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The 10 Best Snorkeling Locations in the World

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on August 9, 2021. In

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There are probably several hundred thousand spots to snorkel in the world. In America alone we could list a few hundred great ones. Choosing the best of the best is no easy task. You want a diverse range of options and that includes marine life. Ease of access, and overall fun need to be considered. At the end of the day, we have to recommend trying as many of these spots as possible to see what you like most. If you want a memorable snorkeling experience, any of these locations has plenty to offer. Grab your snorkel and fins and check them out.

The Biggest Reef in the World at Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Is it possible to make a list of the best snorkeling destinations and not include the Great Barrier Reef? You may already know about it but we can’t not include it. Hands down, some of the best snorkeling in the world is located here. The spectacular coral is basically a sunken national treasure for Australia. There’s a reason divers and snorkelers keep coming back.

There are over 3,000 coral systems located in the reef. It’s the largest coral reef on Earth and has to be experienced to be believed. There are numerous boat tours that can take you out to enjoy a full and rich experience. And there’s always something new to see. If you have a passion for snorkeling, it’s hard to get bored here.

With six different species of sea turtles and literally over 1,000 miles of coral, it’s incredible. Your fins are going to get a workout.  Not to mention there are well over 1,000 fish species as well. If you’ve never gone, you don’t want to put it off, either. Some research has shown that the Great Barrier Reef is not doing well. As ocean temperatures increase, the eye-popping coral of the reef is suffering. Much of it is starting to bleach and fade away. It’s predicted that as early as 2050 the reef may be no more. It’s heartbreaking and hopefully something can be done. But while you have the time, you should make the most of it and visit.

See the Whale Sharks at Baa Atoll, The Maldives

This is a Unesco world biosphere reserve, and it is stunning. Baa Atoll in the Maldives is one of the few places where you can swim with such diverse life. That includes sea turtles as well as whale sharks and dolphins. There are even reef sharks which are surprisingly gentle. Show up in the summer and you can watch hundreds of manta rays feeding on zooplankton. From May to November, the rays also use this as a cleaning station. If you show up on a clear day, the sight through your mask is otherworldly. Literally hundreds of them gliding through the water.

Located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is made up of 1200 coral islands. The Baa Atoll is one of 26 atolls in the area. One of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean is supported here. The waters surrounding the atoll are some of the best for getting close to marine life. It’s hard to appreciate just how cool this experience can be until you’re there. Hundreds of feeding manta rays will just coast right past you. They get close enough to photograph or even touch. The whale sharks may do the same.

Meet the Seat Turtles at Buck Island, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

With a gorgeous, flourishing coral reef and diverse sea life, Buck Island has a lot to offer. You can swim out and see octopus, parrotfish, and plenty of sea turtles. In fact, three different species of sea turtles nest on the island.

The waters of the Caribbean sea are warm and inviting. Book the right tour and you can snorkel along a guided underwater trail. The tour can last up to 1.5 hours so you’ll have plenty to see. Take a trip to Turtle Cove and you can spend over four hours with the sea turtles. There are also several hundred species of fish that call these waters home.

The US established Buck Island as a protected area all the way back in 1948. Then, in John F. Kennedy made it a National Monument. In 2001 the area was expanded by Bill Clinton. The underwater trail is one of only three in the entire United States.

Once you get under the water, you can follow the elkhorn coral reef barriers. They actually create a wall making an underwater lagoon. It’s really a sight to behold. The entire reef covers over 4,500 acres. We recommend this one for first time snorkelers who want an immersive experience. Not that pros can’t do it, but to really get hooked, this is a great location.

Best Tropical Fish in Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Everything about Indonesia is gorgeous and that includes the sea. Komodo National Park is a preserve for the massive Komodo dragons. But the waters around the park hold diverse marine life as well. They’ve been a world heritage site for three decades now.

Well over 1,000 species of tropical fish call these waters home. You’ll find reef sharks and even dugongs here as well. Giant turtles have been known to swim by now and then as well.

There are over 250 coral species and, get this, 14 endangered species. This includes whales and dolphins. You’ll not find this diversity anywhere else on earth. If vibrant coral reefs and eclectic sea life are your thing, this is worth putting on a snorkel and viewing. Cold water flows in from the park itself to the Indian Ocean. That mixture ensures a good food supply which keeps marine life healthy and abundant.

Countless Opportunities in Palawan, The Philippines

The Philippines is an extremely underrated snorkeling location. Don’t forget, this place consists of over 7,000 islands. It may just be that there’s so much going on that people don’t know where to start. It should definitely be on your bucket list if you have never been. It’s one of the best places to snorkel that people always miss. Choosing the right spot to start is sometimes a hassle, though.

Colorful coral sunken beneath crystal waters may be home to whale sharks. Just check out the Bay of Donsol to see for yourself. If you hit up the right season you can see close to two dozen of these massive fish congregating. Don’t let the name and size fool you. Just because they’re as big as a bus doesn’t mean they’re not very calm and gentle.

Explore Tubbataha reef national park for a fun experience. You can find manta rays, sea turtles, reef sharks, and more. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a ton of diverse sea life. Colorful fish, tons of coral, and plenty of space to explore. The island’s fish filled lagoons also make great spots to snorkel. For one of the most beautiful and overlooked places in the world, make sure you swim by.

Stunning Palawan Island offers brilliant blue waters teeming with life. Jellyfish, turtles, sharks and more abound.

Endless Exploration in Maui, Hawaii

Best Snorkeling in Maui

You could spend ages snorkeling across the entire Hawaiian archipelago. If we had to pick just one place to go, it has to be Maui. The lava rock formations and underwater coves are amazing. They create an entire underwater world to explore. The beauty of Hawaii is encapsulated here like nowhere else. That’s not to say the Big Island and the rest of the state don’t have good snorkeling. But Maui is the crown jewel.

You’ll find eels, hawksbill turtles, coral and fish galore in all those rock formations. Eagle rays and monk seals call these waters home as well. You may even run across North Atlantic humpback whales at the right time of year. The diversity is truly astounding. The beauty is unmatched. Maui offers unmatched underwater exploration and days worth of adventure.

Your biggest problem with snorkeling in Maui is picking where to start. It’s a big island and there are dozens of good spots. Honolua Bay offers great snorkeling in calm weather. Mokuleia Bay, also known as the Slaughterhouse, is a perfect spot for the whole family. It’s been a Marine Life Conservation District since 1978.

Molokini Crater is home to Turtle Town and you can probably guess why. This place is boat access only, however, so make sure you book a tour.

Swim with Sharks at Ambergris Caye, Belize

If you want a true example of why Belize has captivated so many divers, here you go. Ambergris Caye is loaded with colorful sea life and beautiful coral. These turquoise tropical waters can keep you busy for hours. Peaceful nurse sharks are found in large numbers. Hol Chan Marine Reserve offers Shark Ray Alley. With a name like that you know it’s going to offer a unique experience. It does not disappoint. Sting rays, sea turtles, and abundant coral are everywhere.

There are over 160 species of fish in the area. That includes moray eels, two species of dolphins and even manatees. Green turtles, hawksbill turtles and loggerhead turtles are also present.

This place is an ideal spot if you like the idea of swimming with sharks but don’t want to tangle with the dangerous ones. The nurse sharks here are very rarely aggressive. Many snorkelers can swim right alongside them with ease. Their great numbers and gentle nature ensures this will be a snorkeling trip for the ages.

Come by in October and November and you’ll see grouper. Not just a few grouper but a whole lot. This is grouper mating season and the waters will be teeming with them. In the few months before that, you may be able to skip the crowds as it’s considered the off season for Belize.

Get Close to the Big Beasts at Floreana Island, Galapagos

Not too far from Floreana Island in the Galapagos you’ll find Devil’s Crown. This sunken volcanic cone offers amazing snorkeling and diverse life. Snorkeling in this part of the world is for those who want a bold and exciting experience. Coral and tropical fish are great, but the Galapagos is a go big or go home dive site. Yes, there are plenty of colorful fish here. But this is also where you find the big animals of the sea.

The waters around Galapagos are teeming with sea lions and dolphins. You can find sharks and turtles and penguins as well. The size and range is like nowhere else. If you’re a true lover of marine life, you have to visit at least once.

Hammerhead sharks and eagle rays are common sights. You may run across dolphins, fur seals and even an orca whale. Try to match that anywhere else in the world. It won’t happen. Of course there’s no guarantee you’ll see even half of those creatures on any one outing. But the possibility exists and it’s worth the trip.

Keep in mind, the Galapagos Islands are not easy to reach. This trip is an investment of time and money. And there are risks, too. Obviously some of those creatures can be dangerous. But of greater concern for most are the potentially dangerous currents. Always head out here with a skilled guide, for your own safety.

Meet a Whale at Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

If you head to Hawaii at the right time of year, you may see a humpback whale. But if you want an even better experience, go to Silver Bank. There are few chances to see a humpback whale anywhere else as good as this.

Located in the Dominican Republic, Silver Bank is a shallow expanse. For that reason, large ships are forbidden to travel there. That means marine life has learned it’s a relatively safe span of water and they take full advantage. The North Atlantic humpback whales come here to breed and give birth, making it a whale nursery. When you snorkel here in winter and early spring you’ll find them in their most significant numbers.

Most places will not allow you to get close to the whales. Even in Hawaii you need to keep your distance. Here you can swim up close. It’s one of just three snorkeling locations in the world where you can do such a thing. That makes the experience incredibly unique.

As you can imagine, respect and safety are high priorities here. Gentle though humpback whales may be, they can weigh over 30 tons. You don’t want to get caught on the wrong side of one of these giants. If you follow the rules of your guide, you may have what is the most unique snorkeling experience a person can have.

Swim with Jellyfish in Palau, Micronesia

Palau is slowly getting the reputation it deserves as an amazing tourist destination. Snorkeling here is remarkable and offers experiences you won’t find elsewhere. While many spots can get up close and person with fish or even sharks, what about jellyfish? Palau’s jellyfish lake is an experience like few others.

Jellyfish lake is actually an island lake, located inland. Tour groups head there regularly for the unique experience it offers. The lake is inhabited by two species of jellyfish – moon jellies and golden jellyfish. And there aren’t just a few of them, there are millions. The best part, of course, is that they are harmless. No worries about stings here, these guys won’t cause you any trouble at all.

When you’ve had enough of the unique jellyfish experience, the ocean waters around Palau can be great. Tons of fish and other marine life are within reach in the beautiful coastal waters. It’s known for expansive, shallow reefs that have plenty to see and explore. Check out places like Turtle Wall and the Big Drop Off. There’s even a place called Clam City. What’s there? You guessed it, clams. If that sounds boring, keep in mind these are giant clams. Rumor has it some of these creatures can top 200 lbs.

The Bottom Line

No matter where you go snorkeling, make sure you’re being safe and having fun. Respect the wildlife and the people around you. Don’t take risks you don’t need to take, and don’t rush either. Take your time and enjoy what nature has to show.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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