Scuba divers flock to Belize to swim about the Belize Barrier Reef, which is the second largest barrier reef in the world, but the snorkeling is also excellent so those without diving experience shouldn’t feel left out. Snorkeling in Belize is a major industry, and you should have no trouble finding a company that will take you out with a guide and provide everything you’ll need.
Where to snorkel
There are companies located along the Placencia Peninsula, but the barrier reef is further off the coast in the south of Belize, so short snorkeling trips don’t yield the same dramatic experience that you get on the islands in the north.
Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye are the two main tourist islands and also both home to loads of Belize snorkeling companies. There are at least a dozen small companies operating on Caye Caulker, and many more on Ambergris Caye. They are all quite similar in price, equipment, and the tours they offer, but that doesn’t mean you should pick one randomly.
All the companies provide snorkels, masks, and fins for all the guests. If you are not sure about a company, or if you have an unusual size, you should ask to see the equipment they provide before you commit.
There will be a guide to lead you around in the water and point out interesting fish and coral, and they’ll also provide bottled water, fresh fruit, and often lunch on the full-day trips.
Most common trips
- 3-hour/half day trips – These are the most popular and for most companies they’ll leave at several different times during the day. They usually have three stops, one will concentrate on varied tropical fish, one will concentrate more on dramatic coral formations, and the other will be in Shark Ray Alley, when snorkelers can swim with sharks and stingrays for a while. See below for a description of the shark experience.
- 6-hour/full day trips – These are similar to the half-day trips, but usually with a 4th stop, more time in each location, lunch, and the ability to get to further-out places.
Cost – Prices are negotiable, and depending on how busy a company is you might be able to get a better deal. The 3-hour trips usually go for around $US25-30, but you can make a deal for a group. The 6-hour trips are about double, but they can vary widely.
Choosing a company – These are mostly small outfits with just a handful of employees each, and they really seem mostly the same. In some cases you might have a great sales team working out front, but a weak driver/guide organization. For situations like this it’s usually a great idea to ask around for recommendations. Half the people on Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye will be doing snorkeling trips, so if you strike up a conversation in a bar or restaurant you can probably find some people who’ve recently returned from one. If those people were happy with their experience, you’ll probably be happy as well.
Swimming with sharks
Almost all of the snorkeling trips will include a stop at the famous Shark Ray Alley. This is a shallow area where harmless nurse sharks and southern stingrays are very used to interacting with snorkelers. The nurse sharks can be up to 6 feet long, and the stingrays can be that wide, so they appear a bit intimidating, but these aren’t man-eating sharks and the stingrays are down right friendly, and not the kind that took out Steve Irwin.
The boat will stop in Shark Ray Alley and the guide will dump some chum (fish parts and blood) into the water to let the sharks and stingrays know it’s time. Within moments the area will be crawling with these large marine animals and you’ll be able to jump in yourself. Some people are likely to stay on the boat during this part, but these animals really are harmless.
The nurse sharks will weave around through the area until all the chum is gone, which will probably only be 5 minutes or so, but the stingrays will stay as long as there are people in the water. You can reach down and stroke them as they pass right next to you, although not everyone thinks this is a great idea. For some strange reason, the stingrays really seem to enjoy human contact, almost like dolphins, and they’ll playfully circle the area between the snorkelers until it’s time to get back on the boat.