We were greeted this morning by a pair of bottlenose dolphins as National Geographic Sea Lion dropped anchor off the bright sandy beaches of Conception Island. One of the most pristine islands in the Bahamas archipelago and uninhabited except by white-tailed tropicbirds and a newly discovered species of boa constrictor, this three-square-mile national park is the jewel in the crown of the Bahamas National Trust. With no airport and no dock, the only visitors the island receives are the few intrepid sailboats that venture into these remote waters south of Cat Island.

National Geographic Sea Lion moored off a cut into the island. We quickly set up a beach camp onshore where guests struck out for Zodiac tours and to kayak, paddleboard, and snorkel. Snorkelers spent an hour exploring the maze of red mangroves whose jungle-gym-like roots are critical coastal habitat for fish and bird species. The mangroves act as a safe nursery where sharks, rays, turtles, and a rainbow of fish species can avoid the larger predators that patrol the offshore reefs. Snorkelers were treated to swim-bys from green sea turtles, barracudas, jacks, and sergeant majors.

After lunch on National Geographic Sea Lion, we pulled anchor and ventured to the other side of the island. Backed by low limestone bluffs, the beaches were a wonderful backdrop to the Windex-blue shallows. While one group ventured off on a challenging hike, the rest of the guests dove back in for even more snorkeling, this time along the coral reefs in deeper water. One group was lucky enough to spot a small lemon shark, while others enjoyed watching parrotfish feed on algae.

Toward the end of the snorkel, the hotel staff set up a margarita station on the beach. As the sun dropped low in the sky, the air was filled with laughter and stories of a wonderful day spent snorkeling in one of the most magical places in the Bahamas.