Caye Caulker, Belize: Swimming with Sharks

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caye caulker

Caye Caulker, Belize: Swimming with Sharks

I have always had a fascination with sharks. One of my families’ favourite anecdotes is of six year old me telling my mum that a six-foot hammerhead basking nearby was “so cute.” As we were just a few feet away at the time, she was far less impressed.  Over the years, the fascination has never really gone away – but I certainly have picked up a ‘healthy’ level of fear… I blame Shark Week for that! So when the opportunity arose to visit Caye Caulker – home to the second largest barrier reef in the world – I knew it was time to confront those fears head on.

Belize attracts nature lovers from all over the world – both for its verdant jungle, and thriving coral reefs. Caye Caulker is an easy hour or so ferry from Belize City’s port and, as a result, is a popular choice for those looking to either explore the reef or head out to the legendary Blue Hole. As a result, dive and snorkel operators are practically everywhere.

By and large, their services and price points aren’t that different, and almost all operators offer tours to Shark Ray Alley. We decided to go with Anwar’s Tours as he offered GoPro hire, was particularly friendly and showed a passion for wildlife conservation.

The Alley was a short boat ride away- all the while our excitement (and nerves) were building. By the time we arrived, I was bouncing in my seat – simultaneously eager to get started and to get out of there!

Anwar had compared the sharks to cats when he was reassuring me earlier - and it made sense. The nurse sharks were wary but curious, nosing about whilst generally staying at arms length


As we were ordered to put on our gear, the boat became a hive of activity. More than once I had to dodge a stray elbow or help catch someone who was tripping over their flippers. After all, putting on snorkelling equipment is an ungainly dance at the best of times. Throw in some light swell and jittery hands and it was chaotic.

Whilst we were occupied, the guides were throwing bait overboard. Within minutes the sea was teeming with reef sharks and rays. Since they wouldn’t stick around forever, we were told to get in the water ASAP. This meant no time for dithering!

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Caye Caulker PIC: SC

Within a minute of this announcement I was in the water, taking my first look – and I was hooked. I’ve always loved the water and seeing sharks up close is incredible. The fear was entirely gone, and instead giddiness was in its place, both due to adrenaline, and the realization of how special that moment was. Definitely a check off of the mental bucketlist!

Anwar had compared the sharks to cats when he was reassuring me earlier – and it made sense. The nurse sharks were wary but curious, nosing about whilst generally staying at arms length (although one did swim into my fin!). True to the guides’ advice, they started to disperse ten or so minutes later, leaving us to clamber back into the boat and make our way back, still buzzing.

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Caye Caulker – Rays PIC: SC

That evening, as we sat eating ice cream on a somewhat ramshackle wharf, we reflected on what an amazing day it had been. Harder to contemplate was whether shark baiting was a practice we should have been a part of.

As an environmentalist, I’m a big believer in being a responsible tourist to our marine environment – whether its fishing sustainable, removing litter, or ensuring corals are protected. Shark baiting or chumming is at best ethically grey – it changes the behaviors and migratory patterns of sharks, and in some parts of the world is regulated.

caye caulker

Caye Caulker – Wharf PIC: SC

Apparently there are a couple operators on the island who offer tours without shark baiting, although we only saw one (after returning).  So if you are keen, don’t be put off, there are alternatives (although you may see less sharks).

It was certainly a day to remember!

Also check out, A Rendezvous with the Caliph of Cats.

Serina Callachan