Located in the Caribbean, this island country consists of Antigua, Barbuda and the tiny uninhabited island of Redonda. Now doubt by now you could probably guess who is credited with its discovery. If you said Christopher Columbus, you would be spot on. It is a wonder if that man ever stayed home. He named the island Antigua in accordance to a vow he had made and though it is the Spanish word for Ancient, it is in reference to a wall icon located in St. Mary of the Old Cathedral in Seville Spain. Antigua is the largest of the three island with a length of about 14 miles and a width of 11 miles and is almost completely surrounded by coral reefs making it ideal for the snorkeling adventurer. Water temperatures during the summer months hover in the 80 degree range with water clarity anywhere from 50 to 140 foot of visibility. The currents here are usually minimal which means the water is not getting stirred up which is a key ingredient to being able so see well underwater. In addition to the ring of reefs, Antigua is home to approximately 127 shipwrecks of which a couple can be snorkeled.CADES REEF
This is the most popular reef on Antigua. It is located along the southwest side of the island and depending upon the water conditions can be snorkeled on both the outer and inner portions. The reef is about 2 miles long and part of it is designated as an underwater park (Cades Bay Marine Park). The reef itself extends over 2 miles in length and is home to a wide variety of colorful soft corals and the fish life includes spotted eagle rays, southern stingrays, blue tang, grunts and grouper. Both sides of Cades Reef can be snorkeled and if the conditions are not favorable on the outer portion, the inner portion can be chosen as an alternative as this area is more sheltered. The average depth on this side is usually 35 feet or less and the closest portions of the reef are a quarter mile from shore. There are organized boat-based tours available for those that prefer it.THE ANDES
Built is England in 1874, this steel, three masted sailing barque left Trinidad with a load of over 1300 barrels of tar that was to be used for the paving of roads in the country of Chile. Four days into its journey the Andes pulled into Deep Bay in Antigua because heat from friction of the cargo became a concern. The cargo ended up catching fire when the hatches were opened for inspection. The fire was catastrophic and on June 9, 1905 she sank bow first. The crew survived but the Andes came to rest at a depth of only 30 to 35 feet. The wreck came under the protection of the Marine Areas Act of 1972 which absolutely prohibits the taking of anything from it leaving it much the way it was when it sank. Through the years corals, both (soft and hard), gorgonians and sponges have turned the Andes into an underwater work of art and home to a diverse variety of marine life. It is located in the middle of Deep Bay and during low tide, one of its masts can be spotted peeking above the water's surface.GREAT BIRD ISLAND
This is a 20 acre island which is sort of resembles the letter "J". Its shape provides two cove areas which are sheltered and fantastic for snorkeling. The shallow reefs in the area are close to shore from both the North and South beaches. The island is privately owned but does not have a human population. It is home to a number of endangered creatures including the rare Ameiva Griswoldi lizard, Red-billed Tropicbird and the harmless Antiguan Racer snake. Some of the colorful coral heads in the area measure an impressive 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Great Bird island is protected as a part of the North Sound National Park. This area is a great opportunity for the novice and experienced alike and the perfect choice to introduce young ones to the amazing world underwater. You can point out all the colorful fishes that dart about the reefs going about their everyday lives.PARADISE REEF
Snorkeling this reef will require a boat trip to get to it but it is one of the more popular snorkeling sites in Antigua. It is located just north of Dickenson Bay which is just far enough away from the more crowded beaches that are nearer to the hotels and resorts. The reef itself is about a mile long consisting of virtually a garden of corals. Octopus and lobster maintain their residences along the reef while rainbows of fish cruise along it. You might even spot a few hawksbill turtles during this "must do" snorkeling adventure.HALF MOON BAY
This area is located on the south east portion of the island of Antigua. It is a sheltered lagoon are with a picturesque beach area which stretches along the shore for about a mile. The location, in addition to the off shore reef protects the north side of the bay from the trade winds which are the major cause of choppy water. This is where you would want to snorkel. The middle and southern portion of the bay is more conducive to surfers and wakeboarders. The area is part of a National Park which means taking things alive or dead out of the water is against the rules. Schools of yellowtail snapper abound here and you might even see hawksbill turtles and cuttlefish.LONG BAY
This bay is located on the far eastern part of the island. The reefs here are farther out than others that have been highlighted above so a boat trip is advisable for this one. The reefs fall away to deep ocean so this is where you will spot more of the larger marine life. Barracuda, stingray and eagle rays are quite the possibility here. Spotted file fish, grouper, blue tangs are some of the other marine life that you are almost sure to see.
These are just a few of the locations in this wonderful tropical locale with many more for you to both discover and explore. With air temperatures in the mid seventies in the winter months and rising to the mid eighties in the summer you can vacation here any time of the year.
By Cathy Aggelopoulos
Updated February 10, 2015