For ocean lovers, there’s nothing more sublime than dipping your head underwater to explore the the best snorkeling in the world—the vast array of whimsical marine creatures and landscapes never ceases to amaze and delight. Factor in ocean immersion’s scientifically proven healing power, and there’s no question a snorkel session can bring instant relaxation and peace.
Whether you’re looking to travel for a weekend trip or an extended getaway, consider hitting the reset button with a snorkeling trip before returning to the hectic bustle of everyday life. Below, we cover the best places to snorkel worldwide, from overwater bungalow-dotted waters to swirling seas of tropical fish, dolphins, and manta rays. We’ve got a remote Asian island, Hawaiian beach resort, French Polynesian sparkling lagoon, and so much more.
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San Cristóbal, Galápagos
What’s truly special about the Galápagos is its endemic wildlife, which is extremely tame due to a lack of predators. You can easily grab snorkeling gear and jump in the waters of San Cristóbal beaches, but make time for a day trip or two, as some of the best snorkeling is only accessible by boat. Many of Galápagos’ iconic creatures live on Española Island—a two-hour boat ride away—like its marine iguana, blue-footed boobies, and many sea lions. However, to truly experience the best snorkeling, book a week-long cruise with Ecoventura—ranked by our readers as one of the best expedition ships in the world in 2022— for daily snorkel excursions off several far-flung islands.
Where to stay: Centrally located on the boardwalk, Hotel Miconia is steps away from a colony of sea lions lazing on the rocks.
Jacques Cousteau called the waters surrounding this sleepy Mexican town the “world’s aquarium” because of its rich biodiversity. Find some of the best snorkeling in the world at Loreto Bay National Marine Park, which is comprised of five islands. Dip underwater for blooming coral and an estimated 900 species of fish, and on lucky days meet mobula rays, bottlenose dolphins, friendly seals, turtles, and more. Danzante Island is a favorite snorkeling spot, where you can often hear the haunting calls of humpback whales underwater.
Where to stay: With its sprawling 39,000 square spa, Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto is ideal for rejuvenating between lazy dips in the water.
Sister island to Aruba and Bonaire, Curaçao is the largest of the ABC islands. There are over 30 beaches, but the calmest for snorkeling is in the west coast’s sheltered bays. Make sure to snorkel the Tugboat shipping wreck—it’s only 15 feet deep and covered with tube sponges and coral. To meet the island’s sea turtles, head north to Playa Lagun; for more shallow wrecks with over 30 species of hard coral, go to Curaçao Underwater Park.
Where to stay: Guided snorkeling excursions, equipment, and boat rides to Curaçao’s top spots are included in the price of your stay at Sandals Royal Curaçao.
Bonaire is a pioneer in coral conservation as the world’s first Blue destination; as a result, snorkelers enjoy some of the most flourishing reefs in the world. All snorkelers must pay a yearly nature fee of $40 to access the Bonaire National Marine Park, spanning the entire coastline of the Caribbean island. Luckily, it’s just 70 limestone steps down to 1000 Steps beach, a popular snorkeling destination for abundant staghorn corals, silly parrot fish, and crystal clear waters. Don’t forget to swim the Alice in Wonderland dive spot filled with gorgonian corals, glittering tropical fish, and sea turtles.
Where to stay: Harbour Village Beach Club is an oceanfront boutique retreat with the best of Bonaire’s snorkeling sites just feet away.
Come for the area’s warm waters and to snorkel at Kenting National Park—Taiwan’s first national park. Head west to Wanlitong, a quieter snorkeling spot with coral reef ditches, valleys, pinnacles, and tunnels. Once there, hide and seek with adorable anime-like nudibranchs and clouds of small wrasse and sergeant majors. Just a ten-minute drive away is Baishawan—one of the shoot locations for Life of Pi—where you’ll find white-sand beaches and clear waters with occasional dolphin sightings.
Where to stay: Conveniently close to many beaches, Chateau Beach Resort is just a five-minute walk from Dawan Beach and a quick drive away from several others.
Drift with the famously friendly, wild bottlenose dolphins of Tiputa Pass and tornados of reef fish at the ‘Aquarium’—a very popular snorkeling spot. Make sure to take a day trip to the Blue Lagoon to enjoy a traditional Polynesian grilled meal with swarms of silvery fish at your feet, hoping to catch a crumb. You can snorkel right from your dining table into the warm waters of the baby shark nursery and swim with dozens of black-tip reef sharks.
Where to stay: Stay at one of Hotel Kia Ora Resort & Spa’s overwater bungalows and snorkel from your room into the crystal turquoise lagoon.
A great place to first discover the underwater treasures of this independent island nation east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is Blue Bay Marine Park. Visibility is near-perfect and it’s great for beginners, as you can snorkel straight from the beach. The park is home to angelfish, damselfish, parrotfish, and clownfish—among other colorful exotics. Note: Don’t forget to look up once in a while, as you’ll spot airplanes landing and taking off from the architecturally impressive Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport.
Where to stay: Less than an hour’s drive northeast, Guests at Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, have access to exclusive snorkeling at its private island—Ilot Mangénie.
To reach the remote island of Mikura-jima, take the 7.5-hour overnight ferry—and trust us, it’s worth the trek. Located 124 miles south of Tokyo, it’s one of the few places in the world you can snorkel with wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins. The waters are choppy off this far-flung island, so its best suited for advanced snorkelers only. Dolphin snorkeling season is from mid-April to October.
Where to stay: The Tamami HASHIMOTO homestay includes accommodations, meals, dolphin swimming tours (with videography), and a village tour.
Ilha Grande, Brazil
Ilha Grande, almost exactly midway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, is heaven on earth—somewhat untouched, still, with deeply green jungle, turquoise water, and a totally laid-back vibe. Snorkeling here might include exploring colonial-era ship-wrecks, but take a dip in the Lagoa Azul first (think Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon) with delicious water temperatures in the mid- to upper-70s providing the perfect habitat for seahorses.
Where to stay: We like Asalem, set on the calm Bay of Abraäo, for its authentic simplicity (candles and gas lights at night).
Palau, a nation of 250 islands in the western Pacific, is home to dozens of unusual seawater marine lakes connected to the ocean by tunnels and channels. Only one, Jellyfish Lake on Eil Malk, can be visited, and is filled with millions of—you guessed it—jellyfish. Floating through swarms of these gelatinous beings is definitely an out-of-body experience, but don’t worry—their non-poisonous stings can hardly be felt.
Where to stay: An overwater bungalow at the Palau Pacific Resort on Koror or hop on the Four Seasons Explorer, the brand’s liveaboard dive and snorkeling boat, setting sail for the first time in the region starting October 1st, 2023.
One of the more unusual highlights of a trip to Grand Cayman Island is the chance to snorkel at Stingray City, surrounded by a virtual fleet of 50 of one of the ocean’s most fascinating and friendly creatures. The water is shallow (less than five feet deep) and crystal clear, making it great for beginners. Visitors are given ray-appropriate treats, and snorkel gear is included in the price of admission.
Where to stay: The ultra-elegant Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman (its sushi restaurant, Taikun, is superb).
With water visibility of up to 100 feet, Anguilla is a paradise for snorkelers. There are so many spots to chose from for a dip, but we’re partial to exploring the monumental coral gardens (some more than eight feet tall) off Great Dog Island, which is inhabited only by feral goats. Here, you’ll find puffer fish aplenty and even a school or two of squid.
Where to stay: Though Anguilla has a famously flat terrain, rooms at Four Seasons Resort & Private Residences Anguilla sit atop small cliffs giving rare island views over sprawling bays.
Turks & Caicos
Directly off Grace Bay Beach and protected by Bight Reef a mile offshore, the White House Reef Snorkel Trail is well-marked and a delight for anyone looking for barracuda, spiny lobster, or a harmless nurse shark or two. Take a boat cruise out to the small island of Salt Cay from January to April to swim with migrating humpback whales.
Where to stay: Wymara Resort & Villas sits on Grace Bay Beach—widely considered one of the world’s best, with white-sand beaches and simple sophistication.
It’s all about the chance to swim with elegant Green Sea Turtles in the waters off this unimaginably-lush Hawaiian island. Best months for snorkeling are October through April, especially from the south shore’s Lawai Beach. You’ll also find rainbow colored Wrasses and Convict Tangs—some of the more unusual fish in the Pacific Ocean.
Where to stay: Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach greets with authentic aloha spirit, ocean access to Coconut Beach’s golden sand, and an over $35 million pre-pandemic renovation.
Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Bait Reef has some of the most eye-popping coral formations in the world. Most famous are The Stepping Stones, made up of nearly 20 flat-topped pinnacles lined up like soldiers in formation on the southwest side of the reef. Each rises from a depth of 80 feet and stop only three feet from the surface. They are completely covered with coral. Be on the lookout for the small tropical fish that swarm around the tops of the stones.
Where to stay: Without a doubt, the InterContinental Hayman Island Resort is worth it for its sublime seclusion.
Moorea, French Polynesia
Often overlooked by neighboring Tahiti and Bora Bora, Moorea is a secret favorite of snorkel fans. For an up-close-and-personal encounter with black-tip reef sharks, the best place to find them is in the lagoon facing Motu Irioa. Join a full-day tour group or hire a private guide and boat if you want to really explore the area and it’s critters in depth.
Where to stay: The Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, on the north shore, has direct access to snorkeling from two beaches.
Comprised of 115 tiny islands, the Seychelles is one of the best spots in the Indian Ocean for snorkeling. We like La Digue, Félicité, and Coco the most, purely for their intense variety of sea life including surgeonfish, Bengal snappers, and green humphead parrotfish, as well as gentle hawksbill sea turtles.
Where to stay: For the ultimate private island escape, nothing beats North Island.
Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Hire a long-tail boat from Tonsai Pier on Koh Phi Phi Don and high-tail it to Pi Leh Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh. Here, you’ll snorkel in incredibly clear, green water surrounded on both sides by 330-foot-tall limestone cliffs (note that the sun only hits the water between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., so plan accordingly for the best photo ops).
Where to stay: The very stylish Zeavola resort on Koh Phi Phi Don.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Snorkeling here couldn’t be any easier with so many properties offering accommodations in overwater bungalows. Don’t miss the waters off the southern tip of the main island, filled with reef sharks, friendly stingrays, and colorful fish (and the manta ray cleaning station on the east side at Anau). Guests at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, have unlimited access to the resort’s private section of the lagoon, winding through the middle of the resort. Sign up for the coral restoration activity with the resort’s Wise Ocean’s marine biologists to dive underwater and plant coral.
Where to stay: Our Readers’ Choice Awards favorite for six consecutive years and counting, Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora’s overwater bungalows give direct snorkel access to Bora Bora’s famed lagoon.
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Cast just off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, Vieques is still an under-the-radar Caribbean destination. Most of the island was once a U.S. Navy training area and remains completely undeveloped. Green Beach has shallow, clear water, a great variety of marine life, and is rarely crowded.
Where to stay: Off the Esperanza coast, the ultra-modern, minimalist El Blok is one of the island’s best, within walking distance of top bars and restaurants.
Maui has many ideal snorkel spots, but for something completely different don your gear and sail on the luxury catamaran Kai Kanani to Molokini Crater—a tiny, volcanic crescent off the island’s southernmost shore. A State Marine Life & Bird Conservation District, it is home to dolphins, manta rays, turtles, and dozens of varieties of insanely colorful tropical fish.
Where to stay: You can’t go wrong at the chic, cheerful Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort.
Sipadan is located in the Celebes Sea off the coast of Sabah (Malaysia’s easternmost state on the island of Borneo). Best known for world-class diving, and described as an “Untouched Piece of Art” by Jacques Cousteau himself, the snorkeling here is equally stunning with easy viewing of otherworldy coral formations, sea turtles, and Bumphead Parrotfish.
Where to stay: In one of the ethereal overwater villas at the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort.
Palawan continues to impress, voted one of the top islands in Asia in our 2022 Readers’ Choice Awards. Day trips by boat from Puerto Princesa to Luli Island, Starfish Island, Panden Island, and Cowrie Island only take 45-minutes and will reward with sightings of Star Fish and sea snails, plus marine gastropod mollusca called “cowrie.”
Where to stay: Do anything, anything at all, to book a villa at the sybaritic El Nido Pangulasian Island resort, only an hour’s private flight from Manila.
Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
Hard to get to, but well worth the effort, the Bazaruto Archipelago of Mozambique keeps us visiting and dreaming. Barely 22 miles off the east coast of Africa, this group of six islands (Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Bangue, Shell, and Santa Carolina) continue to top our “must-visit” list of places in the world. The entire area was declared a National Park in 1971 and hosts a plethora of snorkel and dive opportunities.
A chain of 26 atolls and over 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean, it’s one the world’s most geographically dispersed countries and can’t be beaten for underwater exploration. As each island is barely the size of a small estate in the Hamptons, we’re hard-pressed to pick a top spot but consider the Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Kuda Huraa—winner of multiple Readers’ Choice Awards, as your first stop.
Where to stay: After Kuda Huraa, swoop over via a 35-minute seaplane ride to Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru.