Snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Including Shark Ray Alley!
Some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving destinations are located within Belizean waters. I personally have only snorkeled a handful of times prior to arriving at San Pedro, Belize. And I’m convinced that the Hol Chan Marine Reserve will be one of my favorite and best places to snorkel. Ever. If you are visiting San Pedro or Caye Caulker snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley is a must.
Read More: If you’re staying in San Pedro, check out the TOP Things to do on the island
Snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve
off the coast of San Pedro Island in Belize
What it is, what to expect and how to best be prepared
When you arrive at San Pedro you’ll want to book your snorkeling tour for Hol Chan Marine Reserve. You can do this by going to the docks where the diving companies are located. There are docks all along the eastern coastline of the island and are quite easy to spot.
We chose to book a company called Amigos Del Mar – both Marcus & I vibed well with the people there and they provided great insight into the experience prior to us booking anything. The cost was only $50 per person for a three-hour excursion! It also includes the cost to enter the marine reserve.
Hol Chan means ‘little channel’ in Mayan and the name is fitting as the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a Quebrada off the coast (Quebrada is a cut through a reef). It’s located about four miles southeast from San Pedro town, relatively close to the Ambergis Caye island. You can only access the reserve with an excursion tour group. But don’t fret, many are small groups. Our groups only had eight people in attendance.
There are four sections to the reserve and most tours go through three of them- the reef and seagrass beds, and then Shark Ray alley. Not sure if the time of year affected this but there weren’t many other boats out snorkeling or scuba diving when we went (March), so you can enjoy at your own pace without feeling overcrowded.
Your second stop will be at Shark Ray Alley. Here is where you will snorkel with massive stingrays and nurse sharks. Don’t be alarmed, neither will hurt you if you keep your distance and respect their home. You will notice that as soon as you enter this area nurse sharks and rays will surround your boat in anticipation of being fed. This is due to tour groups bringing food to coax them in for snorkeling.
Amigos Del Mar leads the way with an eco-conscious mindset as their guides will NOT provide food for the nurse sharks. The benefits of not feeding the nurse sharks ensures that they still rely on their hunting instincts, as opposed to relying on humans to feed them in exchange for interactions.
*This is sort of a catch 22 situation- you want to snorkel with these beauties but there is a need for them to maintain their independence, as this is NOT an aquarium.
Sealife critters we saw in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve:
- Manta Rays
- Leopard Manta
- Loggerhead Turtles
- Nurse Sharks
- Black & yellow Angel Fish
- Green Moray eel (it was huge!)
- Schools of fish
- Neon & black tiny fishies (clearly I don’t know their proper name)
- Conch shells
- Grouper Fish (or what our guide called Belize piranhas!)
- Christmas tree worms: they are pink/purple and white and shrivel up when you snap your fingers near them. They reminded me of the plants in the movie Avatar.
Our guide from Amigos Del Mar was kind enough to provide us with one more stopping point along our ride back to San Pedro. A place he called the ‘Conch Farm’. Conch is a sought after delicacy along these Belizean shores and the fishermen who catch conch leaves the shell behind in what I would consider a conch graveyard. Albeit it was slightly sad to see a mini shell graveyard, what was great to see were loggerhead turtles swimming about as they feed off of the tossed bits of conch the fishermen throw out.
Whether you are an ocean fiend or a timid swimmer, snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Research and Shark Ray Alley is an easy, relaxing and beautiful adventure to be had. It’s also a wonderful way to support the conservation of the ocean waters surrounding Belize. The people of Belize fought to conserve this area and only in 1987 did it become an official reserve. What was once a depleted, overfished area is now teeming with a flourishing sea life population that visitors can happily enjoy.
Don’t forget to pack these for your snorkelling at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve:
Top TIPS for snorkeling at San Pedro, Belize:
- Go during a morning tour session; more sea creatures are likely to be out in the morning than the afternoon
- If you’re prone to sunburn (like me) lather sunscreen each time you get out of the water, or wear a rash guard. Your constant state of being in the water AND exposed to direct sunlight will guarantee you a sun burnt back
Interested in visiting Belize? Check out my other blog posts that include TONS of tips and the best places to visit
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