West Coast, Barbados

Hawksbill, Leatherback and Green turtles live in large numbers along the reefs surrounding Barbados. At one time these turtles were endangered, but things have changed on this island. The turtles are now protected and even watched over by local fisherman, and their populations have significantly increased.

Turtles can often be found swimming and feeding along the relatively shallow reef along the West Coast of Barbados in St. James, right near the Lone Star Restaurant. The turtles are monitored here, and guides have found that they are sociable and quite tame. While the turtles do not show up at this spot every day, locals and tour operators say that they can be found here at least 80% of the time if the weather is good.

Recently, I had the opportunity to snorkel with the sea turtles in Barbados. I chose a sunny day for my trip, and went out as early in the morning as possible. On this excursion, I was lucky enough to experience over a dozen close encounters with the turtles during the thirty to forty minutes I was in the water. Two of the turtles were very large and came close enough to touch their beautiful shells. These two turtles seemed particularly sociable and friendly. The remaining five or six turtles were smaller and kept their distance, but it was wonderful to swim with them and admire their agility and speed in the water. This was a fantastic experience and one of the highlights of my trip to Barbados. Our guide mentioned that the best time to snorkel with the turtles is early in the morning, before the large catamarans and tour boats arrive at the reef.

Families staying at Almond Beach Village are in luck. This all-inclusive resort offers opportunities to swim and snorkel with the turtles three times each day. Boats generally go out at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m., but check with the resort's Watersports Desk to find out the current times. For families with small children or those who would prefer not to swim, independent operators on the beach offer glass bottom boat tours to visit the turtles as well.

Almond Beach Village is an excellent choice for families wishing to experience a relaxing and enjoyable Caribbean vacation. This family-friendly property offers free children's programs and activities, including a full-service nursery for children up to two years of age. The resort's Mini Club activity program for 2-5 year olds receives rave reviews from parents, as does the Kids' Club program for ages 5-11. The Kids' Club program runs from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. with a 30-minute break in the late afternoon. Activities include local dance lessons, face painting, arts and crafts, t-shirt painting, treasure hunts, pool and beach time, and other adventures.

Another option for swimming with the turtles in Barbados is to sign up for one of the many sailboat tour and snorkeling excursions that include a stop at this reef. These tours are safe for children, and snorkeling equipment, life vests, and lunch are generally provided. Tiami Catamarans offers five-hour sail and snorkel cruises daily. These excursions include three stops for swimming and snorkeling, and swimming with the turtles is the highlight of this trip. Rates include round-trip transportation, drinks, and an expansive buffet lunch at anchor in a quiet bay. Other "swim with the turtles" tours are offered by Wildcats Turtle & Shipwreck Adventure, and Just Breezing Watersports.

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