Northeast of Belize City off Ambergris Caye, the snorkeling at Shark Ray Alley is known for quantities of nurse sharks and stingrays. Ambergris Caye has a 25 mile long barrier reef located about a half mile off the eastern shore. Inside the barrier reef, there are shallow sandy, seagrass flats popular with turtles, conchs, resting nurse sharks and also surface boat traffic. The barrier reef itself is popular for its staghorn and elkhorn coral formations but is not known for quantities of reef fish.
The boat-accessed Shark Ray Alley snorkeling dive site is also a popular snorkel dive within zone D of the Hol Chan Underwater National Park. It is usually explored as a part of a trip to the Hol Chan cut. It is known for its morning crowd of nurse sharks and Southern Sting Rays found in shallow, ten foot deep waters over white sand flats. The nurse sharks are typically 4 to 6 feet long, and the sting rays have 2 to 4 foot wingspans. Many of the dive guides feed the sharks as part of the trip. If time permits onsite, try snorkeling to the south to explore the large elkhorn coral and staghorn coral formations which provide habitat for large schools of reef fish. During a Shark Ray Alley snorkeling dive you can expect to encounter grouper, sergeant majors, parrotfish, french grunts, snapper, lionfish and green moray eels, too. This dive site is a photographers dream, but most do wear light dive weights.
To reach San Pedro on Ambergis Caye, fly into Belize City International Airport. There are two small inter-island airlines that operate a 20 minute flight to San Pedro airport on Ambergis Caye. Note, even if you reserve a specific inter-island flight at a specific time, only after you check-in with the inter-island carrier are you really assigned to an actual flight at an actual time. While there is a ferry service from downtown Belize City to Ambergris Caye, there are only informal taxis (in personally owned vehicles) from the airport along slow roads thru run-down neighborhoods to the ferry dock, which is located in a very sketchy area. Hence, the ferry service does not tend to be a very popular option with tourists.
All of the popular Ambergris Caye snorkeling dive sites are boat access. There are several dive boat charters out of San Pedro that also pick up from the numerous hotel boat docks. This includes snorkeling at Shark Ray Alley.
After a long day of snorkeling at Shark Ray Alley, you can check out Wet Willies for a cold drink. It's located at the end of a pier just north of downtown San Pedro. Alternately, another local favorite is the Green Parrot Beach Bar located in the Portofino Beach Resort about six miles north of San Pedro (they have a complementary water taxi 501-226-5096).
When considering a trip to Ambergris Caye for a snorkeling vacation, there are a few things you should be aware of before planning. First, due to shallow sea grass beds and heavy boat traffic, there really isn't any snorkeling accessible from the shoreline. A boat is definitely required to get to the good snorkeling dive sites. Even with a sea kayak, you'll need to be very careful of the fast boats and the changing offshore winds making your return challenging. Second, Ambergris Caye seems to be over flowing with trash. You can expect to find plenty of trash in the water and washing up on shore. The inland roads are lined with smelly trash, too. Third, the bugs and ants may drive you crazy until you get used to routinely using plenty of bug spray. The no-see-ums and small fire ants are particularly annoying. Fourth, the island roads are in pretty bad shape, and once outside of downtown San Pedro, you'll encounter flooding and large pot holes. Again, travel by boat is the best way to go. Keep in mind that the local water taxi is more of a water bus that stops at every dock as needed. It's a value, but can take quite some time to get up the coastline. Fifth, the price of food on the island is quite high and variety is limited. So, make sure to pack as much food in your bags when you head down. While there are numerous small markets, their prices are double those at the two Super Buy grocery stores on the island. Lastly, the dive shops are very scuba oriented and have very little or no supples. So bring your own gear and backup supplies. The general level of professionalism seems pretty laid back.
While many tourists use one of the many scuba dive tour charters companies to reach the boat access snorkeling sites, all the charters seem to offer the exact same two trips. The two typical trips combine either Hol Chan/Shark Ray Alley or they combine Tres Cocos / Mexico Rocks. You may find a tour for snorkeling along with a beach BBQ, but there is limited snorkeling and way too much time on shore at a crowded dirty beach. These snorkeling beach BBQ trips also may sell you on offering two or three dive sites during the trip, but it may turn out that you'll only go to one site. The best option to enjoying Ambergris Caye snorkeling is to stay at a resort near your desired offshore reef dives and use the resorts boat service. Alternately, you can look at the downtown San Pedro piers for a local guide with a dive permit and strike a dear for some boat services.
Overall, Shark Ray Alley is the 4th most popular snorkel dive spot of all 33 snorkeling dives in Belize.