The story of my most recent snorkeling excursion begins a long time ago somewhere in Belize. I think. It’s about a boy whose parents both die when he is six years old. He’s sent to live with a foster family who treat him like crap, prompting him to run away.
He lied his way onto a boat to Caye Caulker and lived IN A COCONUT TREE for six years. To survive, he sold coconuts and lived on mangoes. He tied himself into the tree at night to avoid falling out while sleeping. And I swear to God this is related.
Fast forward 30? 35? years (Caveman, how old are you? I forgot to ask!) and here I am writing about my snorkeling trip with Caveman Snorkeling Tours–owned and operated by, you guessed it, the kid from the coconut tree.
[Read the rest of Caveman’s story here. It gets even better!]
The snorkeling situation in Belize was a major reason I chose it as a destination this year. I wasn’t sure snorkeling in Belize could get any better than snorkeling in Hawaii but, with the world’s second largest barrier reef, that lame-ass thought was put to rest. I got head-butted by some sharks and a loggerhead turtle straight up bitch-slapped me for not being fast enough in my fins. We made six different snorkeling stops and a few surprise extras. Totally worth the raging butt cheek sunburn. And… yeah, as much as my husband wanted me to take a photo of that, I’ve spared you. You and I are close but there has to be some mystery left in our relationship.
[Check out my video at the end!]
SNORKELING IN BELIZE WITH CAVEMAN SNORKELING TOURS
So Caye Caulker is a tiny island of six square miles in the world’s second largest barrier reef. There are no cars, no air conditioning, no stress, but more snorkeling tour companies than a… small island in a barrier reef…? There’s just a lot.
I did a fair amount of research before deciding on Caveman Snorkeling Tours–a little more than I did choosing a coffee maker this week but a lot less than I did to find the right Converse shoelaces for my wedding. [The struggle was most definitely real. I went with pink.]
I chose Caveman Snorkeling Tours for the following reasons:
- Their obvious respect for the marine life and the environment above all else
- Their Tripadvisor reviews–I don’t think a negative thing has ever been said about Caveman Snorkeling.
- Tour options–They offered a tour that covered every single thing I wanted.
- Their website–It’s true; I’m a sucker for a well-designed website. Even when traveling to remote, sometimes off-the-grid locations, I prefer to plan ahead when possible.
- Did you hear the Caveman story?
YOU MIGHT LIKE: 3 Days in Caye Caulker, Belize // How Slow Can You Go?
CAVEMAN SNORKELING FULL DAY TOUR
I chose Caveman’s Full Day Tour which advertised five stops. WE GOT NINE. I love getting more than I bargained for. In my garden. At the roulette table. In my Cracker Jacks. (There’s like one freaking peanut now, ya feel?)
The package also included two guides, all necessary equipment (even though I brought my own like a snob), fresh fruit and water between snorkel stops, and a fabulous lunch aboard the boat. I had the tasty fish sandwich and cried about it the whole time.
1ST STOP: SURPRISE! IT’S A MANATEE!
Like a surprise Hello Kitty-themed birthday party this first snorkeling stop was completely unexpected, but awesome. Maybe that’s a bad metaphor since only one guest showed up. And he just kinda floated there… staring into space… “Hello?! Does this mean we’re best friends now? Are you even listening to me??”
Really though, Caveman Snorkeling offers a completely separate Manatee Watch Tour so we weren’t at all expecting to see these fat beasts on our trip. Our guides got word there was a traveling manatee in the area and took us right to it. I’ve seen many a manatee having lived (and kayaked) in Florida but to see them in the open ocean was another experience entirely. Now let’s open presents!
[You may like: My guide to Tampa Electric Company’s Manatee Viewing Center]
2ND STOP: SUNKEN BARGE
Snorkeling the sunken barge was a chance to see thousands of different types of fish and coral where there would otherwise just be seagrass. Rubbing elbows with a slew of new and interesting specimens you know nothing about? You mean, like a day at ComicCon? Yes, exactly like that.
“Aaaaand what are youuuu supposed to be?”
“Uhh, I’m Cultist Acolyte from Darkest Dungeon.”
3RD STOP: CHATO’S PLACE
Let me set the record straight: because I took this picture with a GoPro, this turtle looks a lot smaller than the 300 lb. behemoth it actually was. My friend thought this was a picture of a cute baby turtle not aquatic John Cena.
Our guides warned us there was a turtle at Chato’s Place that just straight up did. not. care. if you were in its way.
Him: “He WILL run you over.”
Me: “TURTLES! TURTLES! OMIGOD there’s gonna be turtles! SOMETHING ABOUT TURTLESSSS!”
Chato is a local fisherman who’s been coming to this spot for 40 years to clean his conch shells. The sea life, smart cookies they are, figured this out and return here every day to eat making this a freakin’ fantastic spot for snorkelers who want to be all up in the ocean action.
Chato’s Place is UTTER CHAOS. All warnings aside, I wildly underestimated the pandemonium I’d experience below the boat.
Not only will the turtle plow right into you, the thing swims in zigzag patterns back and forth across the ocean–you are a land-dwelling creature wearing snorkel flippers. YOU HAVE LOST ALL CONTROL. You are a fish out of water! Only… you’re in the water. And you’re not a fish! You’re something that doesn’t do well in water!
You’re in the way. You’re in everybody’s way. It’s a saltwater cyclone down there. A tuna tornado. The perfect storm of stingrays. Above water, the fishermen all scream things in a Jamaican accent you can’t understand but can assume from their hysteria that the ocean is on fire and we’re all doomed.
You can’t swim away because you can’t see. You’re surrounded. You just took a turtle flipper to the boob and there’s a fish in your face LAUGHING AT YOU. You kick other snorkelers trying to get out of the way and someone’s hand brushes your bare butt. It’s not your husband. THIS IS THE WEIRDEST SURPRISE PARTY EVER.
In short, Chato’s Place was ah-maze-ing. I crave a healthy amount of chaos in my life and Caveman delivered. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the aquatic anarchy. Or the flounder free-for-all. Or the turtle turmoil!
4TH STOP: HOL CHAN MARINE RESERVE
The visit to Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the meat of the Full Day Tour. It’s a guided 45-minute snorkel through the coral reef (yesssss you can wear a life jacket).
Our guide Rocky swam us through the reserve–carefully!–pointing out interesting corals with names like Brain, Lettuce, and Pencil, marine life, and stuff that can kill us and/or cause fiery, blinding pain. We are grateful for Rocky.
As a blogger, I apologize for the lack of pictures here. As a living, breathing human being who still retains 100% motor function, shut up. It was awesome in the most literal sense. We saw a trazillion fish and corals, moray eels (both spotted and green), sea turtles, more sharks and rays, a barracuda(!!!), and sea life legit riding a deep ocean current a la Finding Nemo.
Things to know about Hol Chan:
- Hol Chan is Mayan speak for “Little Channel.”
- The Belize barrier reef system is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- A park fee of $10 USD is required to snorkel Hol Chan but it’s included in your tour price.
- Forty-five minutes is a long time. If you’re not a great swimmer, or just lazy, wear a life jacket. No judgement!
- Don’t touch the fire coral! I think you know why.
- DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING actually.
- Hawksbill sea turtles are THE CUTEST.
5TH STOP: SHARK RAY ALLEY
Shark Ray Alley was the part of snorkeling in Belize I anticipated the most. I swam with wild dolphins and pilot whales in Hawaii but I needed something more dangerous. I needed the challenge of surviving a life-threatening encounter in an unfamiliar environment. I needed to face something with more teeth. MORE! TEETH! MORE! TEETH! MORE! TEETH!
But… these are nurse sharks. I’m working my way up, OK? However, their jaws are just as strong and they have just as many serrated teeth as the ones that want to kill you–probably the reason some snorkelers choose to stay on the boat.
Wimps! No judgement!
These are the friendly ones–for whatever reason. I’m taking that shark face-bump as a sign of affection, not that I was just in her way. His way? Do I assume all nurse sharks are female because of their name? Wow, that’s incredibly sexist of me. OF COURSE there are male nurse sharks. This is the ’90s!
6TH STOP: CORAL GARDENS
The Coral Gardens was our last snorkeling stop. We were free to roam as we pleased exploring the coral reef and NOT TOUCHING ANYTHING. There were sharks and squid and colorful fish. A massive barracuda swam right up to me showing off his huge chompers. MORE! TEETH! MORE! TEETH! MORE! TEETH!
7th STOP: LET’S LEARN ABOUT SEAHORSES!
As a bonus stop we were taken through the Split to the mangrove forest to search for seahorses. Our guide Ronnie found one and, without touching it, brought it back for us to see. He taught us about seahorses and the mangroves and how the male seahorses are the ones that give birth–probably the only thing you know about seahorses.
All the women aboard: “AWW yeah! That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout! UH-HUH. That’s right!” You would’ve thought Ronnie plucked a tiny shirtless David Beckham from the water. OK, that’s weird but still kind of hot.
8TH STOP: TARPONS
Tarpons are somewhat a protected fish in Belize. Near the seahorse mangroves they congregate to be fed by unsuspecting goobers like us.
It’s terrifying. It’s adrenaline-pumping. It’s something to write home about… if you walk away with all your fingers. Seriously, the anticipation is no less than lying in your bathtub covered in couch cushions waiting for the tornado to come and blow your house to pieces. The absolute stillness outside, knowing that at any moment a twister will drop down from the swirling black clouds, rip off your roof, and pluck you from your pantry clutching only a battery-powered AM/FM radio.
*Sigh* childhood memories…
9TH STOP: THIS ONE WAS FOR THE BIRDS
Similar to the tarpon feeding was the experience of feeding the frigate birds. Ronnie asked for a volunteer for an unspecified assignment. We can fast forward through the part where I never say ‘no’ to anything…
He told me to hold the fish in the air, tail up. Giant frigates swarmed and began dive-bombing to get the fish. It took a few tries and with each swooping pass my heart rate spiked. The squawking sounds you hear in the video below aren’t the birds. Those are my screams.
SNORKELING WITH CAVEMAN TOURS
All in all, our snorkeling trip with Caveman Snorkeling Tours was THE BEST DAY. Not only do they care so much about the environment, they went out of their way to make sure each and every passenger had an incredible time. They took regular motion sickness polls to make sure everyone was feeling alright and provided the smoothest ride possible for those with questionable stomachs. (Nobody yakked = win!)
They provided lunch and all the bottled water (that actually came in a bag) we wanted. Ronnie cut up fresh fruit for us in between snorkel stops.
Want to see all this information in action? Here’s my GoPro video! It includes a turtle collision and a soundtrack by a group called Sex Whales–100% the reason I chose it. It’s OK, you can click on that.
I HEART THE CAVEMAN STAFF
Our guides Rocky and Ronnie didn’t act merely as chaperones, but also educators (and comedians). I think everyone left the boat with a greater knowledge and appreciation of Belize’s local marine life. And maybe some heart palpitations. Maybe that was just me.
On our last day in Caye Caulker, we ran into Ronnie while we waited for the water taxi back to Belize City. It was his day off and he was taking a trip with his family. Seconds later he’s running out on the dock to help an elderly man who collapsed and uh… wasn’t doing that well. I don’t know what happened with that man on the island with two cemeteries and zero hospitals, but I do know that Ronnie rushed to the scene to help on his day off as his boat was about to pull away.
Having helped all he could, he bolted for the boat that carried his family and, before jumping on, stopped to shake our hands again and tell us what a pleasure it was to meet us. WHAT A GREAT DUDE.
And, Caveman, I can’t say enough good things about this humble man. He’ll tell you his story and his beliefs on karma and respect. He’ll call you his “sista from anada mista” and “ma friend.” Five minutes with him and you’ll feel like you’ve got a friend for life. Like you’ve just met the last truly genuine human being.
This is the kind of experience you’ll have snorkeling in Belize with Caveman Snorkeling Tours.
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SO many thanks to Caveman Snorkeling Tours for hosting me while on their beautiful island. I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with these fine folks. As always, all opinions are my own. Would I ever lead you astray?