Shark and Ray Alley- Belize
Join me as I spend the day exploring the gorgeous island of Caye Caulker, swimming with Nurse Sharks and Sting Rays and snorkeling the largest living reef in the world!
Hey, y'all! Belize has been my favorite country since I first laid eyes on her. She's a little rough around the edges but she is lovely! This marks my 6th trip to Belize. On the previous trips, I took a 2.5-hour bus ride to San Ignacio near the Guatemalan border. Here I've visited two Mayan ruins- Xunantunich and Cahal Pech-, I've gone cave tubing and gone zip lining through the jungle canopy. While all of these were truly memorable experiences, I have to admit I've been missing out by not exploring the coast.
During my most recent visit, I booked a trip to swim with sharks and stingrays near Caye Caulker (pronounced Key Corker by the locals). Caye Caulker got its name from the fact that many of the original explorers would get holes in their boats from the mangroves and reefs that surround the area. They would have to cork the holes to repair the vessel- hence the name Caye Caulker.
We took a scenic 45-minute boat ride from Belize City to Caye Caulker passing countless islands such as St. George Caye- where the British originally settled in 1650. Our boat took us to the Rainbow Bar & Grill where we were able to change. Afterward, we took a quick ten-minute boat ride to the Mesoamerican Reef- the second largest coral reef in the world. Although it is smaller than Australia's Great Barrier Reef, it is considered the largest living reef in the world.
Although Belize likes to lay claim to the reef, it actually stretches for nearly 700 miles from the northern tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula down through the Bay Islands of Honduras. My friends in Honduras are quick to remind you that the reef belongs to them just as much as it does to the Mexicans and Guatemalans.
We spent some time snorkeling the reef. Our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out many different coral formations, several different species of fish and many other things such as stingrays and a green moray eel. We got to see a ton of angel fish, parrot fish, a puffer fish and we even saw an intimidating barracuda that was longer than my arm!
Next, we hopped back on the boat for about five minutes and made a pit stop at Shark and Ray Alley just south of the Hol Chan Cut and Ambergris Caye. For years, fishermen would clean their catches in this location. Soon, they found the remnants from their catches was attracting Nurse Sharks and Southern Sting Rays. Over the years, the sharks and rays have become very accustomed to having people around. Now, whenever they hear the purr of an engine, they surround the boat to vie for some scraps.
I've been swimming with stingrays before, in Grand Cayman, and I've swum with sharks before- but never quite like this! We were surrounded by more than a dozen Nurse Sharks and just as many stingrays! There was no time to get intimidated! Within minutes we were in the water. Believe it or not, without a snorkel mask on, you'd never know you were surrounded by the sharks and rays...at least not until they grazed up against you!
The sharks and rays were harmless and actually seemed to like the attention. It was such an awesome experience!
Afterward, we returned to Caye Caulker for lunch at Barefoot Caribe's. The island was full of vibrant colored buildings. It looked very much like your typical Central American or Caribbean beach town. The sand covered roads were lined with palms, bungalows, shops, and bars. There were no cars on the island- just bicycles and golf carts. The overall experience was unlike anything I had ever seen in the rest of Belize. The remainder of the country is blanketed in vibrant green jungles, rolling hills, and homes that are in various stages of disrepair. It was almost like being in an entirely different country altogether!
After a day full of swimming, snorkeling, boating and drinking rum punch and my favorite Belkin beer, it was time to head back to Belize City. Our captain took us through "The Split" and told us how in 1961 Hurricane Hattie cut Caye Caulker in two. Just past The Split, the captain surprised us with a side trip to a cove full of tarpon. The crew passed around sardines to everyone and showed us how to properly feed the massive fish (we're talking over 100 pounds!). The fish leaped out of the water to catch their afternoon snack. It was a great way to end the day!
Caye Caulker and the coast made me fall even more in love with Belize. I am so glad that I switched things up and went north. I will most definitely be back to check out more of what the coast has to offer. Ambergris Caye...I'm coming for you!