Four favorites for your next charter
Top charter destinations for snorkelers
Iam a snorkeling snob, having been fortunate enough to swim in waters around the globe, breathing through a plastic tube, watching the underwater world go by. Some places like Cozumel, I’ve visited by plane. Others, I’ve reached by simply jumping on a charter boat that carried me to secret and not-so-secret spots where I could while away an afternoon in watery glory.
There’s a reason why snorkeling gear is ubiquitous on charter boats. Just about everyone wants to see what’s below the waterline, and it just wouldn’t be a vacation without taking a dip. Here are some of my favorite spots that are on the very beaten path of most charter companies, easily reached and much enjoyed.
BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
Beautiful beaches, plentiful bars and steady tradewinds define the British Virgin Islands. But I’ve always found the snorkeling spots underwhelming here. Until my last visit that is, when I stopped by three great places all in one afternoon. The first were the Indians near Norman Island. This is a cluster of four rocks that jut out of the water and look menacing until you catch a mooring and dive in. Yellow fire coral abounds, so no touching, but the structure reminds me of an underwater city packed with plants and fish.
Just six miles northeast of there, near Salt Island is the renowned wreck of the Royal Mail Steamship Rhone. Because the hulk has collapsed and is now mostly flat, it’s easy to snorkel from the propeller wedged in the shallows to the bow buried in 60ft of water without needing dive gear. It’s an eerie but fascinating site.
If you’re not completely waterlogged by now, shore up your afternoon with a stop at Manchioneel Bay off the northwest corner of Cooper Island. Tie your dinghy, kayak, or SUP to the string line near Cistern Point and get ready for a colorful aquarium. Parrotfish and grunts flit by while schools of blue tang curve lusciously around in long languid ribbons. Sea stars abound, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a ray before calling it a day on your wet adventure.
A seemingly Photoshopped paradise with its kaleidoscopic colors, the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines is the place to drop out of civilization for a little while. Four small islands hide in the protected waters of the horseshoe reef, their beaches the hedonistic movie set for Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
The cays were designated a Marine National Park in 1998 and fishing or harassment of the local sea life are not allowed, which makes everything that swims by unafraid and mellow. Near Baradel Island, there is a preserve marked only by a line and buoys. The bottom is sand and grass, and no boats can anchor here. If you swim in and then just float at the surface for a while, you may soon find yourself flanked by several turtles. If you’re extra quiet, you can even hear them munching on the grass at the bottom. They’re curious and at the same time oblivious to your presence, making it easy to spend an hour drifting in the warm water with these prehistoric creatures as your sole companions.
There is a well-kept secret spot in French Polynesia. Not many know about the drift snorkel at the southeastern tip of Bora Bora’s fringing motus. Once anchored on the island’s back, or eastern side, a dinghy ride will bring you to an isolated stretch of broken coral beach where you can pull up the dink and walk to windward. From here, start a delightful and effortless snorkel, carried by the current that flows in through the openings in the reef.
It’s best to bring water shoes for the walk and then tuck them into your swimsuit for the float back. Lots of fish swim in and out of a sizeable coral garden that sprawls out like a living maze. It’s not unusual to see spotted rays gliding by silently. The star attractions are the clams with their multi-colored iridescent mantles that burrow into the coral heads. Swimming over them is like a treasure hunt with a new color everywhere your eye settles.
If you like caves, Milos in the Greek Cyclades Islands is the place to be. This island is where the statues of Venus de Milo(s) (back when she may have had arms) were unearthed. The stark white island is seemingly entirely made up of caves and cliffs that hover over blue lagoons, punctuated here and there by rocks, which spring out from the depths.
Tourist boats packed with day-trippers from Adamas, Milos’s main town, are on a rigid schedule around the island, but a great way to avoid them is to hang back about two hours behind their circumnavigation. That way, you’ll have each stopover to yourself. The first must-see is Sykia, a topless cave that lost its roof a few centuries ago. Dinghy inside, beach the tender and hop in the cool water. Rocks rather than coral make up the bottom, and while the fish are few, the echo of your own voice as you swim around, watching the birds play tag overhead is worth the price of admission. s