Snorkeling in the Dominican Republic
Let’s talk snorkeling. And I don’t just mean any old kind of snorkeling, I mean Dominican Republic snorkeling. What’s the difference, you may ask? I have no idea... I had never been snorkeling before I took to the waters in Punta Cana. Even so, having been a snorkeling virgin elevated my experience tenfold! It allowed me to fall in love with the underwater world, and it encouraged me to open my eyes and discover a whole wealth of excitement and knowledge that I had never experienced before.
The Dominican Republic has a coastline that us Californian’s could only dream of. It’s Caribbean waters are crystal clear (minus the massive clumps of seaweed that creep up to the shallows), unbelievably warm, and very calm. Jumping into the ocean back at home usually plays out like this: shiver uncontrollably, get smacked over the head by a giant wave, snort salt water up your sinuses, and then wash onto the shore with sand in all the wrong places. Don't get me wrong, I love our beaches here, but in Punta Cana you can literally walk from the shore straight into the ocean without noticing a temperature change, let alone being pummeled by a monstrous wave. It’s absolutely serene.
We spent our first day swimming around near the coast. After realizing the extent of the Atlantic ocean's natural paradise, we figured we had to book a snorkeling excursion. For only $75 USD per person, our families found themselves flying through the humid Dominican streets on a skeleton bus, heading towards a beach just off the tip of Punta Cana. We went from our bus to the white sandy shore, the shore to a speed boat, and a speed boat to a spectacular catamaran. While we were dressing ourselves with an abundance of sunscreen in a small shack that equated to a waiting room, I spied a poster that was dotted head to toe with vibrant fish and coral from the Dominican Republic's ocean. The poster looked like a full guide to an aquarium! I thought to myself, “There is no way we will see even half of those fish out there.” I was wrong.
Our catamaran drifted out towards the lush, untouched jungles that sit right on the water’s edge, and as soon as we jumped out of the boat we knew that their poster was not bluffing. From the striped moray eel to the ballyhoo, we were completely surrounded. There were fish of all colors, shapes, sizes and speeds darting around us as we tried to figure out how to get the dang snorkel masks working. My first few breaths landed me with lungs full of extremely salty water, but as soon as I got the hang of it my heart filled with joy. Tens of feet below us were all sorts of beautiful sea creatures: garden eels, gigantic sea urchin, banded butterfly fish, schools of barjack, goat fish, french grunts, etc. etc. etc. It was like nothing I had seen before. The ballyhoo have thin needle-like noses, and they often swam up at the surface just inches from our faces. The moray eels camouflaged themselves well, but we ended up seeing two before the day was through. We spent close to 45 minutes prowling around the reef plants and zippy fish before it was time to head back to the boat.
All in all, I think snorkeling was one of my favorite excursions from our vacation! And let me tell you, we were blessed enough to have had a multitude of unbelievably fun adventures. There is just something so quieting about floating under the surface and observing a world you would only ever see in a busy, segmented aquarium or in photos. Being able to coexist with hundreds of wild animals—swimming through their natural habitat, observing their day-to-day lives, and appreciating their staggering beauty—is something I have never done before, and it is something I would die to do again. If you ever visit the Dominican Republic, make sure to book an excursion like this one. They are fairly inexpensive for their value, and the snorkeling is usually paired with a lovely boat ride, a swimming hole, and some free food and drink. Plus, if you stay in a resort where the main activities consist of laying on the beach and drinking, snorkeling is a nice divergence from the sequence.
There are a few things I learned along the way that I thought would be important to pass along. There are a multitude of ailments threatening the reefs in the Dominican Republic. As we dove down, I could see that some of the plant life and coral we were hovering over had turned brown. Whether it be from tourism, rising water temperatures, or pollution I can’t be sure. The scientists can be sure though, and they are implementing helpful practices all around the Dominican Republic to help keep their reefs alive and thriving. Tourism can be a Catch 22 when it comes to this topic. The Dominican Republic relies heavily on the money made in the tourism industry, but more tourism means more endangered reefs—the things that people like us come to see. Thankfully, environmental scientists have taken interest in these particular reefs as of late, and there seems to be hope for tourism and healthy reefs to coexist. Like I said, I am in no way a scientist, but the future seems hopeful from what I read. All we can do for now is be respectful when we snorkel—no touching, no stepping, no souvenir taking—and give our money to people who treat the ocean right. Which, from what I could see, was most everyone in Punta Cana.
A huge thank you to everyone who read about our awesome snorkeling experience today! Let us know in the comments where/if you have snorkeled or scuba dived! To anyone interested, we stayed at the Melia Caribe Tropical in Punta Cana, and booked our excursion there.