A 190-mile long section of the second largest reef system in the world, the Belize Barrier Reef includes 7 marine reserves, 350 cayes and 3 atolls. Located in the Caribbean Sea and declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 due to the unique array of pristine natural habitats. The diversity of life is abundant from the moment you look below the surface.
There are many cayes in the Caribbean Sea surrounding Belize. Caye pronounced 'key' is a small island typically formed in the presence of coral reefs. Currents, winds, and storms move sand, coral, and other bits of sea matter that eventually settle, building a shelf. Over time, a tiny island or caye emerges from the depths. Plants and other life begin to colonize the exposed surface. There are many cayes that are ideal vacation destinations along the Belize Barrier Reef. Some like Ambergris Caye are more developed with resorts, fine dining restaurants, and world-class shopping and others are on 'go slow' island time. Cody and I opted for the no cars, people riding bikes relaxed atmosphere of Caye Caulker. We arrived by water taxi from the capital city and walked less than a block to our brightly painted hotel, Seaside Cabanas.
The next morning we arranged a half day speed boat trip to snorkel several areas along the barrier reef with EZ Boy Tours. Our friend Phil from Carmelita Gardens recommended the tour company. A local tour guide, Harry, promptly met Cody and I upon arrival helping us to our hotel and arranging the tour for the next day. The 5 hour trip included a local plate lunch (order the barracuda, delish), fruit, drinks, and 5 stops to see manatees, nurse sharks, a sunken barge, turtles feasting on sea grass and finally Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Hol Chan is Mayan for 'little channel'. Our guide swam the 45-minute loop showing us caves, a moray eel and other unique treasures of the sea. Amazingly, he did it without a snorkel, swimming and freediving the entire time.
The profusion of sea life, both flora and fauna, was extraordinary. Protection of ocean habitats under a marine reserve designation is vital to the health of our planet. In less than 20 years, the Belize Barrier Reef has rebounded and life is plentiful. The animals are unafraid and in many cases curious coming close as if inspecting you. We felt like welcomed visitors to an underwater world. The local guides were advocates for marine sanctuaries and Belize is strict about tourism along the barrier reef system. I highly recommend snorkeling and/or diving this rich underwater biodiversity. Everything pictured here was observed during a 3-hour period. All the diving I have experienced throughout my life has not equaled this variety, and that includes living in Hawaii, California, and Mexico. When Cody and I relate our experiences to friends and family, many say they have always wanted to visit Belize. Go. You won't be disappointed. Just a few more pictures to share.
Living, growing coral, like swimming in an aquarium.
Life under the sargassum seaweed. Learn more in our post about the Sargasso Sea.