Snorkeling Safety, techniques, equipment, & underwater photos
Snorkeling is one Caribbean activity almost everyone can enjoy. It doesn't take much equipment or training to snorkel safely, but there are some things you need to know to avoid problems.
After you have mastered swimming and feel confident and relaxed in the ocean you could try snorkeling. First you need to buy a mask that fits. Just about all dive shops sell masks, snorkels and fins. Always seek the help of a dive store professional but remember, it's up to you to decide if the equipment fits and is comfortable.
To check a mask's fit, pull the strap and your hair out of the way and bring the mask to your face. The mask's rubber skirt should touch your face all the way around without having to press it into place. When you breathe in the mask should easily stick to your face by suction alone. Low volume masks are best for snorkeling. (photos left)
Fins come in two styles: strap back and foot pocket. Strap back fins are used with neoprene booties and foot pocket fins slip right on your bare feet. Make sure fins aren't too tight or too loose. Snorkels come with or without purge valves. Purge valves are near the mouth piece and allow water to drain out making the snorkel easier to clear. Most high quality snorkeling equipment is made of thermal plastic, silicone rubber, high impact plastic and stainless steel. Usually the "good stuff" is more expensive because it's built to last. Ultra-violet sun rays and ocean saltwater will degrade cheap gear much faster.
All this in order to get underwater for a brief moment to see the reef and fish,
and of course it's worth it.
Light decreases as you go underwater. As you descend the red wavelength is filtered out leaving increasingly deeper shades of blue and darkness. You'll see both hard and soft corals on the reef, plenty of sea fans, fish and if you're lucky, a sea turtle. Akumal is famous for its sea turtle nesting beaches.
An important safety consideration for snorkeling in any area with breaking waves is to be aware of possible rip currents, where they may be, and your position relative to them while snorkeling. It is strongly recommended to snorkel with a buddy and wear something that allows you to easily establish positive buoyancy.
Hard corals like "elk horn" can be broken by snorkelers.
Look but never touch or stand on the reef!
Snorkeling boat tour
It is also possible to go on a snorkeling boat tour to some of the best shallow reefs nearby. These are usually outside the confines of any bay and typically have better coral, fish and water clarity.
In Akumal there are several dive shop choices. We went out with Freddy (left) and the Akumal Dive Shop, then motored about 10 minutes north to snorkel just north of Yal-ku Chico.
Snorkelers who breath-hold and dive down should use the one-up, one-down buddy system. One dives down while the other watches from the surface. Even a very good breath-holder can pass out on the their way back to the surface. It's rare but possible. The snorkeler on the surface is supposed to be ready to lend assistance.
Snorkeling photo tour
We are constantly being asked where the best snorkeling is or if there is good snorkeling in a particular location. Since "a picture is worth a thousand words" we decided to buy a small digital camera, u/w housing and show you some popular snorkeling spots. This is by no means a comprehensive look at the reefs, merely a sample of what we saw when we went. We will build this "virtual snorkel tour" poco-a-poco with links to it from our beach pages and some of our destination pages.