I spent hours snorkeling in the Galapagos with sea lions, sharks, turtles, and more colorful fish than I could ever hope to name.
Needless to say, my bar for incredible snorkel experiences had been set pretty impossibly high.
And then snorkeling in Belize happened.
To be honest, snorkeling the MesoAmerican Reef blew my previous experiences out of the water (haha, get it?)
But what the heck is the MesoAmerican reef and why should anyone want to snorkel it? It happens to be the second largest barrier reef in the world, surpassed only by the famous Great Barrier Reef in Australia. So, quite big.
And as it turns out, quite incredible.
If you do ANYTHING in Belize, make it this.
It was the best snorkel experience of my life, and my dive-loving husband felt the same way.
The water was the clearest imaginable. I could peer over the side of the boat, peering through water that looked like glass, all the way to the reef below.
Once immersed in the crystalline water, I experienced a crazy variety of sea life. In one day (and three locations), I saw a sea turtle, more sharks that I could count, a variety of rays, several barracuda, an eel, and fish on fish on fish on fish.
We visited three different locations, each unique. Every site we visited became a favorite in its own way, and it would be impossible to choose or recommend just one… so I’ll show you each.
SNORKELING IN BELIZE: HOL CHAN SNORKEL SITE
The photos above show Hol Chan, perhaps the most famous but also the most busy with other snorkelers, where I had SO many snorkeling firsts. I absolutely freaked out over a crazy moray eel, and yes, he IS chasing a scuba diver in that first photo.
I saw my first ever and very long-awaited barracuda, which I didn’t manage to take a photo of here because I was just SO in awe (though I did capture one later, at the Mexico Rocks). They are just so strange and slow and seem to be cautiously watching everything around them.
I also swam with a few rays and sharks, but nothing in comparison to the numbers I’d be seeing at our next stop.
SNORKELING IN BELIZE: SHARK RAY ALLEY SNORKEL SITE
Shark Ray Alley is descriptively and accurately named, as I swam with nurse sharks and all kinds of different rays. Shark Ray Alley started as a place where fishermen would clean their catch, throwing the leftover flesh pieces and bones into the water. Over time, the carnivorous creatures of the MesoAmerican reef started to wait around for these tidbits. As tourism around the Caye has increased, the fishermen – inspired by some enterprising guides – saw an opportunity to take advantage of the shark-infested (literally) waters by bringing in tourists.
At first, I really really REALLY did not want to jump in the tumultuous waters. The surface literally seethes with sharks.
But at the encouragement of my husband, and the guides, and some serious FOMO, I took the plunge. Literally.
And it was so incredibly cool and informative to get up that close and personal with sharks and rays. I’m so glad I made the jump.
SNORKELING IN BELIZE: MEXICO ROCKS SNORKEL SITE
Mexico Rocks had the most beautiful coral and most vibrant fish, and was also home to a sea turtle we spotted (and some gigantic lobsters). Here, I also saw a burying ray and another barracuda (both pictured above)!
I’d read the least about Mexico Rocks online, as it seems to be a less popular option compared to Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan. I’m really not sure why, because it was absolutely incredible. Maybe because it’s a bit further out? I don’t really know, but you shouldn’t miss it.
Going with a guide to these snorkel sites was absolutely essential. Aside from the logistic perspective, as you need a boat to reach them, the guide knows where to find the most interesting animals and can read the tides (and can find cool things like this conch!). It would have been impossible the replicate the amazing experience we had without our very knowledgeable guide. I can 100% recommend Belize Parasail for the most incredible (and affordable) experience.
I can get a bit panicky in ocean situations, and I was thankful that our guide always prioritized safety, and even pulled along a lifeguard float just in case.
Snorkeling in Belize: Pin it!
What to Pack for Snorkeling in Belize?
Our very prepared guide provided anti-fog solution to treat the masks with before each time in the water. Better to be safe than sorry and bring your own. This M Sea Gold gel is chemical-free and reefsafe.
Spending the day in the sea under the beating sun can be very dehydrating. Bring more water than you think you need, and skip the plastic water bottles. I don’t know the solution to fixing our planet’s problems, but I know what isn’t helping: more plastic throwaway bottles. It’s easier, cheaper, and better for the environment to just carry a water bottle. Even better if it purifies at the same time like this one!
Even though he applied sunscreen, my husband got an intense, painful sunburn on his back from our day of snorkeling. It makes sense, as your back is up and exposed to the sun for hours at a time. I wore an SPF shirt and escaped unscathed. Be like me.
Please do your best to respect and protect the beautiful MesoAmerican reef by wearing non harmful sunscreen. I’m a BIG fan of this natural, organic version. Aside from caring for our vulnerable oceans, I’m also trying to reduce or eliminate the amount of potentially harmful chemicals I put on my skin, the largest organ in my body.
A dry bag is essential, and protects your gear from splashes and spills in the boat. A bonus would be another, smaller dry bag for your camera or phone. I like this version from EarthPak (in multiple colors), because it also comes with a waterproof phone case.
Underwater Camera or GoPro
If you have any interest in photography at all, you do NOT want to miss out on the incredible opportunities for underwater photos that the MesoAmerican reef offers. I used my GoPro for ALL of these photos and loved the results, but I also have a mirrorless waterproof Nikon 1 AW1.
If you’re using a GoPro (like me), definitely get some antifog inserts. You also might want to consider a strap or a floating selfie stick with a strap, just in case a moray eel pops out from nowhere and scares the ever-loving hell out of you and you drop the camera (it happened to me). I always make sure to carry an extra battery and an extra memory card, and recently bought some red filters for my GoPro.
Because you’ll be getting in and out of the boat (and needing to dry off) several times, you want a towel that dries quickly and can be used frequently. My husband got me a fast-drying travel towel for a gift, and I absolutely love it. If you can’t find (or don’t want) a travel towel for any reason, I’d recommend a Turkish Towel.
Quick Dry Clothes
Especially at the end of the day, the boat ride can get a bit chilly, and you’ll want dry clothes to put back on.
We got SO hungry (swimming will do that to you), and were thankful to have packed some bagel sandwiches. They were clutch. An easy snack game-changer (and awesome for any of you cheapskates like me who would rather get their booze at half the cost from a grocery or convenience store) is a foldable cooler.
Your own mask, fin, and snorkel (if desired)
Our guide with Belize Parasail lent us top-rate masks and snorkels, but if you’re partial to your own, it’s better to bring them.
Swimsuits that Aren’t Prone to Wardrobe Malfunctions
The last thing you want is for everyone under the sea to see you butt crack, or for an unfortunately-timed nipslip. I have found that wearing an SPF shirt (mentioned above) and Brazilian style bottoms (maybe unexpected, but they’re too small and well-fitted to move anywhere) to be my go-to snorkel suit.
Travel-sized notebook and pen
Want to remember exactly what you saw on your snorkel? The Rite in the Rain all-weather notepads in the photo are even water-proof (but still recyclable) and surprisingly affordable… so even if you’ve got wet fingers or you accidentally drop it in the ocean, all your info will stay intact.