I have a confession. I have never snorkeled in warm water. Shocking I know, as most people picture snorkeling exclusively as a warm water sport. You must be wondering then; if I have never snorkeled in warm water then where the heck I have snorkeled? Well, my first venture into the sport was in Iceland, in the middle of winter, and the second was on my honeymoon in Alaska. Two totally amazing but, totally freezing experiences.
So, you will imagine my excitement when I found myself sitting aboard a sailboat gliding over the Caribbean Sea on my way to three different snorkeling spots. Rum punch in hand!
The Adventure Begins
Iced chai tea in hand, I made my way down Caye Caulker’s main sandy street to Raggamuffin Tour’s for an early morning gear fitting. Sliding into the crowded shop I waited for an attendant to be free. Once it was my turn I was fitted with flippers, a snorkel, and a mask. My equipment was then efficiently bagged and tagged; ready to be transported to the boat later in the morning.
Finally, aboard the sailboat, I settled into a shaded seat and listened to the Skippers description of our day. We would be making three different stops. The first two were part of Belize’s Hol Chan Marine Reserve; the Hol Chan Channel and Shark & Ray Alley. Our final stop would be a place called Coral Gardens.
Hol Chan Channel
Arriving at the Hol Chan Channel, I eagerly grabbed my snorkel gear and jumped feet first off the boat. Spitting out the warm salty water, I quickly put on my mask and plunged my head into the water.
We were here to see a massive sea turtle and after a few minutes of swimming, I saw him. And oh my god was he huge! I watched, mesmerized, as he swam around a local fisherman’s boat. Coming within kissing distance of my face it was easy to explore his large eyes and sea green pigmentation. He was clearly used to snorkelers and went about his business undeterred. Repeatedly catching bits of conch guts that the fishermen were discarding into the water from above.
Pulling my attention from the turtle, I began to notice the schools of tropical fish. There were little ones with pointed snouts, big ones with silvery flesh, and fast moving youngsters. But, nothing could distract me from the turtle long. I could have spent hours floating around here watching him but, after 45 minutes my guide signaled that is was time to head back to the boat.
Shark & Ray Alley
After a quick 20 minute sail, we arrived at Shark & Ray Alley. As the boat anchored I could see dark brown shadows swirling in the water. Nurse sharks.
I will admit that I was a bit nervous to jump into the shark infested waters. But, I put my snorkel gear on and dove in after my guide. Adjusting my mask and snorkel I let myself sink fully under the water. As my vision adjusted, a huge nurse shark swam right towards me. My heart almost jumped right out of my chest! But, the animal glided easily under me without giving me a second glance. I relaxed and took a big gulp of air through my snorkel.
Fascination got the better of me and pushed my fear away as I really began to watch the sharks. They moved slowly and confidently through the water. Paying little attention me and the other snorkelers.
It was amazing to see these creatures in their natural environment. Watching as they moved gently through the water, they charmed any remaining fear from my mind. And, dare I say it but, they started to look kinda cute. Puppy like almost with their small eyes and whisker-like barbels.
Next came the rays. Like massive underwater birds, the rays flew through the water under my flippers and occasionally come up so I could see their white undersides. They moved alongside their shark neighbors in harmony. At this moment I wished I owned an underwater camera. Nothing can quite describe the sensation of being surrounded by sharks and rays in translucent waters.
The final stop of the day was coral gardens.
Jumping off the boat for the final time I noticed that the water was noticeably cooler here. Once my gear was situated and my head was under the water I saw why. We were in deeper, blacker ocean and a strong current rippled and swayed the sea grass.
As we swam against the current, I admired the wall of coral to my right. I watched as small fish playfully darted in and out of the colorful sea plants.
Suddenly, my guide stopped and dove down. He pointed a finger to a cluster of rocks and there, straight out of the Little Mermaid, was a shimmering green moray eel. Cleverly hidden amongst the rocks, it bobbed its head in the current. Flashing its long teeth with every mouth opening, its gaze locked on passing fish. Then after observing it for a few moments, it slithered out of its hiding hole. Exposing its entire snake-like body to swim into a cluster of neighboring coral. Flashes of Ursula’s cronies immediately popping into my mind. It was an amazing, slightly chilling, sight to see.
Back on the boat once more, we set sail and chased the setting sun back to Caye Caulker. The crew played soft Caribbean reggae from the onboard stereo and served icy rum punch from overflowing pitchers. I relaxed into the music and evening breeze, letting the last bursts of sun warm my shoulders.
It was the perfect ending to the best Belizean day.