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Catamaran Snorkeling at Ambergris Caye

Posted by Valeria Espinoza on May 11, 2011 8:13:43 AM
Valeria Espinoza


Seaduced Catamaran Deck - Hol Chan Snorkeling Trip
Seaduced Catamaran Snorkeling Trip to Hol Chan

Our favorite pastime on Ambergris Caye is a combined catamaran and snorkeling day trip. I explained why in the last post.   Now it’s time to tell you about the two different catamaran snorkeling trips we took during April of 2011. First, let me point out that the water temperature of the Caribbean Sea, here by Ambergris Caye, reaches 84 degrees Fahrenheit! So you can comfortably snorkel for more than an hour…

Snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve with Seaduced

Our first snorkeling trip included Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark-Ray Alley, with a side trip to Caye Caulker for lunch. We sailed on one of Seaduced’s catamarans. There were about 20 snorkelers on this trip. It was a much larger group than we are used to. But the classy cat was roomy enough to accommodate all.

The second trip was up to the north side of Ambergris Caye, to Mexico Rocks. We snorkeled at the rocks, stopped for lunch at Mata Chica, and then stopped for a final snorkel trip on our way back. This trip was on a much smaller cat, the El Gato.  That trip was a totally different experience. We enjoyed both, for different reasons.

A trip to Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a must for anyone who enjoys swimming in a protected, diverse underwater ocean environment. It’s like jumping into a well stocked, real world Caribbean aquarium! Hol Chan is on the south side of Ambergris Caye - on a major cut (in the reef). Since it’s protected, you’ll find diverse fish, large and small, coming and going - swimming through the cut.  The underwater view is expansive, as you look across the cut, out towards the depths of the sea…

On our recent trip we spotted a sea turtle, large groupers, barracuda and several eagle rays swimming within a few feet of us… These types of sightings are exciting if you’ve never before viewed these creatures within their own aquatic environment.  It’s clear that the sea life is protected, since they aren’t bothered by your presence.  I followed a young Hawksbill turtle for several minutes. He just went about his business, not at all fearful. Of course, there is a strict rules – “Do Not Touch Anything”!

Just be aware that Hol Chan can become crowded during the high season. So the snorkel guides must keep their members in a tight group.  And they adhere to a tight schedule. Given the number of boats at Hol Chan, they are justifiably concerned about losing someone to another group. So you don’t often have the luxury of wandering from the group. And the current across the cut is relatively strong at times. So good fins are a must when snorkeling at Hol Chan.

Shark-Ray Alley

We headed to Shark-Ray Alley for our next snorkeling stop. This is a sandy bottomed area where nurse sharks and sting rays hang out, expecting to be fed. Keep in mind that nurse sharks are filter feeders. They do not bite. So it is safe to swim with them. The sting rays swim about on the sea bottom.  I’ve taken this trip many times and am not at all worried about getting hurt. It’s fun to see so many fish gather around the boat, waiting for their fair share of fresh chum.

Our day trip to Hol Chan was with Seaduced.  This reputable company offers diverse day trips both around Ambergris Caye, and to the mainland. Their catamaran was spacious and comfortable, with a nice deck and sitting areas.  The trampoline is smaller than the ones on El Gato’s boats. But there was a well covered sitting area, a nice kitchen below, and both a men’s and women’s head/restroom, below deck. This cat is perfect if you want to experience sailing and snorkeling, but need to stay out of the sun as much as possible. Learn more about Seaduced’s trips… http://seaducedbybelize.com/.

A Side Trip to Caye Caulker


Lazy Lizard at Caye Caulker Lazy Lizard at Caye Caulker

After both snorkel stops, the boat sailed on to Caye Caulker. We disembarked for a few hours, for lunch at a local restaurant and to tour the town. Caye Caulker is a cute, sleepy little town, frequented mainly by backpackers. This was a great way to see it, as you can cover the entire island on foot within an hour.  You may decide you want to return another day, via water taxi, to hang out on the beaches or around town.

Mexico Rocks with El Gato

This second trip was to the north side of Ambergris Caye, to Mexico Rocks. This time we sailed with El Gato.  They have two catamarans. Since we had a group of four, they brought the smaller boat. We were so pleased to have the cozy cat all to ourselves. That meant we’d be able to snorkel as long as we liked, in a very relaxed setting. And the trip started perfectly, with dolphins swimming by within the first 30 minutes of our trip… We snorkeled at the rocks, stopped for lunch at Mata Chica, and then stopped for a final snorkel trip on our way back. This trip was a totally different experience. We enjoyed both catamaran trips, but for different reasons.


Snorkeling off the El Gato Snorkeling off the El Gato

We had not been up to Mexico Rocks for a year. This is a lovely spot, located within the calm area of the reef.  It’s never crowded.  The water is both clear and calm. Since we had a small group, we were able to snorkel for 75 minutes!

Mexico Rocks is the perfect spot for the inexperienced snorkeler who’s nervous about swimming offshore. The water in this area is relatively shallow. There is more coral here than at Hol Chan, very close to the surface.  The fish are small, but vibrantly colorful. You won’t see many large fish here. Mexico Rocks covers an expansive area. It’s spread out, with coral head outcroppings in a variety of areas.  Fortunately, many floating buoys have been added within the last year. They help guide you around the area’s limits.

Some of the coral has deteriorated due to past hurricanes, and the increased water temperatures resulting from global warming.  But there are still a surprising number of small fish, coral and reef creatures. If you take your time and slowly cover the expansive area, you’ll find many small, vibrantly colored fish and reef creatures. As soon as I jumped in the water, within the first ten minutes I sighted one of my favorites. It was an orange spotted filefish with the distinctive frontal horn. We also spotted gray angelfish, butterfly fish, queen angelfish, spadefish, blue tangs, squirrelfish, and many stoplight parrotfish.  My good friend Janice, who is an expert at identifying marine life, was pleased. She readily found a number of delicate, spotted flamingo tongues, clinging to the gorgonians or sea grass. This is a sign of improving ecosystem health!

A Side Trip at Mata Chica for Lunch

We enjoy stopping at one of the posh north end restaurants for a leisurely lunch. But Geraldo will make you a fresh fish lunch if you plan it ahead.  First we stopped at Rojo Lounge.  Although open, they had a limited bar menu, unfortunately.  (We have tried several times to eat at Rojo Lounge. But they were closed during the high season…  So, be sure to call ahead if you plan to drop in there for a meal.)  So we headed to our standby choice, Mata Chica. This lovely resort, where Temptation Island was filmed, is worth a trip. The restaurant is always open, and the drinks and food are delicious.

Extra Snorkel Spot – Near the Grand Baymen Beach!

For our last snorkel stop, we anchored offshore from the Grand Baymen property (at the Exotic Caye Beach Resort). I had never snorkeled in this area, so close to where we live. There’s quite a bit of boat traffic in this area. And there is also another reef cut in the area. So I was pleasantly surprised to find schools of snapper, jacks and grunt hanging out at the bottom of the sea. We could easily see a sunken boat, and some small coral outcroppings.

It was a real treat to find so many fish hanging out so close to the Grand Baymen beach property! There are some tradeoffs to the smaller cat. Although intimate, it has no covered area, or full head. But the trampoline is a good size and very comfy for lounging. And Geraldo and his crew are always fun, personable hosts. They also make the best rum punch! Be sure to try one of these trips when you visit Ambergris Caye. Unless you are prone to sea sickness, you will not forget the experience.

Topics: Activities at Grand Baymen

Valeria Espinoza

Written by Valeria Espinoza