Snuba in Puerto Rico

By Meghan McCloskey

“There are only three things you need to remember about Snuba,” said the bronzen instructor, “Breathe, never take off your oxygen mask and don’t swim off like a mermaid.” 

Easy enough, I think, considering one of the three rules is an instinct. ‘Snuba’ is not a typo, it’s one of the fastest growing aquatic activities that combines the best of snorkeling and scuba diving and allows you to explore coral reefs in the depths of the tropical seas without getting scuba diving certified. 

I jump, flippers first, off the back of the boat into the warm waters off the coast of Guánica, Puerto Rico.  Before I know it I’m fifteen feet underwater immersed in a delicate coral reef, face to face with iridescent fish in their natural habitat.  The only underwater communication I’ll be using is the ‘ok sign,’ which is Snuba for “this is awesome!”

Puerto Rico offers plenty of adrenaline inducing activities without the headache of complicated travel arrangements.  For families with a mix of daredevils and sunbathers, you can’t go wrong with this destination.  You don’t even need a passport to enter Puerto Rico, which is approximately a 4-hour flight from New York.  Despite its convenience, when you land in Puerto Rico and you stare out at the banana groves and the cerulean blue waters, you will feel as though your stresses are a world away.  

My destination is Copamarina Beach Resort in the small town of Guánica, a place where locals take pride in their land and go to great lengths to preserve the natural areas. Guánica is home to the largest dry forest in the world, a water-deprived ecosystem where the trees and cactus only grow one to five feet, yet sometimes to the age of 700 years.  Besides biologists from around the world, the free park attracts mountain bikers who could start at the top of the cliffside forest and bike down to Compamarina Resort to relax by the pool. Jose Luis at the information hut will point you towards a trail to meet your interests, whether it is a stroll to breathe in the fragrant fresh air or a quest to spot the rare Puerto Rican Whip-poor-will.

Copamarina hosts one of the best water sport centers for families on the island because there are options for all ages and skill levels.  There are opportunities for scuba diving, kayaking, paddle boarding and even HobiCat sailcraft.  Little ones can team up with parents and older siblings on a three-person kayak to embark on a trip to the forested Gilligan’s Island and even have a picnic on with white sandy beaches.  Not up for the challenge? Put up your feet and take in the views of Guanica at sunset from off shore aboard a pontoon boat.

I try my hand at paddleboarding, an ancient Hawaiian version of surfing, where the audacious rider balances on two feet on top of a surfboard and propels through the water with a giant oar.  Unfortunately, Poseidon is against me on the uncommonly windy day and the waves forbid me from reaching Gilligan’s Island.  I resign to shore, but an aromatherapy massage awaits me at the Bodyderm Spa of Copamarina.  As traditional Puerto Rican music soothes me, I treat my deserving muscles, feeling surprisingly accomplished for a vacation day.

Most visitors to Copamarina opt for the all-inclusive package, a real steal and the only package of its type on the island.  Parents will love daytime dining at the al fresco café, Las Palmas where you can try Puerto Rican fusion like mofongo (root vegetable-based dish) stuffed with grouper while kids can munch on comfort foods. Steal away for an evening and dine at the elegant Alexandra Restaurant, which offers innovative cuisine while being serenaded by the violin of a local music professor.  The filet mignon is a must-try!

If you want one more taste of Puerto Rico before heading home, stay at Courtyard Marriott Isla Verde Beach Resort, found on a slice of pristine beach conveniently located a half a mile from the San Juan airport.  The energetic ones in the group can rent a boogie board or surfboard to tackle the waves.  Want to rest up before heading back to the real world?  No problem, you can recline on a spacious hammock and gaze out at the beach or hedge your bets at the in-house casino.

I head back to the airport, adrenaline still piping through me.  It’s a good thing that Puerto Rico is so accessible because I’ll be back soon for more adventure!