Hol Chan?

Old Jan 29th, 2010, 10:46 AM
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Hol Chan?

Hi, guys! For those of you who have snorkeled at Hol Chan, what did you think? Was it worth it? Or has the reef seen better days? Any good tour operators you would recommend? Thanks for any guidance you can give me!
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Old Jan 29th, 2010, 10:58 AM
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Well, it's very crowded and the shark handling struck me as stagey and tasteless. However it is usually just one stop on a two stop trip so you'll probably see something else worthwhile. If I remember correctly I got pretty close to a big barracuda. To tell the truth, I enjoyed a trip to Mexico Rocks more. At the stop after Mexico I saw a huge leopard ray, probably the most beautiful marine life I've ever seen.

Our guide to Mexico Rocks was named Alphonse -- he's pretty well known, I think. I'd recommend him. He has lots of information and wants to share it. He'll make you swim at a pretty good pace while he shows you around, but then leaves you to go your own way.
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Old Jan 29th, 2010, 11:23 AM
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I guess it depends what time of year you go. The sharks are not at Hol Chan - they're at Shark Ray Alley and it is usually a combined trip. We were there in August which is the very end of their tourist season and it wasn't crowded at all. We went with ecologic divers and my husband and I were the only two in our snorkel trip. Yes, the reef has seen better days, but I'm betting you probably won't see underwater life like what you'll see there anywhere else. We saw the big life there. Rays, baracudda, large fish, sea turtles, we even saw a spotted eagle ray jump out of the water, and so many colorful fish. It was beautiful and I could have spent days snorkeling there. So much so that I chose to do their DSD (discover scuba diving) course a few days later and go back and dive at Hol Chan. While were were snorkeling we didn't come across any other snorkelers, except when we "parked" our boats. Paired with Shark Ray Alley - it was a nice trip. There are more people at shark ray alley, and yes there they feed the sharks. That part of the trip is very short. We were only in the water about 20 minutes, we saw the rays and a few sharks.

Mexico Rocks was great too. It's a differnt experience. Much smaller fish. The reef was more colorful as well. The current wasn't nearly as strong there. Where we stayed, at Portofino, you could take a kayak out and snorkel there on your own if you wanted to - we chose to go with a guide - and actually the excursion was included in our package price. Again it was with ecologic divers and my husband and I were the only two on the trip. We also spent about 40 minutes with the guide and then he gave us another 40 minutes or so to explore on our own.

Don't miss Hol Chan - the sea life is amazing there.
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Old Jan 29th, 2010, 11:49 AM
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There was just 1 other group at Hol Chan when we were there, lots of big stuff (see above) including a school of 4-5' long tarpon which was the highlight for my fisherman husband. Hol Chan is a huge cut in the reef and has some great overhangs so you see things there you don't other places along the reef.

Shark Ray alley was a bit more crowded, probably depends a lot on the season and also time of day. When we were there in August there was just one other boat there with us and others were arriving as we left.

We also stopped at Coral Gardens which we liked but didn't hold a candle to Glover's Atoll where we'd spent the last week.

We went on the full day sailing trip with Raggamuffin tours from Caye Caulker on our last full day in Belize last summer. It was an amazing day - nice boat, great captain and crew, good lunch, fresh ceviche, rum and cokes, and lots of Bob Marley - we'll never forget it.
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Old Jan 29th, 2010, 11:52 AM
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Here's a link to the trip we took, a great value at $45US/pp:
http://raggamuffintours.com/hol-chan-snorkel/
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Old Jan 29th, 2010, 03:12 PM
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If you go on a snorkel or dive trip most operators will stop at or near Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley.We saw tons of fish (described in above postings), but yes the reef is a bit distressed.
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Old Jan 29th, 2010, 07:52 PM
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We knew Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley might be crowded, but opted to do it anyway since it was our first visit there and neither of us had snorkeled in awhile. It was awesome. And wasn't all that crowded. At Shark Ray Alley, there were more people, but you really don't move away from your boat there (or we didn't) so were not really aware of a lot of other people. We only saw one shark at a distance as they have become intimidated by too many people trying to handle them. Very unfortunate. Like shell, I could have snorkeled at Hol Chan a lot more. We were in the water almost 2 hours, never came up, and it was fabulous. I hated that the reef wasn't as colorful as I'd hoped, but the snorkeling was still amazing. The current was interesting, an experience we'd never had. Loved it.
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Old Jan 30th, 2010, 04:12 AM
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I don't know about other tour operators, my husband was out diving/snorkeling with Ecologic this week, and they no longer handle the sharks and rays. They do put out food to attract them though.
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Old Jan 30th, 2010, 06:55 AM
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Is the snorkeling a problem at Hol Chan if you are not a strong swimmer. Do you use life jackets?
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Old Jan 30th, 2010, 08:04 AM
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I didn't find the snorkeling to be difficult at Hol Chan. My husband is not a strong swimmer at ALL. He sinks right to the bottom. They gave him a life ring to hold onto and he was fine. He held it out in front of him. They told him this is better than the life jackets for snorkeling, more comfortable maybe? He had no problems at all. I think the current may be more of an issue with diving. We used ecologic divers. My husband never felt insecure with the currents as long as he had the life ring. Be sure to tell your tour operator before you go out that you need some type of flotation device though.
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Old Jan 31st, 2010, 06:49 AM
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My wife and I did the Ragamuffin Tours trip that hopefulist mentions. We had fun. The guides know the marine life, didn't handle or feed the fish, and they make a mean rum punch!

I'm not a reef expert and have only been snorkeling a few times (Kauai, Curacao, Belize). I have not seen the concentrations of larger fish as I did at Hol Chan. We saw turtles, moray eels, eagle rays, nurse sharks, stingrays, barracuda, tarpon, and a very large rainbow parrotfish(?). It was really neat.

What was not neat is how crowded it got at some points. The reef did look like it had seen better days.

I recommend Hol Chan with mixed feelings. It's worth the trip, but by recommending it, I feel that only puts more pressure on the area. I wonder if it's time for Belize to start restricting the number of daily visits to the area.
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Old Jan 31st, 2010, 08:13 AM
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You could be right, Gritty. And maybe limiting tour providers. I know another poster on this forum suffered a broken rib when the shark she was encouraged to hold resisted; tour outfits that encourage that shouldn't be allowed to take groups there.

I forgot to mention that last summer manatees were also spotted there. We didn't see them but on separate trips other family members did - sweet!
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Old Jan 31st, 2010, 05:26 PM
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Wow, sounds like there's some amazing wildlife to be seen!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 11:45 AM
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A few years ago my wife would be caught swimming in the ocean or lake. She had a tremendous fear of the water. A trip snorkelling at X Caret she did attached to me very tight. When she saw fish she eased up. At Hol Chan she was afraid of getting swept out to sea but she had her life jacket on and held on tight to me. When we got to Shark Ray Alley she got so excited that she jumped in the water without her life jacket and swam about 50 yards from the boat looking at all the fish until I asked her about her life jacket. Then she clamped onto me and I took her back to the boat and there she stayed until we were done. For the price of the trip it is worth it I only wished I had went scuba diving.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 04:38 PM
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Cute story! A little bit of swimming skill might increase one's confidence, but for snorkeling, well, you really don't do any swimming. The life ring is a great idea. I am a very poor swimmer, but with a guide I feel quite safe (also DH nearby).
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Old Feb 9th, 2010, 10:54 AM
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Thanks, everyone - lots of great info. you've given me. Regarding geography, do most people who go to Hol Chan stay on Ambergris, or is it easy enough to get there from another caye? What would you guys recommend?
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Old Feb 9th, 2010, 11:30 AM
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You can visit Hol Chan from Caye Caulker too. Hol Chan is at the southern end of Ambergris.
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Old Feb 9th, 2010, 11:39 AM
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Location of Hol Chan, Ambergris and Caulker http://ambergriscaye.com/maps/art/be...ddivesites.jpg

Personally I prefer Caulker to Ambergris. It's less developed, more laid back and reminds me of what Ambergris was like years ago. Not that Ambergris is that developed compared to many other destinations but it's very developed relative to everything else in Belize. Caulker is also much smaller (could be a plus or minus) and there aren't really any good beaches, not that Ambergris is known for great beaches either.
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Old Feb 9th, 2010, 01:00 PM
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We loved Caulker, too, and our Raggamuffin Tours sail trip to Hol Chan was an amazing, memorable day.
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Old Feb 9th, 2010, 09:42 PM
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volcanogirl, we thought that having close access to San Pedro was a fun part of our time on Ambergris. We loved bicycling around the island, having lots of restaurant choices, access to internet, looking in the shops, etc. We are fairly easy to please, as you probably know, and would, I'm sure, enjoy one of the more laid back cayes. That said, Ambergris, for first timers especially, seems a good choice.
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