Whether you’re booked on a Caribbean cruise or heading to Belize City for a tropical vacation, you must take time to visit Caye Caulker. This is my experience of swimming with nurse sharks and stingrays on a Caye Caulker cruise excursion.
Being a Sagittarian, I’m always seeking a little adventure no matter where I travel, so this stingray and ray alley snorkel was the perfect tour for me.
I visited Belize during a 7-day Carnival Glory cruise which stopped in Cozumel, Belize, Grand Caymen, and Mahogany Bay, Roatan. If you’re arriving in Belize by cruise ship as I did, bear in mind, that it’s a tender port.
You’ll need to get up early to obtain a low-numbered tender ticket so you can get a head start on the cruise crowd.
I opted not to pay the USD 95 the cruise ship wanted for the Caye Caulker cruise excursions in favor of finding a better deal in port. Sure enough, I scored the same tour with another company for half the cost.
While most cruise passengers take a stingray excursion in Grand Cayman (and I did that too), this one was far better. I enjoyed the port excursion with fewer people, and the island of Caye Caulker is pure paradise.
Should you choose not to participate in a shore excursion in Belize, cruise ship passengers are warned not to wander outside the cruise terminal area. Belize is a sketchy place with a high crime rate, so be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Where Is Caye Caulker?
Belonging to Belize, the tiny island of Caye Caulker lies off the coast of Belize. Its main town, Caye Caulker Village, is accessible by ferry or boat from Belize City on the mainland.
While this paradise island offers vacationers an inexpensive stay, taking multiple tours can make your stay a more expensive one.
Vacationers wanting to participate in the stingray snorkeling tour can choose to depart from Belize City or Caye Caulker.
Caye Caulker Cruise Excursion Details
This Caye Caulker cruise excursion takes the entire port day and gets you back just in time for a tender. If you’re worried about missing your tender, have peace of mind and book through your cruise line instead.
It’s scorching in Belize, so be prepared by having a Caribbean checklist of items. It should include sunscreen, a hat, some Rashguard clothing, a cover-up, a bathing suit, a towel, and bottled water. And let’s not forget your sense of adventure!
The Caye Caulker stingray excursion includes swimming with nurse sharks and rays, ray and shark feeding, Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling, feeding the tarpon fish, and a short visit to the little island of Caye Caulker where you can buy lunch.
It also includes fresh fruit and all-you-can-drink rum punch!
It’s important to note; that it’s a 45-minute to 1-hour boat ride in blistering heat to arrive at your first stop, the sand bar. So, if you don’t like the sun, are not fond of fast boat rides, are pregnant, or have a bad back, this is not the excursion for you.
First Stop, The Sandbar
Being a sun lover, I enjoyed the speedy boat ride, even with the extreme heat. Our guide kept us all entertained with his witty sense of humor. The boat had 16 people, all eager to start swimming with the stingrays in Belize.
However, once we approached the sandbar, some individuals quickly changed their minds. As the water beneath the boat became shallow, it was hard not to notice a massive group of stingrays swimming toward the boat.
Our guide told us that over the years, fishermen cleaned their catch at the sandbar. The heads and guts of the fish were thrown overboard, which attracted the sharks and rays.
Now, the Belize marine life returns each day when they hear a boat engine. They have become accustomed to being fed by these boats, so they relate a boat engine to food.
Each Belize snorkeling boat that heads to the sandbar comes with food to attract the stingrays and sharks. My Caye Caulker cruise excursion was no different.
Watching the flurry of activity under the boat was enough to scare some people into remaining on the vessel. However, I was determined to be one of the first in the water.
With my GoPro in hand and a snorkeling mask, I jumped into the shallow water, eager to see these majestic creatures. I didn’t need snorkel fins as the water was about four feet deep. However, water shoes are fantastic to wear during an activity like this.
Swimming With The Stingrays And Nurse Sharks
While the Caye Caulker snorkeling tour says you’ll be snorkeling with sharks and stingrays, it isn’t always the case. These are wild creatures, after all, and only show up when they choose.
However, the stingrays will come, but the nurse sharks are unpredictable. During my Caye Caulker cruise excursion, I saw one nurse shark. Unlike the stingrays, who seemed to like the people, the small shark swam quickly away.
The water was crystal clear and only became murky as people stirred up the sandy bottom. Amongst the stingrays were trumpeter fish, and I spotted one spotted trunkfish.
Swimming with stingrays, we were allowed to feel their backs, but our guides instructed us not to touch their tails. I was amazed they felt like soft velvet!
Some people squealed as the rays swam against their legs. There were so many stingrays in the water; I was almost afraid to put my feet down for fear I might step on one.
Everywhere I looked, there were rays, and they hung around for our entire stay. In fact, most of the time, they were too close to photograph. That’s not usually a problem with marine creatures.
To say that this Caye Caulker shark ray alley tour was exciting is an understatement. This unique excursion should be on everyone’s bucket list and offers the best snorkeling in Belize.
Some might question, “Is it safe to swim with stingrays?” One million people take Stingray City tours in Grand Cayman each year, and others take stingray tours in Belize and the Bahamas.
These marine creatures have come accustomed to people. So long as you respect their space and follow your guide’s instructions, this activity is relatively safe.
Belize Barrier Reef Snorkeling
After spending some time at the sandbar, it was a short boat ride to experience the Belize Barrier Reef tour. Arriving at the Hol Chan Marine Park, we were given fins, snorkel masks, and a mandatory life vest.
We were divided into two groups of eight and assigned a snorkel guide. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is relatively new and close to Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker.
We followed our tour guides over the beautiful coral gardens that had so many different types of coral. The coral was fascinating to see and so alive compared to corals I’ve seen close to shore.
The fish weren’t too plentiful, but it didn’t detract from enjoying the views of the fan coral that swayed softly in the ocean current. The brain coral was fascinating also. The coral gardens are homes to many fish like parrotfish, butterflyfish, and moray eels.
Our guide swam down to the bottom of the ocean during the snorkel, picking up brittle stars, which are the strangest looking elongated starfish.
If you’ve Googled this tour on the web, some people expressed disappointment at wearing a life vest. While the life vest prevents you from diving down to the ocean bed, understand that the locals are trying to keep you safe and avoid damage to the delicate reef.
After our snorkel, we were treated to fresh fruit and the yummiest rum punch ever. Our guide joked that he wanted to keep us sober until we completed our swimming portion of the tour. While I am not a drinker, I have to admit, that was the best rum punch I’ve ever tasted.
As we approached the tiny island of Caye Caulker, we saw the island was cut into two. The guide explained that the split was a result of the 1961 Hurricane Hattie.
The southern side is the developed side, while the northern portion is comprised mainly of swampy mangroves.
Our boat pulled up to an area with mangroves, and as the vessel slowed down, we were besieged by a group of pelicans and hungry tarpon.
I was surprised at the size of the tarpon in the water. They obviously knew they were about to be fed.
The crew offered us small fish to hang over the side of the boat. We were warned that the fish were aggressive. They told us to let go of the bait as soon as the fish jumped out of the water. I wasn’t prepared to lose my fingers, so I watched and took pictures while others attempted to feed the tarpon.
It’s debatable to say what was more dangerous; the tarpon or the pelican with their enormous mouths that lunged at the bait. Feeding the tarpon resulted in a few bleeding fingers and hands.
I witnessed one tarpon engulf one man’s hand. It’s a good thing I chose to watch and not participate! And I still have all my fingers to prove it, haha.
Arriving at Caye Caulker, I felt like I had been transported back to the 1960s. The 25 or so hotels were old and painted in bright tropical colors. There were no cars, only bicycles, and the island’s vibe is definitely “laid back.”
I saw several people with dreadlocks and couldn’t help but notice many signs that said, “no shoes, no shirt, no problem.” That about sums it up for Caye Caulker!
Surrounded by a tropical ocean, I assumed the island would have lovely sandy beaches. But it’s just not the case. In fact, most of the island is surrounded by seaweed which smells quite nasty.
Travelers visit the island for a beach break. Instead of the beach, they come for diving, the famous Caye Caulker fishing, the Caye Caulker Blue Hole, the relaxed island vibe, and the shark ray alley excursions.
However, a stroll through the town offered fantastic views of the turquoise ocean from the Caye Caulker beaches.
If you plan to stay on the island, there are various Caye Caulker accommodations to suit every budget. The Caye Caulker rentals include everything from a campsite and vacation cottages to hotels and even a cat hostel sanctuary called Pause Hostel.
Being a small island, you’d expect the food to be expensive. However, I ate lunch at the Rainbow Bar and Grill, and the food was not only delicious but reasonably priced. The restaurant’s location is incredible; over the water with tropical ocean breezes and views into the turquoise ocean.
This is the only restaurant in Caye Caulker with a terrace over the ocean. I ordered the Cajun chicken, which was heavenly with a significant kick! If you enjoy spicy food, I’d definitely recommend it.
The Ride Back To Belize
After lunch and a stroll through town, it was time to head back to our boat. During the ride back to port, the rum punch was plentiful, and some passengers were enjoying the overabundance of free alcohol far too much.
It’s important to note, that my Caye Caulker snorkeling excursion ran overtime, and some of us panicked at the thought of arriving back later and missing the tender.
Our guide assured us not to worry as his brother operated a tender and would not leave without us. I don’t know if that was true or whether it was a line to prevent us from panicking.
Anyway, we arrived back in port just in time, only to find EVERYONE had waited for the last tender. With so many passengers waiting in line, it took an extra hour to ferry everyone back to the cruise ship. I assume everyone else had taken all-day shore excursions too.
If you’re ever heading out to Belize, I would highly recommend one of the Belize snorkeling tours. Be sure to check out the Caye Caulker dive packages, shark ray alley tours, and the Caye Caulker manatee tours too.
Be sure to read a few Belize snorkeling reviews to find the best place to snorkel in Belize and select your tour company. Personally, Belize is a place I want to explore again, and I will be planning a trip back soon.
Happy travels ~ Karen