Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world (other than the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). Belize's Barrier Reef is 185 meandering miles of unspoiled beauty. It varies from 8 to 16 miles from the mainland to less than one mile offshore from Ambergris Caye. Much of it is totally unexplored and all of it is easily accessible by boat. The reef is like a gigantic wall running parallel to the coast. Between the mainland and the reef are shallow, sandy waters with numerous mangrove-covered islands (cayes).
The two best places to snorkel are Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. Hol Chan is Mayan for 'little channel." The entire reserve focuses on a cut through the reef (called a quebrada) which is little more than 25 yards wide and 30 feet deep about 4 miles southeast of San Pedro. The reserve was formed primarily as a community-based initiative due to concern over the high level of uncontrolled, often destructive fishing and diving activities in the area. Over 160 species of fish have been identified in the reserve, along with nearly 40 species of corals, 5 sponges, 8 algaes, 2 seagrasses, 3 marine mammals and 3 species of sea turtle.
At 9:00 a.m. on Day 2 in Belize, Ryan and I catch a boat and head to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. We couldn't wait to get in the water!
Ryan has been obsessed with eels ever since he was bitten by one when he was little. No surprise that he found one within the first 5 minutes of being in the water.
While Ryan dove down and took all the pictures, I just hung out on top. I ruptured an eardrum when we were snorkeling in Hawaii, so I'm still a little intimidated by diving.
Above is a huge grouper. Below is a sea turtle.
Shark Ray Alley is appropriately named for the abundance of sharks and sting rays you'll see here. The sharks and rays hear the dive boats approaching and begin to school in anticipation of bait being thrown into the water. When you arrive, you will see the surface often boiling with rolling sharks and sting ray wings as they vie for the scraps. These creatures have a great tolerance for divers and snorkelers. The rays, which have a 'wing-span' of two to four feet, swim directly towards the divers, mouths often turned up hoping for a hand held tid bit to be placed near their mouths. Others have learned to swim in circles around the divers, as if performing for food. The docile Nurse Sharks average four to six feet in length and can be a bit more agressive than the sting rays.
As soon as pulled we up we were surrounded by sharks. I loved it! Our guide actually grabbed one and let me pet it. I couldn't believe how rough their skin was...like sandpaper.
When we got in the water we were then surrounded by rays. We saw about 10 of them, all different sizes.
We also saw schools of fish...
And more sharks, of course.
Another great place to snorkel is Mexico Rocks. Mexico Rocks is located to the North of Ambergris Caye. This area has a wide range of coral formations including flower, elk-horn and giant brain coral. It is protected from ocean swells and currents, so it makes for easier snorkeling. Depth is only about 6 to 12 feet, so you can see everything up close. Water visibility is about 50 feet or more. One of the days that Ryan went fishing, I went snorkeling at Mexico Rocks by myself. I know, right! I'm a bad-ass. And I saw the coolest stuff! I saw 5 squid, a huge starfish, a lobster, a large ray, and a grouper so big it could have swallowed Mally whole! Of course, since I didn't have Ryan to dive down and take pictures of stuff, my pictures kinda suck.
So I made Ryan go back to Mexico Rocks with me our last day in Belize. This was by far the coldest day we had on our trip and I thought I might freeze to death (it was probably around 70 degrees). But I survived. Again. Bad. Ass.
Once again, we saw some pretty cool stuff. Like this flounder...can you spot him?