With our 4 days’ of car rental and walking and hiking in Antigua we saw quite a bit of the island during our 10 day stay. However as soon as you put on your mask and snorkel a whole new underwater world opens up for you. Every time you snorkel even in the same patch of sea you have a different experience.
Generally you will see many more fish if you snorkel in or around coral reefs and rocks. We did try to snorkel at some of the beaches we visited however these were our two main Antigua snorkel experiences:
Snorkel experience 1: book an organised snorkelling excursion to a small nearby island
Snorkel experience 2: try snorkelling at the far end of Galleon, our local beach!
Trip to Prickly Pear Island
Several companies offer snorkelling tours around the warm and clear Caribbean sea surrounding Antigua. We looked into an organised excursion which included swimming with stingrays however while we were keen to see fish and marine life we were somewhat put off when we learned that stingrays are enticed for the tourists by being fed, so in other words, this is a way for greedy tour operators to increase their profits.
We’ve experienced this in several other places and it now seems unnatural and false to use animals and fish basically for entertainment. There are also issues with humans interfering with the natural ecosystems. If fish are fed by humans they can stop feeding from natural sources such as algae which then for example impacts on coral reefs which are under severe decline. Shockingly “Earth has lost roughly half of its coral reefs over the last 30 years.” We therefore feel marine life should be left alone in its own environment for us to watch and observe without interfering.
After some searching on Trip Adviser we came across ‘Miguels’ a small family run business offering trips to the tiny Prickly Pear Island… or technically Prickly Pear Islet as it is so small.
Following a small exchange of emails we were soon booked onto our Prickly Pear trip for the next day. Miguel’s doesn’t usually run tours on a Friday but as a group of a dozen or so American cruise tourists had already booked a trip, our contact Terrence agreed to pick us up too, separately in his speedboat.
We drove from our hotel, the Admirals Inn in the south of Antigua to Ocean Point, Hodges in the north and met Terrence on the beach at 10:00. The speedboat journey from Hodges beach to Prickly Pear island took about 5 minutes. Upon arrival we selected our piece of beach on the tiny island and our sun loungers and umbrella were set up while we sat in the makeshift hut and were offered rum, rum punch, wine, beer and soft drinks from the free bar.
As we intermittently snorkelled, drank rum and relaxed on the beach, one of the ‘team’ wandered around with trays of canapes! Little bits of cheese, biscuits and then chocolate cake to nibble on…
The American tourists were already on Prickly Pear when we arrived however as they had to get back to their ship they were transported back to mainland Antigua at midday. From that point, Chris and I were on our own and had the island to ourselves!
Terrence and his team then prepared a delicious lunch of barbequed salmon, lobster salad, conch curry and rice just for us! And washed down with a delightful Malbec… (well, that was me as Chris stuck to soft drinks as he was driving later…)
After lunch one we were taken on small snorkelling tour to show us the best bits of the reef. We were not hurried in any way and Terrence took us back to Hodges beach at around 3 pm.
What an incredible day with Miguel’s Holiday Adventures. Everyone from this small family business was exceptionally friendly and welcoming, particularly Terrence who had a constant and engaging smile.
The hut (above) is a temporary structure, recently rebuilt following destruction by Hurricane Irma. As well as being affected by hurricanes, Terrence has to rebuild this bar from time to time to accommodate the shifting beach!
Apparently the business was started many years ago by Terrence’s father Miguel who is now 82! We try to directly support small local businesses where possible which is more cost effective for us, puts money straight into local communities and saves the excessive commissions collected by large cruise lines or tourist offices.
Contact Terrence to arrange a visit to Prickly Pear Island, details on Miguel’s website: http://www.pricklypearisland.com/
The other main snorkelling experience we had in Antigua was in the Nelsons Dockyard area. Towards the end of our stay we were chatting to the owner of our Admirals Inn accommodation who mentioned we might see turtles if we snorkelled right at the end of Galleon beach.
We took the free speedboat shuttle from the Admirals Inn to the end of Galleon Beach and both times we did this (once in the morning and another time in the late afternoon) we saw a couple of turtles! We also snorkelled over two shipwrecks, saw hundreds of different fish and a stingray! And all in their natural habitats without any feeding or intervention at all.
Please note: it’s important to wear beach/rock shoes for snorkelling on this beach as there are quite a few sea urchins on the sea bed!
Overall we had three brilliant snorkelling sessions with the Prickly Pear day and the two trips to Galleon beach. Each were different but amazing experiences however with the turtles, stingray and ship wrecks we did actually see more when snorkelling by ourselves at Galleon beach.
P.S. A cool crab can be seen in the above video!