So, much has been written about diving Belize. That’s no surprise, given the country’s incredible SCUBA spots, including, of course, the famous Blue Hole. But what about snorkelers? Aren’t there any good locations for those who prefer to swim free from the burden of tanks, BCD’s, etc.? In a word, YES! Absolutely!
You could make a good argument that any location where SCUBA is good that snorkeling usually is as well. Belize is no exception. Its 80-degree crystal clear Caribbean waters and the huge Belize Barrier Reef System ensure that this environment will forever remain a favorite of water lovers around the world. Here are my favorite spots, all accessible from Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker:
If you have all day, do this:
- Hol Chan (Mayan for “Little Channel”)-This is a 4,400-acre marine preserve, but most boats go straight for the break in the reef where 160 different species of tropical fish thrive. At most the water is 30 feet deep, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a Loggerhead Turtle or Eagle Ray as well as Parrot Fish, Angel Fish, and an extraordinary variety of coral, too!
- Shark Ray Alley-This area is famous for the concentration of hundreds of Nurse Sharks and rays scavenging the bottom for food. It’s inside of the reef system, so you won’t see any coral, but that’s not the main attraction here. Just swim with and even touch these large but harmless animals (don’t worry, the dive master will hold the gentle creature for you). If you’re a good free-diver, try to write your name on the sandy wing of one of the huge rays. Or, if you’ve got my luck, you’ll land feet first on top of a large shark when you jump in. Yikes!
You usually do both Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley on the same day with a quick stop at Caye Caulker for a bite to eat. I’d recommend you use one of the sailing catamarans for this outing. It puts you into a laid back feeling that’ll last all day until you’re heading back to port with a cold beer in your hand, provided courtesy of the crew. Try to find a sailing cat with indoor facilities. You’ll be glad you did if, as I did, you run into inclement weather or just need a break from the sun. Seaduction is a nice one to take.
- Another all-day trip is the same Blue Hole tour that I wrote about for SCUBA. The rim of the hole is supposed to provide some excellent shallow water snorkeling, and there is a stop at Half Moon Caye for lunch as well, which will give you an idea of what Robinson Crusoe must have felt like, while you enjoy barbecue chicken under swaying Coconut Palms. But at over $200 just for snorkeling, I’d save my money for equally enjoyable spots much closer to shore. Do this one only if you have extra time or if your partner is going for the dive experience anyway and you want to be a part of it.
If you have a morning or afternoon free, do this:
- Mexico Rocks-This is a fantastic and easy snorkel, with lots of fish and turtles on the shore side of the reef and some beautiful coral formations as well! I saw a Moray eel swimming right out in the open as well as a close up view of a turtle.
- Tres Cocos-Just a short boat ride from Mexico Rocks you’ll find this extravagant coral forest. There isn’t as much marine life but the formations are worth the trip. And I was able to glimpse a shark and turtle at long range.
These two trips you can do in less than four hours right from the dock in San Pedro town, and, as an additional bonus, you’ll be able to charter a boat for only two people for $75. That means you’ll have the freedom to do your own thing in the water, instead of following a group leader behind 12 other people, all eating the fins of the person in front of them. Plus, during the off-season, you’ll be afforded the luxury of just naming your own time. Just walk up to any of the waterfront vendors and ask!
There are other dives you can do locally as well, but really there’s no such thing as just walking out into the surf. You’ll need a boat for any worthwhile snorkeling.
So enjoy your trip to Belize, and good snorkeling to you!