Snorkel, Caye Caulker
My day trip to Swallow Caye to see the manatees with Anwar Tours included a stop at the miniscule island called Sargeant's Caye. This island is not much more than a pile of sand about 50 feet in diameter.
However, the snorkelling around Sargeant's Caye was probably the best that I saw in Belize. The water was very shallow and warm and we had a very sunny day so visibility was perfect. I did not see any large fish but alot of small colourful ones and also some very beautifully colored coral.
Since the barrier reef is right there, you should go snorkeling. There are various tour operators all around Front Street, i think the prices for all snorkeling tours are fixed, it is just a matter of where and what you want to see. You can go snorkeling with the nursing sharks, sting rays and manatees. There are full-day and 1/2-day trips (priced about 10USD and 20USD, mask, tube and fins included). There are also lots of diving trips available.
For non-swimmers, they provide lifevests, and if you ask, the guide will snorkel with you.
To a little caye, or to Hol Chan
One of the main activities for visitors to the cays is scuba, but there's a lot of snorkeling too. Because Belize has such an extensive reef system, that also means that the beaches are narrow. The reefs keep the surf from grinding up rocks into sand and building wide beaches. So snorkeling is most often done from small boats. But the water is so clear that you can see everything just as well snorkeling as you could diving up to about 20 feet deep.
You can rent all your equipment, but you might want to get your own mask so that you can be sure it fits. You should also take sun protection and water. You can wear a t-shirt over your bathing suit, but I like a full 'skin' which covers me all over. Plan on spending about $35-50.00 U.S. (includes mask, snorkels and fins) for a half to full day of snorkeling
Many of the tours go to Hol Chan to the Coral Garden or the shark and ray section. The guides play with the sharks and feed the rays (the rays are quite gentle, and the sharks usually are). In addition to the nurse sharkes and the eagle rays, you can see staghorn and elkhorn coral, many kinds of fish (about 400 species live around the reef) and occasionally dolphins or sea turtles.
We also took a manatee trip which included a snorkeling stop at a little island with 18 palm trees and very little else.
We took a tour with Coral Breeze Unlimited and really enjoyed it. Swimming with the nurse sharks and stingrays was part of the day. Once the boat motors over to the shallow water, which you can stand in, they just swim up to you. Uncomfortable at first, but you get used to it really quickly.
We did the one day snorkelling trip to Hol Chan Marine with Ragamuffin tours (see my general tips for contact info)
We have found all boat trips / tours to be very expensive here, about USD40 upwards. We went with Ragamuffin tours, the only sailboats here. Once we were away from Caye Caulker they cut the engine and we were sailing. It is so nice to be out there with no noise just the boat cutting through the water. The captain fed the seagulls fish form his hand. I wish I had had my camera out for that one!
Sam was thrilled especially when some enormous rays swam by in the crystal clear water. She had no qualms about jumping in. We saw lots of rays as we snorkelled as well as an octopus which was a first for all of us. Later on we floated and watched three reef sharks and they weren’t babies either!
Our last stop was Hol Chan (Mayan for narrow channel). Talk about rush hour on the reef, there were a lot of snorkellers and divers there but to be honest it didn’t spoil anything. We swam over the coral which in some places is very shallow and then we hit the drop-off. We also saw a yellow stingray in the sea grass.
The first stop was at Coral Gardens, lots of coral but not very colourful but we did see a lot of different fish – blue tarpon, snapper, zebra fish, angel fish etc
We then munched on fresh fruit as we sailed to our next stop – Shark Ray alley. At shark ray alley the crew the fish in to the sea and a nurse shark surrounded by a shoal of fish came up to the boat. I have never seen a shark on the surface of the water and never so close!
No trip to Caye Caulker is complete without going snorkeling with the nurse sharks and southern stingrays at Shark Ray Alley. The moment the boat arrives the stingrays appear. With a roar of the engine, the sharks begin appearing. As the guide begins feeding, more and more stingrays and sharks appear and a feeding frenzy soon commences. Getting into the water with and touching these creatures makes the trip complete.
We choose Tsunami Adventures for our snorkling tour. We went to 3 diffrent gardens at the reef. The gardens are so breath taking. The coral is just to beautiful to put into words. We swam with the sting rays and rubbed thire backs!! Which was oh so cool!! Our tour guide did a great job in showing us all the diffrent shells and fish, shrimp, lobsters among many, many,many other things. The list just goes on and on. Great experience!!! for sure :)
Excellent way to spend the day. Carlos is very knowledgeable about the reef and its inhabitants. He actually leads the group (usually 6-8) on a tour of the reef pointing out the different types of coral and fish/eels/rays. You go to San Pedro for lunch and then snorkelling again on the way back. At the end of the day you can buy a CD of the pictures he took that day for about $15 US
We went on a full day snorkel trip with this tour agency. After comparing prices around the island it seems they're all around the same price. Anyways, I feel we made a good choice.
We went to three sites: The Coral Gardens, Shark and Ray Alley, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Swimming with the nurse sharks was a neat experience (they feed them and other fish to attract them to the boat). One of the tour guides comes in with the group, guides them around, and points out different types of fish. My favourite experience was gliding across the surface with rays deep below me in the depths, it was so serene, like it was just us.
Water and fresh tropical fruits were available on the boat. We also had a simple sandwich lunch (vegetarian option). On the return journey our guides opened the sails and we sailed along for an hour or so sipping rum punch and snacking on fresh salsa and chips before turning on the motor for the final leg of the trip.
Like I said, it was a fun trip, though more for the boat ride and introduction to snorkelling than the fish themselves. There weren't all that many fish like all the tour agencies and online sites make it seem, for whatever reason (coral decline? hurricanes?). Also, it did feel a bit rushed, though I don't blame the tour operators; it's a lot to see and do in one day. If you want to spend more time in one place, I recommend renting out snorkel gear and going out on your own time just for fun, or perhaps looking into 1/2-day trips that spend more time at particular places.
The real reason to go to caye caulker is the reef about a half mile off shore. Many companies offer snorkeling tours to the marine reserves close to the reef. We used Raggamuffin tours and were very satisfied, they use sailboats for a very smooth ride and the guides are excellent.
any one of the local tour groups is good. The guides are very friendly and knowledgeble about the tours and what you will be doing. Snorkel gear, ie mask, fins and snorkel are included with all of the tours as well as some refreshing ice water and fruits (ours was cold watermelon) brought in from Belize City.
We went with Star Tours, located in the heart of Caye Caulker town. Cost was US$47.50 per person for a full-day three location trip, which included Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark/Ray Alley, and Coral Gardens.
Guide was very informative, though we felt Hol Chan Marine Reserve was overly crowded and that was a shame. We only got to see one shark the whole day, largely because there were so many tourists in the water. We left a 20% tip for the operator at the end of the day for his work.
The full day trip runs from 9am till 4pm in the afternoon, stopping at Ambergris Caye for lunch. (We ate at Fido's. Prices are so much higher on Ambergris Caye!!)
I went for the half day snorkeling which was 3 hrs, and was only $25US. Ian our guide was born and raised on Caye Caulker, so he was very knowledgeable and friendly. He was also very funny. He took us to the coral reef and pointed out all the fish that we saw, giving us the names as he went along. And he always made sure everyone, was together, no one left behind.
We next went to sting ray alley, where he fed the nurse sharks and stingrays so we could get a better look. When I was too afraid to touch them, he picked up his favorite "Lucy" and held her so that we could all touch her.
We next went to another coral garden, and while people swam, Ian cut up fruit for us to have on the way back. I loved this tour and recommend you find them when in Caye Caulker.