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Splashes erupted from the side of the sailboat. Giant brown sharks thrashed out of the water, surrounded by silvery tuna, each of them vying for the fish bits thrown on the surface of our daredevil crew.
Sharks. Sharks were waiting for us. And it was time to dive in and swim among them.
Snorkeling with Sharks
The single best activity I did in Caye Caulker was a one-day snorkeling trip with Ragamuffin Tours, who offered me a complimentary trip. (Note from September 2023: Unfortunately, Raggamuffin Tours has since closed permanently.)
If you’re a longtime reader, you might remember that I have a big fear of fish. Touching fish while I swim, to be exact. It goes back to my summers camping in New Hampshire, shrieking when the little minnows swam too close to me.
And because of that, I’ve mostly steered clear of swimming with sea creatures. I snorkeled for about five minutes in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, then got scared when I saw a school of big black fish hanging out by the ocean floor.
But Koh Phi Phi was nothing compared to what lies off the coast of Belize. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Belize Barrier Reef is a short boat ride from Caye Caulker and is home to some of the best underwater life in the Americas.
A Day on the Water
There are lots of different companies in Caye Caulker offering one-day snorkel trips. Raggamuffin Tours is known for being one of the most expensive but higher quality companies, and I was very pleased with the itinerary, crew, food, and equipment, just as I was on my three-day overnight sailing trip with Raggamuffin.
Departing on the Ragga King sailboat, we spent the first hour sailing to the reef as we passed beautiful islands.
And soon it was time to jump in the toasty Caribbean Sea.
This trip was the first time I ever used my GoPro Hero 3+ Silver for underwater photography and, to be honest, it was a bit of a learning curve. I recommend playing around with your GoPro before doing something as cool as this!
I also learned the hard way that it’s impossible to look attractive with a snorkel in your mouth. If you’re doing underwater selfies, trust me, remove the snorkel!
Our first excursion was at Coral Gardens, filled with a variety of colorful fish.
To my surprise, our captain was also our snorkeling guide! Captain Rob jumped in the water and led us on an underwater route, pointing out all the pretty fish and unusual species.
And it wasn’t scary. The fish were far away enough that I could observe them without worrying that they were going to eat me. I swam gently, fascinated by what lay before me.
And then Erisa and I spent the rest of the time taking glamour shots.
Our second snorkel stop was the most famous (and scary) one of all: Shark Ray Alley. Here is where you’ll find plenty of nurse sharks holding court alongside giant stingrays.
This was our first view, after the crew tossed fish bits into the water:
And this was my reaction:
But I couldn’t sit this one out. It was time to jump in and swim with the sharks, the stingrays, and their best buddies, the giant tuna.
If they could do it, I could do it.
I jumped in. And promptly screamed.
To be completely honest, the tuna were far scarier than the sharks and rays. (And that’s even while thinking of Steve Irwin the whole time.) They had such a ferocious look to them.
I screamed quite a bit on this excursion, I’m afraid to say.
But soon I learned that the tuna were so adept in the water, far more adept than a human ever could be, they wouldn’t touch you at all. If you kept your head above the surface, you’d have no clue they were even there.
I swam around the sharks and tuna, trying to keep my distance.
And by doing so, I got my favorite underwater photo of all time:
I don’t know who that girl is, but the fish is definitely saying, “Dat ass! Dat ass, tho!”
Soon it was time to climb back on board, have a delicious seafood lunch, and sail to our third and final destination: Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Hol Chan is a small channel within the Belize Barrier Reef. This place is home to a large display of marine wildlife and it’s one of the most diverse places you can find close to Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye.
We had a similar experience to Coral Gardens, following Captain Rob around and marveling at a few sharks that hung out on their own, but the highlight for me was definitely hanging out with this cool-ass turtle! I could have swum with him all day.
On the way back, out came the rum punch and the reggae got cranked up. Our sailboat turned into a party! We capped it off by sailing through the Split, waving to everyone hanging out at the Lazy Lizard.
This trip was so much fun and I was surprised at how much I fell in love with snorkeling! It laid the groundwork for enjoying three more days of sailing on my three-day Belize cruise and I know I’m going to seek it out in the future.
Essential Info: The one-day snorkeling trip from Raggamuffin Tours visits three sites: Coral Gardens, Shark Ray Alley, and Hol Chan. Lunch is included. The tour lasts all day and costs $70 USD.
It’s so easy to burn badly while snorkeling. I rarely burn, but my back got singed on this trip, even with high-factor sunscreen. Wear strong sunscreen and reapply it a few times throughout the day. If you’re fair-skinned, I recommend wearing a t-shirt while swimming.
For more information about Caye Caulker, see this post I wrote about the island.
Many thanks to Raggamuffin Tours for offering me a complimentary one-day snorkel trip. All opinions, as always, are my own.