We had chosen Caye Caulker as our first stop on our seven-month backpacker honeymoon with relaxation in mind as the main objective. Sleep, eat, read, swim, repeat. However, within our first few hours on the island we were sucked in by the hoards of salesmen trying to book sailing and snorkeling tours to every passing tourist.
Promising a fun day under the shining Belizean sun, we had visions of swimming with stingrays and sharks beneath the stunning waters of the Caribbean and soaking up the sun alongside like-minded travelers. How could we pass up a day with the rays?
Choosing a Tour Operator
We decided to book with Ragamuffin tours, mostly because they are highly rated online and we were too lazy to figure out if somewhere else would be better. At 10 am we boarded the Ragga King with our Captain “Mistah” Robb and our snorkel and ceviche expert, Elio.
The sky was blanketed with grey, ominous looking clouds, but we were all optimistic that the obviously forthcoming storm would be short and sweet and leave us to enjoy our envisioned day under the sparkling sun. We were so, so wrong. It rained FOR HOURS. One would assume that rain in the tropics would be warm, or at least warm-ish. No. Nope. Definitely not. IT WAS FREEZING.
To top off what was an already bummer weather situation, Logan and I had chosen to sit on a bench in the very back of the boat, which happened to be the only spot completely open to the elements. Since most people are creatures of habit, we ended up sticking to our original seats all day and between each snorkeling stop Logan and I sat shivering in the pouring rain while the rest of our tour sat comfortable(ish) inside the boat.
However, despite the crappy weather, we had an absolutely wonderful time snorkeling.
Our first stop was Ray Bay where we swam with gigantic stingrays, nurse sharks and a half blind sea turtle over an ocean floor literally covered in conch shells. The water was only about 5 feet deep so we had to stay horizontal to avoid kicking up sand, which would be bad for snorkeling visibility and even worse for the animals whose home we were visiting. Some of the rays were close to four feet across and due to the shallow water we were able to get very up close and personal with the amazing creatures that were gliding along the sea floor. After putting around Ray Bay for about 40 minutes we dragged ourselves back on to the chilly boat and made our way to our second snorkeling spot.
The next stop was Shark Alley and by the time we arrived everyone was dreading jumping back into to water. No one had prepared for the less than tropical weather and we were all huddled against each other, feeling sorry for ourselves and our decision to book a tour for what felt like the worst possible day in the history of travel (just a TAD dramatic..). But then we discovered something that changed the collective outlook on the whole day: the Caribbean is WARM, and when the air is COLD and the water is WARM, the water is the best place to be. Duh. So in we went to swim amongst nurse sharks and their playful rivals, the spotted rays.
Some people were given the chance to feed the nurse sharks and those travelers with the foresight to buy a waterproof camera (which does not include these two fools) got super cool pictures of themselves touching the ferocious beasts. Nurse sharks are, in fact, not dangerous at all, hence why tour companies let silly tourists get their pictures taken with their hands inside a shark’s mouth.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The final stop was the famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve and as soon as we dropped anchor (or whatever the boating term I am looking for is) we jumped overboard into the warm, watery embrace of the Caribbean.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve was the best (and longest) stop of the day and along with the most beautiful coral I have seen we got to swim with a moray eel, tuna, turtles and sharks. A few of our fellow tour members with the adequate lung capacity required dove deep down and swam through underwater tunnels. I was still mastering the art of diving beneath the surface without choking on water coming up into my snorkel. Needless to say, I did not join them.
As we began the trip back to the island the weather gods finally smiled upon us. The rain stopped, the sun came out, and Captain “Mistah” Robb mixed together a five-gallon bucket of rum punch to share amongst the 16 hardy souls who spent the day alternating between sheer snorkeling joy and utter rain-that-would-not-go-away annoyance. The 1.5 hour sail back to Caye Caulker was filled with rum-punch-induced laughter, chatter, and storytelling, accompanied by fresh, delicious ceviche.
Ending Our Day
Our bi-polar day of snorkeling ended on a high back on the island where we feasted on creole style snapper at the TINY “restaurant” Fran’s Grill (really just a grill and some tables set up along the main drag) where we drank rum punch (obviously), watched the sunset, and sat talking to people from all over the world.
Long term travel has really taught us that expectations can lead to disappointment. The sunny, warm day I was expecting when we forked over $140 for a day of snorkeling became a rainy, bleak day where I spent hours feeling sorry for myself and regretting having spent that much money.
But you know what? In the end, the snorkeling was fantastic despite the rain and while it would have been nice for my expectations to have been met, our day spent huddled in the rain makes for a much better story, and arguably a better memory.
Dollars and Sense
All day snorkeling with Ragamuffin Tours (lunch and rum punch included)- $70 per person
TIP: Don’t let potentially crappy weather keep you from going out on the water! Yes, we were wet and COLD, but we were wet anyway from the whole swimming with stingrays thing and after hanging out in the freezing rain the water seriously felt like bath water. And the snorkeling was truly amazing!
TIP: BRING A WATERPROOF CAMERA TO CENTRAL AMERICA!!! We regretted not doing so constantly during our 9-week trip.