Six in-water experiences that go beyond the ordinary
Snorkeling is one of the world’s most popular water sports. Hit the shore at most any tropical destination in the world, and you can don mask and snorkel for a fish watching session. The Bahamas certainly has its share of pretty coral reefs and fishy shallows, but these islands also offer a number of unique in-water adventures. Here are six of our favorites.
The Island of New Providence is home to the world’s largest underwater sculpture. Known as Ocean Atlas, this 15-foot high, 65- ton work of art was created by pioneering aquatic sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. It depicts a young girl kneeling as she supports the weight of the ocean. The statue, which is made from eco-friendly concrete, is designed to attract fish and create a new home for marine life. Ocean Atlas is the centerpiece attraction for the Sir Nicholas Nuttall Coral Reef Sculpture Garden, which also includes submerged sculptures created by local artists Willicey Tynes and Andret John. The park is a favorite with both scuba divers and snorkelers, as shallow depths, clear waters, and white-sand bottom provide ample light for easy viewing.
The Sapona Shipwreck
It’s not often that snorkelers can visit an actual shipwreck. But there’s no need for scuba gear to explore the remains of the SS Sapona. This cargo steamer ran aground on a sand bar just south of the island of Bimini in 1926, and has been a local landmark ever since. The ship lies in 20 feet of water, and rises another 30 feet above the surface. There are a number of breaches in the hull, and snorkelers can fin their way into the cargo holds, which have become a haven for tropical fish and lobsters. The sand banks surrounding the wreck are also worth checking out, as stingrays and eagle rays often glide past.
On the northwest corner of the island of Eleuthera, tidal currents are funneled through a narrow channel. This creates free rides for divers and snorkelers who are swept along with the moving water. Snorkeling Current Cut requires a support boat to drop participants at the start of the drift, and pick them up at the other end of the channel. Drifts begin outside the cut, where currents are mild. As the channel narrows, speeds pick up, and snorkelers are soon gliding along at a brisk pace as they are funneled between the rock walls of the 30-foot deep cut. The sensation is akin to flight, and to add to the excitement, the cut is often filled with schooling fish and a number of resident reef sharks. Don’t worry, they aren’t interested in humans.
Fans of the classic film Thunderball will recognize this semi-submerged underwater cave where James Bond was briefly trapped. Reliving the adventure begins with a trip to Staniel Cay in the Exuma Islands. The best time for snorkelers to explore this maze of interconnected caverns is at low tide, when several entrances are revealed, and there’s no need to make a breath-hold dive to access the interior air chambers. Inside, the ceiling drops to within a few feet of the water in some areas, and soars to more that 20 feet overhead in others. Natural openings send shafts of sunlight into the water, and there is always an abundance of tropical fish swirling about.
White Sand Ridge
Dolphin encounters don’t have to take place at amusement parks. North of the island of Grand Bahamas, a large sand bank known as White Sand Ridge is home to pods of spotted dolphins that roam free, but aren’t shy about meeting up with visiting humans. Encounters begin with a boat ride of 30 to 40 miles for land-based snorkelers, or just jump overboard from one of the live aboard charter boats that make overnight and multiple-day trips to the site. When dolphins are located, snorkelers enter the water, and are usually met by the more curious and playful members of the pod. These intelligent marine mammals seem to enjoy the interaction, and may involve snorkelers in favorite games such as tag or keep-away, which involves passing a clump of seaweed back and forth, enticing their human visitors to try and take it away. Waters on the sand banks are typically 10 to 20 feet deep, and very clear, which makes for excellent photo ops.
The islands of the Bahamas sit on a limestone substrate riddled with crevices and flooded caverns. When the ceilings of an underwater chamber collapses, a blue hole is formed. The island best known for these blue holes is Andros. A flight over this large and mostly unsettled landscape reveals dozens of circular ponds hidden by the surrounding jungle. Cave divers have explored some of these holes to great depths, and have mapped mile-long passageways. Such adventures are best left to the professionals, but with just mask, snorkel and a decent pair of walking shoes, anyone can follow pathways through the forests of Andros to the waters of an interior blue hole. Fish life isn’t the attraction at these sites, but the unique geology of these flooded sinkholes makes for a memorable experience. A number of the small guesthouses on the island offer guided trips, and can provide directions to the holes.