Snorkeling at Hol Chan and Caye Caulker Marine Reserve

Snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize
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Since Belize is considered a top diving destination, it only makes sense that Belize is also a contender for the best snorkeling destination in the world. And of the many places to snorkel in Belize, the best snorkeling can be done in Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, which are near the Barrier Reef. I’m talking about two of the best Belize snorkeling spots: the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve.

Related: Things to do in Caye CaulkerThings to do in Ambergris Caye

By visiting these marine reserves, in a single day trip, you will have the opportunity to snorkel at Coral Reefs and Shark Ray Alley in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and Coral Gardens in the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve. These spots are often split into two tours, but they can also be done in one day. Each site provides an amazing snorkeling experience where you get to see beautiful coral reefs, friendly nurse sharks, exotic sea turtles, and southern stingrays.

Snorkeling at Hol Chan & Caye Caulker Marine Reserves

The cool thing about visiting Belize is that everything is a quick drive or boat ride away. Our trip started with a 2-hour bus ride from San Ignacio Town in Western Belize to the Belize City water taxi terminal, followed by a 1-hour boat ride from the city to the island of Caye Caulker. Along for my journey were my two partners in crime….Luis and Derrick from

We used the San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi for our boat ride and Belize Ground Shuttle for our ground transportation from San Ignacio. There’s no rush when taking a water taxi, as they have scheduled departures almost every hour, and if you miss the boat from one terminal, you can walk down the block to another water taxi company. The boat schedule at San Pedro Belize Express Water Taxi is quite flexible as it gave us time to grab our morning cup of coffee and some breakfast.

The boat ride to Caye Caulker was rather quick. As soon as the vessel docked at Caye Caulker, we hopped off and located our guide, Ranjel from Go Belize Mario Adventures. We love Caye Caulker because it’s so small that you can walk everywhere….there are no cars on the island. If you must, you can take one of the many golf cart taxis to your destination. Ranjel walked us down to their dive shop where we changed clothes and collected our snorkeling gear before our day’s journey.

At the dive shop, we also met the dive shop’s namesake, Mr. Mario Verde, and his assistant Leroy. After all the proper introductions, Luis, Derrick, Mr. Ranjel, Mr. Mario, Leroy and myself made our way to the dock where our boat was parked.

Mr. Mario also explained to us our itinerary for the day, which included snorkeling stops at Coral Gardens and the south channel in the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, and the Shark Ray Alley and Coral Reefs Habitat in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

Coral Gardens, Caye Caulker Marine Reserve

Our first stop on our day’s snorkeling tour started at Coral Gardens in the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve. As you may have guessed from the name, Coral Gardens is filled with a wide array of coral formations and makes for amazing snorkeling.

To name a few, we saw purple sea fans, yellow brain corals, and dainty green plate corals – they were absolutely stunning!

We snorkeled Coral Gardens and along the south channel for about thirty minutes with break intervals before we got back on our boat and drove to our next site: Shark Ray Alley and Coral Reefs in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. These areas are located adjacent to each other, and our experienced guides were able to easily navigate between the different sites.

Shark Ray Alley, Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Shark Ray Alley in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Ambergris Caye

Getting to Shark Ray Alley took us about 10 to 15 minutes from Coral Gardens. And as we arrived there, the nurse sharks and stingrays immediately clustered around our boat in hopes of catching fish scraps that our guide had.

The nurse sharks and stingrays were larger than I had expected. The sharks were about 6 feet in length and the stingrays had at least a wingspan of 4 feet – they looked quite intimidating from the boat. Mr. Mario reassured us that these creatures were harmless and very friendly. However, to be on the safe side, we were also advised to not touch them.

The water here was about 8 feet deep, which still required me to have life vest on since I cannot swim. We also had 3 guides with us so I felt safe. I didn’t come this far to just watch from the boat. Excited, but nervous, to be close to a nurse shark, I made a splash into the water. It was exhilarating.

I’m not going to lie, seeing my first stingray up close was a bit nerve-racking; but after snorkeling for a while longer, I got comfortable in the water and was able to enjoy the beauty of these animals. It was an incredible experience to be so close to so many nurse sharks and stingrays!

We resurfaced and climbed in our boat after the sharks and rays dispersed from the area. By this time we were famished! Snorkeling was hard work – especially for a non-swimmer like me!

Interesting fact: Shark Ray Alley was a popular area where fishermen would go and clean their catch. The scraps that were disposed in the water attracted many nurse sharks and southern stingrays to the area and it quickly became a popular snorkeling site in Belize.

Lunch break…

For lunch, we had some delicious chicken sandwiches along with a fruit bowl and our choice of juice. While eating, we got to know our guides better by sharing our past adventures and telling each other witty jokes! Mr. Mario has a ton of jokes and very interesting stories to tell, and it was great to have some time to hear some of his stories of past adventures.

After the break it was time to head over to Coral Reefs.

Coral Reefs, Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Coral Reefs in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Ambergris Caye

For the last stop of our snorkeling adventure, we finally made it to the coral reefs in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which is about an hour from Caye Caulker. Unlike Shark Ray Alley, we saw beautiful coral and sponge varieties and a rainbow of fishes including grunts, blue tangs, parrot fish and even some juvenile sea turtles! It was like snorkeling in a very large aquarium.

Being underwater and seeing all the corals and sea animals made me reminisce the Little Mermaid movie when Sebastian sang “Under the Sea.”

Hands down, we had the best time snorkeling at these popular snorkeling sites in Belize and thankfully, we had the best snorkeling guides from Go Belize Mario Adventures!

Video Recap

Where is the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve?

The Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, where Coral Gardens is located, is a relatively quick boat ride from Caye Caulker – about 5 to 10 minutes. The only way to get to Coral Gardens is to book a snorkeling excursion with a licensed tour operator. Your tour operator will cover all the fees and permits required for snorkeling at Coral Gardens as well.

Where is Hol Chan Marine Reserve?

Hol Chan is located near the southern tip of Ambergris Caye, about 4 miles south of the island. Shark Ray Alley is designated as Zone D within the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Coral Reefs is designated as Zone A. When traveling from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, getting to Hol Chan will take about 30 minutes on a boat.

When traveling from Caye Caulker, you’ll go north of the island and your trip will most likely include stops at Coral Gardens and the South Channel as you go across the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve into the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

Getting to Hol Chan Marine Reserve

To get to Hol Chan, you’ll have to book an excursion with a licensed tour operator. These areas are managed by the Belize Fisheries Department, and permits are required for snorkeling trips.

Your tour operators will take care of all the permits and fees required. Getting there will be via boat, most commonly from Ambergris Caye or Caye Caulker. You can also travel from Belize City to these two snorkeling sites. The tour company that you book your snorkeling tour with should provide pickups and drop-offs as requested. We booked with Go Mario Belize Adventures from Caye Caulker, which was a shorter boat ride for us from Belize City. On you can find various licensed tour operators offering fishing and snorkeling and diving trips to these sites from San Pedro, Caye Caulker, and Belize City.

What’s the cost?

Snorkeling at Hol Chan costs around $85. This price included the park fees for both sites, water, lunch (vegetarian options available), fruits, and snorkeling gear. We went with Go Belize Mario Tours which is based in Caye Caulker. Their tour also includes extra stops such as the tarpon and seahorse sanctuary behind the island of Caye Caulker. You can search and compare pricing on based on your departure location (San Pedro, Caye Caulker, or Belize City)

What to bring and wear?

Items that you should bring along on your snorkeling trip are waterproof cameras, extra snacks, towels to dry off, an extra change of clothes, and a waterproof bag to place valuable items such as your cell phone. Also, if you sunburn easily, then you can take a lot of sunblock; however, if you have a rash guard, this would be preferred since the chemicals from your sunblock can harm the corals. Clothing-wise, for the ladies you can take a swimsuit, and for the guys, a pair of swimming trunks.



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