Located four miles south from the shores of Ambergris Caye, Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the most visited snorkeling and diving area in Belize. Part of the Belize Barrier Reef, the reserve covers approximately three square miles and is divided into various zones according to marine habitat. The most popular zone is called Hol Chan or “small channel” in Maya -- a 30-foot deep “cut” in the reef where all sorts of marine life have now gathered in one area, making it one giant aquarium. The channel has beautiful live corals and an abundant variety of fish that includes angelfish, turtles, nurse sharks, hog fish, snappers and many other species.
The second most popular zone of the reserve is Shark Ray Alley, a shallower area where nurse sharks and stingrays are plentiful. Grass beds and mangrove areas make up the other zones of the reserve and require a more personalized expert guide -- and while less visited, these areas provide for unique spotting opportunities, including manatees. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is constantly patrolled and visitors are obligated by law to observe its rules, such as no touching or standing on corals. The reserve has an informative and worthwhile Visitors’ Center in town with clear displays of the various marine habitats in Belize.
Home of the motto "Go slow," Caye Caulker is a prime Caribbean island with a relaxed atmosphere, beautiful ocean and excellent oceanfront restaurants and bars that make it one of the best places to visit in Belize.
In addition to lounging on the docks, the most popular Caye Caulker activities are snorkeling and diving. Explore the beautiful reefs either independently or with one of the many excellent tour groups. Most tour companies offer both half-day and full-day snorkeling tours, highlighting the Coral Garden, Shark and Ray Alley and the local reef.
Another way to get to know the local sea creatures of Caye Caulker is by visiting the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, an incredible manatee reserve. If you'd rather spend time on the water instead of in the water, look into renting a sea kayak and get incredible views of the coastline as well as the mangrove forest. The forest reserve covers about 100 acres of the island and is perfect for bird-watchers.
The easiest way to get to Caye Caulker is by water taxi out of Belize City. The ride takes about 45 minutes and then continues on to San Pedro. Taxis leave daily very frequently, and round-trip tickets are available. As for getting around Caye Caulker, walking is the way to go. There are only three streets on the island: Front Street, Middle Street and Back Street, Front Street being the main street for restaurants and other businesses. Very few cars are allowed on the island, but you can rent a golf cart or a bicycle to get around.
Part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley is a zone where an impressive multitude of magnificent stingrays with four-foot wingspans and six-foot nurse sharks congregate every day. As fishermen came to this area of the reef to clean out their catch over the years, nurse sharks and stingrays eventually began to gather regularly in search of the boats and their daily treats. The thrill is to swim in waters surrounded by these beautiful creatures. Shark Ray Alley is often best combined in a snorkel tour of Hol Chan and the Coral Gardens.