Sometimes we get asked whether it is really worthwhile to go on a guided snorkel experience - in the end, anyone can buy a mask and snorkel in a shop and start exploring without a license - so why go on a guided tour? We are happy to give you an honest answer to this question because we truly believe in what we are doing. First of all - yes, snorkelling on your own is absolutely possible - in fact, we encourage our participants to find joy in spending time in the water and hope that they will learn to do so safely on their own in certain circumstances. But we strongly recommend exploring a new ocean environment under professional guidance first. Here is why:
1.) Knowledge of Local Ocean Conditions
The ocean, in its calm glory, can be a very inviting place but it is important to always remember that the sea can also be treacherous to those, who don't know it well. Snorkelling in a protected Caribbean lagoon is very much different from snorkelling in the open Atlantic (or any other ocean for that matter). Depending on local topography, weather phenomenons, and even moon phases, potentially dangerous conditions, like strong currents, can emerge and surprise even the most experienced snorkeller. A local guide will know these conditions very well and you can trust her or his knowledge and judgment. An experienced and professionally trained guide will also know how to deal with any sudden changes of conditions whilst in the water, safely. Even if you are an experienced snorkeller, it is impossible to know local conditions everywhere in the world and it is a good idea to let a local guide introduce you to them at least once.
2.) Knowledge of Local Highlights
If you jump into the water with a mask and snorkel, you're almost guaranteed to encounter wildlife. But sometimes local spots have some hidden highlights - like "the one rock" that is inhabited by a big burrfish, or "the one spot" where a school of juvenile barracudas hangs out. It would be a shame to miss those highlights - a local guide can show them to you and if you ask nicely, she or he might even tell you about outstanding features elsewhere, which you can search for yourself. Either way, having a local guide show you the best a spot has to offer, is definitely going to make your ocean experience extra special and might take you to places you would have never found on your own.
3.) Wildlife Knowledge
If you go with a local guide, you will also benefit from her or his knowledge about local wildlife - what is where, when, and with whom? Because a professional snorkel guide spends a lot more time in the water than anyone else, and often in the same spots, she or he inevitably gets to know seasonal and spatial dynamics of local wildlife - sometimes even down to the level of an individual (if you have watched "My Octopus Teacher" on Netflix, you know all about it). Many guides are Marine Biologists, but even if they aren't, they can tell you a whole lot more about how life underwater is connected than the eye can see at first. Which one is the male wrasse and which one is the female wrasse? When and where can we spot cuttlefish? Why is one trumpetfish yellow and the other one brown? Appreciate your guide's knowledge and let her or him tell you about local ocean life curiosities - and you will see everything through different eyes on your next snorkel adventure.
4.) Appropriate Gear
Whilst a mask and a snorkel are theoretically all you need to snorkel, certain additional gear can make a huge difference in terms of safety and fun. First of all, not all masks and snorkels are the same. Your guide will have chosen good quality equipment that is comfortable for most people and you can trust their choice without having to worry about a constantly flooding mask or a leaking snorkel. Secondly, on a guided tour, you will usually receive a pair of fins, which are an important safety feature that many "casual snorkellers" don't bring onto their holidays because it adds too much weight and bulk. Fins give you great propelling power, which is essential if you end up in a situation where you have to fight a current or get out of a wave quickly. They are also great for skin diving - if you like to dive down a few meters on a single breath-hold. Most guided snorkel experiences also include a wetsuit - either a shorty or in Oceanológico's case long suits - which will keep you warmer for longer and greatly lengthen the duration of your snorkel experience. Some snorkel experiences also offer weight belts to make skin diving easier - something that is almost impossible to bring on your holiday, but which will make skin diving so much more pleasant. So yes, you can snorkel with minimum gear and still have lots of fun, but sometimes it is nice to be fully equipped to be able to make the most of your experience.
5.) Safety Equipment
Safety equipment is something that many casual snorkellers don't think about. A surface marker buoy is essential to make you easily visible to boat traffic and it can also serve as a float for short breaks in the water. Additional floating devices, such as snorkel vests for inexperienced snorkellers or children are also often available if you book a guided snorkel tour. And of course, local guides will have a fully equipped first aid kit and will know what to do in an emergency because they know local hazards and are usually trained First Aiders (at Oceanológico we're actually First Aid Instructors).
6.) The Buddy System
If you are travelling alone or are the only one in your party, who snorkels, then you should definitely look for a snorkel buddy. As with any other outdoor sport, the first and most important rule is to never go alone. If something unexpected happens (and that can be something unrelated to snorkelling) you will have a partner who can help you and alert emergency services. A guided snorkel experience naturally comes with a buddy, so you know that you are in good hands - plus any experience is a lot nicer when it is shared (there is actually scientific evidence to prove it).
7.) Comforting Company
If you are a novice snorkeller, it can often feel challenging to enter the water - a lot of ifs and buts might be going through your head and you never feel quite comfortable in the water. A snorkel guide can help you build confidence in your ability and your belonging into the water and enable you to explore independently in the future with more joy. If, on the other hand, you are the most experienced snorkeller in your party, you will find that you can focus a bit more on your experience than on others during a guided snorkelling tour. Let a snorkel guide help your companions build their confidence and turn them into reliable buddies, while you can enjoy being fully immersed.
8.) Learning Curve
Watching underwater life go by from the surface is an absolutely mesmerizing experience, but it often leaves us wanting to get a little closer. Skin diving is the solution - most snorkel guides can teach you a few basic techniques that will enable you to safely hold your breath, dive down effortlessly, and equalize efficiently. A guide can also help you troubleshoot if you struggle with any of these techniques and assist you in making your underwater time less frustrating and more enjoyable.
Ok, this might sound a little bit dry, but insurance is an important consideration. Whilst the chance of an accident is very small if you follow all the recommended safety guidelines, it is good to know that you and your wellbeing are fully covered in the worst case. Most holiday insurances won't cover expensive ocean rescue missions but licensed snorkel operators on the Canary Islands are obliged to have a full accident and civil liability insurance for all of their participants. By going snorkelling with a reputable snorkel guide, you don't just minimize the chance of an accident but you also know that you are fully covered in any eventuality.
Planning the snorkel trip, judging the conditions, finding a good spot for the day, preparing and cleaning the gear - these are all somewhat tedious tasks, especially when you are on holiday. If you are going on an organised tour, you don't have to worry about any of it. All you need to do is to show up and have fun.
These are 10 good reasons why it is worthwhile going on a guided snorkel experience before you decide to plunge into any new waters on your own - it all comes down to expert knowledge, safety, and convenience. A guided snorkel experience will help you make the most of your underwater adventures and once you are confident in judging local ocean conditions, own your own gear, and have found a great snorkelling buddy, you can go on exploring the underwater world independently.
We are very proud to say that many of our snorkel experience participants keep returning because they enjoy the company, the equipment, and the expert knowledge we offer at Oceanológico. If you are planning to visit La Palma and you would like to join us on a snorkel experience, you can book it here.