One of the most popular activities for backpackers and tourists alike visiting Caye Caulker is a trip out to the Barrier Reef to experience first-hand the incredible natural marine life through the calm, crystal clear waters.
A stroll down the main strip of Caye Caulker gives you a few options in terms of which tour provider to select. A quick review of quotes shows that each provider charges around BZ$140 (AU$95) per person, which covers your transport (sailing boat), lunch and refreshments, drinks, rum punch and snorkelling gear hire.
We thought this was pretty reasonable, compared to a similar day trip to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, costing AU$250 per person. We decided on Raggamuffin Tours, given their #1 rating on TripAdvisor and competitive rate.
The following day we met at the Raggamuffin office (beach hut), checked in, selected our flippers, snorkel and mask, then waited with the rest of the group outside for our briefing.
Soon we were out on the open water, cruising aboard Ragga King, a 40-foot sailing boat. Then we started with a bit of an ice-breaker to get everyone excited for the day – hand feeding giant seabirds!
Twenty minutes later we slowed and dropped the anchor at the coral gardens. Here we became accustomed to our snorkelling gear with a quick paddle around the boat, before following our guide across the reef. Fish life was abundant, while we also spotted two different varieties of turtles, as well as a small nurse shark in the distance – a brief sample of what was to come at our next stop!
Arriving at Shark Ray Alley we were a bit nervous to start with – understandably so, as the crew began throwing small bait fish overboard to lure the ‘main attraction’.
Within seconds there were dozens of medium-sized nurse sharks and other massive fish splashing furiously in the shallows next to the boat, thrashing around for their share of the feed. Lurking in the background and closer to the ocean floor were large Southern Stingrays – an awesome sight alongside the nurse sharks.
Our guide hurried us along by yelling, “jump in the water now, before they swim away!” – and with that, we were all jumping off the opposite side of the Ragga King, right next to the feeding frenzy.
We had clear instructions: stay at least 6-feet away from the sharks and stingrays, and do not try and touch them. While the nurse sharks didn’t have teeth like the sharks we know back home, they could easily suck the skin off your finger if it got too close. Plus, we both knew the consequences of messing around with stingrays. We didn’t need to be told twice, all we could think about was Steve Irwin’s killer ray.
The sharks were incredibly quick and as soon as you would try and get close to them, they would swim away. Although camera shy, we managed to snap a few photos while in the water.
Once we had all returned to the boat, we were off to our final snorkelling destination. The water here was both extremely shallow and deep in parts, so our guide navigated us along a well-rehearsed route, ensuring we didn’t run into the giant coral protruding (almost) out of the water.
The keen eye of the guide located a massive moray eel hiding in the coral. A few claps of his hands underwater and the eel was slithering towards him with a muted aggression – it was not happy with the intruder, but was also cautious of his size! Within seconds he was back in his hiding spot and we were swimming away to the final attraction, a tunnel roughly 15 metres below the surface.
Next, our guide demonstrated the correct form to free dive down to the tunnel, a quick and smooth motion. Only one volunteered from our group to give it a go and with a few frantic paddles, he was down, through the tunnel and out the other side.
We were now on the return route to Caye Caulker – queue the rum punch, ceviche and reggae music! The rum punch was deceptively strong, so let this be a warning to you.
We navigated around to the opposite side of the island and came across a school of enormous tarpons. With massive bodies and fierce teeth, a few sacrificial fish were snapped from our fingers and quickly devoured. They were a bit scary to be honest, not something you would want to come up against in the ocean.
Finally, we docked and collected our things, before saying our goodbyes and stumbling back home to begin the recovery. All in all, a great day out and awesome way to see the different sections of the reef that form the most popular attractions in the area.