My family loves to snorkel. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. If we are around clear water, we’re most likely somewhere nearby putting on our fins and de-fogging our goggles. While I’ve had the pleasure of getting my feet wet - literally - in numerous beaches around the globe, there are three experiences that stick out most prominently in my memory that I think are worth sharing, so here goes: #1 Freddy The Fish - St. John
Appreciating sea life should always be just that. Appreciating it. You shouldn’t be touching the corals or harassing the fish. Your role is to simply observe. Freddy had other plans. On a week-long snorkeling trip through the U.S. Virgin Islands, my parents and I had settled into a time-share on St. John’s that served as our daily home base between day trips to different beaches scattered across the island. On this particular day, we found ourselves at a rather quiet spot that was flanked on one side by a rocky hillside. After gearing up and floating our way to the corals, we began our exploration. The waves by the rocks were rough and there wasn’t too much to see, so we headed further out in hopes of a better view. We turned around and swam against the current until we reached more peaceful waters. Safe from the rough waves, we finally made our way out into the big ocean blue. The view was not as a close as it had been by the rocks, but we were able to swim peacefully so it was worth it. There were more corals by the rocks as well, but there was plenty of sea life out in the deeper water to look at without being pounded by the water.
When I first looked down to you survey the view, I had expected to see colorful rock and coral formations scattered about the sea floor. Instead, I saw a tiny little fishtail. It took me a minute to realize that it was in fact a fish obstructing my view because it was moving so fast I thought it was a tiny piece of debris floating in the water. It was no more than 3 inches away from my goggles. I thought maybe I had gotten too close, so I stopped swimming for a moment. I tapped my mom on the shoulder and pointed to him (completely speculating on gender here, btw), but when I stopped swimming the little fish stopped swimming and stood-if you will-right in front of me. At first I thought it was just a coincidence, but after swimming and stopping four different times, changing directions, and even doing some brief skin dives, the little fish would not let up. For the whole duration of the trip, no matter what I did, Freddy stayed right in front of me.
I thought for sure that once we started to make our way to more shallow waters Freddy would go back to where he belonged, but I was mistaken. He stayed with me all the way until we reached shallow water, where I had to sit up, take off my fins and my snorkeling gear and return back to the sand. I never saw the little fish again, but I’ll never forget him.
Aside from making a fishy friend (fish are friends, not food), I really enjoyed snorkeling in St. John more than any other place I've visited. It's actually the first and only place that I've seen a sea turtle. While its most famous destination is Trunk Bay, there are dozens of other beautifully populated beaches that offer just as much sea life with a fraction of the crowd. Check out the popular spots to cross them off of your bucket list, and then venture off the beaten path. You'll be glad you did.
#2 - Snuba Shipwreck - Aruba
I talked about Snuba in another blog post, but I wanted to mention it here because it was definitely one of the most memorable water experiences I have had in all of my travels. I had always wanted to scuba dive a shipwreck before I die, so this opportunity in Aruba fulfilled that wish. I always find deep open water to be a little creepy. It gives me that feeling that something is behind me/watching me/following me, so this activity was a bit outside of my comfort zone.
It ended up being so worth it! It was a great introduction to underwater diving because it offered more freedom than traditional snorkeling, but it had the safety of a being tethered to a group oxygen supply so I didn't have to worry about getting separated from everyone else. If you've ever found yourself debating wether or not you want to pursue a scuba diving license, I highly recommend you try snuba first.
Up to this point, I had never seen sea life grown on anything other than rocks and corals, so seeing it grow off of a sunken cargo ship was really cool. It made me feel like I was in a giant aquarium. We were able to get super close to the ship and swim in between the two broken halves - that was actually the creepiest part. There were a good amount of fish, but it was definitely the shipwreck that made this location the best.
#3 - Whale Songs - Hawaii Remember that scene in Finding Nemo when Dory claims that she can speak whale? Well it turns out that she wasn’t too far off. I know because I’ve heard them myself.
When I was on a family vacation in Hawaii a few years ago we went on a snorkeling excursion in Maui. While we were there, whale migration was occurring and the tour leaders warned us that we might hear some strange sounds in the water but not to worry because it would be the sounds of whales in the area. Yeah, real casual.
We reached our first stop, and this eager beaver was the first one to jump ship into the water. It took all about five seconds before I understood what the tour guides were talking about, and it was one of the freakiest things I have ever experienced. I ended up getting so freaked out that I immediately got out of the water and didn't want to snorkel for the rest the day. On the way back to the marina, we watched whales breach next to our boat. It wouldn’t be the last
time we saw whales in Hawaii, but I was the only time I heard them and I'm okay with that for now.
Molokini, a cresent-shaped uninhabited island, is one of the most popular destinations in Maui for snorkeling, but it only places on this list because of the whale experience. As far as quality of snorkeling goes, I would stick to the Caribbean. The Pacific Ocean is rough, so it's not ideal for less experienced snorkelers. There's a nasty current that runs close to the island's edge that can sweep you up, so you have to be a bit cautious. The view of Maui from the water, however, is breathtaking. Worth a trip, for sure. Especially if you speak whale.
If you've ever had an unforgettable experience out in the big ocean blue, whether it be on or below the surface, tell me about it in the comments below!