One of the friendliest islands in the Caribbean also boasts some impressively varied snorkeling. Clear, warm water (pushing 80 in the dead of winter), and a battalion of shipwrecks providing habitat for sea life are a few reasons to add coral foundation Barbados to your snorkel lineup.
In addition to the five suggested spots below, the island’s beaches are soft-sanded easy entry affairs, making it worth a visitor’s while to stash a mask and fins in the beach bag to explore any shore. Plentiful fish life means even a small chunk of reef or cropping of rocks is likely to offer something to see.
Carlisle Bay Marine Park
Barbados is surrounded by coral reefs of many different shapes and sizes. Great for snorkeling and diving, less so for boat captains. Leeward Carlisle Bay alone has “netted” approximately 200 ships since the 17th Century due to storms or pirating, offering a solid ten choices for those looking to explore below the surface in the one large bay. The wrecks, besides offering a fascinating backdrop that grabs the imagination, now make up the natural scenery and habitat for marine life. The misfortune of so many seagoing navigators has resulted in an embarrassment of underwater riches.
Note the dive flags and moored boats (being wary of traffic) and swim from shore to not only get a glimpse of one of the many wrecks, but the seahorses, triggerfish, parrotfish, grouper, angelfish, barracuda, manta rays and stingray that make them home. (Free divers might consider a trip with nearby Barbados Blue’s Roger, who holds a three minute in-house record and can share tips on how to make the most of the bay’s offerings.)
This 70-foot wreck sits as one of the shallowest sites within the Carlisle Bay Marine Park near Bridgetown. At just 10-50 feet deep, the 1919 wreck (the result of a mutinous crew not wanting to leave paradise) is well encrusted with a century’s worth of hard and soft corals. Nooks and crannies on the wreck offer a protected home to lobster, angelfish, filefish, iridescent purple shrimp, fireworms and large-eyed squirrel fish.
Around the wreck lies soft white sand, perfect for keen-eyed snorkelers to spot peacock flounder or half-buried southern stingrays. A field of garden eels waves in the mild surge, though dipping down from above will spook them to whoosh away in a coordinated instant.
Free divers can swoop down and approach from along the bottom for a better look and possibly discover one of the many seahorse—or pair of impressive bat-winged flying gurnard —that make this shallow site home.
This 170-foot freighter sits upright, largely intact, in a mere 40-50 feet of clear water on the West Coast near Mullins Bay. The protected water aids in keeping visibility high, meaning easy views of the coral and plethora of fish for those on the surface. Very popular with dive companies, the ship offers numerous open portholes and swim-through opportunities for those with tanks (including an air pocket where regs can be removed)—which can be interesting to watch from above.
The abundance of blue tang fish suggests some less-than-scrupulous operations might be feeding, but the natural habitat also attracts spotted moray eels, angelfish, filefish, damsels and the occasional barracuda. Camo frogfish might be spotted on the wreck by those of the keenest eyes. Bonus: just off the bow to the right sits an adorable (though sadly sunken) yellow mini-sub.
This shallow, well-kept reef teems with life. As part of the Folkestone Marine Underwater Park, thousands of fish have benefited from the protected status, making it a great spot to enjoy barracudas, moray eels, bar jacks, spotted drum, angelfish and gorgeously patterned filefish.
Though conveniently located for many of the West coast hotels and resorts, the site lies in a fairly heavy boat traffic stretch. (Consider a small company like Seaduced Charters to safely access Dottins reef and pair it with a trip to a nearby fishing boat haunt where close encounters of the turtle kind are all but guaranteed.)
This one is for the turtle fans. Located at the base of the Hilton Hotel peninsula, this little stretch of beach is a big deal in the world of shelled critters. Touted as the densest Hawksbill Turtle nesting beach in the Eastern Caribbean, snorkelers are all but guaranteed of a sighting.
The island is also home to green and loggerhead turtles, but the hawksbills inspire turtle walks and protected nesting sites here. Onsite Barbados Blue dive shop offers parking and snorkel gear rentals (free for Hilton guests) as well as guided swims for those just learning or dipping fins in for the first time.