Beautiful Cayes of Belize Series: A visit to Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a beautifully protected ecosystem located along the barrier reef between Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker in northern Belize. It’s the oldest marine reserve in Belize, covering approximately 3 square miles. It’s divided into four zones including the Reef; the Seagrass Beds; the Mangroves; and Shark Ray Alley. The name ‘Hol Chan’ means little channel in Mayan; the reserve is aptly named due to the unique natural channel which cuts through the barrier reef in Shark Ray Alley. With its reserve protections, the abundance of marine life in this area is incredible! 

Whether it's your 1st, 10th, or 30th trip to Hol Chan Marine Reserve, you're never disappointed! I had my first experience visiting the reserve, specifically Shark Ray Alley, in 2011 on a trip to Ambergris Caye. I had my snorkel kit and hopped on the guide boat- so excited to see sharks! I could not have imagined before the trip all that I would see that day. Listening to my guide, he told me to ready myself and sit on the edge of the boat- when told, I was to hop into the water. I was the only one on the boat prepared to go in…everyone else waited to see what would happen! He said ‘go’ and in I went- there were so many nurse sharks around my flippers I had to be careful as I didn’t want to hurt them. I slid into the water through an enormous group of nurse sharks and once underwater was absolutely amazed at the site! Nurse sharks, eagle rays, southern stingrays, barracuda, jacks, snappers…the list goes on! And I hadn’t even started swimming closer to explore the corals yet!

On that day, I never would have guessed that life would take me back to Belize a little over a year later to work as a charter captain. Once there, whenever I had a northern itinerary charter, I was at Hol Chan- moored on one of the buoy’s so that my guests could have that same magical experience that I had…and continue to have with every visit. On charters, I continued to explore the underwater world with my guests. In addition to the marine life I saw on my first trip, I’ve seen several types of sea turtles, dolphins, a moray eel, lobsters, and seemingly endless varieties of fish and corals.

Hol Chan is a magical underwater environment equally enjoyed by those snorkeling as those diving. With an average water temperature in spring and summer of 84°F (29°C), you’ll relish the freedom of swimming the warm waters. As it’s a reserve, the yacht will have a naturalist guide onboard which will give you the chance to learn of the amazing marine life and corals. On your visit, swim alongside nurse sharks, rays, and a multitude of marine species. With a visit to Hol Chan included with the charter on a northern itinerary, what better way to experience the Belizean waters than to hop in for a swim and glide into a different world.

Belize is waiting...

 Hol Chan Marine Reserve: Shark Ray Alley...nurse sharks off the back of the yacht.

Hol Chan Marine Reserve: Shark Ray Alley...nurse sharks off the back of the yacht.

 A turtle swimming along the sea grass in Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

A turtle swimming along the sea grass in Hol Chan Marine Reserve.

 A Moray Eel peeking out from the coral at Hol Chan.

A Moray Eel peeking out from the coral at Hol Chan.