Mention snorkeling, and most folks immediately think of the visual aspects – brightly colored fish and fantastic coral formations – yet I think the most surprising part of snorkeling is the sound that fills your ears. Face down in the water, floating gently on the turquoise salt water, most of the sounds we’re used to hearing are totally muffled: wind, voices, birds. It’s completely quiet… until you notice the persistent chatter crackling in the background, like a chip bag crumpling non-stop. In fact, snorklers soon learn to hear a whole new range of sounds in a coral reef: parrot fish nibbling on coral, shrimp and other crustaceans clacking and snapping their claws, plus the whoosh of water moving with the tides. It’s a whole percussion section down there!
A few years ago my family traveled to Maui and we snorkeled off Kaanapali Beach near Black rock. I drifted along with my son, Gabe, as the waves nudged us beyond the coral til we were floating over a meadow of sea grass. As I was about to turn back to the more dramatic reef, Gabe pointed down, his eyes round in excitement through his mask. Ten feet below us, a green-gray sea turtle meandered through the blades of grass, nibbling here and there like a cow grazing in an Iowa hayfield. He (or she?) was beautiful.
Snorkeling offers a perfect multi-generational adventure: the excitement level is high, but the skills required are minimal. If you are comfortable in water, and a decent swimmer, you can snorkel. Some general tips for beginners:
- Put your gear on while standing on the beach, not while you are in the water.
- Back into the water to avoid stumbling over your flippers.
- Stay in pairs, both for safety and to share the experience!
- Wear a rash guard or really slather on the sunscreen on your back, which is exposed to the sun for extended periods as you float.
Sometimes the underwater sights include more than what Mother Nature created. Snorkelers in Cozumel’s Chankanaab National Park look down on more than sealife—a fourteen foot statue of Jesus gazes back at them, head back and arms spread wide (it’s a bit of a shock to see if you’re not expecting it!) Chankanaab is a popular destination for the cruise ships that bring passengers through, unleashing hordes of folks clad in orange life vests for a few hours of too-crowded snorkeling. Avoid sharing the water with the crowds by planning your own excursion earlier in the day, before the cruise ships are scheduled to disembark.
Once you’ve been bitten by the snorkeling bug and you find yourself dreaming of angel fish and skates, start planning a trip to St John in the US Virgin Islands – the snorkeler’s Mecca. Trunk Bay, Hawk’s Nest Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Rondezvous Bay… it’s tough to work them all in during one visit! But no worries..if you don’t make it to all the bays and reefs, you can always come back the next year.
Suzanne Johnson lives, writes and plays in the Cascade mountains of Oregon with her family of adventure-prone boys. More of her writing can be found a SuzanneMyhreJohnson.com.