Caye Caulker already has a number of serious reputations: The party island of Belize, Lobster Fest champion and the best rum punch in Central America. It can also add snorkelling to its street cred. A short boat ride from the island is Hol Chan Marine Reserve, an underwater city under the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. It is lined with beautiful corals, untouched and protected so it offers a completely natural environment. Its residents are families of sea turtles, schools of fish, manta rays, eels and a whole plethora of other marine life just waiting to share the water with you.
We set off from Caye Caulker on the ‘Ragga King’ one of the Raggamuffin Tours fleet. If you’re wanting a day filled with sun, sea and good times then this is the group to travel with. They have no control over the sun but they will guarantee the party atmosphere and make sure you get the absolute most out of what the Hol Chan reserve has to offer. We approach our first stop, here our captain tells us about the reef and its inhabitants. We are not allowed to touch the animals or the coral. The outstanding natural unspoiled beauty of the reserve is down to people like the Raggamuffin tour group. They are compellingly passionate about keeping the reserve damage free, as it should be. Once we were in the water we followed our guides around the nearby area. We saw nurse sharks and manta rays just a few feet from us and they seemed completely at home in their natural environment. The surrounding coral burst with colour and was perfectly formed, not damaged by the passing of a sailboat or the kick of a flipper. First time snorkelers don’t worry – your captains are there to encourage and help you every stroke of the way. There are lifejackets if you don’t feel comfortable.
Next, we moved onto the second of the three stops on the trip. This was the best as it was the actual Hol Chan reserve. When we arrived, there were other boats with a host of snorkel groups. Our group split up into two teams and set off around the reserve in opposite directions. The clear waters surrounding Belize give you an incredible view of the metropolis that lies underneath the waves. A whole eco system of wildlife going about their daily business. It’s hard to focus on one particular area, as one second you see a giant mantra ray skimming the sea floor. Then a group of fish swim directly beneath you, followed by a gentle nurse shark swimming a few feet in front of you. Our captain would dive under the water and point out different fish species so we didn’t miss out on seeing a lot of wildlife. We continued to swim through the reserve, the water got shallower and shallower until we got to the coral garden. Here you had to swim very gentle strokes because the coral was only a few feet below you, and the last thing you wanted to do was harm it in anyway. The coral was so vibrant in colour, and the patterns made it look like you were floating above the surface of another planet. The fish were just as colourful. The best views of the day were a massive green eel, and a baby sea turtle that hurried back to its mum when it saw our ugly faces swimming towards it.
Only a few members of the group snorkelled at the third stop – myself included. This was a lot quieter than the other stops and we saw a few more tropical fish. I’m glad I went to this one because I saw a pufferfish! Once we were all back on the boat it was time for the famous Raggamuffin rum punch. We were warned at how strong it was, but after a couple of drinks we didn’t care and we were all dancing on the deck to the music. The best way to finish an unforgettable day!
Run punch aside it’s incredibly clear how much the team at Raggamuffin care about their work on the reserve. They made sure each and every one of us respected the reef and the wildlife that inhabit it. We saw how much they care for it, and how far their work goes to keeping the reserve as natural as possible. I personally left with a new found appreciation for how beautiful the world can be if we look after it and leave it unpolluted.
I write this post wishing everyone in Belize, particularly those in Caye Caulker safety as the country is hit by Hurricane Earl. Many have been left without homes and I hope the island can recover quickly.