Snorkeling in Belize

Underwater wildlife in Caye Caulker, Belize. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Caye Caulker

Like Ambergris Caye to its north, Caye Caulker serves as a popular access point for Belize's spectacular reef, the second longest in the world. Located 21 miles northeast of Belize City, Caye Caulker may be reached from Belize City by a ten-minute flight or a 45-minute boat ride. With a population of only about 1,300, Caye Caulker is even more laid-back than Ambergris Caye.

As on Ambergris, Caye Caulker's mask and fin enthusiasts also head to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, known for its turtles, groupers, moray eels and giant barrel sponges; and to Shark-Ray Alley for a swim with nurse sharks and stingrays. View manatees at the Swallow Caye Manatee Reserve, an outing often combined with snorkeling off tiny Goff's or Sergeant's cayes.

From Caye Caulker, divers and snorkelers also head south to explore Belize's three major atolls—Turneffe Atoll, Lighthouse Reef, and Glover's Reef, each at least a two- to three-hour boat ride from Caye Caulker. The atolls, necklaces of coral, encircle a relatively shallow lagoon. Because of the long boat trips required, they're best explored by families with enthusiastic teenage divers not prone to seasickness.

Turneffe, 30 miles long and ten miles wide, is the largest of the atolls outside the reef. Snorkelers head to the grassy flats, popular feeding grounds for manatees, and to the channels in the shallow lagoon to spot schools of rainbow-colored fish. Divers like Turneffe's many wall-dives. At Elbow, the most popular site, look for large open-ocean creatures such as hawksbill turtles, eagle rays, and even hammerhead sharks. Three anchors amid the coral draw schooling fish to Triple Anchors on the atoll's west.

Lighthouse Atoll contains the well-known Blue Hole, a 410-foot-deep sinkhole made famous by Jacques Cousteau in a 1970's documentary film. Originally a cave with a collapsed roof, the site features awe-inspiring 30- to 40-foot-tall stalactites. At the hole's outer edges, snorkelers can see colorful sponges, coral, and sea fans. Some outfitters combine a trip to Lighthouse with a dive at Half-Moon Wall and a stop at the Half Moon Caye National Monument Reservation to view the red-footed booby rookery.

Glover's Reef, less visited than the other two atolls, has six cayes on its southeast, with a total of 750 coral gardens. View spectacular large coral and brightly-colored sponges as well as schools of jacks, spadefish, and snappers. Outside the atoll, divers can explore shipwrecks and walls.

Like Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker has few beaches. The best is the Split, but even here be careful of the boats and the strong currents.

Tip: To eliminate some of the long boat rides, consider spending a few days on a live-aboard dive boat.

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