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Finding Nemo — the best snorkeling spots in the world

Oriental sweet-lipped fish in the Indian Ocean
© aquapix / Shutterstock

There are many places in the world where you can observe the amazing underwater life of our planet. And all it takes is the ability to swim, a mask, snorkel, and swimfins. You just need to find time for an exciting adventure among the bright flocks of tropical fish in the Caribbean, an exciting swim with humpback whales in the Dominican Republic, or with curious sea lions in the cool waters of Puerto Rico.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

When: May-October

The largest reef system on the planet is the best place to snorkel. The Great Barrier Reef consists of nearly 3,000 ordinary and coral reefs that are home to over 1,500 species of fish and many sea turtles. Because of this diversity and unique ecosystem, it has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The amazing flora and fauna of this region can thrill even experienced divers, let alone beginners. Dugongs, whales, sharks, dolphins, stingrays, and sea snakes can be found here, living in the colorful underwater jungle.

The enormous size of the Great Barrier Reef (over 344,000 km²) allows you to visit many different areas by seaplane, helicopter, or motorboat between the islands. Cairns, a thriving and bustling tourist town, is the starting point for most vacationers. But if you like a quieter holiday and a less crowded coastline, it's worth heading to the small but very picturesque Port Douglas. One of the best snorkeling spots here is Whitsundays Islands, with stunningly beautiful Whitehaven Beach and a densely populated reef nearby.

snorkeling coral reef aerial view
Great Barrier Reef in Queensland © Edward Haylan / Shutterstock
Anemone fish among anemone
Anemone fish © melissaf84 / Shutterstock

Baa Atoll, the Maldives

When: May-November

The luxurious underwater nature of the Maldives in Baa Atoll is a snorkeling paradise. At Hanifaru Bay Biosphere Reserve, you can watch grey reef sharks breed. At Nelivaru Beru Reef, you can see rare sailfish and manta rays swimming among the colorful corals. Near the uninhabited island of Olhugiri, there are hawksbill sea turtles that love its coast for clutching. Near Fonimagoodhoo, there is a stunning reef inhabited by rare creatures of the Indian Ocean. Because of climate change, coral bleaching is negatively affecting the unique biosphere of the Maldives. It is expected that by 2050, many reefs here may die, so do not put off your trip — discover the magical underwater world of the archipelago as soon as possible.

snorkel vacation - starfish in the Arabian Sea
Starfish in Baa Atoll, Maldives © bayazed / Shutterstock

Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

When: October-May

Hanauma Bay in Oʻahu is considered one of the best places to snorkel in Hawaii. Today, the bay is home to a nature reserve, the island's main attraction. Over millions of years, a unique biosphere was formed in the ancient crater of the Koolau volcano. This process resulted in the wonderful bay, where the multi-colored coral reef is home to over 400 species of fish and green sea turtles. It is forbidden to feed the ocean residents on the reserve territory, but you can swim with them and take pictures. Entrance to the beach is paid. Before visiting it, you should watch a short educational film — a briefing will acquaint you with the basic rules of conduct in the bay.

best snorkeling in USA - Hanauma National Wildlife Refuge
Hanauma Bay Beach © I. Noyan Yilmaz / Shutterstock
Tropical trigger
Hawaiian trigger © Brian Fulton / Shutterstock

Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

When: January-March

Silver Bank is one of the few places in the world where you can swim with humpback whales in a comfortable environment. The giants come here to mate and breed, and they are completely relaxed about the presence of humans. During your visit to Silber Bank, you can watch whales mating as the giant whales jump and lash out at the surface of the water. You can also swim with them and their calves and hear the melodious whale singing that they use to communicate with each other.

best snorkeling in Caribbean Sea -humpback whale
Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) © Ethan Daniels / Shutterstock

Bora-Bora Lagoon, French Polynesia

When: all year

The Polynesian island of Bora Bora is located in the center of the largest and perhaps one of the most beautiful lagoons in the world. Its clear, mother-of-pearl waters are home to thousands of fish and other creatures that live in thickets of sea anemones. While snorkeling in Bora Bora, you can feed stingrays and sharks, admire the eye-catching beauty of coral gardens, and watch graceful barracudas hunt. One of the most popular spots for this is near Tupitipiti Point, on the island's southeast side.

snorkeling destinations - Bora Bora lagoon
Schools of fish in Bora Bora lagoon © BlueOrange Studio / Shutterstock
Colorful fish with sea anemone underwater in the lagoon
Anemone in Bora Bora lagoon © Damsea / Shutterstock

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

When: all year

"The most beautiful island in the world" is what Jacques Cousteau once called Cocos Island. Now it and its waters are recognized as a natural reservation area and are protected by UNESCO. The Cocos Islands National Park is home to whales, sharks, hammerhead sharks, dolphins, stingrays, and many tropical creatures, so snorkeling and diving are extremely popular here. Areas with coral reefs are especially densely populated. Octopuses, moray eels, and bright parrotfish love them. The island itself is uninhabited, and you can get here only by boat as part of a diving safari from the port of Puntarenas.

A flock of hammerhead sharks
Hammerhead shark © Alex Rush / Shutterstock

Komodo National Park, Indonesia

When: May-October

Komodo National Park gained much of its popularity because its five islands are home to the famous Komodo dragons. But the waters of this region are no less exotic, with dugongs, sharks, giant mantas, and more than 1,000 species of tropical fish. The impression of a beautiful underwater world is somewhat spoilt by the water, muddy due to plankton. However, you can choose cleaner areas for snorkeling, where the coral reefs meet divers in all their glory. The Karang Makasar dive site, better known as Manta Point, and the coastal waters of Bidadari Island are the best places for snorkeling in the reserve.

best snorkeling - starfish on a sandy bottom
Starfish in Komodo National Park © Ethan Daniels / Shutterstock
Striped sea snake on the reef
Sea snake on Komodo © SergeUWPhoto / Shutterstock

Ras Mohamed Nature Reserve, Egypt

When: May-October

The marine part of Ras Mohamed Nature Reserve consists of coral reefs of alluring beauty. A variety of bizarre creatures live here among the hard and soft corals, as this region is a favorite place for migrating fish from the open sea. You can find here shoals of tuna and barracuda, and unhurried stingrays soar through the water, and tiny multi-colored fish shimmer in all hues of the rainbow in the bright sunlight. In some areas, coral reefs rise above sea level, and they are up to 2 billion years old.

reef snorkeling in the Red Sea
Ras Mohamed Nature Reserve © Kristina Vackova / Shutterstock
Yellow coral reefs in the Red Sea
Ras Mohamed Nature Reserve © Kristina Vackova / Shutterstock

Marine Protected Area Capo Carbonara, Sardinia

When: May-October

Marine Protected Area Capo Carbonara is located on the southern and eastern coasts of the Italian island of Sardinia. It is one of the most picturesque places in the Mediterranean, a real underwater paradise for snorkeling enthusiasts. The crystal-clear turquoise water is a splendid panorama of the seafloor and its inhabitants. There are three most exciting snorkeling spots here: the Santa Caterina underwater stone complex, the granite rocks of Isola di Serpentara e Variglioni and the nave di cavoli recognized by a large rock shaped like the prow of a ship lying on the bottom among a thicket of posidonia.

Snorklinger in the waters of the reserve
Marine Protected Area Capo Carbonara © Andrew Mayovskyy / Shutterstock

Bimini Islands, the Bahamas

When: November-May

Snorkeling is considered the most popular pastime in the Bahamas, and Bimini Islands offers plenty of opportunities. Atlantic spotted dolphins frequently enter its coastal waters, and you can swim with them. Stingray Hole is home to stingrays, which are happy to snatch fish right out of your hands. According to local researchers, the kingdom of coral and reef formations are near Bimini Shoreline, and the underwater rock blocks of Bimini Road, according to local researchers, are part of the ancient Atlantis. The main advantage of the island's coastal waters is the shallow depth. This allows you to feel comfortable without scuba gear — a mask, snorkel, and flippers are enough.

where to go snorkeling - Hammerhead shark near Bahamas
Hammerhead shark © Martin Voeller / Shutterstock

Surin Islands, Thailand

When: November-May

Surin Archipelago is the best snorkeling spot in Thailand. Here, on the territory of the national reserve, there is a beautiful coral reef. Daily diving and snorkeling expeditions depart here from Phuket and mainland Phang-nga province. You can meet blacktip reef sharks, turtles, and a lot of exotic wildlife in the coastal waters of the Surin Islands. They also include the surgeonfish, Moorish idol fish, parrotfish. The local population is another reason to go snorkeling here. A small community of sea gypsies who call themselves the Moken live here. You can visit their village as part of your trip and learn about these indigenous people's lives.

Two people snorkeling on Surin Island
Snorkeling in the Surin Islands © D.Somsup / Shutterstock
Coral reefs and fish on the islands
Surin Island underwater world © Andre Trabandt / Shutterstock

Los Cabos, Mexico

When: January-April

Picturesque beaches, massive granite cliffs, and crystal clear, blue waters of the bays of Chileno and Santa Maria are waiting for fans of snorkeling in the resort of Los Cabos. But the main attraction of the Sea of Cortés is the magnificent coral reef in the Cabo Pulmo National Park, a UNESCO-listed area. It features some of the most beautiful underwater areas in the entire California Peninsula. You can find sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, eels, and an amazing variety of tropical fish, even at shallow depths.

snorkeling locations - Los Cabos, Mexico
Los Cabos © ChavezEd / Shutterstock

Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize

When: December-April

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is considered one of the most popular snorkeling spots in Central Africa. It consists of a barrier reef, vast expanses of seagrasses, and a coastal area covered with mangroves. Nowadays, 40 species of corals and more than 160 species of fish have been recorded in the reserve. The water mammals are represented by short-beaked and spotted dolphins, as well as manatees. The rocky part of Hol Chan is home to stingrays, morays, barracudas, lobsters. You can also meet angelfish, grey perch, eels, and seahorses among the mangrove roots. Nurse sharks live in a separate area of the reserve. They pose no danger to humans, and swimming with them is included in many snorkeling tours.

Sea turtle
Turtle in the Hol Chan reserve © eskystudio / Shutterstock

Medes Islands, Spain

When: May-October

This archipelago is made up of seven small islands located in Catalonia, near the Costa Brava. The region abounds with diverse marine flora and fauna, which is why it has been declared a nature reserve. The underwater life here is so beautiful that the snorkeling fans recognized the Medes Islands as one of the best places in the western Mediterranean Sea. You can only get to the islands as part of an organized group, but the trip is worth it. Many fish of all different colors swim right near the shore — from tiny guppies to predatory barracudas. Snorkeling tours are available at the north end of the beach town of L'Estartit.

Sea bass
Sea bass on Medes island © David Carbo / Shutterstock

Peanut Island, Florida

When: December-April

There is a place in the southern part of Florida that is as beautiful as the Caribbean. Peanut Island is a tiny artificial island near the popular resort of West Palm Beach. It takes only 20 to 30 minutes to reach this incredible underwater kingdom by kayak from the Riviera Beach Marina. The calm waters of Peanut Island are home to manatees and sea cows, a myriad of colorful fish, and the bottom is dotted with brightly colored starfish and other exotic creatures.

places to go snorkeling in Florida - Peanut Island
Peanut Island © Denis Moskvinov / Shutterstock

The Cabrera Archipelago Maritime-Terrestrial National Park, Majorca

When: May-September

The Cabrera Archipelago is about an hour's boat ride from Majorca. Its virtually untouched coastal waters are home to most of flora and fauna of the Balearic Islands. The bright blue and crystal clear water, illuminated by the sun, allows you to take stunning underwater photos without using a flash. The bottom of the reserve is covered with a real forest of oceanic posidonia, which is home to all kinds of fish and shellfish. Occasionally, small patches of coral replace the thickets, but the bright tropical inhabitants are not found here.

snorkeling places - Majorca
The Cabrera Archipelago Maritime-Terrestrial National Park © vulcano / Shutterstock

Zanzibar, the eastern shore of Africa

When: June-September, January-February

The coastal waters of Zanzibar Island are home to humpback whales, turtles, whale sharks, and over 350 species of fish. You can easily encounter a flock of dolphins or, by diving deep, see sea urchins, squids, lobsters, and starfish. The reefs in the northern part of the island are better snorkeling spots. The south and east coasts have very strong tides, so all the interesting wildlife is hidden deeper. The most popular places to snorkel are Mnemba Island, Boribi Reef, and Menai Bay. Almost all the most fascinating diving trips are possible only from a boat, so it is better to buy a snorkeling tour. You can also go snorkeling on your own at small reefs near the shore.

White spotted poisonous fish and small corals
Blowfish (Stellate puffer, Arothron stellatus) © blue-sea.cz / Shutterstock

Nusa Menjangan, Bali

When: May-October

The small uninhabited island of Menjangan is part of Bali Barat National Park. It is surrounded by a reef, the width of which is from 100 to 150 meters. Around the perimeter of the island, there are many dive sites and interesting shallow places for snorkeling. The bottom near the clusters of corals has a huge variety of landscapes. Canyons, grottos, and underwater canopies are ideal for diving. Reef sharks, turtles, moray eels, puffers, scorpions, octopuses, and colorful shrimp can be found here.

Fish and coral reef in the island's underwater garden
Nusa Menjangan © Putu Artana / Shutterstock

Isla Palominos, Puerto Rico

When: June-September

The presence of coral reefs and natural seaweed beds make the Islas Palomino Reserve an excellent snorkeling spot. The corals here form real underwater cities with caves, grottos, and miniature walls. They are home to many fish and other creatures, but most importantly, Isla Palominos offers you the chance to swim with wild sea lions. These clumsy animals on land turn into swift predators underwater. You can watch the process of hunting during a tour of their rookery. They are used to people and do not show aggression; they can even swim right up to study the new guests carefully.

Girl in an underwater mask with tropical fish
Snorkeling on Palomino Island © Denis Moskvinov / Shutterstock

Bligh Water, Fiji

When: May-October

Fiji's most beautiful coral reefs are halfway between the islands of Vanua Levu and Viti Levu. This area was named after the captain of the Bounty, who sailed here in a rowboat with several companions to escape a rebellious crew. The underwater mountains, rising from the bottom of the ocean, almost reach the surface of the water. They form oases with colorful marine life — soft colored corals, shoals of fish in all colors of the rainbow, and a lot of bright invertebrates. Snorkeling in Bligh Waters requires good swimming skills, as the currents are strong in this area.

Colorful, healthy coral reef
Coral cod and school fish Anthias © Danita Delimont / Shutterstock

Grand Cayman, the Cayman Islands

When: May-October

The underwater world of the Cayman Islands is colorful and diverse. But the most interesting snorkeling spot is a small reef shallow off the coast of Grand Cayman. Local fishers have been cleaning their fishing traps there for years, which has attracted many stingrays. Holidaymakers noticed this, so a tradition appeared to feed these huge but very friendly fish by hand. Floating, as if in weightlessness, stingrays swim up close to people and, unceremoniously pushing, take their favorite food (pieces of squid) directly from their fingers. This safe and entertaining attraction has become a kind of a trademark of the island, attracting many tourists, and the shallow itself is now called the City of Stingrays.

A flock of blue fish swims over a coral reef
Blue tang (Acanthurus coeruleus) in Grand Cayman © Ethan Daniels / Shutterstock
Scuba divers surrounded by stingrays in shallow water
Surrounded by stingrays © Richard Whitcombe / Shutterstock

Bay Islands, Honduras

When: February-May

Bay Islands Department is the second-largest reef system globally, second only to Australia's Barrier Reef. Utila Island is considered the most popular among divers, as its coastal area is a true paradise for scuba diving and snorkeling. You can see bizarre corals framed with tracery seaweed underwater, come across a huge turtle swimming on its own business, and the biggest prize — to meet with a whale shark. This giant fish feeds on plankton and is not dangerous to humans, and while it feeds, you can swim very close and even touch it.

A girl swims among a school of fish
Snorkeling in Bay Islands © ohrim / Shutterstock