The World’s Best Spots for Snorkeling

Coral reefs are disappearing, but there are still plenty of places to explore crystal clear water and see fish, sharks, even octopus

People snorkeling at Cozumel Chankanaab National Park on Cozumel Island near Cancun in the state of Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. (Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images) LightRocket via Getty Images

Under the warmth of the same sun that shines throughout the globe lies a wide variety of crystal clear water that begs you to dive in. Although vantage point is further away, snorkeling is a good choice for visibility underwater without excessive gear, classes, and greater safety hazards compared to scuba diving. With excitement you squeeze on your mask and snorkel, the tools that transport you into a new environment. As you plunge your face through the aquatic looking glass, you are surrounded by a breathtaking and peaceful atmosphere unlike any other. Miles of clean, white sand, schools of colorful fish, and dreamy coves of vibrant coral reef systems appear at every turn.

You want the experience, but where are the best places to find it? It’s no secret that coral is diminishing and turning into a devastating bare bones graveyard in many locales underwater. Add these famous snorkeling destinations to your list of travel adventures for spotting a rainbow of coral and abundant marine life

Heron Island in Australia

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is a must-see for avid snorkelers. As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the vast stretch of coral is the largest coral reef in the world and can be seen from space. It is home to rays, sea turtles, the endangered Dugong, dolphins, starfish, more than 1,500 species of fish, and more. You may even spot a humpback whale during its visit to the reef. There are many places to snorkel at the 1,429-mile-long Great Barrier Reef, but Heron Island is a popular destination for underwater experiences. The hotspot is a boat ride from Gladstone and is surrounded by glassy turquoise water. You can access Heron Island’s portion of the Great Barrier Reef close to the beach or take a boat tour further out. The island hosts a resort and spa if you prefer to stay right in the middle of marine activities.

Phi Phi Islands in Thailand

Thailand is on many travelers’ bucket lists due to its beautiful Buddhist temples, elephant experiences, and remarkable white sand beaches. The water is a brilliant blue with excellent clarity, and the locale offers many snorkeling spots just offshore. At ocean destinations like Hin Klang, Maya Bay, and Shark Point, you can expect to see colorful coral, schools of fish, sharks, and even an octopus.

Cozumel, Mexico

The sparkling blue waters of Cozumel are a popular snorkeling destination in Mexico. In this Central American region, snorkelers feast their eyes upon vivid parrotfish, rays, sea turtles, octopus, squid, and other forms of sea life exploring the coral reefs. A shipwreck lies deeper down in the ocean in Cozumel and may not be visible without scuba diving. There is a plethora of tours available for all snorkeling levels.

Balicasag, Philippines

Sponges and soft corals at Balicasag Island, Philippines. (Photo by: Steve De Neef/VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images) Universal Images Group via Getty

The underwater world that surrounds Balicasag Island in the Philippines is breathtaking. The island is a boat ride from Panglao Island and has a resort for on-site accommodations. The sea life circling the island teems with coral, barracudas, tuna, groupers, triggerfish, angelfish, moray eels, and manta rays. The island is most known for its snorkeling alongside of sea turtles. You may even spot seahorses among the coral formations.

Turtle Town in Maui, Hawaii

At Turtle Town, Hawaiian green sea turtles float gracefully through the waters of Maui among volcanic structures below the ocean’s surface. The site is a great choice for beginners due to its crystalline and calm water. Underwater volcanoes have left behind unique lava creations clustered across the sea floor. Along with turtles, you might get a glimpse of an octopus, numerous species of fish, eels, and humpback whales. Turtle Town is right off the beach so you have a place to relax between swims.

Hanauma Bay in Oahu, Hawaii

This nature preserve features a stunning alcove of ombré blue ocean with shallow lagoons for beginners and an outer reef for more experienced snorkelers. Arrive early before the sand clouds visibility to see more than 450 species of fish, crustaceans, octopus, and eels. You’ll float over soft and hard coral formations and may spot a sea turtle, dolphin, or humpback whale. It is easy to spend the day at Hanauma Bay, which has a sandy beach boasting a picnic area, restrooms, and lifeguards.

South Ari Atoll in the Maldives

If swimming with whale sharks is on your list, take a trip to Whale Shark Point in the Maldives. You must stay in a hotel on an island in Ari Atoll to have access to the water, and then journey to the southern point for the experience of a lifetime gliding through the water with massive marine creatures. The best time of year to see whale sharks is between December and April. Along with whale sharks, you’ll join the community of blacktip reef sharks, manta rays, diverse fish species, turtles, and moray eels as you hover over their habitat. 

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Belize is home to the biggest coral reef in the Northern Hemisphere and falls under the Australian Great Barrier Reef as the second largest reef in the world. Ambergris Caye is a beautiful place to snorkel the Belize Barrier Reef. Its shallow and calm water and easy access make beginning snorkelers feel comfortable. Among the marine life that live in the reef at Ambergris Caye are turtles, sharks, rays, and tropical fish

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Try not to lose your snorkel when your mouth drops from the spectrum of bright colors seen in the coral at Raja Ampat. Past the jungle foliage, white sand beaches, and lagoons lies one of the most varied collections of coral species in the world, from elegant fans to vibrant soft coral. The biodiversity underwater in Raja Ampat includes dolphins, black tip sharks, hawksbill turtles, and countless fish species, from barracuda to angelfish.

Marsa Alam, Egypt

Egypt is renowned for its history-rich pyramids and other incredible architectural feats, but it also offers awe-inspiring snorkeling in the Red Sea. With sandy beaches and shallow, clear water, snorkelers are thrilled to swim alongside dolphins, sea turtles, fish, stingrays, and dugongs. In Abu Dabbab Bay, you’ll glide through a field of seagrass before encountering the coral reefs

Grand Cayman

Grand Cayman in the Caribbean is a prime snorkel site for travelers looking for a variety of experiences in one place. This section of the Cayman Islands offers a magnificent nighttime snorkeling adventure at Bioluminescent Bay. Glowing plankton light up to create a sea of neon amidst the dark. For better marine life sightings, visit Stingray City, where you encounter stingrays up close in a vast sandbar with a bare sea floor. Coral Gardens hosts a more bustling underwater experience filled with tropical fish, turtles, and lobsters. Finally, you will have a thrilling snorkeling trip at the U.S.S. Kittiwake shipwreck off the coast of Seven Mile Beach.

Springs for fresh water

To switch up the environment a bit, it is worth considering snorkeling in the freshwater springs of Florida. There are springs scattered throughout the Sunshine State with slightly different environments, including Blue Spring, Rainbow Springs, and Three Sisters Springs. Spring water is warm and transparent, and its lack of waves makes for an easier snorkeling excursion. Manatees are the most notable inhabitants of Florida springs, along with different species of fish. Snorkelers feel at peace swimming amidst the lush tropical foliage at the banks of the springs.


The World’s Best Spots for Snorkeling