07.-09.12.2011: Caulker Island - Belize Reef

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The main attraction in Belize is the second largest reef in the world (after Australia's Great Barrier Reef). There are two small Cayes for all the water-based fun. We chose the low budget island of Caye Caulker rather than the resort-conscious Ambergris Caye.

We were going to get a bus from the marina into Belize City but a passing motorist stopped and gave us a lift! The people here are really nice! The 50 minute water taxi ride ($17-50 US return per person) took us out and past a number of Cayes. We hunted around for rooms which didn't take too long because Caye Caulker is only about half a mile long!

We stayed at the Tropical Paradise and our room cost $30 per night. We walked around the island checking out the restaurants and tours. Our first stop was at a great bakery with super bread pudding! We also went up to the Split - so called because Hurricane Hattie split the island in 1961 - and a dog bit Helen's backside trying to get at our cinnamon rolls in the backpack!

It started pouring with rain!! Could spell disaster for a snorkelling trip. We dashed out in a break from the rain in the late afternoon and put our names down for a tour tomorrow but it would depend on the weather. We ate fish and chips at the Tropical Paradise restaurant because we didn't want to venture out too far in the rain.

The next morning we were woken up by the pouring rain at 6am! Oh no! We went to see Romeo to see if the tour was going to go and the answer was "maybe!" We went back at 10am and it was a go! We got kitted out with snorkelling gear and set off at 10-30am with ten of us on the boat.

It was very choppy and a rough ride out to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the most popular snorkelling destination in Belize. The words Hol Chan mean 'little channel' in the Maya language and therefore the location is a natural hang out spot for marine life. The reserve covers about five square miles and about nine miles North East of Caye Caulker. The channel is about 30 feet deep, and since no fishing is permitted in the reserve, it is rich with sea life of every description.

We spent 1.5 hours in the water and were fascinated by the colourful fish and coral reef. There were so many fish and we even saw sting rays, a green sea turtle, a moraine eel and the beautiful angel fish.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve

We went to San Pedro (as in the place referred to by Madonna in her song "La Isla Bonita") which is on Ambergris Caye. We went to a bakery for lunch and wandered around. It was far busier, more crowded, and probably a lot louder than Caye Caulker.

Back on the boat our next stop was Shark and Ray Alley. Locally known as the Aquarium, this spot is known as the shark and stingray city of Belize. It's a prime opportunity to swim with the harmless Nurse Sharks and Southern Stingrays which is exactly what we did! Romeo our guide fed them first to get them to the boat and then we went into the water. The sharks left very quickly but that was because with ten of us on the boat it took too long to get in. But they did come back later.

Our final stop was the Coral Gardens. The Belize Reef has such extraordinary clear water that looking through a diving mask brings you into a world of colour. The myriad hues of coral are rainbow like: pale pink, flashy reds, deep purples, flamboyant greens and a multitude of colours in between.

We saw needle fish and a barracuda and Kirsten carried on making good use of our new under water camera but Helen didn't stay in the water long because she was starting to shiver a lot - a sign that its time to get out of the water.

Shark Ray Alley and Coral Gardens

Romeo made us some fresh fruit - water melon,oranges, papaya, and pineapple and then we set off back. The weather had turned completely and the ride home was very smooth. It was a super day, a great tour and we bought a CD with Romeo's photos on.

We had enough time to get our things which we had left at the tour place (we had checked out of our room that morning) and then got onto the water taxi back to Belize City and a further taxi back to the marina. Quite an exhausting day.