Snorkeling With Alphonse at Hol Chen and Shark Ray Alley
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Snorkeling With Alphonse at Hol Chen and Shark Ray Alley Ambergris Caye Reviews
Jan 07, 2008
Alphonse lives 2 houses south of Barrera's Auto Parts, on the main drag south of town. He's an AMAZING guide, and if you can't get ahold of him by his cell number on the sign posted outside of his house, you can book a tour with him through Monkey Business Travel Shop at the Banana Beach Hotel (1.4 miles south of town). The 3 hour trip costs 40 USD/ 80 BZ and renting a snorkel, mask, and flippers costs an extra 5 USD/10 BZ per person. We brought our own snorkels just because we're paranoid like that (and I know that any snorkeling place doesn't bother sanitizing snorkels after working at a coral reef reserve), but rented masks and flippers from him at the 5 USD flat rate. Tours run from 9-12 or 2-5. Personally, I prefer the morning shift because the odds of seeing more fish is higher. However, depending on the tide patterns, if the tide is out, there are fewer fish. Bottom line: the fish move with the tide, even as far out from shore as the reef is.
The barrier reef off the coast of Belize is the second largest in the world, behind the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Alphonse first takes you to Hol Chen, which is a narrow opening in the reef. There you snorkel alongside him where he points out various fish and coral species. We saw Parrot Fish, a moray eel, nurse sharks, brain coral, fan coral, feather duster worms, urchins, snappers, groupers, conch with their tenticles hanging out of their shells, and baracudas, just to name a few. At the second site, Shark Ray Alley, Alphonse put some chum into a giant hollow tube and used it to attract nurse sharks and sting rays.
What makes Alphonse such a good guide is that he knows individual sharks and rays and has a "relationship" with each one. He's gotten to the point where he can swim with a one ray atop his head and a nurse shark cradled under each arm. None bother each other and they all stay along for the ride. The sharks seem almost like dogs when you pet their soft, slippery bellies and rough backs. Secretly, I think that the creatures love the attention. Alphonse even coaches you when he offers those brave enough to hold the sharks themselves. It's hilarious to think that only a few days ago I was holding a five foot nurse shark in the same way I'd carry a baguette home from the bakery.
Unfortunately I can't SCUBA dive because my ears are too finicky. But if you can, I'd recommend doing that above all else. There isn't really any other reason to go to Ambergris if you aren't going to be in the water. If you can't dive, then I'd snorkel. You'll regret it if you don't!
Also - some people wear wetsuits snorkeling. I don't think it's necessary. We were there when it was as cold as it gets (according to locals, the coldest in 15 years) and it was cold in the boat going from Hol Chen to S.R. Alley. Being wet in the boat, not swimming in the water, is when you get the coldest, so bring along a towel or two if the weather isn't ideal.
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