One of our day-long adventures from Belize’s Caye Caulker was a snorkel trip through Caveman Snorkeling tours.
I had never been on a guided snorkeling tour before, and I ended up completely amazed at all of the different species of animals, corals, etc. we encountered. The weather was perfect, the water was clear and blue, our guides were fun and knowledgeable, and it was an overall excellent experience.
Disclaimer: issue we encountered with Caveman Tours
There are lots of tour companies to chose from, and Caveman Tours had good reviews. While the overall experience was great, we had a bit of an issue with the company before our tour started.
I made the reservation online in advance and noted that while they prefer to be paid in cash, they happily accept credit cards. When we arrived on-site, we were told their internet was acting up/they had spotty service and couldn’t run cards. People were having to walk across town to the sole ATM on the island to pull out cash, and we had to return to our hotel to see what we had on hand.
Had this simply been a matter of inconvenience, I wouldn’t be mentioning it. However, as we sat waiting for our tour to begin, we noticed that when people who booked private tours arrived, the machines worked just fine – no mention of connectivity issues. The machines only went out when people on the group tours – like us – arrived. Conveniently, this pattern held with every single person who checked in.
Brian went back up to the staff member who was handling the payments as she was wrapping up with one of the private group patrons who had JUST paid with his card and asked them to please run our card and refund our cash now that their card reader was working. They claimed it had just gone out of service again. There was some back-and-forth, ‘caveman’ himself got involved, Brian remained persistent, and they finally ran our card and returned our cash (although they tried to refund us in Belizean currency when we had just paid in USD. Sigh).
I hate to imply that they were being less than honest about their technology challenges, but I found the pattern we witnessed questionable at best, and it just wasn’t the tone I had hoped for at the onset of what ended up being an incredible day. My disclaimer being: if you choose to use this tour company, please plan ahead for this payment situation – in all other respects you’ll have a wonderful time.
Full-Day Snorkel Tour from Caye Caulker
As I mentioned, our guides were wonderful and we had an awesome day on our group tour. We opted for the full-day tour, which departed at 10:30 a.m. and returned at 3:30 p.m. and included more than a handful of stops as well as lunch on board the boat. Before we got in the water, we took a boat ride to the Split to see a sea horse garden (they were hard to spot!) and take part in feeding the tarpon, which is a nerve-wracking and hilarious experience.
Our first stop was in the Chatos area. While our guides said it was really just an opportunity to practice using our gear, we ended up seeing wildlife right away.
While I really enjoyed floating over small nurse sharks, giant sting rays, and countless conch shells, the highlight for me was watching a large sea turtle eating and occasionally swimming to the surface for air.
One of our guides borrowed my camera and dove down next to the turtle to capture close-up video for me, featured below (Brian and I make a brief appearance at the end of the video as well, lol).
In addition to the wildlife, our stops were filled with a variety of coral that we could see incredibly well through the clear water. I was especially enamored with the purple sea fans and brain coral, both of which came in many sizes. The brain coral in particular can take several hundred years to form.
Our guide also pointed out the fire coral, pictured below. While its interesting mushroom shape may draw you in for a closer look, brushing your skin against this coral creates a painful burning sensation that will ruin your snorkel or diving trip!
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The main reason I chose the full-day snorkel trip was so we could experience Hol Chan Marine Reserve, which is too far away to be included in the half-day adventures. This three-square-mile marine reserve is the oldest in Belize and is densely populated with wildlife and includes areas of mangroves, the reef, sea-grass beds, and a stop I detail below called Shark Ray Alley.
The area around our boat was a bit shallow and we were able to see the coral and fish immediately below us, but during our 45-minute swim we approached the coral-lined gap in the reef where the water was deeper, giving us a different perspective on all of the wildlife below.
Our guide was able to hold his breath for over 3 minutes(!) and would free dive down to point things out to us. We saw tons of different fish at this stop as well as eel, rays, nurse sharks, and other coral. Brian made his own attempt at free diving and commented how quickly the water temperature and pressure changed and started to hurt his ears.
Shark Ray Alley
Shark Ray Alley was – believe it or not! – filled with nurse sharks, rays, and fish. It was a bit shallow here as well so we could get a really close look at the rays gliding along the sea floor below us.
Shipwreck / Sunken Barge
I was getting a bit tired by the time we reached the sunken barge – lots of sun and swimming was wiping me out! – so I tried to just float around the shipwreck, taking in the bright yellow and black striped fish and gobs of my beautiful purple sea fans.
The waves were much stronger here so my floating idea was a bit futile – we had to really swim against the current, and I was ready to climb back into the boat after this stop!
Although I was tired, I got really excited when our guides learned from another boat that there were manatee nearby. The sped us over to the spot, had us quickly return to the water, and we all swam as fast as we could toward two giant manatee that were slowly moving away from us.
At one point our guide grabbed my arm and physically hauled me through the water at top speed closer to the manatee so I could snap the one photo below. I couldn’t believe he was such a strong swimmer or that he could drag me around so effortlessly, and I was grateful for my one closer glimpse before they dove down and away.
Snorkel Concerns and How to Overcome
Our snorkel tour was a definite highlight of our time on Caye Caulker, and I would highly recommend you check it out, even if you’ve never snorkeled before.
Snorkel Novice. The guides are excellent and were very helpful showing us how to correctly use our equipment. We brought our own face masks and snorkels and used their fins, but all of the items were included in the price of the tour. While most people on our tour had snorkeled before, one person had never tried it and they helped him with everything.
Weak Swimmer. The guides will offer you life jackets for use throughout the day regardless of whether you’re a strong swimmer. I do consider myself to be a strong swimmer, and I used one anyway. I was so glad I did – it allowed me to relax, float, and focus on watching the wildlife instead of worrying about my fins (amateur snorkelers too often float upright, as you do when you’re treading water, with their fins dangling below them and damaging the coral).
Seasickness. I get seasick and was pretty concerned about not feeling well – which was sure to ruin the trip not only for me, but for everyone having to deal with my sickness. However, I took a non-drowsy medication right before we boarded our boat and ended up feeling fine despite all of the rocking on and off the ship. I even polished off all my beans and rice at lunch! I’ve tried many things for my seasickness in the past but the combination of time in the water, the open air, and the 25mg meclizine seemed to do the trick this time!
Enjoy your trip!
2 thoughts on “Belize: Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef”
Pingback: One Week in Belize Itinerary – Heather's Compass
Pingback: Belize: Why to Stay on Caye Caulker – Heather's Compass