Swim With Manatees In Belize: A BUCKETLIST Experience Must Do

Find out all you need to know to have the ultimate bucketlist experience: Swim with manatees in Belize! No doubt this was one of my highlights backpacking Belize, so I am here to tell you all you need to know!


If you are traveling Belize no doubt one of the best things to do there is have an experience where you swim with Manatees. I mean there is nothing cuter than the chill blobs with mermaid tails floating along.

For sure this was something I wanted to do during my visit, but you need to know it isn’t as straightforward as people expect it to be.

First of all, there is never a 100% chance you will actually get the chance to swim with Manatees. As chill as these guys are they are pretty elusive, only popping up to the surface for a breath, before heading back under.

Basically, these small windows are really the only chance your boat drivers will have to spot them, other than this it is just down to luck.

Nevertheless, it is well worth trying your luck. We actually ended up swimming with 3 manatees which were all hanging out together. We were lucky enough to find them straight away at one of our snorkeling spots and hung out with them all for about an hour.

Belize is actually home to the largest population of manatees in Central America, and there are several places where you can see them in their natural habitat. One of them is the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, and this is likely where you will try to find them as well.

Now personally I found it rather tough to find the information I was looking for when it came to wanting to swim with manatees in Belize. Though that has inspired me to write this guide where you too can have one of these bucketlist experiences!

Now get ready as I tell you about manatees, booking a tour, what to expect, rules, and more!



🚗 How I Book Ferries & Shuttles In Belize: GuateGo


What Is A Manatee

A manatee is a large, gentle, and slow-moving animal that lives in the water. It is sometimes called a sea cow because it eats plants and has thick, gray skin. They can grow up to 4 meters long and weigh up to 600 kilograms.

They have a paddle-like tail and two flippers that help them swim and steer. They also have whiskers on their snouts that help them find food. Manatees are herbivores and eat over 60 different kinds of plants, such as seagrass, water hyacinth, and mangrove leaves.

Since manatees are mammals, they breathe air, have hair, and produce milk for their young. They usually come up to the surface to breathe every few minutes, but they can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes when resting or sleeping.

Manatees are social animals and often form groups of two to six individuals. They communicate with each other using sounds like squeaks, chirps, and whistles.

the light shining through the water leaves pattens on the manatees
the light shining through the water leaves pattens on the manatees

Manatees In Belize

The type of manatees that are found in Belize are the West Indian manatees, which are one of the three species of manatees in the world. The West Indian manatee has two subspecies: the Florida manatee and the Antillean manatee.

The Antillean manatee is the one that lives in Belize and other parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.

Manatees in Belize can be found in rivers, lagoons, estuaries, and coastal areas, where they feed on seagrass and other plants. They are protected by law and by several wildlife sanctuaries in Belize, such as the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Gales Point Manatee Wildlife Sanctuary.

Manatees are very gentle and curious animals that can be seen from a boat or sometimes even from the shore.

However, they are also very sensitive and vulnerable to human activities, such as boat strikes, habitat loss, pollution, and hunting. Unfortunately, there was a radio announcement during my stay that one had been hit by a boat and had died.

algae growing on the back on a slow moving manatee in belize that we had the opportunity to swim with
algae growing on the back on a slow moving manatee in belize that we had the opportunity to swim with

Why Swim With Manatees In Belize

Swimming with manatees in Belize is a rare and amazing opportunity to get close to these endangered animals and observe them in their natural habitat.

You will be able to see how they interact with each other, how they feed on plants, and how they come up to the surface to breathe every few minutes. You will also be able to appreciate their beauty, grace, and intelligence.

Though as I said earlier swimming with manatees isn’t guaranteed. Therefore before booking a tour I highly recommend only doing so if you are into snorkeling and will still have a good day whether or not you encounter manatees.

one last look at the manatee as it swims off into the depths
one last look at the manatee as it swims off into the depths

🚗 How I Book Ferries & Shuttles In Belize: GuateGo


Where Can You Swim With Manatee In Belize

There are several places where you can swim with manatees in Belize, depending on the season and the availability of tours. Some of the best spots are:

Northern Lagoon: This is part of the Corozal Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the northern part of the country. It is a shallow and calm lagoon where manatees like to rest and feed.

Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary: This is located about 11 kilometers from Belize City and is one of the most popular places to see manatees in Belize. It is a protected area that was established by a local conservationist named Chocolate Heredia, who dedicated his life to protecting the manatees. You can take a boat tour from Belize City or Caye Caulker to this sanctuary and snorkel with the manatees.

Gales Point Manatee Wildlife Sanctuary: This is located in the Southern Lagoon, just offshore from the southern part of the Belize District. It is a remote and pristine area where manatees congregate in large numbers. You can stay at the Manatee Lodge in Gales Point village and take a boat tour to either the Placencia Lagoon or other areas where manatees like to play and feed.

trying to do a cheeky selfie while swimming with manatees in belize
trying to do a cheeky selfie while swimming with manatees in belize

Caye Caulker Or San Pedro: What Is Best For Swimming With Manatees

Honestly, this is where I screwed up a little on my backpacking Belize adventures. I just assumed that you would easily be able to take a snorkeling tour from either San Pedro or Caye Caulker for the chance to swim for manatees.

Let me tell you this is not the case, well at least for budget travelers in Belize who can’t afford to hire a private boat to take them wherever they would like.

Now I first visited San Pedro which was both a good and bad decision. It was good because it was Easter so a holiday, though because this is a touristy island it wasn’t crazy busy, and instead was quite relaxed.

Though I quickly realized shopping tour for a snorkeling tour, from San Pedro, they generally just go to Hol Chan Marine Park, and Shark Ray Alley. They both are incredible, but manatees don’t frequent those areas.

A few days later I arrived in Caye Caulker, and it may have been crazy busy since this is more of a local friendly island, though it was obvious you have the best chance of seeing manatees from here. Basically, all the snorkeling tour boards advertise the chance to see manatees and offer a longer trip to experience more.

The grounds for the manatees are actually about halfway between Caye Caulker and Shark Ray Alley so you will pass them twice as you travel there and back.

STAY IN CAYE CAULKER FOR THE BEST CHANCE TO SWIM WITH MANATEES IN BELIZE!

meeting at the dock for our snorkeling tour where we would get the chance to swim with manatees
meeting at the dock for our snorkeling tour where we would get the chance to swim with manatees

How To Improve Your Chances To Swim With Manatees In Belize

Swimming with manatees in Belize is a dream come true for many travelers who love nature and wildlife. Though they are also endangered and protected by law, so seeing them in their natural habitat is a rare and special opportunity.

As I have said, swimming with manatees in Belize is not guaranteed, as these animals are wild and have their own behaviors and preferences.

Sometimes they may be playful and friendly, other times they may be shy and elusive. Sometimes they may be in large groups, other times they may be alone or in pairs. Sometimes they may be close to the shore, other times they may be far away.

Choose the right location: There are several places where you can swim with manatees in Belize, but some are better than others in terms of accessibility, visibility, and abundance of manatees. Basically, these are the Northern Lagoon, Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, and Gales Point Manatee Wildlife Sanctuary.

Choose the right time: The best time to swim with manatees in Belize is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. During this time, the weather is sunny and dry, the water is clear and calm, and the manatees are more active and visible.

The wet season, which runs from May to October, is not ideal for swimming with manatees, as the weather is rainy and stormy, the water is murky and choppy, and the manatees are more elusive and hidden.

The best time of the day: It is best to swim with manatees in Belize early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is not too strong and the water is not too hot.

During these times, the manatees are more likely to come up to the surface to breathe and socialize. Avoid swimming with manatees at midday, when the sun is harsh and the water is warm. During this time, the manatees tend to stay deeper in the water to avoid overheating.

Choose the right tour: The best way to swim with manatees in Belize is to book a tour with a reputable and experienced operator that follows the best practices for responsible tourism.

They will provide you with transportation, equipment, guides, and information on how to interact with the manatees. They will also respect the rules and regulations of the protected areas where the manatees live. I will touch more on tours down below.

a cheeky sucker fish enjoying a ride on a manatee in belize
a cheeky sucker fish enjoying a ride on a manatee in belize

Booking A Manatee Snorkeling Tour In Belize

Now you know one of the most amazing experiences you can have in Belize is snorkeling with manatees. Though manatees are endangered and protected animals, you need to book a tour with a reputable and responsible operator that will take you to the best spots to see them in their natural habitat.

There are several operators that offer manatee snorkeling tours in Belize, so where do you start?

Basically, your top snorkeling tours from Caye Caulker are:

You can just walk down the main street in Caye Caulker and see numerous different places offering snorkeling tours where may also get the chance to swim with manatees.

Basically, you will have no issue finding one, though you will want to make sure you are getting the best value for money, and are going with someone who practices ethical animal encounters.

Essentially when booking you will notice there are different tour options including:

  • Full-Day Snorkeling Tour
  • Half-Day Snorkeling Tour
  • Scuba Diving Tour

I have done all of the above except the multi-day tour, as unfortunately, my budget didn’t allow for this and the dates didn’t line up. Though let’s get into the difference below to improve your chances of swimming with manatees in Belize.

a manatee coming up next to me for a breath of air
a manatee coming up next to me for a breath of air

🚗 How I Book Ferries & Shuttles In Belize: GuateGo


Full-Day Snorkeling Tour

A full-day snorkeling tour typically lasts from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. The price of this runs between $90.00 to $120.00, and yes this is pricey, but Belize, in general, is pretty damn expensive. Doing a full-day tour will optimize your chances of swimming with manatees in Belize.

Each snorkeling company uses slightly different names but in reality, all the boats follow each other and go to the same spots. Basically, some will or will not include rum punch, but otherwise, they will make the same stops.

The full-day tours include:

  • Hol Chan Marine Reserve
  • Shark Ray Alley
  • Coral Gardens
  • Chatos Area
  • A small shipwreck

Depending on the company you book with your park fee may or may not be included. The cost of this is $10.00, so make sure to bring some extra cash with you.

two manatees touching while we swim alongside them in belize
two manatees touching while we swim alongside them in belize

Half-Day Snorkeling Tour

The half-day snorkeling tour runs for 3 hours, from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm or 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. This is basically half the price of the full-day tour costing between $45.00 and $60.00.

The half-day tour includes:

  • Shark Ray Alley
  • Coral Gardens
  • South Channel

Honestly, this day does miss a lot of the highlights when it comes to snorkeling in Belize. Though you won’t have a high chance at all of swimming with manatees, I personally wouldn’t recommend it.

Also, the snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve is absolutely insane, and no doubt the best snorkeling I have done anywhere in the world – it’s something that can’t be missed.

a turtle chilling on the sea floor at hol chan marine reserve
a turtle chilling on the sea floor at hol chan marine reserve

Scuba Diving Tour

Now honestly I didn’t have the best time on my first trip to Caye Caulker, simply because it was easter and this place was crazy overcrowded. Considering this was meant to be the chilled-out backpacker island you can imagine the shock I felt when I first arrived.

Therefore when I was planning my latest trip to Belize I wanted to go back and give this place a second chance.

Unfortunately, I found it difficult to find a dive shop on the island that catered to what I was wanting. The majority of them couldn’t fit us in as they were planning dive trips to the blue hole etc rather than doing local fun diving. Therefore I ended up diving from San Pedro in Ambergris Caye.

Though I will say you will have a better chance diving with manatees from Caye Caulker as they do not frequent San Pedro. Though they typically don’t go too deep, so if you are diving down to 30 meters it is unlikely you will see them. Instead, they will stay in shallower reefs protected from larger predators.


What To Expect On A Manatee Snorkeling Tour

Now I won’t talk about my snorkeling tour as a whole, but more about the specific manatee part of it. First of all, we booked the tour just directly through our hostel and it cost $80.00 excluding the marine park fee.

Grabbing a cheeky fry jack before then heading down to the pier we gear up with our fins, mask, and snorkel. We then jump on board the boat which we are also sharing with a group from Canada, so five of us and the boat driver.

Heading off we make our way to the first stop, though on the way we slow down in certain areas to watch for manatees surfacing. Supposedly this is the best way to spot them.

Unfortunately, no luck is had, so we make our way to a couple of snorkeling spots closer to San Pedro such as Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. After this, we head back and once again slow down to try and spot manatees.

Once again we have no luck and after searching for 15 or so minutes waiting for any to surface for a breath we head to a snorkeling spot nearby.

Jumping in first I am greeted by a manatee right by me chilling on the sea bed. It’s crazy how well they blend in from the surface so no wonder you simply just have to look for them surfacing.

Everyone else jumps in and soon enough we spot two more, for a total of three manatees to snorkel with. This was a spot where we were meant to snorkel and check out the coral and reef system.

Though instead, we hang out with the manatees for the next 45 minutes to an hour. Watching them interact with each other, surface for a breath and slowly move around.

No doubt this was a special experience and when we went back to the hostel our friends couldn’t believe we swam with three manatees, let alone did it for so long!

hanging out in the sunshine of our boat following a pod of dolphins
hanging out in the sunshine of our boat following a pod of dolphins
trying a selfie swimming alongside two manatees
trying a selfie swimming alongside two manatees
two manatees just relaxing in the deeper part of the reef in belize
two manatees just relaxing in the deeper part of the reef in belize

Rules To Follow When Snorkeling With Manatees In Belize

Swimming with manatees in Belize is an incredible experience that requires respect and responsibility. Manatees are protected by law and by several wildlife sanctuaries in Belize, so you need to follow some rules and guidelines to ensure their safety and well-being.

Here are some tips on how to swim with manatees in Belize:

Wear appropriate gear: You will need a mask, snorkel, fins and a life jacket to swim with the manatees. You should also wear a rash guard or a wetsuit to protect yourself from the sun and jellyfish stings. Avoid wearing sunscreen or insect repellent as they can harm the manatees’ skin.

Keep your distance: You should always keep at least 10 feet away from the manatees and never touch, chase, feed or harass them. You should also avoid blocking their path or making loud noises that can scare them. Let them approach you if they are curious and respect their space if they are not.

Be patient: Manatees are wild animals that have their own behaviors and personalities. Sometimes they may be playful and friendly, other times they may be shy and elusive. You should be patient and enjoy whatever encounter you have with them. Remember that it is a privilege to see them in their natural environment.

two manatees with a sucker fish stuck to one
two manatees with a sucker fish stuck to one

What To Pack When You Swim With Manatees In Belize

What do you need to pack when you go swimming with manatees in Belize? Here are some essential items that will make your trip more enjoyable and comfortable.

Swimwear and Towel: Obviously, you will need a swimsuit and a towel when you go swimming with manatees in Belize. Choose a swimsuit that is comfortable, durable, and suitable for snorkeling.

You may also want to wear a rash guard or a wetsuit to protect yourself from the sun and jellyfish stings. Avoid wearing sunscreen or insect repellent as they can harm the manatees’ skin.

Snorkeling Gear: Most tour operators will provide you with snorkeling gear, such as masks, snorkels, fins, and life jackets. However, if you have your own gear or prefer to use your own for hygiene reasons, you can bring it along.

Just make sure it is in good condition and fits you well. You may also want to bring some anti-fog spray or wipes to prevent your mask from fogging up.

Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is very important when you go swimming with manatees in Belize, as the weather is hot and humid and you will be spending a lot of time in the sun and water. You should drink plenty of water before, during, and after your tour to avoid dehydration, heatstroke, or sunburn.

Camera or Phone: You will definitely want to capture your memories of swimming with manatees in Belize, as it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will want to share with your friends and family.

You can bring a camera or a phone to take photos or videos of your adventure, but make sure they are waterproof or have a waterproof case.

Extra Cash: You may need some extra cash when you go swimming with manatees in Belize for tips, souvenirs, or emergencies. Most tour operators will include transportation, equipment, guides, and lunch in their price, but you may want to tip them for their service if they did a good job.

a rather large manatee blending in with the reef behind it off caye caulker
a rather large manatee blending in with the reef behind it off caye caulker

Where To Stay In Caye Caulker

Now Caye Caulker is a pretty small island so you should have no problem staying in a decent location. It’s pretty popular to get around by bicycle or simply walking so you should have no issues getting around.

Personally, I stayed at Bellas Backpackers in Caye Caulker. This is essentially the only hostel on the island, and I had an awesome stay. They have also upgraded since my last visit adding air conditioning to more of their dorm rooms (which is very much needed).

Though I will say it does have mixed reviews online, I think the majority of this is travelers who are not used to staying in hostels and are just booking it because of the price. Though generally facilities in a hostel can be a little bit average and the mark lower because of this.

Honestly, it had a great vibe, I made plenty of friends and it was perfect for what I needed. The showers are in a separate building, not all windows have curtains, and your blanket is essentially just a sheet. If you are wanting something a bit nicer then it is worth spending a little bit more money for a stay you will enjoy.

Bellas Backpackers Caye Caulker

Bellas Backpackers Caye Caulker

The most popular hostel on the islands. Rooms start from $14.00 for a dorm and make sure to upgrade if you want air-con.

BOOK NOW
Go Slow Guesthouse

Go Slow Guesthouse

The best hostel in Caye Caulker, and a popular choice for travelers. Dorms start from $21.00 per night.

BOOK NOW
Sea And Sun Guesthouse

Sea And Sun Guesthouse

A comfortable stay for travelers who want a private room. The rooms here start from $40.00 per night.

BOOK NOW
Blue Wave Guesthouse Caye Caulker

Blue Wave Guesthouse Caye Caulker

An excellent choice if you want a bit more privacy. Fan-cooled rooms here start from $30.00 per night.

BOOK NOW

🚗 How I Book Ferries & Shuttles In Belize: GuateGo


Other Things To Do In Caye Caulker

If you’re looking for a tropical paradise with plenty of things to do, Caye Caulker is the place for you. Here are some of the best things to do in Caye Caulker:

Snorkel or dive in the clear waters: you can join one of the many tours that offer snorkeling or diving trips to the reef, or even to the famous Great Blue Hole, a giant sinkhole that plunges to over 400 feet deep. You’ll be amazed by the diversity and beauty of the underwater world.

Relax on a hammock or a bike: If you prefer to stay on land, you can still enjoy the beauty and tranquility of Caye Caulker by relaxing on a hammock or riding a bike around the island. There are plenty of places where you can rent a hammock or a bike for a few hours or a day, and just chill out on the beach, under a palm tree, or by the Split.

Shop and eat at the local markets and restaurants: Caye Caulker is not only a paradise for nature lovers, but also for foodies and shoppers. You can find a variety of local products and souvenirs at the markets and shops along the main street, such as handicrafts, jewelry, clothing, art, and more.

You can also taste some of the delicious Belizean cuisines at the restaurants and street stalls, such as lobster, conch, rice and beans, fry jacks, stew chicken, and more.

Watch the sunset and dance at the reggae bars: Caye Caulker is also known for its vibrant nightlife, especially on the weekends. You can watch the sunset from one of the many spots on the island, such as the Split, the Iguana Reef Inn, or the Caye Caulker Water Taxi dock.

You can also join one of the sunset cruises that offer drinks, snacks, and music on board. After the sun goes down, you can head to one of the reggae bars and dance the night away with the locals and other travelers. You’ll find live music, DJs, karaoke, fire shows, and more.

Feed the stingrays at Iguana Reef Inn: Another fun and unique thing to do in Caye Caulker is to feed the stingrays at Iguana Reef Inn, a hotel that has its own private beach and pier. Every evening around 5 pm, the hotel staff feeds the stingrays that gather near the shore, and you can join them for free.

You can touch and hold the stingrays as they glide through the water, and even feed them by hand. They are very gentle and friendly, and they won’t sting you unless you step on them by accident.


Any Questions? Let me know in the comments!


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Find out all you need to know to have the ultimate bucketlist experience: Swim with manatees in Belize! No doubt this was one of my highlights backpacking Belize, so I am here to tell you all you need to know!

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2 thoughts on “Swim With Manatees In Belize: A BUCKETLIST Experience Must Do

  1. Avatar for Denise V
    Denise V says:

    Hi Tasha! What’s your suggestion for a family staying in Ambergis Caye who wants to have a good chance snorkeling near manitees? Seems most of the tours you mentioned are from Caye Caulker.

    • Avatar for Tasha Amy
      Tasha Amy says:

      Hey Denise. Unfortunately the majority of manatee tours do depart from Caye Caulker as they live in the marine reserve around that area. If you are keen to swim with them from Ambergris Caye there are a handful of operators who offer these tours and also will dock on Caye Caulker so you get to spend a little bit of time exploring that island as well. Seaduced Belize and Belize Diving Adventures both offer these types of tours, also look out for operators listing Coral Gardens as one of the snorkeling spots as they are known to frequent here.

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