I was a little scared for my first time snorkeling. The thought of just hanging out in the water for any length of time longer than 10 minutes was a little daunting for me. Do you know the feeling? I can swim and I can tread water…but am I a strong swimmer? No.
Having never been snorkeling I saw it as a challenge I wanted to face head on. I heard Belize was one of the best places to snorkel because it’s a barrier reef area in the Caribbean sea. The thought of not attempting to snorkel there was more troubling than conquering my fear. I wasn’t going to let my inability to tread water and swim for 45 minutes without “land” or a boat break get in my way.
As soon as we arrived to our hotel on the coast of Belize in Hopkins, called Almond Beach Resort, we signed up for the next morning’s snorkeling excursion.
I was anxious for my first time snorkeling as we stood on the shore with the excursion group. I wore a swimsuit underneath a coverup for the boat, a hair-tie to keep my hair pulled off my face, and lots of sunblock. We were fitted for our snorkeling gear – a mask, consisting of goggles and a mouth piece, as well as flippers – and I could feel the nerves surfacing as I generously applied SPF 50 sunscreen to my fair skin.
There’s a few vital items you need for snorkeling and then some “nice to have” items, not “need to have.”
- Strong sunscreen is especially key! I cannot emphasize this enough: even if you tan nicely there’s a real risk of getting burnt on the water with your back, necks and ears exposed to the sun for long periods of time. You’ll want to apply a minimum of 50 SPF and ensure it’s waterproof. Take this on the boat with you because you’ll have to reapply after 60-80 minutes. (See instructions on the sunscreen you buy.)
- If you have long hair you need hair ties. Also I advise against the rubbery plastic ties you can get 100 for at the dollar store. Those are great to tie small braids and such on land but they’re not great in the water. This is because wet hair and those ties are not a good combination! You need something that has a fabric-like coating so if you need to re-tie your wet hair you won’t have a knot disaster. I suggest something like the Goody or Scunci ouchless bands linked below.
NICE TO HAVE:
- A nice, fun-to-have item is a GoPro. I’m so grateful we got it for our second snorkeling trip having experienced serious photo-envy our first go around. A family on our Belize excursion took their GoPro underwater and were able to capture each other, the fish and coral. I knew I had to have it for our next trip so I bought one before we headed to Thailand.
- Your own snorkeling mask. I thought it was really cool a father/son team had brought a mask with them. If you’re averse to biting and breathing through a snorkel mouth piece this item could make the experience even easier for you. Also if you’re a germ-o-phob you may want to go this route. I suppose ignorance is bliss and I assume companies clean their snorkel masks when they reset for another day’s tours but I can’t be sure. Another reason to buy your own mask is if you’re going to a resort where they have snorkeling but you have to rent gear. If you’re going to snorkel a lot look into buying your own mask and flippers and packing them for your trip, regardless. You could save money with this option.
- A rash guard or swim shirt, as opposed to only wearing a bathing suit, is great for protecting our skin. You don’t need to have this but it’s a nice to have item. Note this doesn’t negate the need for sunscreen it simply further protects your body from the sun’s harmful rays. Unless you’re planning on pro-surfing, or snorkeling all the time, you can get a good shirt for minimal investment. If the thought of slipping a wet shirt off of you after swimming isn’t appealing to you there make versions with a front zipper I think are pretty great. Try the ones I recommend in the item carousel below. (Click on the product for additional color options.)
Here’s a easy packing list you can add to your Amazon cart so you’re well prepared for your snorkeling adventure:
Snorkeling Packing List
Boat Loading and a Revelation
We got on the boat and our captain explained a bit about the morning: we would travel about 30-40 minutes on the water towards South Water Caye. Here, we would complete two 45-minute snorkel sessions with an island break, for snacks and water, in between.
After he explained the morning’s events he asked, “Who is not a strong swimmer?” I looked around – no one raised a hand. But my safety in the ocean was more important than any pride I had. I shot up a hand and said, “Me!” What do you know, I wasn’t the only one! The next words he spoke pleasantly shocked me:
He said we could use LIFEVESTS in the water.
My jaw-dropped. We could?! But how could we swim?!
He showed us instead of putting the life vest around our upper body we could clip it around our waists. Voila! We’d be able to move our torso in and out of the water to snorkel and see the creatures below the surface! I was so relieved and felt my anxiety immediately float away.
This made the intimidation all buy float away the the Caribbean breeze…
Two things squashed any intimidation I may have had that morning:
- LifeVest revelation
- The comfort knowing our guides were incredibly experienced and were keeping an eye on us
This made me free to enjoy the experience. I found I loved paddling over towards the guide, who was also in the water with us, as he pointed out some cool things beneath us. These ocean dwellers included nurse sharks, string rays (HUGE ones!), Loggerhead sea turtles, parrotfish, sea cucumbers and beautiful coral.
The rest of the morning was a breeze and a wonderful experience.
What I Learned My First Time Snorkeling
- Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself and the team trying to keep you safe. Pride should not stand in your way!
- If you want to snorkel, you can – I would have been upset if we didn’t go snorkeling. Not only does regret suck but I do my best to strike it from my vocabulary. Turns out, snorkeling was much easier than I thought and not very intimidating at all.
- If you think you applied enough sunscreen, enough times, you’re wrong. (See packing list above.) We applied 50 SPF twice in 4 hours and were still very burned afterwards; we didn’t realize it was happening until it was too late. If you’ve never been snorkeling I cannot stress this enough: consider wearing a rash guard with your swimsuit to protect your skin and reapply sunscreen more than you think you have to. We had no idea the sun was so strong. As a result I had to deal with a significant sunburn for the next few days. (One night I actually felt sick from it and stayed in bed.)
Future Snorkeling Adventures
We ended up loving it so much we jump at the chance to snorkel if we’re in an area we’re allowed to. We did it again in Thailand when we visited Phuket, and we hope to do it again this fall on a trip to the Dominican Republic! It’s a fun activity that I associate with vacation and gets me excited for a trip by the ocean.
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post, which means we may earn a small commission if you click the link and proceed with a purchase. We only recommend products or services we personally use and recommend.
Heading to Belize? Also check out:
- Where to Stay in San Ignacio Belize
- Belize: San Ignacio Jungle Itinerary
- Affordable Central America Vacation in Belize