I’ve always envied my scuba-diving friends who describe their colorful underwater world full of coral reefs and multiple inhabitants of the sea as magical. I’ve snorkeled but it’s not the same. Now, although I remain uncertified as a diver, I have an idea of what the majesty is all about thanks to my SNUBA experience at Aruba’s De Palm Island.
For the uninitiated – mostly everyone – SNUBA, not surprisingly, is a cross between scuba and snorkeling. Unencumbered by the heavy accoutrements of scuba divers who have air tanks on their back allowing them to access 60 feet below the surface, SNUBA participants simply have fins and a mask similar to snorkelers but which is attached to an outside oxygen supply that allows them to dive 10-20 feet below the surface and see way more than is usually accessible to the average snorkeler.
I was up close and personal with the coral moonscape and the many multi-colored residents who call it home. Trigger fish, trumpets, sergeant major fish, blue parrots, butterfly fish — “The list is so long it would take me a whole day to tell you,” my instructor claimed. At one point, he directed me to the bottom to look underneath a big coral formation where a Puffer Fish was happily hiding. You can’t do that when snorkeling!
And that barely touches the surface – so to speak – of what De Palm Island has to offer. An all-inclusive day trip a five-minute ferry ride away – but worlds away in terms of excitement – De Palm offers a smorgasbord of food and activities. First, let’s deal with the basics: $109 per adult buys you unlimited snorkeling tours with free snorkel gear, an impressive waterpark for the kids, exhilarating water slides for the kid in you, banana boat rides galore, as much food and drink as you can handle, and, of course, salsa lessons. And oh yes, a variety of sandy beaches with chaise lounges and palapas to relax upon if you can find the time. And that’s just for starters.
Usually in the Caribbean you see a lot of flamingoes, but they’re usually in the form of mailboxes, lawn decorations or home décor. On De Palm, they’re there to entertain you in the flesh. The stately, pretty, light pink, long-legged birds happily roam their own sandy habitat at their leisure for you to interact with at yours.
So not only does De Palm Island offer SNUBA, of which there are only about 56 operations worldwide, but also Sea Trek, with the same number of opportunities around the globe – but to have them both in the same place. Highly rare!
So what’s Sea Trek you ask? Donning a huge helmet with breathing apparatus, you walk along a cushioned sea bottom 10-15 feet below the surface, always following certain caveats – remain vertical at all time, walk and breathe, yawn to equalize pressure, hold on to the hand rails and never look down.
Forget flapping flippers or your snorkel mask filling with water. Here, you just have to focus on the multitudes of fish swarming around you. Admittedly, the thought of a 72-pound helmet on my 90-pound frame initially sounded a little daunting, but once in the water it was very manageable – even if the diver-guide had to keep re-adjusting it to fit my face.
And, of course, a video was taken to be sold later – and for the sake of said video, we had to pretend to drink a bottle of wine and pretend to drive an underwater vehicle. Also to actually stroke a sea cucumber and a very scaly sea start. But I was in it for the fish – and at times there were so many of them, I felt an integral part of their school which I suspect was more fun for me than the fish….
Along with the SNUBA and Sea Trek add-ons, you can also opt for a well-stocked private cabana, a back or foot massage, a DIY craft shop or a henna tattoo, but the pick-up basketball game is free as is so much else. The kids waterpark with age-appropriate slides and the ever-present bucket of water on high that spills over at unexpected intervals elicited the de rigueur squeals of joy every time. A number of snorkeling areas consistently populated by bouncing snorkel-masked heads that once would have beckoned me had I not just experienced other fish-enhanced realms of a much higher order. And the always inviting chaise lounges enabling you to listen to the surf hitting the rocks – sheer heaven!
De Palm Island, Aruba: one of the most unique sources of unending entertainment above and below water imaginable. And from which they had to drag me, kicking and screaming. This time, without flippers. For more information, visit De Palm Island.