Are you planning a vacation that involves some time in the water, like snorkeling around the Caribbean or the South Pacific? If you aren’t a regular swimmer or an experienced snorkeler, here are some tips to keep in mind before you get in the water for the first time.
While the idyllic South Pacific might sound like the perfect place to learn to snorkel, be advised that not all destinations are surrounded by reefs, and there can be some strong currents in a number of places. You might see excursions for drift snorkels or drift diving, and that should be your first indication that the destination you just picked may have some strong currents allowing divers and snorkelers to "drift" along. If you’re nervous or have doubts, email your dive shop or whoever is arranging your snorkeling trips to find out what snorkel stops are recommended for beginners.
If you have never snorkeled before and you aren’t sure you’re going to go often, or even like it, it may not be worth purchasing gear in advance. You run the risk, especially when ordering online, of winding up with a mask that is ill-fitting, a snorkel that rubs your mouth the wrong way, or fins that don’t fit. Dive shops rent gear and can help ensure you are comfortable before you even get into the water. If you do buy gear, be sure to defog the mask before you get to your destination so it won’t give you trouble when it’s time to swim.
If you aren’t a very strong swimmer, it’s ok to ask for a life vest or a life ring to carry around. In fact, guides much prefer you are honest with them on your abilities so there is no risk of injury or you being carried off by the current where you may be unable to tread water. Even calm, reef protected areas have cuts in the channel and riptide currents that can affect snorkelers and divers.
If you are prone to getting seasick, it’s worth buying over the counter medication to help with the nausea. As you’ll be on the surface, some people are more prone to being affected by the movement. Also, the boat ride may be rough to or from your snorkel location, so plan to take it about 30 minutes before departing the shore just to be safe.
One of the biggest mistakes new snorkelers make is not relaxing while getting in the water. It’s strange to breathe through the snorkel, but take a deep breath and relax. Don’t overthink things, and take the time to get used to the equipment slowly.
One of the biggest mistakes new snorkelers can make is to stand on coral or damage the reef in any way. Don’t touch the coral or the marine life as you are snorkeling, and be very careful around certain types of coral, like fire or brain coral, which can sting like mad and leave some nasty gashes on your legs and arms.
Don’t forget - your back will be on the surface of the water, and all the sun’s rays will be focused right there. You don’t want to end up with horrible sunburn on your first day of vacation. Use environmentally safe sunscreen or even consider a rashguard or t-shirt to help deflect some of the sun’s rays.
Also don’t forget to bring sunglasses and a hat, and be sure to stay hydrated and don’t push yourself. It’s ok not to see everything on your snorkel. Keep a comfortable pace, stay close to the group, and always follow your guide’s instructions.
Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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