While diving may seem to get all the hype, snorkeling is a great way to experience the beauty of the ocean’s terrain with minimal gear and maximum interaction. These eight snorkeling destinations feature some of the most beautiful underwater landscapes and reef animals in the world.
Buck Island, St. Croix
Buck Island Reef National Monument is a fairly small, 176-acre island about a mile and half off the northeast coast of the popular vacation destination of St. Croix Virgin Islands, and has long been considered one of the finest marine reefs in the world. Buck Island features nearly 19,000 acres of submerged ocean land, 90 species of tropical fish as well as turtles, stingrays and 30-foot reef walls that form an underwater maze fortress. Private charters take visitors to snorkel around the reef or hike, picnic and explore the grounds of the island.
Crystal River, Florida
Situated in the county of Citrus, Florida, Crystal River is about a two-hour drive from Tampa and is in the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast. Crystal River has proclaimed itself the “Home of The Manatee,” and if swimming with these lovable sea cows has ever found its way onto your bucket list, this is definitely the place to cross it off. Kayak, boat and snorkeling tours give visitors a front row seat inside the habitat of these peaceful creatures, while Florida’s clear waters, temperate weather and rare river life make Crystal River one of the most unique places to snorkel in the world.
Rockhouse, Negril, Jamaica
Personal bungalows, underwater grottos, schools of silver fish and eels are just a couple of the reasons Jamaica’s Rockhouse beach is one of the top destinations for travellers looking to snorkel. The waters off Negril are some of the clearest in the world and are known for having visibility at 70 feet and greater while the water is almost always 80 degrees or warmer. It’s consistently one of the top photographed underwater landscapes in the world and a must-visit addition to those underwater adventure boards.
Pigeon Cay, Honduras
About an hour boat ride off Roatan, Honduras, the deserted island of Pigeon Cay features white sand beaches dotted with coconut palms and turquoise blue water offering an aquarium-like snorkeling experience. The reef begins about 15-20 feet from the beach and surrounds the entire cay, while tropical fish and a 100-year-old shipwreck provide a dynamic underwater backdrop. Day trips to the island are available through a variety of charters, and some even include stops at nearby historic ports and after-snorkel barbecues on the beach.
Papalaua Wayside Park, Maui, Hawaii
Also known as Papalaua State Wayside Park and Thousand Peaks (named for the frothy peaks of the ocean surf breaking), Papalaua Wayside Park combines ocean camping, reef snorkeling and a shady beach setting for the ultimate in beachside activity. Snorkelers often head to this destination because of the ease of obtaining a camping permit, which is notoriously difficult at almost every other location on the islands, as well as being drawn for its beautiful coral gardens. Butterfly fish and Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua, can be seen swimming along the shallow coral. However, this destination is best explored early in the morning, before the winds and breaks begin to kick up, so those wishing to enjoy calmer waters are encouraged to head out soon after sunrise.
Stingray City, Grand Cayman Island
Much like Crystal City, Stingray City is a highly-trafficked snorkeling spot because of the unusual sea creature swimmers are able to interact with: the stingray. However, these aren’t quite like the ones at the local aquarium. The Cayman stingrays come in fleets, and some are up to 4 feet across and 125 pounds in weight. Swimmers are greeted by dozens of friendly rays along the shallow waters of the Grand Cayman Island’s sandbar and a few charters, such as Moby Dick Tours, teach visitors how to “kiss” the stingrays.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize
The Hol Chan Marine Reserve is located just off the Southern tip of Ambergris Cay and is Belize’s oldest marine reserve. In Mayan, Hol Chan means “little channel,” and it is in this channel and surrounding reserve divers and snorkelers can explore the area’s four zones. These zones are marked with the buoys, consisting of the reef, seagrass beds, mangroves and shark ray alley. The area features more than 160 species of fish, 40 species of coral and a variety of sea sponge, seagrass, sea turtle and marine mammals including the spotted dolphin and the West Indian manatee. For those looking for a bit of danger, hammerhead sharks are also spotted swimming in the reserve
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Considered one of the world’s most accessible reefs, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living creature on earth and home to a stunning population of reef life. The thousands of interconnecting reefs and islands are made up of more than 600 types of hard and soft coral, inhabited by innumerable types of colorful fish, mollusks, starfish, dolphins, sea turtles and sharks. Many of the sites along the reef are shallow, making it a popular destination for both experienced and novice snorkelers.