Yesterday we spent the morning on a private snorkel tour from our beach here in Ocotal in Costa Rica. We had a very enjoyable time on what was a really good value tour ($65 per person), and even though we didn’t see a lot of sea life, we did see a variety. The water was bit murky but we saw a dozen or more varieties of fish, one eel, one sea snake, a puffer fish, starfish and lots of interesting sea anemones.
From the boat we also saw hundreds of “flying” devil rays, several dolphins and a turtle. It was a lot of fun.
It got me to thinking and comparing different snorkel tours we have taken over the years so I decided to share about some of our various snorkeling adventures. I’m not a diver but I really enjoy snorkeling and have enjoyed some
wonderful opportunities in our travels.
Here is our list of Snorkeling Around the World – Memorable Moments;
Sand Island Maldives – My favorite snorkeling day ever was our morning on the tiny (50×75 yards) sand island about an hour boat ride from the island of Huraa in the Maldives. Known for the spectacular crystal clear blue water, the Maldives are a divers paradise. Our snorkeling day rewarded us with a vast collection of sea life, but the more amazing part of this day was the stunningly beautiful coral reef. I’ve never witnessed anything like it before or since.
Australia with Wally
Great Barrier Reef Australia – Memorable, iconic and expensive, our day on the Great Barrier Reef out of Cairns was fun. An overcast day made for some murky water and rough seas but we enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime experience with a nice selection of interesting coral and fish including the resident Maori Wrasse named Wally (see photo). Read more about it here.
Galapagos Ecuador – Everything about the Galapagos Islands is unique and memorable – both on land and in the sea. One of our favorite trips of all time. The day we snorkled in the Galapagos was the only time I have ever swam with seals who danced a playful ballet around us as we swam. We also encountered baby seals, beautiful turtles and small sharks. Just one remarkable event in a very remarkable place.
Dhow in Zanzibar
Zanzibar – possibly my worst sunburn in my life occurred the day I snorkeled with my sister in Zanzibar. My sister’s first time snorkeling and in our excitement we both forgot to lube up. The waters off of Zanzibar are incredibly beautiful, but we actually didn’t see that many fish. As memorable as the sunburn was the rickety Dhow boat (traditional Zanzibar wooden fishing boat) that took us off the beach out to the snorkel area.
Hawaii – I’ve been to Hawaii so many times I’ve lost track and it’s here I’ve enjoyed some of the best snorkeling ever. We went to Hawaii a lot when our kids were small, and for family snorkeling Hawaii can’t be beat. Our favorites are;
Molokini (Maui) – our favorite island is Maui and when in Maui snorkeling at Molokini is a highlight. Depending on the time of day you go, it can be pretty crowded but you will see such a great variety of colorful tropical fish it’s worth it. And if you can, book a tour that also goes to Turtle Island so you can see these magnificent creatures.
Captain Cook (Big Island) – We have snorkeled in the Captain Cook bay on the Big Island twice. Once we came on a tour boat and once we did the steep hike down (and eventually back up) to the bay. The bay doesn’t have much coral but lots and lots of beautiful fish make the bay their home.
Kona Manta Ray Snorkeling (Big Island)– one of the funnest, most breathtaking and most amazing things I have ever done was the nighttime snorkel in Kona to swim with the amazing and giant (up to 20 feet wingspan) Manta Rays. These gentle giants are graceful and harmless and truly spectacular. Read more about it here.
Black Rock (Maui) – my son Dane and I had a remarkable experience at Black Rock while snorkeling
just off the beach. We encountered a solo turtle which let us swim and follow him for more than half an hour. Just me, my son and this beautiful creature. I’ll never forget it.
Koh Phi Phi Thailand – very crowded and somewhat overrated was our snorkel tour adventure to Koh Phi Phi in Thailand. Although the beautiful blue water is warm and fun to swim in, we didn’t see much of a variety of fish and there were so many tour boats there it was ridiculous. We did enjoy the water though and most of all having fun with our adult sons in the gorgeous tropical Thailand waters.
Maldives Sand Island
There you go, our list of of favorite snorkeling around the world sites. Some of our most memorable travel days have included snorkelin
I hope you too will have the chance to visit one or more of these beautiful and amazing snorkeling places. I have no doubt you will remember it forever.
Manta Ray image from Pixabay
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If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards from last January. I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2018 (covering 57,000 miles and 26 countries) we are well positioned to bestow the World Travel Awards – our version of the Oscar or the Razzy – on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year. Just like the famous movie awards, we have seen a world of real life
drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation. Enough to last a lifetime.
This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. So in keeping with the time of year for awards, I give to you our picks for World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2018 – My Fab Fifties Life.
(For reference – our 2018 countries visited were; India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Singapore, Guam, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, USA, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Portugal, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil.
Favorite Overall Country – Australia
Australia takes the top award this year edging out a few others (Greece, Poland) but we both agreed. Australia is the best. The only negative about Australia is it’s expensive. But we believe the beauty, culture, nature and environmental awareness helped us choose it as our favorite destination of 2018. We plan to return in 2019.
Favorite City – Sydney and Krakow
Well there it is again – Australia. Sydney Australia and Krakow Poland take our award this year for favorite city, and basically for the same reason. Both offer a variety of cultural, historic and scenic options for visitors. Sydney also has beaches while Krakow has great food.
Most Beautiful City – Singapore
Everything you ever heard about Singapore is true – sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Singapore was our favorite beautiful city of the year.
Cutest Town – Brugge
Singapore might take the big city award but we are more small town folks, and Brugge was a perfect little package of history, beauty, beer, delicious food and very friendly people. We spent four days and could easily have stayed on even longer.
Most Expensive Country – Australia
Australia has so much to offer, but inexpensive it is not.
Least Expensive Country – Indonesia
Mount Batur Bali
With some of the nicest people and most beautiful scenery Indonesia is a bargain, and we loved our time there.
Most Disappointing City – Ubud (Bali Indonesia) Ubud is no longer the sweet little artists/yoga village we all imagine from Eat Pray Love. When I saw the American brand chain stores I was so disappointed (Ralph Lauren, Starbucks, Nike).
29 Airbnbs, 42 hotels, 5 boats
Best Airbnb Overall – Antiparos, Greece. We loved our relaxing three weeks in this gorgeous, private, and big airbnb with a stunning view and wonderful host. I hope to return someday. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/20657689
Best Airbnb for Service – Rio de Janeiro. Our short visit to Rio (we really should have stayed longer) was extra special due to the hospitable and generous host at our sweet Airbnb. She was one of the most thoughtful hosts we have ever had. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1149627
Best Airbnb for Authenticity –Santorini
Greece. Hands down the most expensive Airbnb we have ever stayed in, and yet it was also incredibly authentic Greek cliffside dwelling with a stunning crater view. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15926564
Most Expensive Airbnb – Santorini $220 a night (see above)
Best Value Airbnb – Maldives our tiny room
in a tiny resort on the tiny island of Huraa was $90 a night but included three meals a day for both of us. We loved our relaxing three weeks here. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4490934
Least Expensive Airbnb – Lombok at only $52 was a bargain and so relaxing (see above)
Most Unique Airbnb – Key West, USA I thought spending four days onboard a 30 foot sailboat would be fun. Not so much. It was definitely unique. And cute. But also uncomfortable.
Favorite Hotel – Puri Lumbung Cottage, Bali this beautiful hotel complex made out of
Puri Lumbung Cottage Bali
traditional rice barns was not only beautiful, but it offered so many activities as part of our package and an incredible view at a bargain price. We loved our time here with our friends John and Carol
Worst Hotel – Singapore. Because Singapore is so expensive we booked this inexpensive $117 hotel and our room was literally a closet in the attic with no windows. It felt like a jail cell.
tiny Western Australia town of Exmouth and we loved our little Airbnb and the darling family that lived next door. We would love to go back. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/18258544
Worst Hotel Experience – Bucharest Romania. Arriving at our booked and paid-for hotel near the Bucharest Airport, we learned there was a “septic” problem. No room at the inn. Nearly five hours later we finally laid our heads on a FUTON, in a teeny apartment of some guy who wasn’t using it, well away from the airport but grateful to just go to sleep. We had a very early flight and it was not a great way to end our three weeks in Romania.
Best Meal – Tapas Tour in Sevilla Spain our self guided Tapas Tour in Sevilla’s Triana neighborhood was so delicious and fun. A perfect Spanish memory.
Best Cooking Class – Krakow Poland I really enjoyed learning to make handmade Pierogi in the tiny communist era apartment of our sweet cooking instructor.
Best Beer – Brugge runs away with this
award, nowhere else even in the running. Brugge is a beer lovers town and we are beer lovers. Our visit to Brugge was memorable for many reasons including the wonderful selection of really outstanding beer.
Best Food Experience/Tour – Brugge wins this one too! We really enjoyed having dinner in the home of a lovely Brugge couple who through the website With Locals offered a home cooked Belgian meal in a typical Belgian home. What a lovely treat.
Best Drinks Tour – Port Tour Porto Portugal. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this tour but it ended up being so wonderful, educational, delicious and fun. I highly recommend this if you are in the beautiful Portuguese city of Porto.
CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES
Best Sunset – Guam. With Gin and Tonic in hand and enjoying some family time while visiting my niece Bekah and her husband Davy, we enjoyed our favorite sunset of the year on the little Dungcas beach in Guam.
Most Authentic Cultural Experience – Bangladesh Tour. Who goes to Bangladesh? Well just about no one, and it is exactly the
reason we enjoyed our time there so very much. By far the most authentic and least touristy country we have been to in a long time. The people were so interested and amazed by us and they treated us like celebrities. We loved our time there.
Best Beach – It’s a tie! Antiparos, Greece and Ilha Grande, Brazil both deserve to be winners, even though they were quit different. Antiparos was amazing for the solitude, beauty and spectacular turquoise water. Ilha Grande had such warm water and the beaches were clean and beautiful despite being challenging to get to, we loved exploring the Ilha Grande beaches
Best Tour – Memphis Tours Egypt was one of the best tour companies we have ever dealt with providing us incredible detail prior to arriving, and being present and on top of every detail throughout our ten-day visit to Egypt and Jordan. Our guides, drivers, accommodations and everything else were flawless.
Best Driver – Kadek in Bali. I found Kadek on Trip Advisor and he served as our driver for our entire three weeks on the island of Bali. He was a very good driver, spoke great English and in addition to picking us and dropping us at our destination he made sure we saw lots of interesting things along the way. I hope to meet Kadek again some day.
Best Free Walking Tour – Berlin Germany. We have done so many free walking tours over the past several years and only once did we NOT like our guide. But the young lady we had in Berlin was hands down one of the most charming, interesting, factual, fun and entertaining humans I have ever met. It made for a most memorable experience and a big tip for her.
Best Tour Guide – Cristian, Santiago Chile. Cristian was our guide on a bus tour we took the day we left our cruise ship and headed to Santiago for our flight. We spent the day touring the wine region of Chile as well as seeing a small authentic rodeo and dancing. Cristian was patient,
informative, interesting and entertaining.
Best Bucket List Historic Site – Winner Taj Mahal. Runner-ups The Great Pyramids and Petra. I cried the day I stood in front of the Taj Mahal. It was even more beautiful than I imagined. And lucky for us, we hit it on an unusually clear blue sunny day with hardly any people. Magnificent site to
behold. Totally worth it. Of course the Pyramids and Petra are a close second. After seeing these sites your whole life in pictures, it’s surreal to finally see, touch and feel such awesome history and beauty first hand.
Best Snorkeling – Maldives. You might be surprised we aren’t giving this award to The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Yes that was amazing. But our best one day snorkeling actually took place in the crystal clear
blue waters of the Maldives, on a tiny sand island of only about 20 yards wide and 75 yards long. Here we witnessed the most beautiful coral reef I’ve ever seen, and the most amazing variety of fish and sealife.
Best Natural Site – Uluru Australia. It’s a trek to get to Uluru. And like everything in Australia it will be expensive.
But standing next that incredible natural phenomenon will be something you will never forget.
Best Manmade Site – Panama Canal Panama. I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy our eleven hour crossing of the amazing Panama Canal. Truly a modern day wonder of the world.
Malaga Cathedral, Spain
Best Cathedral – Malaga Spain. We see a lot of cathedrals. Sometimes individual ones are difficult to remember. Malaga is not one of those. A distinctively beautiful design inside makes it my favorite and most memorable cathedral in 2018.
7 Ladders, Brasov Romania
Best Day Hike – We have a three way tie for this one with 1. Canyon of the Seven Ladders, Brasov Romania 2. Campuhan trail in the rice fields outside of Ubud, Bali. 3. Coogee to Bondi Beach ocean trail Australia. All providing us wonderful days outdoors in three very distinctively different natural settings.
Best Multi-Day Hike – Well, the Camino Portuguese of course!
Most Exhilarating Outdoor Experience – Morning swim Denmark. Even though it was August, jumping into the North Sea before breakfast was an eye-popping way to start your day – and a very Danish thing to do!
Expensive but Worth it – Climbing the Harbor Bridge Sydney Australia $467. I had to really convince Arne to do this because it was outrageously expensive. But in the end he agreed it was worth it. An impressively well done and safe operation with a spectacular view to boot.
Best Wildlife Experience 1. Platypus spotting Australia 2. Aligator Spotting Florida. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat, untouched by humans. Seeing a wild platypus in Australia was so incredible. I still can hardly believe our luck and timing to spot the elusive and shy creature. On the other hand, seeing literally dozens and dozens of alligators within just a few feet of us as we rode bikes on the Shark Valley trail in the Florida Everglades was one of the strangest experiences of my life.
Most Moving Experience – Auschwitz, Poland Hands down – seeing and learning about the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz and in Krakow was the most astonishing and moving experience in all of our travels. I tried to put it into perspective in a blog. It was difficult. Some people choose not to visit. For us it was the reason for going to Poland and I believe EVERYONE should go.
Performance, Ubud Bali
Best Performance 1. Bali 2. Sydney 3. Krakow It’s one of our favorite things to do when traveling, attending a local performance. And this past year we saw several remarkable shows including two fascinating and authentic indigenous dance shows in Ubud Bali, a circus/dance show at the Sydney Opera House as well as an outdoor spectacle of La Boheme on Sydney Harbor. In Krakow we enjoyed a piano solo performance of Krakow’s favorite son Chopin and LOVED a string quartet concert inside the tiniest historic chapel.
Best Museum Skagen Denmark A surprising find in this tiny historic seaside town in Northern Denmark, Skagens Museum featured the remarkable art of the amazing talents of the area’s 1800’s artist colony.
Best Cultural Art Experience Ecuador Panama Hat Making in the tiny mountain town of Monticristi a tradition endures where skilled artists produce these works of beauty known as Panama Hats.
Best Historical Art Experience Berlin Wall The reason we came to Berlin was to see the iconic wall, which did not disappoint, and the rest of this amazing city made it one of our favorite stops on European adventure.
Count Dracula Romania
Kitsch Award – we make an effort to avoid tourist kitsch, but sometimes we fall for it, as we did in Sighisoara Romania. Touted as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (Count Dracula), we paid a couple of dollars to walk into a dark and spooky room where an open coffin waited with the Count himself asleep. Well until he jumped up and scared me to death. LOL.
Least English Spoken – Brazil. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and we found through out the country even in high tourist areas English is rare. Much like in Portugal and in Spain, there are few fluent English speakers. Even in the airport and on the flights English is unusual.
Hottest Day: Ilha Grande Brazil 95 degrees F and 76 degree dew point. We swooned.
Coldest Day: Pontevedra Spain 39 degrees F on our Camino de Santiago we froze and this was the start of my chest cold that lasted 8 weeks.
Wettest Day: Muxia Spain a four day monsoon kept us indoors, stuffing paper towels into the frames of the windows to keep the water from pouring in.
Windiest Day: Antiparos Greece – a rare October cyclone closed down shops, the ferry, and toppled trees.
30 flights, 8 train rides, lots of small boat rides, one river cruise, two ocean cruises
Smallest Airport – Paros Greece
Worst Flight Experience – Iceland Air lost luggage. It took three days before we saw our luggage again.
Worst Airline – Scoot. Worst flight I can remember in a while from Singapore to Perth. Everything cost extra including baggage, drinks, food and even a blanket.
Best Travel Experience – Europe Train Travel. We had a wonderful experience using the trains from Belgium to Germany to Poland and throughout Andalucia and I would do that again in a minute.
Worst Airport – Manila We had a long layover here and there was nowhere to sit. There was no ATM to get local currency and none of the concessionaires took credit cards. The part of the airport we saw was old and dirty.
Camino de Santiago Portugal
Best Airport – In contrast and like everything else in Singapore, the airport is new, shiny, efficient and beautiful.
Dead Sea Jordan
Worst Security Line – Seattle WA USA. Way to go USA. My flight from Seattle to Nashville was a near disaster when I arrived more than two hours ahead of schedule to find a more than two-hour security line. Seattle’s inability to separate out domestic and international travelers and offer expanded security lanes has made it one of my least favorite airports in the entire world.
Worst Travel Experience – missing our flight in Perth. Expedia took the blame and even gave us a $200 credit for this flight debacle, but it didn’t help our situation as we had to stay an additional day in Perth and did not get to see the town of Alice Springs before heading on to visit Uluru. Hope to see you again someday Alice Springs.
So there you have it. The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2018. But you do know, the real winner is me. Me and my husband. The luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?
What a fabulous life it is.
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“Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills… When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.” – Dory the Fish from Disney’s Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo is one of my favorite Disney/Pixar movies, and this past week I have had endless Finding Nemo moments and quotes running through my head. Being
in Australia and finally snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, my thoughts have wandered to the
Reef and fish
adventures of that movie and I have smiled to myself underwater and thought “Just keep swimming.”
Although going out on a snorkel trip on The Great Barrier Reef took us way over our Grand Adventure daily budget (actually everything in Australia is
taking us over budget), we could not come here to beautiful Cairns and not see the reef. It’s another one of those “I don’t have a bucket list” bucket list items. I love snorkeling and I wanted to have that once in a lifetime opportunity.
The weather on the day we went wasn’t great – grey and overcast and we even saw some rain. I am in constant worry about my motion sickness
problem, so I stood outside and watched the horizon the entire hour and half boat trip out to the reef, even when the rain started to come down. Hey I was gonna get wet anyway right? Luckily, thanks to massive amounts of drugs, my sea sickness problem did not materialize while on the boat. That was a good sign!
“You got a problem, buddy? Huh? Huh? Do ya, do ya, do ya?” Dory
Cairns which took us to the outer reef and a pontoon platform stationed there called Marine World. We disembarked the boat to the pontoon and here we were outfitted with our snorkels, fins, masks and Lycra “stinger” suits to protect us from
“I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.” Dory
Reef Magic offers many options from the pontoon, all at an additional charge including snorkel safari, snuba, scuba, glass bottom boat, semi-submersible boat and helicopter rides. But since
we had already exceeded our budget (for two of us we paid $426 Australian about $330 US), we were just interested in snorkeling. We were dressed and ready to go pretty quickly and one of the first people in the water.
Us with Wally
We immediately encountered “Wally”, one of the biggest fish on the reef. Luckily Reef Magic’s professional photographer was on hand as we entered the water and she got some amazing shots of us with Wally. All the photos in this blog are from Reef Magic’s professional photographer. Since we don’t have an underwater camera we have never gotten underwater photos on any of our snorkel trips on the Grand Adventure. So, despite the fact my husband almost wet his pants when I told him the price, we bit the bullet and bought the photos for an additional $75 (about
“Ahh you guys made me ink.” Pearl
Wally is a resident fish of this part of the reef. He is an amazing species called Maori Wrasse. This fish is a female for the first eight years of its life. And then poof. It’s a male. I know – what the heck? Isn’t that nuts? Some times I think Mother Nature is menopausal!
After our encounter with Wally we began to explore the reef. Marine World has a cordoned off section of the reef for its guests to enjoy. Within this area there was a huge variety of corals; big, small, blue, green, orange, white. Some are soft and rounded, others spikey and dangerous looking. In all the
snorkeling I have done, I had never seen coral that waved in the current like it did here. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Most of the coral we see in our lives is dead. And while its pretty even when it is dead and dry, the beauty of live coral is spectacular. Yes this is an incredible living
creature and we surely must protect it.
“Righteous! Righteous! ” Crush
So I loved the corals and kept going back for more of that but of course there were the fish. Many, many fish. I don’t know all their names, but they really are beautiful to watch. Some of the fish are very solitary, just going along and doing their
business, feeding and swimming and doing what fish do. Other fish keep in groups, large schools that move together almost as one, weaving above and around the coral mountains. There are some fish that are so tiny you don’t even see them until you are swimming right through them, while others
are so big that they freak you out a bit. Many fish are shy and you need to look inside the coral to find them. There are also beautiful giant clams, sea slugs, squid, eels and rays. And no we did not see any sharks.
“From this moment on, you shall now be known as Sharkbait.” Gill
We swam to the outer edge of the roped off area and we were alone in this section just as a beautiful turtle swam by on the surface. We
almost missed him because we were looking down and he was swimming right next to us on the surface. But then he dived and we watched him swim to the bottom looking for a snack. I believe this was a loggerhead turtle. We had seen this kind in Sri Lanka. Beautiful brown bodies and not too large. We watched him swim away beyond the area we were confined to and into the great wide ocean.
“Saw the whole thing, dude. First you were all like “whoa”, and we were like “whoa”, and you were like “whoa…” Crush
After about an hour we went back to the pontoon to have a rest. Reef Magic served a buffet lunch
that included salads and fruit, bread, chicken, sushi, lasagna, curry and roast beef. But I only ate a little cause I continued to worry about my motion sickness. Arne ate my share. It all looked good. Coffee, tea and water was also available and a bar on the boat was open when we weren’t underway. Clearly they have had motion sensitive passengers before and they were well stocked with ginger beer (like ginger ale, non-alcoholic). My beverage of choice.
“I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine.” Bruce the Great White Shark
Fish in all sizes
We headed back out to snorkel more after lunch. The water seemed a bit calmer but it was also more cloudy so not as easy to see – but that was okay. We tried to swim to all the areas and to the far-reaching parts of the swimming area. We noticed most snorkelers stayed very close to the boat. Understandably if you are an inexperienced snorkeler or not comfortable in the water. Reef Magic had life jackets as well as float noodles and other devices for anyone looking for a little more reassurance.
Some are shy
We snorkeled for about 30 minutes and then decided to call it a day. We went back on the pontoon and stretched out on a lounge chair for the next hour and a half. Surprisingly, despite the overcast sky, it was warm and we both got a bit of a sunburn.
My Fab Fifties Life!
Finally it was time to turn in our gear and make our way off the pontoon and back to the vessel for the hour and half ride back. Once again I stood and watched the horizon the entire way, including during a deluge about half way home.
But I did it. I did not get sick. I snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef. I can check that off the “I don’t have a bucket list”
bucket list. And remembered to just keep swimming.
“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.” Dory
Thanks goes to the wonderful photography of Reef Magic!
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