We have just spent the weekend snorkelling at La Restinga in the south of El Hierro. Over the weekend we did some boat trips as well as some from-the-shore snorkelling inside the harbour.
Having emailed several of the dive centres in La Restinga, the only ones who even answered our emails were Buceo La Restinga and Buceo El Bajon. Buceo La Restinga were already fully booked, so we went with Buceo El Bajon.
Inside the marine reserve (which is the area of sea all around the harbour), the number of divers allowed at any given time at each dive site is limited, so the dive boats 'compete' to get to the best ones first. The most famous dive site is 'El Bajon', however by the time we got there, the current had become quite strong and the Dive Masters decided that it would be unsafe to dive there.
As you might guess, this was first-and-foremost a scuba diving excursion, and snorkellers were definitely an after-thought: on the first day there, there was a total of 3 snorkellers on the trip, with about 10 divers.
Sites that we visited
The first spot that we visited was 'La Herradura' - this isn't a very good place for snorkelling, since it has a minimum depth of about 8 metres. We did see plenty of Trumpetfish here along with an Ocean Triggerfish - which was one of the species that we'd come here to see as it is not found in the Fuerteventura where we live.
Punta de la Restinga
This spot is located where the base of the main La Restinga harbour wall meets the rocky reef wall that juts out into the sea. We moored at the western side of the reef wall and snorkelled along the edge of the reef wall, before deciding to snorkel over the reef itself - the current here is extremely strong, but the snorkelling is really excellent over the reef. Here we saw too many Groupers to count, several large Moray Eels, a huge Scrawled Filefish, Trumpetfish and all of the usual reef fish that you find in the Canary Islands. The parrot fish here seem to be much more colourful here than in the Eastern Canary Islands and are really very striking. Often we would see Morays, Groupers and Trumpetfish seemingly hunting together - I don't know if this behaviour is symbiotic, or if some of the fish were just trying to steal a meal from the others.
It might well be possible to snorkel this site from the shore, though if you entered the sea from the rocky shore to the east of the harbour, it might be difficult to swim back over the reef - either way, you'd need to be a strong swimmer with a good set of fins.
Inside the Harbour
We snorkelled around the black beach in the main part of the harbour in search of the Green Turtles that are resident here - the water was very murky and we didn't see much.
Inside the Breakwater
Inside the area between the main harbour and the protective breakwater to the west is a very sheltered and potentially excellent spot for snorkelling. Unfortunately we were running out of time at the end of the day when we tried this spot, but we did manage to do a quick snorkel and we saw plenty of fish - including more filefish. The boulders in the sea are completely encrusted with vegetation and I would spend lots of time snorkelling here if I return to La Restinga. Another snorkeller, who was just getting out of the water while we were getting in, told us that he'd just seen a Green Turtle.
On our second boat trip, we visited this dive site. To be honest, we didn't see too much here and the surface was quite rough. The divers saw a Leopard Eel and a large Spotted Burrfish (Tamboril). We did see some large White trevally and since this site can be snorkelled from the shore, it might be worth another look.
Cueva del Diablo
This site is just to the east of Tacorón, and features some sea caves that are accessible to divers and snorkellers. The cave that was accessible to snorkelling had bad visibility due to the swell and spray. There wasn't much to see in the cave, but we did see some Amberjacks as we swam out, and then saw our first Tamboril (Spotted Burrfish) on the way back to the boat - it did indeed have a sad-looking face as the divers had told us earlier. We also encountered quite a large Grouper on the way back to the boat.
We had hoped to encounter some larger marine fauna such as Devil Rays (July is the time apparently) or the Smalltooth sand tiger that had been around for the last few weeks, or indeed to have seen the famous El Bajon dive site. So it was a little disappointing from that aspect. Having said that, we are perhaps a little bit spoiled in that we live right beside a pretty good snorkelling site in Fuerteventura, so we see much of the same marine life everyday. What is strikingly different about El Hierro compared to Fuerteventura is the amount of marina flora - the seabed is completely encrusted with life around El Hierro, whereas it is often quite bare around Fuerteventura (though this is getting better since the urchins started dying off). The number of Trumpetfish in El Hierro is also quite amazing - they are literally everywhere. And unlike around Fuerteventura, the marine life seemed less afraid of us - you can get quite close to the Trumpetfish and Groupers in El Hierro.
There may well be better snorkelling spots nearby, but as usual, it is very hard to find information. El Hierro certainly has the potential to have the best snorkelling sites in the Canary Islands, and it's a shame that there doesn't seem to be any dedicated snorkelling excursions.