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Snorkeling Belize Barrier Reef: 7-stop tour experience

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Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef is by far one of my top travel memories and I just have to share my favourite tour with all of you.

Belize, a small nation on the coast of the Caribbean Sea, is home to the world’s second-largest Barrier Reef system beaten out by only Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is a fantastic place to enjoy snorkeling and water sports. The Belize Barrier Reef is 180 miles long (289 km) and stretches the entire length of the country.

It’s home to an exceptional number of sea life including fish, sea mammals, coral, sea sponges and more and it is believed that only around 10% of the entire reef has been researched. This means there is a high chance that there are plenty of sea creatures that call the area home that we just don’t know about yet.

The entire reef and surrounding areas are protected (and even listed under the World Heritage Act), which means you need permission to visit and can typically only do so via a tour. That’s why I recommend booking yourself a spot on the Salt Life Eco Tour to enjoy snorkeling in the Belize Barrier Reef.

Don’t forget to get travel insurance to cover you if something bad happens. One company I have personal experience with is Safety Wing. Not everyone needs the same coverage, so make sure you get a personalised quote that suits you and your trip plans.

How to get there

Location: Salt Life Eco Tours, Playa Asuncion, Caye Caulker, Belize

This is the location pin for the office for the Salt Life Eco Tours company. They are located in Caye Caulker, directly opposite the Blue Wave Guests House.

Caye Caulker is a very small island so there is no public transportation. This means your options to reach the tour office are either on foot or by cycling. You will be required to be at the office between 8:30 am and 9:00 am as the tour will begin at 9.

To avoid disappointment, it is recommended to try and book your place on the tour ahead of time at least 48 hours during the slow season or more in the busy season. They are one of the most popular tour companies in the area so they can book up quite quickly.

Our tour boat

Tour itinerary: snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef

Remember, the specific tour this itinerary relates to is 7-Stop Snorkeling in the Belize Barrier Reef.

8:30 – 9:00 am: Meet at the meeting point

The first thing you will need to do is head to the meeting point, Salt Life Eco Tours office, in Caye Caulker. After arriving you will check in with the staff on duty, read and sign a safety waiver and wait for the rest of the tour group to arrive.

Once everyone has arrived and filled in their documents the staff will proceed to walk you all through a quick briefing on what you should and should not do while out on the water. This is to help people understand the basic rules of the tour to try and keep people as safe as possible while offering a good time. You’ll also get your wetsuits (if applicable), fins and snorkels at this stage before heading out to the boat.

9:30 am – 12:00 pm: Travelling to and enjoying the first 3 snorkel stops

A small sea turtle swimming in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve
– Hol Chan Marine Reserve

After leaving the dock, the first stop you’ll head to is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The reserve is located between Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker islands and is roughly 18 km² (4,448 acres) in size. It’s been a protected area for over 30 years and is one of the best areas to snorkel and experience the sea life that the Belize Barrier Reef has to offer.

You’ll get to spend some time exploring the reef in up to 100 feet of visibility, keeping an eye out for the wildlife that is found here. You’ll have the chance to see a range of up to 160 species of fish, 3 species of sea turtle and 3 types of sea mammals.

Plus, in this area, you’ll be surrounded by up to 4o species of coral, sponges and sea grass. A truly varied marine destination just waiting to be explored. Your guide will be in the water with you during this stop, directing you around the reef and pointing out many of the common hiding places the creatures are found in.

Please note: There are some areas along the edge of the reef with strong currents which can be dangerous. Please pay attention to the areas your guides ask you to avoid.

Me swimming with nurse sharks an a large school of fish
– Belize Shark and Ray Alley

Next, you’ll make your way over to the famous Shark and Ray Alley which is one of the highlights of the tour. Your boat will get to an area frequented by sting rays and harmless nurse sharks before dropping some food into the water for the sea creatures.

This allows the creatures to stay in the area so you can enjoy swimming with them. One by one, the group with get their snorkels and fins back on and slowly get back into the water. One guide will stay on the boat in case anyone needs help getting back onboard, while the other guide stays close by in the water.

You’ll get to swim by a large group of sharks while they are feeding and it truly is a bucket list experience. Shark and Ray Alley is one of the most popular snorkel spots in Belize and it’s clear to see why.

The shipwreck of the sunken barge
– sunken barge shipwreck

This sunken barge isn’t the most exciting shipwreck lying at the bottom of the sea, but over the years since sinking, it has come alive as a home for sea plants and fish of various species.

With much of the algae and coral growing over the structure of the boat, it has become a hotspot for snorkelers wanting to see an abundance of sea life. Plus, since this part of the sea isn’t very deep being so close to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, you can easily get up close to the wreck only a few feet beneath you.

12:00 pm: Stop for Lunch on the Boat

While participating in this tour, the staff will have a small lunch prepared for everyone. We had fried rice, grilled chicken, pasta and fruit prepared which was perfect for our full day out at sea. They offer a vegetarian option too for those that have dietary requirements.

As well as asking each of us to bring our own water to stay hydrated throughout, they also provided water bottles for the tour group which was very much needed in the Belize heat. If you’re over the legal drinking age in Belize, you’ll also be offered a cup of their delicious homemade rum punch which was an added surprise during the trip.

12:45 – 3:45 pm: Travel to and explore the next 3-4 stops

A manatee
– Swallow Caye Manatee Reserve

Please note that there is no specific “one-spot” to see manatees as they typically travel around grazing for food and don’t spend much time in one place.

The guides cannot guarantee you will see a manatee as they are endangered and there are not as many of them swimming around as decades previously. So if you are fortunate to see one, this can adjust the itinerary for the remainder of the tour. Usually throughout the trip while travelling between each snorkelling area, the guides will keep an eye on the water to try to spot a breaching manatee.

If you do see one, you will need to keep a significant distance from them compared to other sealife and will be able to observe them in the water instead of getting too close.

Close-up of a ray
– Coral Gardens

Located within the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, Coral Gardens is a brightly coloured area filled with various coral species and sea life. This is a protected area that is perfect for beginners as it is shielded from waves and has extremely calm and shallow waters (no deeper than 4 metres). Fish are abundant in this area and add a vibrancy to the already colourful coral scattered on the sea bed.

This is an area you have more flexibility to explore solo while your guide just tries to point out interesting animals for you to see, instead of specifically showing you the swimming route to take like back at the Hol Chan Reserve.

– Conch Shell Graveyard

This is less of a natural snorkelling spot and more of a man-made one. For many years, fisherman would go out to fish and then would come to this spot to dump the conch shells they’d found during their catch. The conch shells would be cleaned and put in the water here and over time this became a new fish habitat due to the sheer quantity of shells that have now found themselves in this “graveyard”.

Another very shallow area with almost no sea current, this is another very easily enjoyable snorkel area for beginners. Due to the shallow waters, there is a high chance of seeing some rays gliding over the shells here.

Some large tarpons before they jumped out of the water
– Feed the tarpons near the dock

The final stop before heading back to the office is a fun stop, although there is no snorkelling involved here. Close to the dock, just a few minutes walk from the office on the opposite side of the island (this part of the island is narrow) huge schools of tarpons swim.

As our boat goes through this area they will stop and feed some chum to these rather large fish and some of them will physically jump out of the water to retrieve the food. This can be scary if you don’t expect it – which none of our group did. After a few minutes of watching this interesting fish experience, we head back to the final dock to unload the boat.

4:00 pm: Head back to the office

At the end of the snorkel tour, you’ll head back to the office to drop off your equipment and collect your belongings. After putting the fins and snorkels in their respective boxes for the staff to clean them, you’ll be required to collect any belongings you left and give them your email address.

Throughout the tour, the guides will take pictures for the guests using underwater cameras and Go Pros and are happy to send these via Google Drive to everyone later that day. This is extremely useful if you don’t have a camera yourself or have your camera run out part way through the day.

The food we got during the tour

What to bring when snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef?

For this tour you will only need to bring a few things with you as the tour guides will bring everything else for you on the day. The main items you’d expect when snorkeling including snorkel mask and fins will be provided by the tour so you won’t need to get these items yourself.

You will need:

  • Towel – To dry off in between each snorkel stop.
  • Sunscreen – The Belize sun is no joke and you will be out in it all day without any shade coverage.
  • Water – Being in the sun all day you will need to hydrate as much as possible.
  • Snacks – Lunch will be provided, but if you’d like to eat outside of that you’ll need to bring some.
  • Sunglasses – You will be spending time on the boat so it’s worth keeping your glasses with you.
  • Sun hat – This can help minimise heat damage when on the boat.

When to go Snorkeling on the Belize Barrier Reef?

Due to where Belize is located in the Caribbean, there are only really two seasons. Dry season and wet season. The dry season falls between mid-November and mid-April, whereas the wet season starts in April and ends in November.

Although you can visit the Belize Barrier Reef at any time during the year (albeit while avoiding tropical storms), the best time to visit is during the dry season when there is less chance of storms and therefore higher visibility out in the water.

Usually, the tour will not operate in a storm as this becomes a dangerous situation if there is any lightning. So, for the

Have you experienced the Salt Life Eco Tour 7 Stop Snorkel Tour yet? What did you think?

Need help planning your trip?

Check out how to plan a trip abroad & see my travel resources for more.

WayAway – Great for booking flights. They even have a cashback feature for those who fly frequently.
Skyscanner – A comprehensive comparison website showing where to purchase flights.
HostelWorld – The biggest selection of hostels & sociable accommodations.
Booking.com – The largest collection of accommodations worldwide.

Safety Wing – A travel insurance brand for long-term travellers and nomads.

Airalo – An eSIM card company that lets you stay connected during your trip.
Wise – Perfect for transferring foreign currencies.
iVisa – For applying for tourist and visitor visas.

Viator – Great for finding tours and activities worldwide.
Get Your Guide – Another company for finding activities.
Klook – Have some of the best activity deals in Asia.

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