite some time before climbing out and getting ourselves organized before the boat headed ashore. The tour price also included a small snack of fruit and bottles of water. Even though I had covered myself with #30 sunblock, and we were only out for 3 hours, this was the only time I got a little bit of a burn on our trip - don't mess with the midday sun and water!
The only other time we had been snorkeling in recent years was near Cancun in 2003, and we enjoyed it so much that we fully intended to do it again while on Caye Caulker. We had even bought an underwater camera to take with us, but left it home in a drawer, we realized while en route! Oh well, picked up another cheap one in Atlanta while waiting for our Belize City flight, and now we got to use it!
Our tour driver took us all for a practise run in an area with various corals, and I was able to shoot away to get a few shots, even saw some SCUBA divers below us. It was just as much fun as we had remembered and I thought that the colours of the various corals and small fish were great! The actual snorkeling was easy, it was just pure fun to float along and take in the sights along this second longest of the world's barrier reefs!
Caye Caulker is located just a short boat ride away from the Barrier Reef, so one of the island's top attractions is snorkelling. There are several different tour operators but we chose to go with E-Z Boy Tours because their guide Harry Woods is one of the best in Caye Caulker. The tour we picked left at 10:30 in the morning and it included three stops in the beautiful Hol Chan Marine Reserve: Zone A, Shark Ray Alley and Coral Gardens. Snorkelling there was beyond amazing! We followed Harry around in the water as he showed us tons of colourful fishies, some sea turtles, nurse sharks, sting rays, spotted eagle rays and a moray eel. Salt water makes it incredibly easy to float and swim around, the water was crystal clear, and there are no words to describe the feeling you get as you slowly drift over a family of giant sting rays!
Once we got to Coral Gardens, we were left to wander about on our own for about 1h30 while Harry was getting lunch ready. It was nice to be able to spread out and go at our own pace and spend as much time as we wanted taking pictures. After a while I got nausea from moving around in the waves so I got back on the boat and Harry was incredibly nice, giving me a lime to chew on and all sorts of tips to help me get rid of the feeling. After only a few minutes I felt good enough to go back in the water and enjoy the rest of the day! I took loads of picture but it's always hard to tell how they'll turn out - here are a few "choice specimens" ;o)
You really have to go snorkelling when you are here!!! There are incredible things to see even close to land. Even if you can't swim it's not so deep and you can just stand in the sea with the mask. Close to the split (the public beach) we saw all kinds of fishes, even sharks and rays!
If you want to see more you can go on one of the many trips that are offered all around the island. The second largest coralreef in the world is just a short boattrip away, and there are plenty of great places for snorkelling both on the island and out at sea.
When we got back on the boat after our last snorkelling stop, Harry handed out some water, fresh fruits and tuna sandwiches (he made a special vegetarian one for me), and we then made our way back towards Caye Caulker, going around the island to a spot most visitors don't get to see because it is on the other side of the Split (a waterway that divides the island in two). We stopped at the Driftwood dock and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking and relaxing while watching the sunset. While we were snorkelling at Coral Gardens, Harry had retrieved some conches from the bottom of the sea and prepared fresh conch ceviche (and some vegetarian ceviche for me), which we washed down with a few glasses of delicious rum punch! It just seemed like the perfect way to end a perfect day, and Harry brought us back to Caye Caulker just on time for dinner :o)
If I remember correctly, the price for the full-day snorkelling excursion, which included the food, drinks and snorkelling equipment, was US$60 (BZ$120) per person. I would definitely recommend E-Z Boy Tours for an amazing snorkelling experience in Caye Caulker!
I'm not a keen watersport enthusiast but I would recommend snorkelling Belize if you have the chance. It is very inexpensive, at least it was out on Caye Caulker, and the sights to see are plenty. Belize boasts the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world behind the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. There is so many species of fish, coral and other sea life to see that it would take hours and hours and you've still not seen it all!
On Caye Caulker I would recommend booking through Tsunami Adventures who can book you in a matter of minutes and only with an hours notice. The staff are courteous and friendly and very knowledgeable about the locals and the area. They can even point out the best place to get a drink and something to eat!
There are half day and full day trips out onto the reef which lies approx 1/2 mile off of the Caye Caulker coast and takes only minutes to arrive there. The boat guides are very helpful and knowledgeable about the coral, sealife, etc.
There is many accomodations on the island of Caye Caulker, cheap and clean. Many restaurants/food establishments, also inexpensive and much to do including scuba diving. If you're planning a trip to Belize then Caye Caulker and snorkelling is a must see activity and if you're a keen snorkel or diving enthusiast, even if you're not but always wanted to try, then Caye Caulker is the place to visit.
45 minutes by water taxi from Belize City is all it takes and is well worth the trip! I recommend staying at least two days if not more.
There are many companies offering day trips to the world's second longest reef. Some are geared for divers, but snorkellers are welcome and some like the one I took is for snorkellers only.
I travelled with Ragamuffin Tours on their sailboat, although the sails didn't come up until the end of the day when we were headed back to Caye Caulker.
Jerry, your host is very friendly and entertaining. He also keeps you well fed with plenty of fresh fruit in the morning, an excellent sandwich for lunch and conch ceviche with rum punch on the way home.
And, apart from all the good food, you also get to go snorkelling! First stop was Shark Ray Alley, the second stop was at Hol Chan Marine Reserve where we saw a huge green moray eel as well as a sea turtle. And the last stop was Coral Gardens.
The trip cost $40US, about average for the island and we were gone all day from 10am until 4pm. Your snorkel gear is provided.
When you are in the old age home and you can "one-up" with " I swam with Rays and Sharks in the Caribean", (provided you still remember) you know you have lived when you could!!
I felt really safe. Our guide was a great guy, intelligent, respectful and proud of his local environment. His name was Mark. I always try to pick and promote people like that.
Trip to the local reef was so-so. The trip up to Hol Chan was definitely better and worth the $$ to me. I don't scuba (yet!) but the snorkeling at Hol Chan was really decent. Plus, having lunch in San Pedro, if you walk around for a bit, will REALLY make you appreciate Caye Caulker!
The second biggest reef in the world is right outside Caye Caulker. The most famous diving spot is Shark Alley, here you will find some Nursesharks and a lot of Stingrays, it is wonderful to swim with these wonderful creatures, we even saw som Barracudas, the mantas was so friendly puffin at us in the water, they are grey and very soft to touch. The Sharks are somewhat shy and they try to avoid you (thank God), they are quite big, 1,5 - 2 meters, but totally friendly. This was the best snorkelling experience we ever had.
You can expect to pay about 40 $ for the trip, and it is worth every penny. Along the main street in the Cayes you will find plenty of operators
When you book your snorkel tour, be sure that it includes a stop at Shark Ray Alley. The water is crystal clear here as you can see in the photo and quite shallow. Although the shallow water makes for good visibility and warmer water, it means you have to swim carefully so as to avoid damaging the coral with your flippers. Keep your body horizontal at the surface of the water.
As the name suggests, you will see alot of sharks and rays here. The fish are well trained and will appear boatside immediately to receive their free handouts from your guides. In the midst of this feeding frenzy we are advised to don our snorkel gear and jump in!
We saw many fish including these nurse sharks (don't worry they're harmless). We also saw spotted eagle rays and large manta rays. The most exciting spotting was that of a loggerhead turtle. He surfaced a few times before we jumped in the water and disappeared after that.