Belize has some of the best snorkeling in the world. After all, Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world – the phenomenal Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. In this guide, we’re going to tell you about the 16 best places to snorkel in Belize.
Read more about snorkeling tours from Caye Caulker.
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The Ultimate Guide to Snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef
Other than revealing the best snorkeling locations in Belize, this guide will tell you everything you need to know to help you plan your Belize snorkeling adventure.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, it’s worth knowing that the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (AKA the Belize Barrier Reef) was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1996. As a result, the Belize Barrier Reef is comprised of seven protected areas that make up around 12% of the reef system. Whilst, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve – the most popular snorkeling spot in Belize, was inscribed as a protected area beforehand in 1987 under the Laws of Belize.
Because much of the Belize Barrier Reef is protected, you’ll usually need a guide or you’ll need to participate in a guided tour to snorkel in the area. This is also advised by the Belize Tourism Board, which recommends hiring licensed guides or joining organised tours when snorkeling within the Belize Barrier Reef.
With this in mind, when we’re talking about the best snorkeling in Belize, we’ll also talk about the best Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling tours. But, we’ll also cover some offshore snorkeling options in Belize, outside of the reef system, which you can enjoy without a guide.
The Best 16 Places For Snorkeling in Belize
Okay, it’s time to look at the best Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling, offshore snorkeling options and the best Belize snorkeling tours.
Of course, the two most popular places for snorkeling in Belize are the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. Certainly, if you’re thinking of snorkeling in Belize, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley should be at the top of your to-do list. Indeed, visitors to Belize who aren’t regular snorkelers will usually just visit these two sites during a half-day or full-day snorkeling tour from either Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye.
With this in mind, in this guide, we’ll provide the most information about the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. Whilst, we’ll just briefly overview the other best Belize snorkeling sites. That way, you can learn all about the must-do snorkeling in Belize. And, at the same time, you can quickly review the other options and possibilities.
Without further ado, let’s look at snorkeling at the breathtaking Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
1. Hol Chan Marine Reserve
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is certainly the main attraction of any snorkeling trip to the Belize Barrier Reef. At the marine reserve, you’ll explore an extraordinary underwater paradise full of spectacular marine life as well as breathtaking coral reef, seagrass beds and mangrove forests. Indeed, people travel from all over the world to snorkel at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. And, it’s often the first place that visitors to Belize will snorkel at.
As mentioned, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is a protected area. So, you can only snorkel there with a guide. Thankfully, there are many tour operators in both Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye offering guided tours to the marine reserve.
Personally, Beck and I booked this Full-Day Caye Caulker Snorkeling Tour on GetYourGuide. This tour was run by the friendly and knowledgeable guides at Salt Life Eco Tours. Because we had a great time on this tour, we’re more than happy to recommend this tour. Feel free to use this link on GetYourGuide to book your full-day snorkeling tour from Caye Caulker to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve.
Otherwise, you can also book this same full-day snorkeling tour on Viator.
Admittedly though, you’ll find many different tour operators on Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye offering similar full-day tours. Essentially, all of the tours roughly follow the same itinerary visiting the same places in the marine reserve. This generally includes visiting Shark Ray Alley, the shipwreck (Belizean Titanic) and sites where you can see green sea turtles and White Indian manatees. So, it doesn’t really matter which tour company you choose!
2. Shark Ray Alley Belize
Shark Ray Alley is one of the most awe-inspiring places you can go snorkeling in the Belize Barrier Reef. Located in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Shark Ray Alley is also referred to as ‘Zone D‘ of the marine reserve. Whilst, it’s also known as Shark and Ray Alley, Hol Chan Shark Ray Alley and Shark Alley. Essentially, the area is full of nurse sharks and stingray. By visiting Shark Ray Alley, you can swim with docile nurse sharks and stingray, which is one of the most incredible experiences that you can have in Belize.
By doing a full-day or half-day snorkeling tour of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, you’re guaranteed to visit Shark Ray Alley. Certainly, Shark Ray Alley is often the star attraction of a snorkeling trip to the reserve.
The history behind the emergence of Shark Ray Alley as a snorkeling destination, in Belize, is very interesting. It was once an area where anglers would clean their catches of the day. In effect, fish would fall off the side of the boat, into the water, attracting the interest of marine life such as nurse sharks and stingray. With an easy meal on offer, more and more nurse sharks and stingray started to congregate in the area.
Although fishing was eventually banned in the area, when boats arrived at the site, nurse sharks still instinctively swam towards the boats in the hope of being fed. With this in mind, tour companies started to visit the site, knowing that swarms of nurse sharks would be present. Because nurse sharks are generally harmless to humans, snorkeling at Shark Ray Alley became a main selling point of tours!
3. Coral Gardens: Caye Caulker Marine Reserve
The Coral Gardens, located in the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, has one of the prettiest underwater landscapes in Belize. At the Coral Gardens, you’ll see a dense area of magnificent elkhorn coral, fire coral and brain coral. Other than the magnificent coral on display, it’s also a terrific place to see green sea turtles, and, if you’re lucky, seahorses!
You’ll find that most full-day snorkeling tours, from Caye Caulker, include a stop at the Coral Gardens. Indeed, the Full-Day Caye Caulker Snorkeling Tour that we booked on GetYourGuide included a stop at the pristine Coral Gardens.
4. Great Blue Hole
The Great Blue Hole (AKA the Blue Hole Natural Monument and the Belize Blue Hole) is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Central America. It’s also one of the seven protected areas of the Belize Barrier Reef. The giant marine sinkhole with a perfectly circular body of water is surrounded by the Lighthouse Reef Atoll.
Admittedly, given the sinkhole is considerably deep, the Great Blue Hole is more of a dive site than a snorkeling spot. But, you’ll still find many tour operators offering Belize snorkeling excursions out to the truly incredible Great Blue Hole. FYI – Great Blue Hole snorkeling tours are much more expensive than Hol Chan Marine Reserve tours. And, the snorkeling is much better at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve! So, it’s a no-brainer as to which snorkeling spot you should prioritise visiting!
We’ll now look at Belize’s three atolls, which are all great snorkeling sites.
5. Lighthouse Reef Atoll: Half Moon Caye and Long Caye
The Lighthouse Reef Atoll is not only home to the otherworldly Great Blue Hole but is home to roughly 200 species of fish, six cayes and plenty of stunning coral reefs. Indeed, some of the best Belize reefs for snorkeling are found at Lighthouse Reef Atoll.
Two of the most popular cayes at the Lighthouse Reef Atoll are Half Moon Caye and Long Caye. Half Moon Caye is a great place for beginner snorkelers as the area is synonymous with shallow waters. Whereas, Long Caye (AKA the Aquarium) is more suitable for experienced snorkelers given the often-strong currents. At Long Caye, you’ll enjoy countless tropical fish and unique coral formations.
Often, you’ll explore these other areas of the Lighthouse Reef Atoll during Great Blue Hole snorkeling tours.
6. Turneffe Reef Atoll
The Turneffe Reef Atoll is the largest of the three atolls in Belize. Given the area’s rich marine life, the atoll was named a marine reserve. The atoll features a great mixture of stony and soft corals, whilst the underwater landscape consists of mangrove shallows and seagrass beds.
There are some tour operators that visit this reef from islands such as Caye Caulker. But, most people actually stay on Turneffe Island to snorkel at the atoll to maximise their time out on the water. When it comes to accommodation on the island, there are two main options – Turneffe Island Resort and Belize Dive Haven Resort & Marina.
7. Glover’s Reef Atoll: Southwest Caye
Glover’s Reef Atoll is one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage Site protected areas in the Belize Barrier Reef. The atoll is found on the remote Southwest Caye, where you’ll find some of the most ideal snorkeling conditions in Belize. There are roughly 700 patch reefs and an incredibly diverse marine life to explore.
Similar to exploring the Turneffe Reef Atoll from Turneffe Island, most people will actually stay on Glover’s Reef Island to snorkel Glover’s Reef Atoll. The most popular accommodation option on the island is Glover’s Reef Resort or Glover’s Reef Basecamp.
8. Gladden Spit Marine Reserve, Placencia
Located in the south of Belize near Placencia, Gladden Spit is the best place to visit to see the migratory whale sharks. Indeed, swimming with whale sharks at the Gladden Spit Marine Reserve would have to be one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have in Belize. You’ll want to base yourself in or near Placencia to do snorkeling and diving tours to Gladden Spit. Whilst, you’ll want to time your visit during the migratory season between March and June.
9. Silk Cayes Marine Reserve: Turtle Alley
Not far from Gladden Spit, you’ll find the gorgeous Silk Cayes Marine Reserve. The reserve is full of magnificent healthy reef. But, the main attraction of Silk Cayes is Turtle Alley, where, as you may have guessed, you can see loads of turtles! Although, by snorkeling at Silk Cayes, you should also get to see different species of sharks and stingrays. Again, it’s best to base yourself in or near Placencia to visit Silk Cayes.
10. Laughing Bird Caye
Laughing Bird Caye is another one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s protected areas. It’s also a national park and is another divine snorkeling site located off the coast of Placencia in the south of Belize. Certainly, Laughing Bird Caye is one of the hidden gems of the Belize Barrier Reef.
Viator offers this highly-rated Laughing Bird Caye National Park Snorkeling Tour, which departs from Placencia. By doing this tour at Laughing Birde Caye, you’re likely to see snapper, barracuda, nurse sharks, green sea turtles and Caribbean lobsters. You’ll also explore exquisite coral gardens and reefs.
11. South Water Caye Marine Reserve: Tobacco Caye
Tobacco Caye is located at the centre of the Belize Barrier Reef at the northern edge of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve. Tobacco Caye is around a 30 minute boat ride away from the coastal town of Dangriga, which is south of Belize City. Most people will stay on Tobacco Caye, where it’s possible to do some of Belize’s best offshore snorkeling. Popular places to stay on Tobacco Caye include Tobacco Caye Paradise, Pelican Beach Resort and Blue Marlin Beach Resort.
12. Coco Plum Caye
Also located near Dangriga, Coco Plum Caye is yet another stunning island in Belize that offers awesome snorkeling. By snorkeling at Coco Plum Caye, you’re likely to see green sea turtles, stingrays, groupers and reef shark. This idyllic destination is adult-only, so it’s a well-known place for honeymooners and couples, who often stay at Coco Plum Resort.
13. Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos, Ambergris Caye
Just a short boat ride from San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, you’ll find the spectacular Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos. The area is well known for having exceptionally large brain coral and elkhorn coral along the reef. Given the shallow waters, the site is a fantastic place for beginners snorkeling in Belize.
You’ll find plenty of tour operators in Ambergris Caye offering snorkeling tours to Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos. Indeed, when it comes to snorkeling from San Pedro in Belize, Mexico Rocks and Tres Cocos is a popular option.
Bonus tip: Ambergris Caye is also great for offshore snorkeling. One of the best places to do offshore snorkeling in Ambergris Caye is from Tranquility Bay Resort.
14. Goff’s Caye
If you’re based in Belize City, a snorkeling trip to Goff’s Caye is an easy way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Goff’s Caye has some of the best offshore snorkeling in Belize with plenty of tropical fish and coral gardens to be found. Viator offers the Goff’s Caye Beach and Snorkeling Tour from Belize City. Of course, many people choose to stay on the island, which allows even more time for offshore snorkeling.
15. The Split and Stingray Beach, Caye Caulker
When it comes to Caye Caulker snorkeling, there are a couple of offshore options. It’s common to find people snorkeling at The Split. Whilst, it’s also possible to snorkel with plenty of rays in Stingray Beach at Iguana Reef Inn. Of course, these snorkeling options aren’t as good as being out in the Belize Barrier Reef. But, it’s better than nothing!
16. Harvest Caye
If you’re looking at Belize snorkel tours from cruise ships, then exploring Harvest Caye on the Norweigan Cruise Line may be the perfect option. Essentially, Harvest Caye is a recently built artificial island owned by Norweigan Cruise Line where their and others’ large cruise ships dock. The cruise line company offers snorkeling tours at Harvest Caye, whilst it’s also possible to do some offshore snorkeling.
So, there you have it – the 16 best snorkeling sites in Belize. We’ll now cover details about logistics as well as talk about other useful things to know about snorkeling in Belize.
Things to Know About Belize Snorkeling Conditions
As you may have gathered, the best snorkeling in Belize takes place in the Belize Barrier Reef. Because the Belize Barrier Reef is located approx. 32–96km off the shore of Belize, you’ll find beach snorkeling and offshore snorkeling fairly limited. Indeed, offshore snorkeling is fairly blaze in comparison with the snorkeling on offer in the Belize Barrier Reef.
Given the mixed landscapes of shallow and deep waters in the Belize Barrier Reef, there is suitable snorkeling for both beginners and experts.
Best Time to Visit Belize For Snorkeling
Generally speaking, Belize has decent weather all year round. So, Belize is really an all-year snorkeling destination. But, perhaps the best conditions are during the dry season between December and May when there is less disturbance in the water. In particular, March and April are heralded as the best months to visit as the water visibility is best, whilst the water is calmer and warmer.
From June to November, the wet season can bring wilder weather, which can impact the running of tours. Of course, during these months, the weather is a little warmer and prices to travel to Belize are generally cheaper as it’s off-season. Of course, at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference.
What to Wear and Take For Belize Snorkeling
Let’s talk about the things you’ll need to wear and pack for your Belize snorkeling trip.
- Swimming gear: well, this probably goes without saying, but you’ll need your swimmers! We recommend wearing a rash shirt to help protect your skin from the sun. Because the Caribbean Sea is warm all year round, wetsuits aren’t generally recommended.
- Reef-safe sunscreen: you’ll want to apply sunscreen to protect your skin. But, of course, we want to conserve the coral reef, so a reef-safe sunscreen is ideal.
- Microfibre towel: a small lightweight microfibre towel is a great addition to dry off in between snorkeling stops on a tour.
- GoPro and other accessories: although many snorkeling tours include a guide taking photos, using your own action camera to photograph marine life is part of the fun!
- Waterproof phone case: this is a wise choice to protect your phone whilst out on the boat.
- Sea sickness tablets: if you tend to get seasick, we recommend taking travel motion sickness tablets before going on the boat as a precaution.
How to Get to Belize
To get to Belize from abroad, you’ll need to fly to the Belize International Airport located in Belize City. When booking flights, you should definitely use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. That’s what Beck and I always do.
Where to Stay in Belize For Snorkeling
Of course, where you stay in Belize will be dictated by exactly where you want to go snorkeling. Below, we’ll look at the most common areas to stay in Belize for snorkeling and the most popular accommodation option in that area.
Most visitors base themselves in Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye to do a snorkeling tour of the famous Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley. So, let’s start with accommodation in Caye Caulker.
Caye Caulker: Iguana Reef Inn
Because Caye Caulker is such a small island and everything is within walking distance, it doesn’t really matter where you stay if you want to do a snorkeling tour of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. But, if you’re looking for a place to stay that offers offshore snorkeling, then consider staying at Iguana Reef Inn, which is where the famous Stingray Beach is located. Otherwise, you’ll want to hang around Iguana Reef Inn later in the day as it’s the go-to place to watch sunset!
Ambergris Caye: Tranquility Bay Resort
In terms of offshore snorkeling opportunities in Ambergris Caye, you can’t beat the highly-rated Tranquility Bay Resort. Located in the north of the island, the beachfront accommodation offers some of the best offshore snorkeling in Belize.
Glover’s Reef Island: Glover’s Reef Resort
As opposed to accommodation on Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye, Glover’s Reef Resort is a bit more off the beaten track. So, Glover’s Reef Resort offers a more secluded and chilled vibe. And, with the sensational Glover’s Reef Atoll on your doorstep, Glover’s Reef Island is truly an idyllic place to stay to snorkel in Belize.
Turneffe Island: Turneffe Island Resort
Turneffe Island Resort is a great base for snorkeling in Belize. Not only will you snorkel at Turneffe Reef Atoll, but you won’t be too far from Lighthouse Reef Atoll. So, snorkeling at the Great Blue Hole, Half Moon Caye and Long Caye would definitely be on the cards.
Bonus tip: if Turneffe Island Resort is booked out, we recommend staying at Belize Dive Haven Resort & Marina.
Travel Insurance For Belize Snorkeling
You’ll need travel insurance if you’re snorkeling in Belize.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Beck and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
FAQs About Snorkeling in Belize
Below, we’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about snorkeling in Belize.
Does Belize Have Good Snorkeling?
Yes, Belize has some of the best snorkeling in the world.
Can I Snorkel From the Beach in Belize?
Yes, it’s possible. But, the best snorkeling is at the Belize Barrier Reef, which is approx. 32–96km offshore.
Where Is the Easiest Place to Snorkel in Belize?
The easiest place for beginners to snorkel is generally in shallow waters off the beach. So, perhaps, the easiest place to snorkel, in Belize, would be offshore in either Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, Tobacco Caye or Goff’s Caye.
What Can I See While Snorkeling in Belize?
Belize has an abundance of marine life. We won’t exhaustively list all of the marine life in Belize. We’ll list the most unique and fascinating sea creatures in Belize – West Indian manatees, whale sharks, nurse sharks, green sea turtles, Caribbean lobsters, seahorses, southern sting rays, spotted eagle rays, sea anemones, tarpons and starfish. In terms of tropical fish, there are groupers, bar jacks, blue-striped grunts, dogsnappers, bluehead wrasses, stoplight parrotfish, grey angelfish, short nose pufferfish and suckerfish, amongst many others!
What Are the Best Months to Snorkel in Belize?
Usually, during March and April, the water visibility and conditions are best. Please read Best Time to Visit Belize For Snorkeling for more information.
Do You Need a Wetsuit For Snorkeling in Belize?
No, the water is quite warm all year round, so wetsuits aren’t generally recommended.
Is Snorkeling in Belize Safe?
Yes, generally speaking, snorkeling is safe in Belize.
Bonus Tips About Snorkeling in Belize
- Prioritise Hol Chan Marine Reserve: yes, the marine reserve can get busy with lots of visitors. But, that’s by no coincidence. The Hol Chan Marine Reserve, including Shark Ray Alley, is truly mesmerising.
- Planning your trip: first, have a look at the snorkeling sites you want to visit. Then, you’ll know where you’ll need to stay.
- Visit in the off-season to save money: honestly speaking, Belize is an all-year round snorkeling destination. So, consider visiting outside of the peak season for cheaper accommodation.
Central America Guides
- Mexico: we spent a month exploring incredible Mayan ruins and breathtaking cenotes. Read about the 13 Best Mayan Ruins and 25 Best Cenotes in the Yucatán Peninsula.
- Guatemala: we also spent a month in Guatemala, exploring all of the main natural attractions. Read our 17 Best Hikes in Guatemala guide.
- El Salvador: we spent around three weeks trekking some lesser-explored volcanoes in El Salvador. For more information, read our 20 Epic El Salvador Hiking Trails Not to Miss.
- Nicaragua: we spent another three weeks exploring Nicaragua. Read about the 16 Best Hikes in Nicaragua and the 4 Best Hikes on Ometepe Island.
- Costa Rica: we explored the most popular waterfalls and volcanoes in Costa Rica. Read about La Fortuna Waterfall, the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Poas Volcano and Irazu Volcano.
Are you heading to Caye Caulker? Read our massive Caye Caulker Visitor’s Guide to find out everything you need to know about visiting the island. Otherwise, please read 46 AWESOME Things to Do in Belize (Best Tours and Travel Tips) or The 21 Best Things to Do in San Ignacio Belize.