The 15 Best Places To Go Snorkeling Around the World

These world-class snorkeling spots lie just off the shores of pristine white sand beaches and boast colorful coral gardens filled with diverse marine life. If you’re yearning to swim among tropical fish, manta rays, nurse sharks, and more, read this list of must-visit snorkeling destinations around the world.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is, of course, world famous, but there’s some impressive snorkeling and diving on the west coast of the country, too. Not far from Exmouth, Ningaloo Marine Park was named a World Heritage Site in 2011. The protected area of 2,435 square kilometers (940 square miles) is home to an impressive array of marine life, from recently discovered sponges to sea turtles and manta rays. Gentle whale sharks and humpback whales inhabit the waters, as do dugongs, a cousin of manatees. If you want to stay dry while admiring the reef and its residents, glass-bottom boats at Turquoise Bay let you gaze at some of the 500 or so fish species and hundreds of coral varieties found here.

Koror, Palau
Over 10,000 years ago, as the last ice age ended, sea levels rose and filled depressions in Palau’s limestone islands, which became inland marine lakes. There are around seventy of these lakes in Palau, defined by their salinity, and also their tendency to host unique ecosystems, cut-off from their oceanic roots. The most famous is Jellyfish Lake, known locally as Ongeim’l Tketau, where jellyfish have evolved to worship the sun to survive.

Read more about how Palau is fighting to save its endangered reefs here.
A visit to the incredible 365-island archipelago (also called the San Blas Islands) within the communal lands of the Guna Yala indigenous nation provides some extraordinary seaside experiences. The islands making up the outer archipelago are unspoiled and feature gorgeous white-sand beaches, turquoise seas, and a one-of-a-kind encounter with Guna culture. Visitors lodge in natural-material huts (cane walls and interwoven palm-frond roofs) or—if you’re in the mood—sleep under the stars in palm-strung hammocks. Local women sport colorful dress made in the style known as mola, a traditional Gula artisanal weaving technique. A highway was built several years back that lets you travel from Panama City to Puerto de Cartí in as few as two hours.
Little Cayman, Cayman Islands
Despite its size (10 square miles) and population (fewer than 170 permanent residents), Little Cayman enjoys a worldwide reputation among serious divers. The island is renowned for its exceptional underwater visibility and vertigo-inducing walls, especially north-shore Bloody Bay. Dive boats flock to Three Fathom Wall, where bulbous coral heads teeming with fish rise to within 10 feet of the surface. Snorkelers are likely to encounter schools of blue tang and stoplight parrot fish, as well as hawksbill turtles and nurse sharks.
161 Dolphin Trail Long Caye, Lighthouse Reef, Belize
One of three atolls in Belize, Lighthouse Reef Atoll is blessed with a handful of the most prized natural sights along the Belize Barrier Reef. The Great Blue Hole attracts divers eager to add a notch to their diving belt by exploring an underwater cavern more than 400 feet deep. On shore, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, the country’s first protected site, is a turtle-nesting beach dotted with towering palm trees and no permanent inhabitants save for hermit crabs. Last but not least, you can view a thriving red-footed booby sanctuary, the only one in the Western Hemisphere aside from the Galápagos. It’s no wonder Lighthouse Reef is a popular day-tripper choice, whether you dive, snorkel, or simply love nature.
Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Gardner Bay is a beloved snorkeling spot located on Española Island’s northeast. A sea lion playground also notable for rays, sharks, turtles, and schools of beautiful fish, this is a great location to get used to swimming in the chilly waters of the Galapagos before trying your hand at deeper, more treacherous diving.
You’ve been snorkeling off a tourist catamaran in Key West, and you’ve finned within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary—but you’ve hardly scratched the surface of this vast, watery wonderland. Designated a marine sanctuary in 1990, the protected area covers nearly 3,000 square nautical miles that stretch south of Miami, surround the Florida Keys, and extend all the way to the Dry Tortugas. More than 6,000 species of marine life are found in these incredible waters—everything from manatees and dolphins to parrot fish, sea turtles, barracuda, sharks, octopus, several species of crabs and jellyfish, and much, much more. Diving, snorkeling, and fishing are all permitted within the sanctuary, but with strict guidelines to protect the natural environment. If you have a chance to head underwater, or even just out on the water, take it.
Maui, HI 96708, USA
An ancient atoll, Molokini lies 2.5 miles off Maui’s south coast, where the water is calm, clear, and teeming with marine life. Here, snorkelers and scuba divers can expect up to 150 feet of visibility, allowing for perfect views of yellow tang, parrot fish, black triggerfish, bluefin trevally, and even moray eels. To explore it for yourself, book a tour with Maui Classic Charters, which sails to Molokini in a 55-foot catamaran with a glass-bottomed viewing room. Choose one of the early-morning trips for a better chance of calm seas and bigger sea creatures like octopus and eagle rays, and bring along snacks, sunscreen, and, for those who run cold, perhaps a rash guard or thin wet suit, especially in the winter months.
The dive sites scattered around the Maldives are some of the best in the world, teeming with underwater life and vibrant coral—and boasting excellent visibility. Banana Reef, a North Male Atoll spot that owes its name to its curved shape, was one of the first places to put the Maldives on the map for divers. The protected marine area is marked by cliffs and overhangs, sheltering the barracudas, snappers, and groupers below. The reef is also set up for snorkeling, and even those swimming near the surface will be able to see schools of fish, sharks, and manta rays.
Isla Holbox, Quintana Roo, Mexico
This tiny island is north of Isla Mujeres and Cancun and is only 26 miles long and offers visitors in search of a “Robinson Crusoe” experience the perfect escape. Long, sweeping beaches beckon with water sports, snorkeling, sport fishing, and total R&R. A shallow lagoon gives sanctuary to thousands of flamingos, pelicans and other exotic birds and creatures, allowing visitors the perfect spot in which to commune with nature. Several good restaurants and hotels are available and tours to area attractions can be arranged by ferry and small plane. Getting around the island is via bicycle or golf cart.
Church Bay, Bermuda
Nearby reefs and big boulders keep Bermuda’s beaches calm and colorful for snorkelers and swimmers. Both Tobacco Bay & Church Bay offer great snorkeling conditions along beautiful shorelines. With one in the east and the other in the west, you could combine a day of snorkeling and sunrise/sunset viewing. Tobacco Bay is located on the northeastern side of the island near St. George. This small cove of calm water protects a variety of parrot, clown, and other tropical fish. Tobacco Bay has a snack bar and equipment rentals, restrooms, showers, and changing rooms. When you tire of swimming with the fishes, dry off with a short walk to the historic site of Fort St. Catherine. Its eastern location makes Tobacco Bay a prime sunrise spot. Located along the island’s western side in Southampton, Church Bay is a local favorite for snorkeling. Tucked into a small cove within cliffs of coral, the reefs are close to shore and offer lots of small hiding spaces in which to discover tropical sea life. Just watch out for the jellyfish. Youngsters will enjoy exploring the tidal pools formed by the many rocks. Forget to pack your snorkeling gear? No problem. You can rent equipment from Church Bay Beach Rentals during the summer months. Sunset seekers should not miss this beach.
Coron, Philippines
The mountainous Coron Island, just northeast of Palawan, is part of the officially designated ancestral domain of the indigenous Tagbanua people (possibly descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines). They steward the land and sea, and control access to the island, much of which is off-limits to visitors. There is still plenty to attract travelers to the area, though: a small, sleepy town and clear lakes; limestone rock formations; and white-sand beaches. Those lucky enough to be welcomed into a Tagbanua community can learn about their culture and how they spearfish, as well as the special techniques for harvesting octopuses, seaweed, and sea cucumbers. For snorkelers, Siete Pecados offers rich coral reefs and the chance to spot dugongs, giant hawksbill turtles, and baby sharks. Divers can also hope to get a glimpse of puffer fish, eels, and giant clams. As well as the diverse marine life, there are numerous Japanese shipwrecks from World War II on view underwater. Add in the visibility of up to 80 feet, and this area is a superb playground for diving enthusiasts.
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