Updated: Sep 17
The highlight of our time in Belize this year was the day we spent exploring the world's second largest barrier reef. Hol Chan is a protected marine area and home to countless species of fish, sharks, rays, dolphins, turtles and even manatees.
Hol Chan is Mayan for "Little Channel" and that's exactly what it is. The natural opening in the reef is about 75' wide and 30' deep, allowing the inhabitants of this area to come and go freely. Because it is protected, there is an abundance of life here with over 160 species of fish being documented in the area, 3 types of sea turtles, 2 dolphin species, a bunch of different coral, some sponges, seahorses, eels, lobsters... I could seriously go on!
The day of our visit was hot and sunny which is typical for April in Belize. We made it out to the reef without issue but right on cue, our mom had a mini panic attack when it was time to get out of the boat. (She was scarred by Jaws as a child.) After a bit of reassuring & persuading, we convinced her to get in the water with us. Big shoutout to our captain and guide for the day, Eddie Lover for putting up with her. He finally gave her a life ring attached to a rope for her to hold on to. Good thing we didn't run into any big sharks, pretty sure she would have crawled right up on his shoulders. So high strung, that one. There was nothing to fear out there and to be honest, if we had all been eaten by bull sharks that day, I'd be fine with it. At least we were living. Fortunately, one glimpse under that water and she stopped fussing.
There are actually no words that I can think of right now to describe how gorgeous the reef is. It's a completely different world... a beautiful blue and yellow and green alien world, moving in slow motion, mesmerizing and hypnotizing those who enter it. A world of seemingly mythological creatures from another time. The ocean definitely put a spell on all of us that day. Time stood still as we made our way through the deep channel. Eddie repeatedly dove down to point out interesting species of fish and coral. At one point a large green eel decided to pop out and try to eat one of mom's fins. She wasn't amused but we thoroughly enjoyed the show. If not for our seasoned guide, we likely would have been caught off guard by the sun setting in our hypnotic state but thankfully he had us surface to point out how far we had traveled and started herding the reluctant group back toward our waiting vessel. The sun was low in the sky when we reached the boat but there was still one more stop to make.
Shark ray alley. A bit more grassy bottomed than we expected but when Captain Eddie revved up the boat motor to "call" the sharks, the excitement was too much to take. We quickly jumped back in the water, gear in hand while moms stayed aboard, still shivering from Hol Chan. (It was not cold.) Nurse sharks and stingrays swarmed around us, with a little extra motivation from Eddie (he was feeding them bits of fish). We swam and dove and watched with pure awe as these creatures gracefully glided through the water all around the boat. At one point a stingray approached me and seemed to leap into my arms. Before I knew it I was holding this beautiful ray afloat for a brief moment. The whole experience was surreal. I could have stayed there forever but the sun was getting lower, it was time to go.
The entire day was every bit as cool as it looks on Instagram, cooler actually. What's even better, we all survived, even old moms. We ended the day with a sunset cruise back to town and perma-grins that lasted well into the night as we sunk into our beds, drifting off to dream of our newly found, beautiful alien world.
If you ever visit Belize, this is an absolute must-do. There are many reputable tour companies but we found Serious Adventures offered an above average experience. Definitely go check them out!