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The Best Snorkeling In Belize: A Guide To The Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Are you looking for the best snorkeling in Belize? If you want to snorkel with some of the most incredible marine animals on Earth, you need to check out the Hol Chan Marine Reserve!

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snorkeling in Belize - a manta ray swimming in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Caye Caulker is not the type of place you go to with a long list of things to do. You’ll more than likely just end up spending your days sipping Belikin beers and floating in the turquoise Caribbean waters anyways.

And trust me, you’ll be fine with it. But there’s one activity that you have to do on Caye Caulker — a snorkeling trip to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

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Is Snorkeling Good In Belize?

Belize is one of the best places on earth to snorkel. Belize is home to the second-largest barrier reef on the planet that is full of colorful corals and abundant marine life.

The shallow, clear water in Belize allows for incredible snorkeling when the conditions are right.

Is Snorkeling In Belize Safe?

Yes, snorkeling in Belize is safe as long as you go with a reputable guide. A good tour company will always teach you how to use your snorkeling equipment, instruct you on how to safely interact with wildlife, and have the necessary safety equipment onboard.

Of course, you also need to take personal precautions in order to safely snorkel in Belize. Here are some safety tips for snorkeling in Belize:

  • Do not consume alcohol before entering the water. If your tour includes a boozy cocktail (most do), make sure you wait to partake until after you’re done in the water.
  • Protect your skin. The sun is intense out on the boats, so make sure you protect yourself with reef-safe, biodegradable sunscreen.
  • Beware of strong currents. If you’re not a strong swimmer, make sure you do not drift too far from the group. Stay in the designated area and take frequent breaks so you don’t get tired out.

Where Is The Best Snorkeling In Belize?

Without a doubt, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the best place to snorkel in Belize. It’s the country’s oldest reserve, and it’s home to nurse sharks, stingrays, eagle rays, manatees, sea turtles, and many other marine animals.

It’s also located just a few miles from the shore, making it a really easy to day trip when you’re staying on Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye.

What is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve?

nurse shark seen while snorkeling in Belize

The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a protected area located just a few miles from Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye in Belize. It is the most popular snorkeling spot in Belize.

The name “Hol Chan” is Mayan for “little channel”, which refers to the natural break in the barrier reef. This little cut in the reef is teeming with marine life.

The marine reserve has several zones, with the most popular being Shark Ray Alley and the Coral Reefs.

Because it’s a protected reserve, you must go with a licensed tour operator if you want to snorkel in Hol Chan. No matter which tour guide you choose, they will take you to a number of spots around the reserve to snorkel. Unless otherwise specified, every tour will make a stop at the super-popular Shark Ray Alley.

What Can You Expect When Snorkeling The Hol Chan Marine Reserve In Belize?

The tour will change a bit depending on the weather and time of year. We had an incredible day and got to see so many different things when we went snorkeling in Belize.

Our tour started off with a short walk to a small dock on the other side of the island. A local woman was selling sardines and we got to feed giant Tarpons right off the dock.

I’m not going to lie – it was a little bit terrifying because you dangle the sardines over the water and the Tarpons jump up and grab them out of your hand! Luckily I walked away with all of my fingers intact.

After that we boarded the beautiful catamaran and headed out on the water.

Not long after we set off, our driver spotted a manatee in the water so we stopped to snorkel near it. Manatees need space to come up for air so we couldn’t get too close, but wow, it was amazing watching it swim around.

snorkeling with a manatee in Belize

A short while later the boat made another unexpected stop when a sea turtle was spotted. Once again, we all got out and observed the beautiful creature swimming around in his ocean home.

On our third stop we got to explore a shipwreck covered in corals. This was a barge that sank some 20+ years ago. Throughout the years it has been turned into an artificial reef and some friendly sea creatures now call it home.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve shark and manta ray

Next up we visited the main attraction – Shark Ray Alley. Here, wild nurse sharks, stingrays, and schools of fish swarm the boats in hopes of being fed.

This attraction is essentially manmade. For years, local fisherman cleaned their catch of the day in this area located just inside the reef.

Nurse sharks and southern stingrays began congregating in the area on the lookout for scraps.

Our last stop of the day was the little channel where Hol Chan gets its name from. The channel is about 75 feet wide and 30 feet deep. On either side of the channel are huge formations of coral that are home to more than 500 species of fish.

After awhile, we boarded the boat again and began our hour-long journey back to Caye Caulker. The guides broke out the bottomless rum punch and ceviche (vegetarian for me) and cranked up the reggae.

Vegetarian Ceviche on a boat in Belize

Which Tour Group Should You Use for Snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve?

There are tons of different options for tour groups for snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. You can just walk around the island and you’ll see plenty of snorkel and dive shops that will be able to take you there.

I decided on Raggamuffin Tours for a few reasons:

  1. Their commitment to sustainability. Unlike other tour groups, they don’t participate in the harmful practice of handling or feeding the sharks and rays. They also don’t use any single-use plastic or styrofoam to serve up their delicious food (and rum punch) on board.
  2. They are the only tour company that goes out in sailboats. If you’re especially lucky, you’ll get to go out on their huge catamaran. The other tour groups all go out on cramped speedboats.
  3. They are a reputable company. Raggamuffin has been operating tours around Caye Caulker since 2002 and they are the most trusted and reputable tour operator on the island.
Raggamuffin Tours Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The crew from Raggamuffin Tours

This was by far one of the best days I spent in Belize. The boat was amazing, the snorkeling was unbelizeable, and the free-flowing rum punch was icing on the cake.

I also really appreciate my tour company’s commitment to sustainability. Although their website says they participate in feeding the sharks and rays, they did not do this on my particular tour.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary tour from Raggamuffin. As always, all opinions are my own. I would never promote a company that I don’t wholeheartedly believe in. 

This post was all about snorkeling in Belize.

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