Located four miles south from the shores of Ambergris Caye, Hol Chan Marine Reserve is the most visited snorkeling and diving area in Belize. Part of the Belize Barrier Reef, the reserve covers approximately three square miles and is divided into various zones according to marine habitat. The most popular zone is called Hol Chan or “small channel” in Maya -- a 30-foot deep “cut” in the reef where all sorts of marine life have now gathered in one area, making it one giant aquarium. The channel has beautiful live corals and an abundant variety of fish that includes angelfish, turtles, nurse sharks, hog fish, snappers and many other species.
The second most popular zone of the reserve is Shark Ray Alley, a shallower area where nurse sharks and stingrays are plentiful. Grass beds and mangrove areas make up the other zones of the reserve and require a more personalized expert guide -- and while less visited.
Part of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley is a zone where an impressive multitude of magnificent stingrays with four-foot wingspans and six-foot nurse sharks congregate every day. As fishermen came to this area of the reef to clean out their catch over the years, nurse sharks and stingrays eventually began to gather regularly in search of the boats and their daily treats. The thrill is to swim in waters surrounded by these beautiful creatures. Shark Ray Alley is often best combined in a snorkel tour of Hol Chan and the Coral Gardens.
Belize’s most popular emblem is the holy grail of diving. Recognized as one of the world’s top dive sites and a World Heritage Site along with the Belize Barrier Reef, the stunning, deep blue circular sinkhole is located on Lighthouse Reef atoll, one of three atolls in the Caribbean, all of which are in Belize. About 1,000 feet in diameter and with a depth of over 400 feet, the Blue Hole is a geographic phenomenon unlike any other. The once-dry and above sea-level cave collapsed centuries ago, creating a site where divers can swim through gigantic stalactite and stalagmite formations and all along a cave wall, starting at about 100 feet, submerged since the Ice Age. Jacques Cousteau is said to have sailed to the hole in 1971 to study the Hole’s formations, eventually revealing the site’s wonders.
Coral Gardens is part of the Hol Chan Marine reserve and is set as a separate zone for its unusual and colorful coral formations, easily explored at relatively shallow depths of up to 13 feet. Schools of fish can be seen here, adding to the overall beauty and uniqueness of the coral. Coral Gardens is easily combined on a day snorkel trip to Hol Chan.
San Pedro Town is Ambergris Caye' main and only town. This is where the bulk of the island’s eateries, shops, nightlife and businesses are located, and where hustle and bustle reigns. The beach here is a sandy sidewalk at best, but the water and views are still beautiful and numerous docks dotting the shoreline provide ample swimming opportunities. San Pedro’s inhabitants are majority Mestizo, and the island has the largest number of US expats in Belize. The growing town has cobblestone and paved streets, pounded daily by golf carts or bicycles and increasingly, automobiles.
Though it receives the largest amount of tourism year-round than any other part of Belize, making it a more expensive area, San Pedro retains a local Belizean feel that is not likely to dissipate anytime soon with its local arts, authentic cuisine and yearly traditional festivals.