Top 5 places to go snorkeling in the Caribbean
Top 5 places to go snorkeling in the Caribbean
On a tropical beach vacation, the simpler the pleasure, the better.
You can't get too much simpler than snorkeling. While scuba diving requires classes and certification, snorkeling is really just floating and paddling. A mask and a snorkel tube are all that's required, and you get flippers to help you along.
Once you open your eyes, the world beneath the surface of the water is opened up. If you're in the right place, it's a kaleidoscope of colors, strange shapes and new sensations -- all experienced in dreamy slow motion. Exotic fish swim alongside you before shimmying away again through a coral landscape, and there's a surprise at every turn.
Snorkeling dates back to the ancients. Artistotle fashioned a prototype of what we use now, comparing it to an elephant's trunk. (Later, another great mind, Leonardo da Vinci, pioneered what we now know as scuba diving.)
But you don't have to be a certified genius to snorkel: A trip to the Caribbean suffices, since the calm, clear waters of that sea are one of the world's hotbeds of the activity.
(Credit: Sugar Beach)
At Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort on the far southern island of St. Lucia, about 20 percent of the guests snorkel, with good reason. "We're in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its biodiversity and natural beauty," says Vitus Joyeux, who manages water sports at the luxury property (from $460 a night). A fee of $7 per guest per week goes to reef conservation.
"We have more snorkelers than scuba divers, since it's easier to take part in," adds Joyeux, whose name, appropriately enough, means "joyful life."
Sugar Beach offers day trips to nearby snorkeling sites, which is common for many resorts, but you can also snorkel right off the main beach. And the property has developed many options, including snuba, a cross between snorkeling and scuba in which divers get an oxygen tube that goes up to a boat on the surface of the water, allowing for depths of 20 feet.
Most romantically, Sugar Beach is the only place on St. Lucia to offers guided night snorkeling ($25 an hour), assisted by underwater flashlights.
"It's a magical experience," says Molly McDaniel, the resort's spokeswoman. "You see parrotfish weaving their sleeping sacks of mucus, which happens after dark, and phosphorescent plankton."
If night swimming of any kind sounds scary, McDaniel reassures that for all the snorkeling activities, "We will literally hold your hand if you want."
Sometimes man-made features are a draw as well as natural ones. On St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the remains of the Tektite Lab are found underwater in the Great Lameshur Bay (along with sharks, rays and turtles). The Tektite Project was a joint effort of General Electric and the U.S. government, and scientists lived underwater for months to study marine life.
You can keep the environmental theme going by staying at St. John's Concordia Eco Resort, a short drive away from the bay. A variety of room types is available (from $200 a night), including eco-tents that use solar power, photovoltaic cells and a propane stove.
Over on St. Thomas, also in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the more casually styled Bolongo Bay Beach Resort (76 rooms, from $297 a night) happens to have the St. Thomas Diving Club on site, meaning there's a plethora of lessons and boat tours.
Best of all, every week for 40 years Bolongo has hosted a "finders, keepers" snorkel booze hunt. That's right: A bottle of rum is hidden and the lucky swimmer to locate it can be sipping from it later that day.
Turks & Caicos
That's not appropriate for children, of course, so luckily over in the Turks & Caicos chain of islands, there's some kid-focused snorkeling atParrot Cay by Como (72 rooms, from $500 a night) -- a resort with its own private island. That privacy and serenity are kid-friendly in their own right, but the property also makes things easy on parents by offering free snorkeling expeditions for children younger than 5, and half-price for the under-10 set.
Adults will also enjoy the options for snorkeling trips in the area. A two-hour round-trip journey to Iguana Island ($145 per person) sounds intriguing, since, in addition to snorkeling around it, guests can also see the home to the few remaining rock iguanas.
The remote and tiny island of Montserrat is home to the Caribbean's only active volcano, and from its rocky cliffs you can look down to black sand beaches and waters that are teeming with marine life. Barracudas, eagle rays, stingrays and nurse sharks are some of the larger neighbors, but cute little damselfish are on hand, too.
Montserrat has a lot of smaller lodging options like bed-and-breakfasts and house rentals in the $75-a-night range.
Staying off the full-service resort grid means you might be figuring out your own way to snorkel beaches like Rendezvous and Lime Kiln, but it's an adventurous spirit that leads you to explore underwater realms in the first place.