Before arriving in Caye Caulker, we had next to no plans on our agenda. While there’s plenty to do on the island (a post of all that we got up to on Caye Caulker is coming up soon), we figured we’d just wing it. But there was one thing I knew for sure we’d have to fit in somewhere — a snorkeling trip to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
We’d originally planned to do the trip with the oft-hailed Ragamuffin Tours, but when we arrived to their beach front office we were met with pretty hilarious indifference. In their defense, it was Easter weekend. But when we tried to inquire about sunset cruises, we got a shrug and some hemming and hawing about whether they’d be running tours or not. What about day trips? Would there be one on either Saturday or Sunday? “Well,” the woman explained, exasperated at our stupidity in grasping very basic concepts, “if we made the staff work those days, they’d basically just be doing it because they had to.”
“Right,” Olivia replied. “Just like… all employment?” Luckily we found EZ Boy Tours, who was happily running tours all weekend.
Getting on the boat was a slog with a big holiday weekend crowd and a distinct display of island time attitudes. But once we were moving, we were thrilled with our choice to spend the day on the water. Our captain, however, quickly seemed displeased when he did a headcount. Someone, it turned out, had gotten on the wrong boat. Someone who had signed up for a manatee tour. The captain seemed annoyed and exasperated as he tried to determine how this mistake had happened, but finally threw his hands in the air but much to our amusement declared, “Okay. We are going to see a manatee.”
I’ve swum with manatees in the wild once before, but I was still skeptical it was actually going to happen for us here. But lo and behold, soon we were dropping anchor and receiving orders from an excitable guide to get in the water immediately and stare at some rocks. Until, the rocks started moving…
Holy cow! We actually found manatees, out in the ocean! Though we couldn’t get anywhere near close to them, it was an exhilarating experience watching these gentle creates on the go. We could have turned around right then and there and returned to land and I would have been happy.
Thanks, guy who got on the wrong boat!
Not that anything could have followed that, really, but the rest of the snorkel site wasn’t super impressive — at least not compared to what we’d seen in Hopkins.
Our next stop is the one that Caye Caulker is famous for — Shark Ray Alley. Here, wild nurse sharks and stingrays are attracted to the boat by the allure of squid flung over the side by the crew, much to the delight of the squealing tourists on the deck.
While some chose to stay onboard for this one, I couldn’t resist donning mask and fins to hop on in…
Tricky of a photography situation as this crowded and chum-filled scene was, it was a thrill to be up close and personal with the wild sharks and rays. I admit that in spite of knowing full well that nurse sharks are about as dangerous as my cocker spaniel, I shrieked into my snorkel a few times when one got too close!
Once the sharks were sated, we were back on the boat for a lunch of our own. We concluded that everything tastes better when you’re surrounded by turquoise waters.
Eventually, we were back in the water for one last snorkel stop, The Hol Chan Marine Reserve itself. At this point I had to coax a sunbathing Olivia back into the water, and I was glad I did — it was by far the best stop of the day. While the site was extremely crowded, I’m assuming in part due to the holiday weekend, the fish were still far more abundant than humans. And this time, our group was broken into two groups and led by a guide who pointed our various fish and marine life. I resisted the urge to loudly shout the name of each fish right before he said it, not because I didn’t want to be a smarty pants but more because I’ve seen Open Water far too many times to risk being left behind by a pissed-off captain.
We even saw a lone nurse shark — one who’d clearly missed the memo about Shark Ray Alley — swim by.
But the best was yet to come. Right as we were reaching back to the boat, I smiled at the familiar site of a plodding turtle, soaring slowly through the sea. We’d officially hit the snorkeling superfecta — manatee, shark, stingray, turtle.
On the way back to the island, our tourmates and we toasted to our good fortune as rum punches were handed all around. At $70, the day hadn’t been cheap, but it had been worth every penny. The staff at EZ Boy Tours was truly great. We did two tours with them, this one and a sunset cruise, and we were greeted back like family on the second. When I forgot something back at our rental as the tour was about to leave, one of the crew casually told me to grab his bike and borrow it to save time. And when we were leaving the boss asked me to rub his pregnant wife’s belly as local superstition says that getting a blue-eyed person to do so is what gives the baby azure eyes. Not sure it really works that way but I’m not a scientist so who knows. The point is, they made us feel like friends.
As we were watching the sun set back on Caye Caulker after our tour — still sipping the rum punches they’d poured us “for the road” — Olivia announced that she didn’t remember life before Belize. I laughed, but I got it. My family had only been there for nine days, but it was suddenly hard for me to imagine this trip before they’d arrived too. Even harder? Picturing it after Liv, the last to go, was gone. I didn’t want this trip to be over. But I do know it will live on — I’ll treasure these memories from Belize forever.
Next up, my final post from Belize —
everything else we got up to on Caye Caulker!
EZ Boy Tours did not pay or perk me to write this review — sponsored content will always be disclosed. All underwater photos in this post were taken with Canon PowerShot S100 and its Canon PowerShot S100 Underwater Housing. See a full list of my photography gear here.
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Wow! What an incredible day. Your pictures are just mesmerising!
I’m heading to Koh Tao next week and your post makes me excited to get in the water with my snorkel again! x
I’m jealous you’re headed to my favorite island. Say hi to Koh Tao for me!
wow, this looks just perfect!
And I love the underwater pictures, I think you’ve really improved your photography skills here!
Thanks Sarah! I’ve definitely gotten lots and lots of practice over the years 🙂
I am super jealous of you 🙂 this snorkeling is amazing i need to do that. Great pictures as usual, super quality images.
Snorkeling is so great! Definitely add it to the list if you haven’t given it a try anywhere yet 🙂
The turtle pic is too good 🙂
It’s like he was posing for me!
I love that you only had the chance to see the manatees because someone was on the wrong boat – too funny! These photos are spectacular and I wish I was there right now.
I know, it cracked me up! Like ugh, dude, you ruined everything and you’re the worst. But okay, let’s go get you your money’s worth…
Manatee, shark, stingray, turtle – I’m officially now craving Belize!
Sounds like it’s time to book a ticket 🙂
Ahhh! I’m so jealous that you got to see manatees there! We went out to find one, but the one that our guide spotted got spooked by a fishing boat and we never got to see him. How cool for you! We absolutely loved all of the snorkeling in Belize and really, the abundance of sea turtles, rays, and nurse sharks made up for our lack of a manatee. (And I laughed out loud at, “Just like… all employment?”)
Oh man, we couldn’t stop cracking up at some of the customer service responses we got in Caye Caulker! Thankfully we have pretty good senses of humor 🙂
This looks amazing! I’ve been wanting to snorkel at Hol Chan Marine Reserve for years, and I would love to swim with nurse sharks and rays in Shark Ray Alley!
It had been on my list for a while too. So glad I finally made it!
Have you tried using your GoPro for underwater photos? I am looking into what camera gear to buy and am wondering if it’s worth investing in a GoPro and an underwater point & shoot and casing.
Hey Amy, I haven’t, sorry! From what I’ve seen it can’t compare with the Canon point and shoots for photo quality. But it does shoot some great video! I’d think hard about what your top priorities are from a camera — maybe a GoPro is right for you, maybe not.
As I have never spied any of the superfecta on my limited snorkeling adventures, this would have been the best trip of my life!! Question — did it bother you at all that the guide was baiting the sharks? I know some take issue with this interference for several reasons, ie) sharks getting to comfortable with boats & therefore more vulnerable to fishing.
From what I can tell, every single tour in Caye Caulker baited the sharks at Shark Ray Alley — not that that makes it right. It definitely is a little controversial, and when I’m on a random dive somewhere and a guide starts feeding fish I do get annoyed. Then other places like here and Stingray City in Grand Cayman it doesn’t bother me, perhaps because those are marine parks in places where I kind of trust that the animals are being protected? That’s probably naive…
Amazing shots! How exciting to get to see manatees so unexpectedly. A happy accident, I’d say 🙂
It was indeed! A very lucky happy accident…
Wow! Your photographs in this post are really amazing. I’ve been reading through your archives and it is so fun to compare the different diving/snorkelling you have done all over the world.
I’ve been lucky to do a lot of it! Belize definitely topped the charts for snorkeling…
Wow!It does sound like you hit the superfecta! That sounds like a great snorkeling trip and one that’ll we’ll have to put on our list.
Despite it being a crazy crowded weekend and a busy tour, it totally lived up to the hype for us!
Gorgeous, Alex! As always, your underwater photography is just magical. I love the shots of the yellow stripey fish – so colourful! I can’t wait to get back underwater this summer in New Zealand – our marine life is no way near as good as the tropics but I’ll take it! 🙂
Someone was just asking me yesterday if I’d ever been to New Zealand. I need to get there!
Your photos from that last snorkel stop at Hol Chan — whoa! I’ve been less than thrilled with my GoPro on the whole. Definitely need to check out your underwater Nikon setup.
On a different note — I’m always a little uneasy about wildlife encounters that involve feeding or otherwise luring wildlife to people. It seems to promote an unnatural relationship and dependency between the animals and peoples. In all of your diving experience, have you seen a range at all between companies who take this approach responsibly (and with an eye toward conservation) and otherwise? Curious to hear your take!
In Caye Caulker, to my knowledge, every single company feeds the sharks and rays at Shark Ray Alley. (Similar to Stingray City in Grand Cayman.) Like I said elsewhere in the comments, I’m not sure why but these two instances do not bother me, perhaps because they are in marine preserves or perhaps because the communities seem very dedicated to protecting those animals. However if I was on a dive boat on some random island in Thailand and a divemaster started feeding fish I would not be impressed. I’m not sure why one feels okay to me one doesn’t? I guess maybe it’s just that gut feeling when you’re there…. I’d be curious to hear others’ opinions!
*Canon, oops 🙂
Just wait until you hear me start to rave about my new one 🙂
MANATEES! Aw, that would be awesome! Love those giant sea cows. I can’t wait to be somewhere tropical again.
I feel a real kinship to manatees… is that wrong?
Such beautiful photos! I’m itching to go snorkelling now and this has definitely put Belize on my map 🙂
Belize was the first place I ever went snorkeling and probably still remains the best! It’s well worth sticking on your map 🙂
OMG YOU SAW MANATEES! I didn’t even know they did manatee tours there! (*Makes mental note for next time.*)
I loved Belize (and especially Caye Caulker) so so much, and the day-long sailing/snorkeling trip I did with Ragamuffin Tours was the highlight of my whole trip. (Sad to hear they weren’t very nice to you – but it sounds like you found an excellent alternative!)
Ha, I don’t think they weren’t nice… just indifferent 🙂 Seems like they are crushing it though so happy to give some love to another tour operator on Caye Caulker!
SO jealous you got to see manatees! I loved snorkeling in Belize. I couldn’t believe how clear and warm the water is. The sharks and the sting rays were my favorite part. My poor friend is scared to death of sharks and refused to get in the water at Shark Ray Alley. I was in the second our tour said we could! 🙂
Ha, me too! Coaxing my sister in took some time…
These pictures are so incredible! This makes me miss lazy afternoons on catamarans in the Caribbean.
Is there any better kind of afternoon anywhere? 😉
It seems you really had a nice experience. I have never heard of the Caye Caulier before but after reading your article and studying the pictures, I must admit that it will soon be one of my holiday destinations this summer. I hope I will have as much fun as you guys.
I hope you do too, Chella! Happy holidays 🙂
I enjoyed the snorkeling images! The Manatees were a real bonus. Feeding fish and marine life has been a controversial subject for decades. A subject that I generally avoid!
I find that generally exposing folks to marine life up close and personal is a great way to promote ocean awareness. As always I enjoy your adventures. Thanks
Thanks Ron! It is indeed controversial… though I admit in this case I was so relaxed in the Belize atmosphere it didn’t even occur to me to question it until these comments started rolling in, ha. Normally I’m a little more savvy about what’s going to cause questions!
This looks incredible Alex! How did you feel about “only” snorkelling rather than diving? I always think it’s the sign of a beautiful spot if I don’t mind leaving my tank behind!
Also desperate to find a way to squeeze an “oh, the huge manatee!” joke into my comment but after 10 minutes I couldn’t come up with anything 😉
OMG how did I miss that golden opportunity for a pun! Thank goodness you’re here. Yeah, my sister and cousin have both dived but my sister isn’t really into it and with such limited time I was happy to just snorkel and enjoy the sun with them. Plus, can’t ignore that snorkeling is a lot easier on the ‘ol travel budget!
Haha, that exchange with the Ragamuffin Tours crew was hilarious (though probably not for you at the time!). I would have been scared of the sharks despite knowing they were harmless too. In fact, the first time I went snorkelling, I got terrified by a shark…which turned out to be a barracuda!
We were definitely in the “go slow” mindset, so we didn’t let it ruffle our feathers 🙂
Such incredible photos! I didn’t even know manatees swam in the ocean near Belize! I had a great time in Caye Caulker but didn’t see as much wildlife as you did! Thanks for sharing, makes me want to head down there again for a second try!
I love going back to places a second, third, and beyond time! Always nice to visit a destination that feels like a familiar old friend. So I’d say yeah, head back! 😀
Amazing pictures as always! I always use my GoPro but getting a casing for a Canon camera actually looks like they take some better pictures…I need to get out to Belize !!
Indeed, I think the image quality is far superior in the Canon Point and Shoots than the GoPro. The GoPro does have it’s place, though!
Gorgeous pictures! Getting to experience all those lovely animals and that crystal clear water for just $70 is a great deal.
In the grand scheme of things it really is, isn’t it! Seems expensive when you’re in Central America but when you get home it appears to be a bargain again…
Incredible photography, as always! I’ve snorkeled with turtles many times, but never able to get a good shot. You’re definitely making me reconsider Belize as a destination.
Love to hear that, Leigh! You’d definitely get a great chance to nail a turtle shot 😉
love these photos!! we are thinking of getting dive certified before we go here! 😀
It might also be quite fun to do on arrival! What a classroom!
I am heading to Belize next week and was going to try to pick up a waterproof GoPro but your pictures are amazing. I hope you get this and can give me your recommendations and tell me what you used!!
Hey Ellen! Check out my obsessions page for a full list of my camera gear. Hope that helps! Enjoy Belize!
HI, did u have time to add the other things you did in Caye caulker, I definitely want to see turtles any tips anyone, thanks
Hey Elsie! You can find all my posts from Caye Caulker here 🙂 Hope that helps!
Wow Alex, this is so awesome! Thanks for sharing. Love your under water pictures. Were all of these taken on a go-pro?
Hey Faye! No, I actually rarely use my GoPro underwater. Check out my obsessions page for info on all my camera gear, including underwater!
Belize sounds and looks just perfect! The photos are great. Love the Manatees and turtles. Now definitely one for the bucket list.
It was so amazing to see a salt water manatee! One of the highlights of Belize, for sure.