We enjoyed snorkeling Hol Chan Marine Reserve, and it is the most popular Belize snorkeling spot that you access from Ambergris Caye. That may be the biggest drawback to Hol Chan, just how crowded with boats and snorkelers it can get!
Hol Chan is actually an underwater marine reserve in a national park that is easily accessed by boat. It is normally a fast and enjoyable ride by boat out to the cut, with nice views of the south end of Ambergris Caye.
The park is primarily focused around a "cut" or channel through the barrier reef. Apparently Hol Chan in Mayan means "little channel". This break in the reef is only 20-25 yards across and around 25-30 feet deep.
The park has four specific ecological zones, and the entire reserve covers about three square miles. Shark Ray Alley is now part of the park, as well as some of the shallow grass bed areas, and some mangrove areas.
The park was established in 1987 because of over-fishing, and the marine life has recovered significantly since then. You can learn more about the park at it's official website here.
Most snorkel trips to Hol Chan are combined with Shark Ray Alley. And to get there you must hire a boat and in addition to the trip fee there is a park fee that each person must pay. Most companies combine this fee with their charge.
These trips run from Ambergris Caye, but also from Belize City and Caye Caulker.
Our trip was guided. We first started along the coral reef edge on the south side of the cut, exploring the amazing soft corals and the huge Elkhorn Corals. We saw huge purple fans that were a joy wafting back and forth in the waves.
Even though we went on a morning trip we did not see too many fish around the reef edge and the visibility level was pretty low.
But as our tour continued we started to enter the deeper waters of the cut. We started to see lots of fish, and in the deeper waters some pretty big ones! We saw big groupers and Spotted Eagle Rays cruising along the bottom, Barracuda, and a variety of other large species that we did not recognize.
Snorkeling Hol Chan Safety Tip
Keep this caution in mind. Channels through reefs like at Hol Chan often have a lot of water moving through them. All the water that comes over the reef has to leave somehow, and it is most often through a channel or cut. Hol Chan often has some very strong currents, most often pulling out to sea. So be aware and be careful. If you go with a guide you should be fine.
After swimming along the south edge of the cut, we crossed it to explore the north side and the shallow grass beds further inside the reef. We saw many immature fish and more interesting plant life. Then it was back to the boat and on to Shark Ray Alley.
All and all we were not overly impressed with Hol Chan, given how popular it is. It was very crowded (we were literally bumping in to boatloads of other snorkelers). And we did not see the quantity of fish life that we expected. But we would still recommend it. It is a quick easy trip and definitely enjoyable. And since it is often combined with snorkeling Shark Ray Alley, which we loved, we would not miss it.
A Compact Snorkeling Camera