A vacation to a tropical island simply isn’t complete without an adventure out on the water. For most tourists, that means snorkeling or scuba diving. If you’ve spent any time planning a trip to warmer climes, you’ve undoubtedly heard read about snorkeling and scuba diving a lot — sometimes interchangeably. However, when you’re booking a stay at a destination like the Mai Dive Astrolabe Reef Resort on Fiji’s Ono Island, you’ll want to know the difference so you can safely and comfortably enjoy an ocean adventure among the stunning sea life.
Snorkeling is simply swimming along the surface of the water and looking down at the oceanic activity below you. To do it, you need to be comfortable in the water, but that’s about it; no special skills are required, and the equipment needed to do it is minimal. Scuba, or SCUBA, is an acronym for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus, which is the pressurized air tank you need to wear as you dive well below the surface. It’s what allows you to be fully immersed (both literally and figuratively) in the ocean life around you. It’s a more extreme experience, and as such, more training and equipment are necessary.
Which is right for your next tropical vacation: snorkeling or scuba diving? Let’s take a look at some of the bigger differences between these two activities.
One of the key differences between snorkeling and scuba diving is the amount of preparation you’ll need to undertake before getting in the water. As long as you’re a relatively comfortable swimmer, learning how to snorkel is a snap. You’ll probably need some initial help with the few pieces of requisite equipment (more on that in a minute), but after that, you just get in the water and go. Even someone who has never snorkeled before can look like a pro in a few minutes. More advanced swimmers can dive down a little ways while snorkeling, but they can stay down only as long as they can hold their breath.
Scuba diving, on the other hand, requires much more training before you jump in. Since you’ll be well below the surface of the water, you’ll need to learn how to breathe properly using a tank and tube, and you’ll want to know about all the safety precautions one should take during a dive. This is a process that can take a few days, especially if you want to become a certified scuba diver, which some resorts and excursion hosts require. The investment of time (and money, as we’ll discuss in a bit) is much greater for those who want to learn how to scuba dive, but many believe the payoff is greater as well.
Equipment and Risks
Whether you’re snorkeling or scuba diving, you’ll need a good mask. Masks can be made up of a single lens or multiple lenses, and the latter can even be made to accommodate divers and snorkelers who need vision correction (though prescription masks obviously cost more than standard masks and are not really available for rent). There isn’t much difference between a snorkeling mask and a scuba diving mask, but some snorkel masks have a more accentuated lens angle so wearers don’t have to tilt their heads too far forward and risk their snorkel, or tube, going under water. Speaking of, that’s really the only other piece of equipment you absolutely need to go snorkeling; it’s typically 16 inches long, and it allows you to breathe while skimming along the surface.
For scuba diving, the main piece of equipment you’ll need is a pressurized gas tank with a tube, as that’s your supply of air while you’re in the depths. A wetsuit is also necessary to keep your body temperature regulated, even in tropical waters. Finally, foot fins will help propel you through the water while you’re scuba diving. Snorkelers may want to use foot fins too, as they can get you moving faster and with less effort on the surface.
There are more risks associated with scuba diving as compared to snorkeling. The main concern is decompression sickness, often called “the bends.” This is a condition that arises when divers ascend too quickly and tiny nitrogen bubbles form in body tissues, causing pain in the muscles and joints. However, making a controlled ascent and following all safety precautions can greatly reduce this risk.
The risks associated with snorkeling are less severe. If you’re wearing just a bathing suit and you’re out on the water for a few hours, you put yourself at risk for a nasty sunburn. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re in an area away from motorboat and jet ski traffic, as snorkelers can often be difficult to spot from atop a motorized vehicle.
Snorkeling is relatively inexpensive. In fact, if you own your own mask, snorkel, and fins, and you don’t mind staying close to shore, it’s free. Of course, many people who try snorkeling try to get off shore a bit, which means renting a boat or paying an excursion fee. These costs are nominal if you go with a group, though, and usually won’t run more than $30 or $40. Renting snorkel equipment is also affordable; expect to pay around $20 a day, usually less.
Scuba diving, on the other hand, is a much more expensive undertaking: you should figure at least $200 per person for a one-tank dive. If you need a class to become certified, you can expect to pay at least that much for just the class. Visitors to the Mai Dive Astrolabe Reef Resort will want to take note of some money saving opportunities to scuba dive: all of the resort’s scuba packages are free for a second diver when booked in advance. If you plan your trip ahead, you could pay substantially less for a great scuba experience.
What You’ll See at the Great Astrolabe Reef
The Great Astrolabe Reef is, at more than 60 miles long, one of the largest and most magnificent barrier reefs on the planet. It surrounds several of Fiji’s islands, including Ono Island, and the warmth and clarity of the water brings out the vivid colors of the majestic underwater world. In fact, on calm days, visibility can be as great as 100 feet or more, allowing both snorkelers and scuba divers the chance to see vast displays of ocean life in every direction.
Specifically, you’ll see a tremendous variety of fish species, including marlins, snappers, and even manta rays. Scuba divers will be able to get up close and personal with amazing hard and soft coral formations, and more advanced divers will want to explore the submerged pinnacles and slopes covered with coral. (Of course, less experienced divers will still be able to take it all in without any trouble.) No matter your skill level in the water, whether you go in with a tank or with just a snorkel, the incredible sights of the Great Astrolabe Reef will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Skim the Surface — Or Dive In!
Guests of the Mai Dive Astrolabe Reef Resort can try snorkeling and scuba diving. We encourage you to check out the resort’s packages to make the most of your Fiji vacation. The islands are beautiful, but there’s also a whole world under the ocean, just waiting to be explored. Whether you snorkel or scuba, don’t miss your opportunity to see this beautiful spot on in the South Pacific.