Before arriving in Caye Caulker, we had next to no plans on our agenda. While there’s plenty to do on the island (a post of all that we got up to on Caye Caulker is coming up soon), we figured we’d just wing it. But there was one thing I knew for sure we’d have to fit in somewhere — a snorkeling trip to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
We’d originally planned to do the trip with the oft-hailed Ragamuffin Tours, but when we arrived to their beach front office we were met with pretty hilarious indifference. In their defense, it was Easter weekend. But when we tried to inquire about sunset cruises, we got a shrug and some hemming and hawing about whether they’d be running tours or not. What about day trips? Would there be one on either Saturday or Sunday? “Well,” the woman explained, exasperated at our stupidity in grasping very basic concepts, “if we made the staff work those days, they’d basically just be doing it because they had to.”
“Right,” Olivia replied. “Just like… all employment?” Luckily we found EZ Boy Tours, who was happily running tours all weekend.
Getting on the boat was a slog with a big holiday weekend crowd and a distinct display of island time attitudes. But once we were moving, we were thrilled with our choice to spend the day on the water. Our captain, however, quickly seemed displeased when he did a headcount. Someone, it turned out, had gotten on the wrong boat. Someone who had signed up for a manatee tour. The captain seemed annoyed and exasperated as he tried to determine how this mistake had happened, but finally threw his hands in the air but much to our amusement declared, “Okay. We are going to see a manatee.”
I’ve swum with manatees in the wild once before, but I was still skeptical it was actually going to happen for us here. But lo and behold, soon we were dropping anchor and receiving orders from an excitable guide to get in the water immediately and stare at some rocks. Until, the rocks started moving…
Holy cow! We actually found manatees, out in the ocean! Though we couldn’t get anywhere near close to them, it was an exhilarating experience watching these gentle creates on the go. We could have turned around right then and there and returned to land and I would have been happy.
Thanks, guy who got on the wrong boat!
Not that anything could have followed that, really, but the rest of the snorkel site wasn’t super impressive — at least not compared to what we’d seen in Hopkins.
Our next stop is the one that Caye Caulker is famous for — Shark Ray Alley. Here, wild nurse sharks and stingrays are attracted to the boat by the allure of squid flung over the side by the crew, much to the delight of the squealing tourists on the deck.
While some chose to stay onboard for this one, I couldn’t resist donning mask and fins to hop on in…
Tricky of a photography situation as this crowded and chum-filled scene was, it was a thrill to be up close and personal with the wild sharks and rays. I admit that in spite of knowing full well that nurse sharks are about as dangerous as my cocker spaniel, I shrieked into my snorkel a few times when one got too close!
Once the sharks were sated, we were back on the boat for a lunch of our own. We concluded that everything tastes better when you’re surrounded by turquoise waters.
Eventually, we were back in the water for one last snorkel stop, The Hol Chan Marine Reserve itself. At this point I had to coax a sunbathing Olivia back into the water, and I was glad I did — it was by far the best stop of the day. While the site was extremely crowded, I’m assuming in part due to the holiday weekend, the fish were still far more abundant than humans. And this time, our group was broken into two groups and led by a guide who pointed our various fish and marine life. I resisted the urge to loudly shout the name of each fish right before he said it, not because I didn’t want to be a smarty pants but more because I’ve seen Open Water far too many times to risk being left behind by a pissed-off captain.
We even saw a lone nurse shark — one who’d clearly missed the memo about Shark Ray Alley — swim by.
But the best was yet to come. Right as we were reaching back to the boat, I smiled at the familiar site of a plodding turtle, soaring slowly through the sea. We’d officially hit the snorkeling superfecta — manatee, shark, stingray, turtle.
On the way back to the island, our tourmates and we toasted to our good fortune as rum punches were handed all around. At $70, the day hadn’t been cheap, but it had been worth every penny. The staff at EZ Boy Tours was truly great. We did two tours with them, this one and a sunset cruise, and we were greeted back like family on the second. When I forgot something back at our rental as the tour was about to leave, one of the crew casually told me to grab his bike and borrow it to save time. And when we were leaving the boss asked me to rub his pregnant wife’s belly as local superstition says that getting a blue-eyed person to do so is what gives the baby azure eyes. Not sure it really works that way but I’m not a scientist so who knows. The point is, they made us feel like friends.
As we were watching the sun set back on Caye Caulker after our tour — still sipping the rum punches they’d poured us “for the road” — Olivia announced that she didn’t remember life before Belize. I laughed, but I got it. My family had only been there for nine days, but it was suddenly hard for me to imagine this trip before they’d arrived too. Even harder? Picturing it after Liv, the last to go, was gone. I didn’t want this trip to be over. But I do know it will live on — I’ll treasure these memories from Belize forever.
Next up, my final post from Belize —
everything else we got up to on Caye Caulker!
EZ Boy Tours did not pay or perk me to write this review — sponsored content will always be disclosed. All underwater photos in this post were taken with Canon PowerShot S100 and its Canon PowerShot S100 Underwater Housing. See a full list of my photography gear here.
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