We signed up to go with Carlos Tours but despite being highly recommended on Trip Advisor, no one but us had signed up. They offered us a tour the following day but nicely informed us a cool front was moving into the area and it would be windy and cool. They recommended French Angel as they had all day tours in small groups. After years of snorkel excursions with 20-45 people all kicking you in the face, the idea of a max of 8 people was very appealing!
We went over to French Angel and signed up for the all day tour. It was from 10:30-3:00. We didn't leave or the boat until almost 11:00, but our dive master reminded us we were on Belize time now, so "go slow!" We got back at 3:00 but we had more than enough time so no one was unhappy!
We had a total of six adults and only one was not a snorkeler but she did fine. Ricardo was our guide and he was very competent and knowledgeable about the Hol Chan Marine Preserve and the marine life we would encounter.
The wind had shifted from the east to the north so the water looked deceptively calm. Once we got away from the island we hit some decent chop and swells. I was soaked before I got in the water but the sun was hot and the water warm. Having wet hair Akers it easier to get your mask on anyway! Our first stop was not on the schedule but I had asked if we would see sea turtles and Ricardo promised me I would. All my years of snorkeling I have never seen one anywhere so I was skeptical. He took us to a spot where the Park Ranger sits on a boat. A local fisherman was coming in and Ricardo said he cleans his catch there so turtles and rays hang out for scraps. At first there was nothing except a conch shell graveyard and then suddenly there were rays, fish and 3 green sea turtles!! I got fabulous photos and it was such a thrill to see them. Do be cautious because these turtles were not shy. One came up and bumped my camera with his beak!, "I'm ready for my close up, Mr..DeMille"!! The water was warm and crystal clear despite the swell and chop.
Our second stop but officially our first one listed on the tour was The Channel. Ricardo got in the water for this one and took us on a guided tour. There was another turtle eating grass that we saw, plus a huge variety of fish and grouper. The coral formations were impressive. This area has been well protected from people damaging them by standing on corals or kicking pieces off by kicking too deep with fins. The channel is a literal 40' channel between coral rock around 60' wide. Ricardo was very careful in us going up one side, crossing the channel and returning down the other side. It was quality time. Life jackets optional and no stupid inflatable vests the cruise ship tours make you wear. We were able to dive down at will.
Our second stop was "Shark-Ray Alley" and you WILL see sharks. They are harmless nurse sharks from small up to 7' long. The sharks and rays plus a huge variety of jacks, tangs and other fish all gather next to the boat because they know snacks are coming! No, not the tourists, but the fish the guides toss over. I was first in the water and it was so awesome. If you are claustrophobic or afraid do not go in until feeding is done. For photographers you need to back away around 10 feet because it is a tornado of sharks, rays and fish trying to vie for fish. I found it best to shoot video while in the midst. The sharks felt neat! A few shy away but some are fine with you touching them as they glide by. Remove rings so you don't scratch them . Ricardo got in the water after washing his hands with detergent but a group of smaller fish and one big ray followed him for a few minutes. Ricardo also gave us detergent to smear in our masks and then rinse them so they didn't fog up for the entire trip. Much better than spit!!
Lunch, bags of water(yes, small bags of water you tear corner off and drink!) and fresh fruit was included. Chicken fish, or beef. They are cold but by then you are so hungry you don't care! We brought a small cooler with Gatorade and snacks as well,
Our last stop was the "Coral Gardens" but the wind was really picking up which meant bigger waves. Only 4 of us went in briar do had to anchor here so he stayed with the boat but told us we old take whatever time we wanted up to 45 minutes. I saw another sea turtle but it was very shy. The corals here were huge and a large variety. Elk horn, stag horn, brain, and some I have never seen anywhere. We were all pretty much done by time we snorkeler for 20 min. The current and waves made it harder to stay in the area and a lot of the coral is just below the surface and you do not want to get slammed into it by a wave. Not good for the coral or your skin!
On our way back Ricardo took us around the back side of the island to show us the "pet" Tarpon. There is an area where they are fed and stay there. NO fishing is allowed there so don't even think about it!he fed them again and it was fun watching them snap up fish..
One word of caution on all day tours. Despite wearing 50SPF sunscreen and having a base tan, we all got our backs fried. Even in January the Caribbean sun is lethal and with the breeze and water you don't realize you are burning. I highly recommend wearing a snug fitting tee shirt or a "skin" like surfers wear to protect yourself.
Excellent snorkeling, small groups, lots of marine life, and the biggest and prettiest corals ever makes me highly recommend French Angel. We will be going out with them again on this trip. I still need my good shark face close up photo!