Snorkelling the reefs of Caye Caulker really lived up to our expectations. Manatees, Nurse Sharks, Loggerhead Turtles, Green Turtles and so much more.
Caye Caulker was the one place in Belize we really wanted to see. With beautiful beaches and amazing marine life, we couldn’t wait to get there. Travelling in the low season, we continued with our policy of booking accommodation as we went. So when we went to book our Caye Caulker accommodation, we were surprised that every private room was booked for the first two nights of our 5 night stay.
The journey from Flores in Guatemala (the gateway to Tikal National Park), to Caye Caulker was easy. But a little tedious with a slow border crossing. Leaving at 5am, we were over the border and at the ferry terminal in Belize City by 11.45am. This was perfect timing, allowing us to grab some cash and food before boarding the ferry.
After our 45 minute ferry to Caye Caulker, the reason for the lack of accommodation became blatantly obvious. We’d arrived on the first day of a Lobster Festival. The annual festival was the most popular on the island, with huge numbers of mainland Belizean’s flocking across for the weekend. After finding our hostel and dropping off our bags, we set off to explore the island. Arranging a boat trip to explore the reefs around Caye Caulker was our main priority.
As keen divers, we had a bit of a dilemma. Should we dive at the famous Blue Hole or not? After chatting with other travellers and dive-masters on the island, we decided against diving the Blue Hole. We’re sure it would have been an interesting experience, but it was super expensive. We were told that we would potentially see less marine life in the Blue Hole, than we would snorkelling the reefs of Caye Caulker. Prioritising the Marine life, we decided to go with some local snorkelling instead. With so many reefs nearby and operators on offer, choosing one was a bit overwhelming. Eventually, we chose to snorkel Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley with Caye Caulker Reef Friendly Tours. The deciding factor for us was that this sustainable and responsible company DON’T feed the sharks and rays. Something we felt strongly about.
We left early the next morning, not only to beat the heat but to get to the main manatee seagrass area before the other tour boats. And, the early start paid off. As we jumped into the water there were a couple of manatees right beneath us! Swimming with these West Indian manatees (also commonly called a sea cow’s) was awesome. They didn’t stay around for too long, but it was still an amazing experience.
Our next stop was Shark Ray Alley to see its namesake. The nurse sharks and southern stingrays in the area were attracted to the sound of the boat engine. They swam around for some time, but when no food was produced, they slowly swam away.
Our guide told us that the marine lifes behavioural patterns were changing, due to tour operators constantly feeding them. So we would definitely recommend booking a reef tour with a company that doesn’t feed or touch the marine life. And don’t be deterred by choosing a more sustainable company because you won’t get your ‘insta’ pic laying in the water surrounded by rays! There were still loads of them swimming all around the area.
Creeping up on the docile nurse sharks was easy too. As they are generally nocturnal, they spend most of the daytime motionless on the seafloor, making them very photogenic!
Next we moved on in search of some turtles. We were lucky enough to see both Green (left) and Loggerhead (right) species. We searched to complete the hat-rick with the final turtle found here, the Hawksbill. But, to no avail. But we weren’t too disappointed, as we had seen some whilst diving in Roatan Island, Honduras.
We also stopped at two other areas of the reef and saw lots more marine life. There was loads of colourful fish, but the highlight was seeing an Eagle Ray gliding between the corals.
All in all, we had a really wonderful morning snorkelling the reefs of Caye Caulker, guided by a great company. However, seeing so many other tourists grabbing sharks and turtles as they were coming up for air, was really awful. As money-making was their sole focus, irresponsible tour companies were actually encouraging that kind of behaviour. They had no regard for marine welfare or sustainability. But it’s nice to know there are some companies out there trying to make a difference!
In the afternoon, we began our search for a private room, for our final few nights in Caye Caulker. It actually took no time at all to find a perfect colourful beachside hostel – Yuma’s House. This was the perfect place for us to chill, especially once the Lobster Fest was over and the island returned to its tranquil self.
After deciding not to dive at the Bluehole, we explored the option of a scenic flight over it instead. But we quickly came to the realisation we would have had to book and pay for an entire plane ourselves. There just weren’t any other people booked onto any flights to share the cost with. So we did the next best thing and got into the festival spirit, treating ourselves to some lobster, beer and cocktails.
We had no plans for the next few days, so we spent our time at the beach and laying in the hammocks at Yuma’s House. And, we couldn’t resist indulging in a little more lobster along with a 2 for 1 cocktail!
The island was small with no cars. It was nice to stroll around the streets before the heat of the day saw us retreat to shaded areas. We decided to snorkelling the reefs one last time for our final day on Caye Caulker. Speaking to the Reef Friendly Tour team, we decided on a shorter snorkel trip to the Caye Caulker Reef. Again there was no shortage of rays and nurse sharks.
After spending a while in one place, we moved on to a different part of the reef. We jumped in the water and were following our guide. After several minutes, I turned around for no particular reason and right there was a manatee!
Being an area with minimal seagrass, it must have just been passing through and swam past fairly quickly. When we got out of the water, our guide told us he hadn’t seen a manatee in that area in over a year. So we guess we got lucky or, the manatee got a little off track! Haha.
We really enjoyed our time on Caye Caulker, the reef and marine life really were stunning. The lobster festival was interesting, but it meant that the island was packed, noisy and polluted. We personally would have preferred have been there outside of that period.
We planned our stay on the island so it coincided with one of the 3x weekly ferries departing to Chetemal. The next part of our travels was Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, starting in Bacalar.
- We took a 5am local bus (coach) from Flores to Belize City
- The bus left a few minutes early, so be waiting well before departure time.
- There was A/C on the bus and it was freezing. Take a jacket!
- We reached the border at 6.45 am
- The border crossing took a total of 2 hours. This would take longer later in the day. The queues were huge and staff moved slow!
- It then took 3hrs to reach Belize City. The bus terminated at the Marina
Caye Caulker is a small island with no cars. The best way to get around is by foot or by bicycle.
- Yuma’s House was our pick. Located right on the coast, this place had nice bright, clean rooms with a fan, self-catering facilities and hammocks. Great place for anyone not looking to party. Dorms and private rooms available.
Eating & drinking
- For those on a budget, there are small shops selling basic supplies on the island. Fruit and veg was limited. They sell cheap beers as well. Self-catering can save you money, depending on what you want to cook
- There are bakeries and local food stalls dotted around the island, with cheap options, but may have limited opening times/days
- There are plenty of nice bars/restaurants by the beach, a more expensive option
Caye Caulker Reef Friendly Tours: These guys were the most eco-friendly company we could find. They DON’T feed or touch the marine life as most other companies do. They also used lower fuel consuming engines on their boats. If you’re planning on snorkelling the reefs of Caye Caulker we definitely recommend them.
- Half-day snorkelling trip Hol Chan Marine Reserve:
- Time: 8.30am-1.30pm
- Includes park entrance fees & taxes, 5 stops, all snorkel gear, fruit and water
- 2-3 hour snorkel trip to Caye Caulker Reserve
- Time: 10.30am-12.30 pm or 2pm-5 pm
- Includes park entrance fees & taxes, several stops, all snorkel gear, fruit and water
- For both of the above, you will need to take reef-friendly sunscreen, swimwear, towel, sunnies and hat. A waterproof bag is also a good option
The official currency in Belize is Belizean dollars (BZD), which is pegged 2 BZD to 1USD. USD is accepted everywhere. It’s important to have enough cash with you for your entire stay on Caye Caulker. This includes money for onward ferries and border fees (EG: if travelling directly by ferry to Mexico). There are ATM’s in Belize city near the ferry terminals or a short walk from there. There are ATM’s on Cay Caulker, however, they are unreliable and weren’t working during our stay