Snorkeling in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Rainbow over snorkel tour boat

Snorkeling! I love me a delightful boat ride and the snorkeling tour I took with visiting family did not disappoint. I need company to motivate me enough to get me off my butt to do one of the local excursions. I did a bit of research and found that the scuba-diving school here in town has highly rated tours. My uncle contacted them to let them know we were interested. They said we should get in now because a large storm was coming. Go while the going is good!

I have to get up when!?!

I’ve been living on island-time for a while now. Go to bed early and sleep in because… why not? I sleep so good here. It’s quiet with gentle ocean sounds and tropical insect/frog noises. It’s really lovely. Getting up early is now real difficult. There has to be something to really motivate me. It helps if there is someone else depending on me to be on time (or will leave without me!).

Sunset from my deck
I get a lot of great sunsets from my deck, but not many sunrises. I’m okay with that!

The boat meetup was for 8am. That’s about when I usually wake up. Time to set an alarm. Bah! Hate those things! I stay up stressing I’ll sleep through it. Not a fan. But everything worked out and was totally worth it. After coffee, food, and a good coat of reef-safe sunblock, I was actually early to meet my family at their rental condo. We headed to the boats and got there right on time. Easy peasy.

So the boat is in the water. It’s not on a lovely dock or anything accessible. You have to go waist deep in the water to get to the ladder leading up onto the boat. Off with the shoes, bag with my water and snacks above my head, dry-bag with my towel and snorkel gear on the other shoulder. I feel like I’m moving onto this boat. I brought so much stuff.

People from all over the world

While the boat slowly filled up with humans of all different backgrounds, speaking either English, French, Spanish, or Dominican Spanish (a kind of Spanish-French blend with lots of island slang), I sat back and people watched. The crew is responsible for keeping me alive and I’m responsible for having a good time. It’s a win-win for at least one of us!

As the crew helped people set up their scuba gear, we got the low-down of what we could expect for the day and how to stay safe in the water. It surprised me they didn’t include the talk about protecting the reef by wearing reef-safe sunblock (non-nano zinc oxide) and putting it on at least 30 minutes before going in the water, otherwise it just washes off. With the current, it probably doesn’t matter as much here? Bit of research: it does matter.

View from the boat to land
This area is so gorgeous. It’s nice to get a boat perspective once in a while.

Once everyone was ready, we headed out through a break in the reef to the first snorkel spot. This area is so gorgeous! Tan sandy beaches with crystal blue-green water. The bay is very protected so there is not much surf. Not great for surfing, but super nice for snorkeling and boating. I remembered to take my generic-Dramamine (as I could not find my real-Dramamine even though I absolutely remember getting it out just for this trip! ridiculous). If the surf got crazy, I was prepared!

Scuba first

The crew unloads the scuba peeps first as they take forever to get in and out of the boat. The snorkel peeps can just grab a mask and fins and jump right in. I tried scuba-diving once but blew out my eardrums because I just couldn’t equalize as I went down into the drink. It was extremely painful and I’m no longer a fan of getting my head wet… ever. I don’t dive in the pool and I shower infrequently. Sorry, visitors!

My aunt and uncle and I finally jumped off the boat with masks, snorkels, and fins and swam toward our guide. The reef was pretty cool, but I was most excited about the gooseberries. I kept pointing and trying to show people. I can’t get a picture for you all because I don’t have that kind of camera, but you should Google them. They kind of look like jellyfish but do this cool flashing thing in the light. No stinging, which is good because they were everywhere.

Rainbow over the ocean
How cool is this!?! At least it’s not raining on this side of the bay.

The current was crazy strong, but guides were smart in that they had us struggling against the current all the way out. But at the end, we got to drift lazily back to the boat, all relaxed like. It was very fun. There weren’t that many fish so each one was exciting to see (I spotted an eel!). And then someone ran into me riding an underwater scooter. It was a bit shocking. The kid didn’t know to take his finger off the ‘go’ switch to avoid running into people. Oh, technology. We were both fine. No dying!

On to the second site… or would you like the beach instead?

After the first snorkel/dive, several people were seasick or just cold, so we got the option of going to a beach for a picnic instead of going to the second site. I was freezing. Which made the choice hard, but I live on a beach. I can beach anytime I want but I don’t get to snorkel that often. Determined to get my money’s worth, I hoped my wetsuit would suffice.

The boat dropped off a lot of people (including my aunt) onto this deserted beach that looked like it was only accessible by boat, and the rest of us headed back out. Like the first site, the scuba-divers headed out first as they take the longest. Next went us snerkel-snerkelers. Once off the boat and through the sea of scuba-diver bubbles, the guide offered the scooter at no extra charge. My uncle was in! He had the best time diving and zooming around with that thing. He only ran into me once (I’m fine… humans are a menace… JK, it was all good), and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him have a great time.

However, at some point, I realized I was all by myself. I would look up and see my uncle right next to me, but with the scooter, he was gone within a second. The reef was really cool! As you kept going, there were more and more gorgonian fan corals. Then the reef flattened out to this amazing garden of fan corals. It was so cool! Apparently, you normally don’t get to see that area as it’s really shallow, and the surge prohibits snorkeling above the site. We got really lucky that day.

Where is everyone!?!

I decided it might be a good idea to pay attention to the guide. This kid is like twelve years old (okay, early 20s, but basically 12) with absolutely no cares in the world, but he, generally, didn’t want us getting hurt. He waved me back in as I got too far out in the fan coral garden and I wandered back to him, hoping my uncle would turn up unscathed. All was well… except I was freezing. I had on a wetsuit but I’m fully acclimated to the hot-hot and get cold really fast. I held on as long as possible, then I slowly made my way to back to the boat.

Deserted beach
One of many deserted beaches around here.

Once out of the water, I stripped off the wetsuit and dried off in the sunshine. Warmth at last! After getting everyone on board, we heard animated tales of people almost dying while scuba diving. Someone ran out of air and had to be rescued by the safety diver (who forcefully inserted his backup regulator into her mouth so that she could breathe). A couple of people popped to the surface unexpectedly (dangerous!). It was all very exciting!

So then came the head count. A head count on a dive boat is extremely important because you don’t want to leave anyone behind in the open ocean. That happens occasionally and then they make movies about it. Turns out that they forgot to count how many people got off at the beach. When figuring out how many people were back on shore, they thought my aunt was both my uncle’s wife as well as somebody else’s mom, so they counted her twice… that’s not good.

Lunch at last!

Once we established everyone was, in fact, accounted for, we headed back to the beach to pick up the rest of the tour guests. They were the ones who got the rum! They all looked like they had had a good time. Another head count was done after everyone was back on board the catamaran. I’m glad we didn’t leave anyone!

Beach bar pizza place
This pizza beach-bar also had great curry! So needed after our adventures.

We leisurely made our way past the gorgeous Dominican Republic tropical landscape, past so many bays with amazing beaches. Back to our original pickup spot. By this point, we are all hungry and I know just where to go… except they just closed to prep for dinner. Crap! We start walking along the beach, hoping to find some place that looks good and has gluten-free options for yours truly.

After a bit of hangry arguing, we picked a pizza beach-bar that was packed with people. That’s how you know it will be good! Luckily, they had some really delicious curry for me while everyone else got pizza or calzone. It’s amazing how many places around here sell pizza. And for-real pizza cooked in giant brick ovens. Noms.

Tell me stories!

With drinks in hand, we finally got to tell each other all the amazing things we heard and saw during the tour. My uncle and I chatted about the second snorkel site and all the fish and coral we could name. My aunt had all kinds of stories about people she chatted with on the beach. One lady on the boat was born in a rural house in Haiti, so she didn’t officially exist as far as paperwork was concerned. No birth certificate and no passport. Her new husband hired a lawyer to try to sort it all out so they could travel. Fascinating!

Lionfish street art
Invasive lionfish can be a real problem in the Caribbean. Luckily they are delicious!

My companion had done the scuba dives. Lots of new divers on that boat, so he had all kinds of tales. We got more info on the one diver who ran out of air and had to be rescued. A couple of divers couldn’t control their bouncy and popped to the surface unexpectedly. They had to be dragged back down. We got to hear about spotting a few giant lobsters and flamingo tongues (I saw a couple too!). And watching his tour guide as he speared two highly invasive lionfish, which just happen to be really good eating. After spearing the first one, the tour guide actually offered him the spear to get the second one, but he declined as he’d never used a spear before and really didn’t want to miss.

It was a great day and I’m glad family could come all the way out here to join me on my adventures. I’m staying in a one-bedroom apartment so I wasn’t able to offer a place to stay. However, it’s kind of nice to get some downtime after a busy day as we both went our separate ways after that late lunch. I still had a busy afternoon of washing and drying my wetsuit and towels and the rest of the gear. What a great day!

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