Inah Reef, located off the coast of Mexico, features several species of marine life, such as sea turtles, manta rays and several types of fish. // © 2016 Cancun Adventures
Feature image (above): Cancun Adventures uses a professional photographer to capture underwater shots. // © 2016 Cancun Adventures
Many of the experiences I’ve had while traveling have left a profound impact on me. Most of the time, the associations are positive — when I taste a plate of fresh ceviche, for example, I’m reminded of a trip I took to an outdoor market in Costa Rica when I was 12 years old. The sight of a double-decker bus brings me back to a rainy day in London, where I found myself contentedly absorbing the sights of the city from behind a fogged window.
But when I think of snorkeling, the warm and fuzzy feelings just aren’t there.
Although I was only 10 years old at the time, I remember my first snorkeling experience vividly: I was off the coast of the Bahamas, floating on my stomach and scanning the beautiful reef below, when a feisty red snapper decided to take a nibble of my forefinger.
Needless to say, I swam to shore (arguably) faster than the gold-medal winners in this summer’s Rio Olympics.
Although that experience occurred many years ago, my fear of the open ocean never completely subsided.
Then, a few weeks ago, I took the plunge and signed up for a sailing and snorkeling excursion with Cancun Adventures during a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
As the saying goes, when you fall off a horse, you get back on, right?
My group, which was staying at nearby adults-only Iberostar Grand Hotel Paraiso, departed from Puerto Aventuras’ marina onboard the tour operator’s fleet of French-made lagoon sailing catamarans. Offered daily, this Cancun Adventures excursion draws crowds of all ages, including — as was the case on our sailing — many American families. Many of the passengers admitted that they had never gone snorkeling before, but most everyone was game to try.
As our catamaran coasted to the reef, passengers sipped cold drinks and sunbathed on the deck. It was quite relaxing, and the infamous “nibble” I had experienced in my youth and the fear associated with it began to ebb. As we slowed to drift near the edge of the Caribbean’s beautiful Inah reef, I was hypnotized by the crystal-clear water and the rippling coral beneath the surface. After a safety briefing from our guides, I grabbed my mask, snorkel and safety belt (mandatory for all clients) and jumped in.
I wasn’t in the water for more than five minutes when one of my companions grabbed my arm.
“Look down, look down!” she said, frantically pointing into the depths below us.
I dipped my head into the water just in time to see a giant manta ray gliding just inches below my feet. A few minutes later, our lead guide pointed to a sea turtle, which crested the surface only a few feet from our bobbing heads.
From that point forward, I was sold. The rest of the excursion, which took about 45 minutes, was spent marveling at the bustling ecosystem below us. In addition to our guides, a professional photographer was on hand to capture the underwater experience (with photos available for purchase).
When we climbed back onto the catamaran, lunch was waiting. But, the excursion wasn’t quite over. We sailed to a nearby lagoon where we could spend time jumping off the boat, swimming and making use of the stock of stand-up paddleboards and paddles (or, if we so chose, to sit back and sip a margarita).
While snorkeling is certainly a popular excursion for this tour operator, it’s not the only activity offered by Cancun Adventures. Many cultural, adventure and wildlife and nature activities are also available. Other activities of interest include a whale-shark swim, a half-day of exploration in Tulum and heart-pumping adventures such as ziplining, rappelling and UTV (utility terrain vehicle) off-roading.
Travel agents can join the “Adventure Agents” program to qualify for discounted activities and tours.