best snorkel bang for buck within 7 hour radius of California?
February 26, 2011 9:12 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan my next multigeneration family trip for a bunch of enthusiastic snorkelers, toddlers, and demophobes!

We recently returned from a three generation family trip to the Kona coast and I'm already restless to plan the next trip. I'm hoping to make it an annual thing. Help me fantasize / plan: where should we go next? Here's what the place needs to be:

1. Easily accessible from California. One transfer (to a second flight or boat) is ok. (There is a toddler involved.) Say a flight of no more than 6-7 hours from the west coast.

2. Excellent, easy snorkeling available very nearby. This is a priority. Our Kona house had a good reef right off the back yard, and we were kayak-distance from the Captain Cook monument. The ideal scenario would be similar.

3. No serious health threats. I don't want my children to have to get travel shots. (Although if you have a recommendation that fits on every axis but this, please shout it out; I'll keep it in mind until the kids are a little older.)

4. It has to be tourist-accessible enough that I can reasonably easily rent a great vacation house and stock it with groceries. There needs to be emergency health care available "just in case."

5. I much prefer a rented house with some privacy, to a hotel. My group includes some folks who have serious problems with crowds.

I've heard conflicting information about Cozumel snorkeling. What say you all? And has anyone been to Roatan? I've heard the snorkeling is fabulous. Are there other Caribbean spots I should consider? Thank you, travelers of the hive!
posted by fingersandtoes to Travel & Transportation around California (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I can only address one part of your question - I'm not familiar with the West Coast, so unfortunately I don't have any great suggestions for you. As for the Caribbean, though, I've been scuba diving in both Cozumel and Roatan, and have also done some snorkeling in both places. Cozumel has strong currents; divers do what's called "drift diving," where you enter the water at one place, then are picked up by your boat at a second after being carried by the current. If you see something interesting along the way, you'd better look fast - there's no going back. I wouldn't take my toddler or young child snorkeling here. To this day, I have a 4-inch scar on my shin from getting slammed into a reef from an unexpectedly powerful wave while snorkeling in Cozumel - and I'm an experienced diver.

Diving (and swimming & snorkeling) in Roatan, on the other hand, is like being in bathwater. Very warm, no current. I didn't even wear a wetsuit to dive - just a very thin covering known as a "skin." The reefs are amazing in this part of the Caribbean. I'm not sure how great snorkeling would be, though, since most of the great dives are wall dives - meaning you descend along a reef wall. A snorkeler wouldn't see very much. Perhaps others who do mostly snorkeling versus diving can chime in here. Roatan does have (at least, when I went) an amazing tourist submarine trip, but it may be scary for children - I don't have children (and don't know yours!) so I'm not sure.

One thought - I don't know if this is within a 7-hour radius, but you might want to check out Bonaire. It's off the coast of Venezuela. It might be a great trip for when the kids are older and can fly a little longer. The water is incredibly clear and the reefs are amazing, plus there's no current. There's also a national park on the island to explore if people get tired of the water. The people I met on Bonaire were incredibly friendly & welcoming. Worth checking out one day if you're up for a longer trip!
posted by pecanpies at 5:49 AM on February 27, 2011

Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras.

I was on the Bay Islands -specifically Utila but they have a problem with sand fleas and this would be torture for a toddler- this past fall and it was amazing. It was very affordable, safe, and relatively free from a lot of people. Best of all we had an amazing reef to snorkel just a few yards from our very large and very affordable rental house.

There are cruise ships that dock at Roatan twice a week but they stay on a particular part of the island. If you stay to the less ventured side of the island it should be easy to stay away from the crowds and only venture to West End when you are looking for more touristy things to do.

I think it was one transfer through El Salvador from California. As far as medication is debatable wether or not malaria prophylaxis is necessary. We took it but once we got to the island we realized that not everyone did and it wasn't an issue.

I got a lot of my travel information through tripadvisor. It was endlessly useful in planning this trip. Also, when thinking about renting a house, wherever you are going, try
posted by teamnap at 7:34 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks teamnap, that's exactly the sort of info I was after.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:17 PM on February 27, 2011

and pecan, too -- thanks for the heads up on Cozumel currents.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:18 PM on February 27, 2011

FWIW, Hawaii itself is less than a 7 hour flight away from most of California.

LAX to Honolulu: 5:45
SFO to Honolulu: 5:20
posted by chairface at 6:32 PM on February 28, 2011

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