- Category: Tours
- Published on Thursday, 08 September 2011 03:17
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Snorkeling in Shark/Ray Alley and at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve on Belize’s Barrier Reef
The 186 miles long Belize section is less than one third of the 900 kilometres (560 miles) long Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which runs from Cancún on the northeast tip of the Yucatán Peninsula through the Riviera Maya down to Honduras. It is Belize's top tourist destination, attracting almost half of its 290,000 visitors annually, and vital to its fishing industry.
It IS possible to do this day while based on the mainland, as long as you are within reach of the water-taxi terminal in Belize City. It means an early breakfast in order to catch a boat that will get you to Caye1 Caulker in time for the departure of your tour. Of course, it is easier if you have spent the previous night on one of the Cayes, because then all you have to do is fall out of bed into your tour boat.
The tour will depart about 10.30am, and take you to two or three locations which are known to be excellent snorkeling spots. You will certainly stop at an area known as Shark/Ray Alley, because of the reliable presence of nurse sharks and giant eagle rays, and it really is a special feeling to be in the water with these sizeable creatures, all of which flip lazily about, mildly intrigued and not at all bothered by the arrival of four-limbed aliens floating on top of their world.
Not uncommonly, there are also turtles, and a variety of other fish, all perhaps expecting some of these weird creatures to have come bearing gifts of food....Your other certain snorkeling session will be at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, right on the Barrier Reef. Here the number and variety of fish increases exponentially; you will be surrounded by brightly coloured shoals of up to a hundred different species, spectacular as they flip and dart in and around an amazing variety of coral formations. Some big fish here too - varieties of grouper, and sometimes barracuda. You will need to be careful not to touch, or to inadvertently bump into, any of the coral formations because they and you will damage easily (the coral is brittle, and lacerations from sharp coral can make a nasty mess of whichever part of your body came into contact with it).
The order in which you have these snorkeling sessions may vary, but in all probability after the first one you will head for San Pedro for lunch. The price of this is not included in your tour, which frees you to choose one of the many very reasonably priced restaurants on the island, depending on your mood and your taste buds; after which it is back on the boat and a very pleasant sail to the location of your second snorkeling session.
The tour operators will be aware that those of you staying on the mainland will need to be back in time to catch the last boat to Belize City, where your transport back to your hotel will be waiting for you.
This is a wonderful day, of free movement over sparkling turquoise water, cool magic in it and a blazing sun above it. Weather permitting (and it nearly always does permit) you will have an experience to remember wistfully long after you're home again, maybe with bitingly wintry conditions outside, when you will fairly regularly wish you could be back in those enticing Caribbean waters enjoying world class snorkeling, a warm, welcoming climate and friendly laid-back people telling you "dis jooel is fer evribadi."
Keep a bottle of good rum in the drinks cabinet, for just those occasions...
1. "Caye" (pronounced "key" as in Florida Keys) is from the Spanish Cayo, meaning a small island.
Lunch will either be on the boat, or on San Pedro in between snorkeling sessions.
Your tour boat will return to the Caye it departed from in time for those who need to to catch the last water taxi back to Belize City.
• Swimming costume and towel!
• A tee-shirt to cover your shoulders and back - you burn really easily on and in the sea.
• IMPORTANT option for you to consider if you're exhibiting the classic symptom of male-pattern baldness: another tee-shirt, or a cloth, to put over your head, to be held on in the water by your goggles (honestly, even though I was smothered in 50 factor I was still like a well-cooked lobster by the evening)
• Sunblock + certainly a hat of some sort if, like me, you are follicly challenged.
• Bug spray, containing at least 25% deet for application before you hit land at lunchtime, and again after you've had your final snorkeling session.
• Drinking water - plenty of it, as you can dehydrate really fast out there!