Snorkel and Swim With Sharks at Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Hol Chan Marine Reserve, located just a few minutes' boat ride from San Pedro, is the place to go for snorkeling in Northern Belize. This small, protected area (Hol Chan means "little channel" in Mayan) is home to part of Belize's barrier reef, which is the second largest in the world (after Australia's reef), and the largest healthiest. There are many tour operators out of San Pedro that can take you out for a half-day of snorkeling the reef, and you'll see colorful coral, rainbow fish, and manta rays, among other marine life. Make sure your guide brings you to Shark Alley, where nurse sharks come to feed on the fish scraps boats leave behind. There, you'll be able to swim mere feet—or even inches, if you dare—from the creatures.
By Sarah Purkrabek, AFAR Contributor
Snorkel Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The speed of our boat slowed and in the distance I could make out the white water of waves breaking over the reef. A few boats seemed to be anchored just before that point and bobbing in the water between the boats were the telltale signs of snorkelers and divers, a pair of fins here and a water spout or two there. Though the water was choppier than I was used to while snorkeling, I was so excited at the prospect of another chance to visit with the abundant life under the sea. Our boat stopped, and then I looked directly into the turquoise water around the boat for the first time. It was instead gray and brown, and writhing in a way that’s unnatural for the ocean. When our guide told me to suit up and get ready to jump in, the look on my face must have needed no words because he laughed and so did the rest of my companions. “You want me to do what?” I asked. After a bit of back and forth, some chumming of the water and eventually, summoning whatever courage I possess, I jumped into the water. Classic case of fear being so out of touch with reality. Hol Chan Marine Reserve is an incredible place where four different zones allow you to interact and swim with docile nurse sharks, stingrays and all manner of colorful fish.
By Kirsten Alana, AFAR Local Expert
Snorkel Hol Chan and Shark Alley
Just off the beaches of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye, you'll find an ocean full of sea life. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is home to over 160 species of fish, 40 types of coral, and three different types of sea turtles, as well as dolphins, eagle rays, and southern stingrays. Choose how deep you want to explore the reef by signing up for a snorkel tour or a scuba one, if you are certified. A short boat ride away you'll find the famous Shark Alley. Nurse sharks and rays congregate in the area because it used to be a favorite place for fishermen to clean their catches. Slip off the boat and into shark-infested waters and swim alongside these beautiful creatures-don't worry, while nurse sharks may show some curious interest, they are not going to take a bite. Visit these waters with certified operators like the tours offered at Ramon's Village Resort. You can get to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye on a quick flight from the mainland via Tropic Air. To learn more about the many adventures waiting in the seven regions of Belize, visit travelbelize.org.
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