Caye Caulker Snorkeling: An Underwater Paradise (Need to Know)

A Caye Caulker Snorkeling trip isn’t one that will be forgotten quickly – if ever. In those few hours that you spend along the Belize Barrier Reef, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another world. The coral is vibrant, the water is crystal clear and the marine life is abundant.

You’ll swim with sharks, stingrays and sea turtles. You’ll be surrounded by schools of fish. And, you’ll gain an insight into a whole other world below the water.

If this sounds perfect to you, you’ll want to keep reading. This complete guide has everything you need to plan and prepare for a Caye Caulker snorkel tour. Including, finding the right tour for you, packing the right things and knowing what to expect at each stop.

CAYE CAULKER SNORKELING: AN UNFORGETTABLE DAY

Going snorkeling in Caye Caulker is a must-do activity. It really is the best of the best in terms of day trips and experiences in Belize and Central America. Like climbing a volcano in Guatemala, seeing Mayan ruins in Mexico or seeing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco – it’s not a trip to be missed!

A full-day snorkeling trip in Caye Caulker typically lasts for around 6 to 7 hours, starting at 9am. And, in that time, you’ll visit at least 5 truly special places to snorkel along the Belize barrier reef.

Of course, there is no guarantee of seeing any animal. But, you’re very likely to see sharks, stingrays, turtles and a whole lot of fish. And, not just a couple of each animal either. As soon as your head is under the water, you’ll enter an almost-magical underwater animal kingdom. I wasn’t prepared for just how much sea life there would be! At times, you’ll be surrounded by sharks, fish and coral covering all colours of the rainbow!

Truly, this is one of my highlights of all of Central America. Do not miss out on a Caye Caulker snorkeling trip!

A sea turtle on the seabed, a special moment on a Caye Caulker Snorkeling tour

Caye Caulker Snorkeling Tours

There’s no shortage of companies and locals offering tours in Caye Caulker. You can find local agencies along the sides of the few streets on Caye Caulker. Generally, their tours are advertised outside with a basic summary of what’s included, where you visit and the price.

Alternatively, get a recommendation from your hotel, hostel or Airbnb. Pretty much all the tours visit the same places, last for a similar amount of time and include the same things.

Unless you’re visiting Caye Caulker, Belize over a very busy period – such as Christmas, New Year or Spring Break – it should be fine to book a snorkeling tour just a day or two beforehand.

CAYE CAULKER SNORKEL TOUR COMPANIES

Some of the most popular snorkel tours in Caye Caulker are run by Salt Life Eco Tours, Caveman Snorkeling Tours, Raggamuffin Tours and through Travellers Palm Hostel.

I chose to go with Travellers Palm Hostel. This was for a few reasons…

  1. I was staying there, so booking was convenient.
  2. As I was staying there I heard from lots of people who did the tours in the days before me about how good it was. (And, it was very highly rated!)
  3. The price (there’s more on this below).
  4. As the tour was run through the hostel, most of the people were staying there too and were of a similar age and travelling style to me.
  5. Finally, because the guides were local and money wasn’t going into a large tour company.

I would really recommend Travellers Palm Hostel, but I know you’ll have an incredible time whoever you book with for this Caye Caulker must do.

TOP TIP: Don’t book your snorkeling tour for the last day of your trip. Bad weather such as rain, strong winds or just very choppy water can see the trip postponed. Don’t miss out because you can’t rearrange!

A school of fish around a dark yellow piece of coral, just some of the marine life you'll experience on a snorkeling trip in Caye Caulker

Price

Most full-day snorkel tours cost around 90 USD (180 Belize Dollars). Prices might have been cheaper pre-pandemic but in 2022, this is the price you’ll pay from most tour companies on the island.

One of the reasons I booked with Travellers Palm Hostel is that their tour costs only 70 USD (140 BZD) per person. Yet, this still includes everything (and more) included by other tour companies.

Private tours may be available depending on availability. The price of these will be higher. You should get quotes from the different tour companies to find the best price.

What’s Included

For all tours, the minimum that is included is: fins, snorkel, google, lunch, a tour guide and a life jacket. Most tours also include the entrance fee for the marine parks in the tour cost. However, you should check this with whichever company you book with.

Water, fruit juice and fresh fruit may also be included in the price. More expensive tours may also include unlimited drinks or more snacks. Those these will be at a premium, however.

TOP TIP: Life jackets make for excellent buoyancy aids in wavy water. Unless you’re wanting to go fully under the sea often whilst snorkelling, use a life jacket as a buoyancy aid. It will make your life so much easier!

You don’t have to work as hard to stay afloat and you can clear your googles without drinking a lot of seawater. Take it from me, I drank a lot of salty water that day!

Where You Visit and What Animals You See on a Caye Caulker Snorkel Tour

All good, full-day tours visit at least 4 (if not all) of these places. The different sites are full of marine life leaving you speechless!

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

The busiest and most popular snorkel spot around the Cayes. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is located just a couple of kilometres off the coast of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

Because of its proximity to Ambergris Caye, the reserve is popular with tourists visiting just here (rather than a full day tour). And, as a result, the area will probably be busier than you expect with plenty of boats moored up.

However, under the water, you won’t notice those people. Rather, you’ll be instantly mesmerised by the wildlife greeting you straight off the boat. As soon I got in the water, the first animal I saw was a turtle and I felt like I was dreaming!

Turtles, nurse sharks, stingrays and whole schools of fish are the norm here. Don’t be surprised to see octopuses, eels and barracudas either.

As a protected area, Hol Chan Marine Reserve snorkeling is only possible if you as part of a guided tour. And, additionally, you have to stay with your guide in the water the whole time. But don’t worry, you’ll be spread out and it won’t feel cramped or tour guide-y at all.

A group of nurse sharks and other smaller fish gather around the boat near the surface, eagerly awaiting fish to be thrown in from a Caye Caulker Snorkeling tour

Shark Ray Alley

As the name suggests, Shark Ray Alley Caye Caulker is the place to see sharks and rays. In the water around the boat, nurse sharks and stingrays wait for fish (or lunch leftovers) to be thrown in.

Once in the water, sharks and rays will completely surround you! It’s an experience like no other, that’s for sure. And, from above the water, you can see the sharks and rays fight for space to be in prime position for that next fish!

All the animals are friendly enough. Although, a stingray did suck Adam’s arm, which left him with a big lovebite-type bruise! Apparently, they have strong suction!

Shark Ray Alley Caye Caulker is actually part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. So, you’ll entrance fee will cover both parts. Generally, though, you won’t take a guided tour. Instead, you’ll stay nearby to where the boat anchors to enjoy the underwater mayhem.

Coral Gardens

Another snorkeling spot along the Belize Barrier Reef is Coral Gardens. In my experience, it might not have as many big-name marine animals but the variety and colours of the coral and fish are magical.

As part of the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, visiting as part of a tour is mandatory. You’ll get to snorkel around with your guide in the exceptionally clear and shallow waters.

Though you do need to be careful not to step on or kick coral everywhere you snorkel. At Coral Gardens, it’s especially important to be aware of your surroundings as the water can be just a few feet deep in places.

The sunken barge off the coast of Caye Caulker

The Sunken Barge

Located on the seabed 25 metres below the surface is what remains of a 30-foot long barge. Most of the wreck is covered in coral, sand and water plants.

Unless you’re on a diving tour in Caye Caulker, you won’t get to swim inside the barge. But, nevertheless, it is still a unique sight to see. The sunken barge is also less visited by groups from San Pedro, so you may be the only group there.

The deeper water is colder than the other shallower spots. And, as a result, you don’t spend as long at the sunken barge. However, there is certainly less to see too.

If you are cold when you’re back on the boat, make sure to dry off with a towel quickly and be sat in the sun to warm up.

Manatee Spotting

The manatees off the coast of Caye Caulker are there seasonally. So, your chances of seeing manatees depend on when you visit. Plus, sometimes, you might just not get lucky.

I visited in late November and the guides warned us in advance that we weren’t likely to see any. The guides start to get a feeling as they do the tours a few times a week, so know if the Caye Caulker manatee numbers are low or if they’ve moved away. Sadly, we didn’t get to see a manatee – but, I saw so much marine life, it didn’t take away from the day at all.

As soon as you get to the area to search for the Caye Caulker manatees, the guides will ask you to get ready. Fins on, snorkel ready etc, so that you can get into the water as soon as a manatee is spotted. They can go out of sight as quickly as they appear, so you don’t want to miss out.

If you do spot a manatee on your trip, the important thing is to not touch the manatees. Give them plenty of space and look on from some distance.

Feeding the Tarpons and Frigates

Another common stop on a Caye Caulker snorkeling tour is to feed the tarpons (big fish) and frigates (birds) with fish. Both of these make for great photos and videos.

The trick is holding a fish over the side of the boat and watching the tarpons leap from the water to grab the fish. Similarly, the guides will ask for a volunteer to hold a fish above their head. Then, a frigate will swoop down and grab the fish in its beak, in one swift movement making for a great slow-motion video.

There will likely be more than enough fish to go around, so everyone gets to participate (if they want to).

What to Bring when going Snorkeling in Caye Caulker

Let’s recap on what’s normally included in your tour price. Fins, snorkel, mask, life jacket and lunch as a minimum. Then, you may also get fruit juice, water and fresh fruit – you should check this in advance.

Additionally, you’ll need to bring the following:

  • Swimwear. Arrive wearing it, as there won’t be anywhere to get changed. For women, a swimsuit is great to avoid having to adjust your bikini regularly. A long-sleeved, sun-protective swim top is also great if you have one to avoid sunburn and keep cool. For men, swim shorts are fine, but an additional t-shirt or sports top is great for avoiding sunburn.

  • Reef-safe sun cream. The barrier reefs are damaged enough, let’s not add to the problem. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend covering up instead. T-shirt, shorts and a cap for on the boat are great.

  • GoPro, float and waterproof phone case. Straight forward enough, you don’t want to miss out on capturing those magical moments. Make sure you have a float (ideally with a wrist strap) so you don’t lose your GoPro!

  • Extra drinks and snacks. An extra drink with some flavour is great for getting the salty taste out of your mouth. If you think you’ll want any extra snacks, bring them too. Just remember, any rubbish needs to come with you off the boat.

A nurse shark across the image with shadows from the wave across it's brown body

Why You Can’t Snorkel from the Beach in Caye Caulker

While technically, you can snorkel just off the beach in Caye Caulker, you won’t be anywhere need the barrier reef. All of the locations listed above are at least a couple of kilometres off the coast. Additionally, to snorkel at Hol Chan and Caye Caulker marine reserves, you need to be part of a guided tour with a licensed operator and boat.

If you’re not wanting to join a Caye Caulker snorkel tour, then the best place to spot marine life is at Iguana Reef Inn. Here, you’ll easily be able to see stingrays at the shore – as well as stroke them around feeding time at 4pm. As well as fish and seahorses.

Travelling to Caye Caulker & Belize in 2022

Travelling to Belize is slowly returning to normal. Sea, air and land borders are now open. The mask mandate, gold-standard transportation and gold-standard hotel requirements are now gone!

However, transport capacity still hasn’t returned to normal. Most notably, the ADO bus from Mexico to Belize City still isn’t running.

For the most up-to-date information, rule changes and new regulations, check belizing.com/coronavirus regularly.


If you have any questions or want any more information, drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Information is correct as of January 2022 but is subject to change in future.

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3 thoughts on “Caye Caulker Snorkeling: An Underwater Paradise (Need to Know)”

    1. I don’t know if the airport is open right now, as I know there is a tropical storm (/potential hurricane) moving along the northern coast of Central America. But otherwise, ordinarily, the airport is open on Caye Caulker.

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