Snorkeling is a truly captivating experience.
Clear blue waters. Exotic fish and coral of rainbow colors. Snorkeling provides the rare opportunity to view marine life in their natural habitat!
Here, we’ll break down the world’s best snorkeling, both in the United States and abroad.
Let’s dive in!
Best Snorkeling in America
You don’t have to travel overseas to encounter tropical fish and breathtaking coral reefs. There are hidden gems right here in the United States.
Let’s take a look at some of America’s best snorkeling destinations:
The Florida Keys
Alligator Reef Lighthouse
Located at the south end of the Upper Keys, an old lighthouse tower forms at the base of this shallow reef. Alligator Reef is a family friendly location with crystal clear waters. Adults and children enjoy exploring both soft and hard corals and the array of tropical fish available.
Several unidentified shipwrecks lay buried in the sandy bottom which adds an element of mystery to this location!
This may be one of the more isolated snorkeling destinations in Florida, requiring a boat or a sea plane to reach. But, once there, this national park and home to historic Fort Jefferson, offers some of the best snorkeling around.
Located 70 miles from Key West, the shallow waters (5-15 feet) make this another family friendly snorkeling experience. The clear waters off the Gulf of Mexico will provide you with picturesque views of the coral reef, located right off the shore. Sea creatures include butterflyfish, groupers, lobsters and turtles!
We couldn’t discuss the best snorkeling in America without mentioning Hawaii! The big island offers gorgeous landscapes, tropical plants and food, in addition to some of the world’s best snorkeling.
Hanauma Bay, Oahu
This is hands down the best snorkeling destination in the Hawaiian Islands! Because it’s the best, it is also the most popular and will make for large crowds.
Hanauma Bay, which was originally formed in a volcanic cone, was declared a protected marine life conservation area and underwater park in 1967. In this circular bay, you will encounter over 450 varieties of fish, as well as octopus, eels and live coral.
You may even see the Hawaiian state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa – say that 3 times fast!
Honaunau, the Big Island
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park located on the west side of the big island. There’s a good chance you might encounter dolphins during your snorkeling adventure here!
This location has many names including Place of Refuge (the park’s name translated) and to frequenters, this snorkeling spot is known as Two Step. This name comes from the “two steps” it takes to enter the water off of the lava rocks.
Sharks Cove, Oahu
Don’t be alarmed by the name. You shouldn’t encounter any sharks when snorkeling here. Sharks Cove located in Pupukea Beach Park, was voted one of the top 12 short dives in the world by SCUBA magazine.
The floor is made of smooth boulders and coral heads. Small caves and ledges form here, creating spots for marine life to hide. The calm waters off the north shore are inviting to schools of surface fish. On the south side of Sharks Cove is the Pupukea tide pools, where you can wade and explore.
Captain Cook, the Big Island
Captain Cook Monument is located on the north shore of Kealakekua Bay, with access only by boat or foot. This monument is actually where Captain Cook was killed by the locals!
Not only does Captain Cook Monument have a great story, but it offers super clear waters, an abundance of fish and coral reefs. Because the bay is a protected area, the health of the reef and its population remains protected. Many have said this is one of the best places to snorkel in Hawaii.
U.S. Virgin Islands
Cane Bay, Virgin Islands
Found on the northern part of St. Croix, the waters in Cane Bay are not rough, but still offer a memorable snorkeling experience. With an offshore reef and nearby drop-off, snorkelers will see tropical fish, as well as brain and elkhorn coral.
Just be careful, the depth of the drop-off is 1,000 feet! This is where scuba divers explore “the wall”.
Buck Island, Virgin Islands
The Buck Reef National Monument is a must-see for snorkelers visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands. Snorkeling here is for the experienced, as well as the novice. The island’s coral grottoes have a maximum water depth of 12 feet.
You will need a boat to access the area, but with gorgeous white beaches, clear waters and an array of tropical fish and coral, it’s well worth the journey.
Best Snorkeling in North America
If you’re looking for the best snorkeling outside of the U.S. but don’t want to travel too far, here are some great locations to check out!
Though there are some notable snorkeling spots on the mainland of Puerto Rico, the offshore islands of Caja De Muertos, Culebra and Isla Mona are some of the best snorkeling beaches around.
With shallow, clear water, these islands are ideal for first-time snorkelers or families with children. There is an abundance of marine life and coral to safely observe and explore.
Visitors of the Bahamas will find countless treasures to explore below the water.
When snorkeling in Grand Bahama Island, you will discover some of the biggest underwater caves around! This island is a vacation hot spot with a rich history.
Want to explore one of the world’s deepest underwater caves? A “blue hole” occurs when caves and caverns fall in, Dean’s Blue Hole is located on the Long Island of the Bahamas. Here, you’ll explore not only the gorgeous depths, but also turtles, fish and maybe even a porpoise or two!
Bimini, only a 30 minute flight from Florida, is another great snorkeling destination where you may even encounter some spotted dolphins.
Elbow Cay, a six mile long part of the Abaco Islands, offers many different spots for you to snorkel without interruption. This area is a popular fishing spot, so you might need to move around before finding a quiet location.
Though the “land down under” is quite far from the U.S. if you are planning a “snorkeling specific” adventure, than there are some must see places on this beautiful continent.
Lorde Howe Island is a great spot if you’re traveling with children or just looking to relax and casually snorkel. This area has varying depths of water and a variety of coral and marine life to explore.
Jervis Bay, a 39 square mile inlet, is located on the south bank of New South Wales. This area offers many protected coves and beaches, which are said to have some of the whitest sand in the world!
There are countless places to snorkel in the Mackerel Islands as well. You will discover aquarium-like snorkeling here with vast varieties of coral and marine life. Views are both breathtaking and unique.
Other Exotic Locations
The list of the best snorkeling spots in the world could really go on forever. If you’re looking for an adventure and have time to travel, you will find some of the best snorkeling at these other amazing destinations:
Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize
Visitors here can explore 4 different habitats all in one trip! Each one is home to distinct environments and creatures.
The reserve is located southeast of San Pedro Town off the coast of Ambergris Caye. Meaning “little channel” in the Maya language, the reserve creates a natural break in the sea floor. This reef is one of the largest in the world and home to a healthy lobster population.
You will find juvenile fish, brittle stars and anemones in the mangroves along the shore. Deeper into the ocean you will discover shark ray alley, swarming with nurse sharks and sting rays.
The Galapagos Islands
If you’re up for an adventure than the brave and curious marine life found in the Galapagos Islands might be the perfect spot for you! There are several bays within the Islands including Tagus Cove on Isabela Island and Pinnacle Rock Cove.
The unusual marine life here includes marine iguanas, nurse sharks, 5 species of sting ray and even penguins! The Galapagos Islands are a visual masterpiece that shouldn’t be missed!
Stingray City, Cayman Islands
If sting rays are what you fancy then Stingray City in the Cayman Islands is a must see! Home to the friendliest sting rays around, they flock to the sound of a boat’s engine.
You can feed and pet the sting rays and they will happily oblige. There aren’t many other fish near by, but this is still an amazing experience you should try.
Are you an avid snorkeler? Been doing it for years? Traveled most everywhere? Have you ever swam with a dugong? Most people haven’t.
These extremely rare, endangered marine mammals that look similar to a walrus or manatee, can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and grow to over 9 feet in length! They can be found in the Dimakya Islands of the Philippines.
Despite their size, like manatee, these mammals are social but shy and gentle. You’ll find them inshore snacking on sea grass beds and coral. There is also an extensive array of reef here, home to sea turtles, manta rays and tropical fish.
Best Snorkeling Spots: Final Thoughts
The best thing about snorkeling is that under the right conditions, anyone can do it! A
All you need is the right gear, an adventurous spirit, and an unforgettable destination.
Whether your more comfortable staying close to home, or are looking to embark on a memorable adventure, there are countless snorkeling experiences waiting for you!