A getaway to the Caribbean can mean more than kicking back with a cool drink and sitting in the sand – it’s a great goal but there are also many water adventures to be had in Central America and the Caribbean. The region offers unique opportunities for unforgettable moments of fun and amazement, and especially to enlarge a child’s world – even more so if you’re raising water babies who’ve had swimming lessons since they were infants. Whichever your destination, be it Belize, Honduras, Aruba, Jamaica or any of the other countless islands and nations, here are some opportunities for family fun that engage with the natural world.
Swimming with Whale Sharks or Manatees
Swimming with these gentle giants is the opportunity of a lifetime. Your family can experience whale sharks off of Holbox Island, Mexico and Utila, Honduras. These are massive plankton feeding animals so it’s safe to take a tour and swim along beside of them. Their massive size and gentleness will impress you. While they seem to swim slowly, you’ll find yourself challenged to keep up with them. The manatee is another gentle giant and also a plant eater. Manatees can be found in the waters of Mexico, Belize and other portions of Central and South America. A guided tour will help ensure that you succeed in meeting this often shy creature.
Explore the Second Largest Reef System in the World
While the Great Barrier Reef of Australia is well known, the second largest reef system in the world is in the Caribbean and offers similar opportunities for sea exploration. Whether you and your family snorkel or scuba, you’ll enjoy the riches of marine life on the reef. The reef extends from Mexico down to Honduras, so you’ll have your choice of places to visit. When heading out with your family, a good tour guide will be able to explain the marine life and corals that you are viewing. You’ll see tropical fish and bright corals. You might even catch a glimpse of a timid moray eel, or dolphins frolicking in the afternoon sun. Every outing will bring a new discovery. Also, from several Caribbean islands, such as Ambergris Caye in Belize, you can see the extent of the reef from the shoreline.
Visit Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Park
Many of us enjoy visiting national parks during our travels. Did you know that in the Caribbean, many places have national marine parks? These are designated places that seek to introduce visitors to the wonders of the reef system and marine life, as well as teaching how to help preserve these fragile ecosystems. Two of these are located off the islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker in Belize. A tour guide will lead you around Hol Chan Marine Park pointing out the reef elements and talking about the fish and aquatic life that you encounter. Within the park, you’ll swim closely with brightly colored fish, as well as three different types of sea turtles. Here, children can learn that it’s important to watch but not to touch, even if the turtles or fish come very close.
Often coupled with the visit to Hol Chan is a visit to Shark Ray Alley. While swimming with sharks may seem very intimidating, it shouldn’t be. It’s an incredible opportunity to swim with nurse sharks. When your guide brings the boat into the park, he will pay the park warden then begin to chum the water. The sharks will clamor for the snacks while your guide urges you to dive in. Don’t worry, the nurse sharks are more interested in the snacks than you, so you have an up-close opportunity to share their watery environment with them. In the frenzy, they may bump into you but that is the biggest risk you and your family members face. While watching the sharks, you will also see a variety of rays gliding elegantly through the water. Turtles also enjoy the area. During one outing, a shark and a stingray were seen tussling over the rights to a conch. Ultimately, the ray won but these are just not the experiences one expects to see every day. Both Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley are adventure opportunities that are appropriate for all members of your family who can snorkel.
The Yucatan Peninsula offers the unique water adventure of cenotes. Essentially, these sites are sinkholes that connect with underground rivers and water sources. While the peninsula is primarily dry, the ancient Mayans relied on cenotes for reliable water sources. Whether you choose to vacation in the coastal Cancun or the inland cities of Merida or Valladolid, there are mystical cenotes to experience nearby. It is also possible to combine these water activities with a visit to an ancient Mayan site. During the journey to these locations, you’ll have the opportunity to see exotic birds and wildlife, such as parrots, toucans, pecorinos or jaguars.
Even though international travel is still changeable, the USA’s southern neighbors are close and easy to get to – plan to get your vaccinations and/or rapid test before you leave home – and these are just a few water sports adventures that you can experience when you vacation in the Caribbean or Central America. Additional water sports include stand up paddle boarding, sailing, kayaking and parasailing. While you want to take advantage of all of the available water sports in the location you choose it’s also an opportunity to explore some of the more unusual water adventures in the area, and gain mind-opening and unforgettable memories for all the family.