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For many, Shark Ray Alley is a must-see destination when visiting Ambergris Caye in Belize. The appeal of swimming (or at least viewing) a frenzy of hungry nurse sharks and stingrays is an appeal that’s hard to beat. Brad and I felt the same way and were eager to experience Shark and Ray Alley and so we booked a tour with Searious Adventures to check it out.
First, let me state that Shark Ray Alley isn’t really a diving destination, it’s really just a “stop.” That is, you want to make sure you book a tour that takes you out to the reef hotspots on the Hol Chan Marine Reserve (or some other hot spot) for at least an hour or so to snorkel/scuba so that you can see the rich marine life that Belize has to offer. While snorkeling the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, we saw multiple rays and a pretty big nurse shark in addition to a sea turtle, eel, and countless numbers of beautiful species of fish that were nothing short of stunning.
I’m not even sure if there are tours that just go solely to Shark Ray Alley but if you see one that does I recommend you avoid it and opt for a tour that includes a lengthy dive at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. The dive we did with Searious Adventures lasted from 9 am to about 11:30 am and included a snorkel in Hol Chan, which lasted for a little over an hour and then a quick stop to Shark and Ray Alley.
So why am I preaching to make sure to include other dives and don’t just stick to Shark and Ray Alley? The answer is that there really isn’t much to see for very long at Shark Ray Alley.
For one, there’s really nothing in that area but a bunch of sea grass. No reef, no marine life, no anything. (However, there apparently are some pretty cool coral to check out nearby so perhaps you can inquire with your tour operator about exploring those.)
The sharks and rays only come out when they hear the engines from the boats rumbling nearby. And then once the instructors throw out the chum, the sharks and rays come directly to that specific spot. So the name “Shark and Ray Alley” is a little misleading since it’s not like you’re visiting a hot spot where sharks and rays normally roam — it’s really just an area where the sharks grew accustomed to being lured to once fisherman started throwing out free meals to them years ago.
But still, even though you’re not catching the sharks and rays in their true “natural habitat” it’s still a pretty thrilling sight to see a group of nurse sharks go at it for some chum for a few minutes.
Should you be nervous to enter shark and ray alley?
If you’re wondering whether or not you should be nervous around these sharks and rays don’t worry — they’re pretty much harmless to humans.
Our guide told us that the nurse sharks don’t have any teeth at all and can merely “suck” on you, as they tend to do as bottom-dwellers. However, according to National Geographic, they actually do have teeth, it’s just that their teeth are very tiny and thus it’s unlikely that they would cause injury to you. Still, some nurse sharks can grow up to 14 feet long and even the smaller ones could still get a little aggressive and cause you some unwanted issues. For that reason, it’s a good idea to keep a little bit of distance between you and the sharks and avoid touching them.
As for the rays, you’re most likely to see southern stingrays. These are brownish rays that are found throughout the Caribbean and northern coast of South America. They are pretty docile toward humans and many of the rays at Shark Ray Alley have been conditioned to be friendly with divers — so much that they might even flap their wings right onto you. Still, just be careful that you don’t step on one as that seems to be the leading cause of injury with these marine animals. Luckily, the visibility at Shark Ray Alley is so good that you shouldn’t ever have any issues with losing sight of the stingrays.
Enjoy it while you can
One thing you should know is that the shark feast is over before you know it. Once the sharks start swarming on the chum, you’ve got about 5-10 minutes to experience these sharks before they’ve had enough and are out! The shark frenzy dissipates and if you’re lucky you might still be able to catch a glimpse of a ray or two but even the rays check-out pretty quickly as well. We only had two rays converge, but I’ve seen photos and heard reports of up to a dozen rays coming out to get it on the chum action!
Shark and Ray Alley is a spectacle and probably one of the best opportunities for snorkeling in close proximity to nurse sharks and rays. It’s a pretty transient experience that is a nice top-off to a morning of colorful and eventful snorkeling, but not exactly a destination that stands alone on its own. Still, whether you’re going to view from a boat or jump into the waters with them, it’s a destination worth checking out.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.