While scuba divers have the most freedom to explore underwater, snorkeling is easy enough for children, and exciting enough for even the most jaded traveler. Whether you’re taking your budding marine biologist to explore an underwater ecosystem or simply want to get up close and personal with a friendly shark, snorkeling is an opportunity to truly immerse yourself in nature.
To help plan your next adventure, we’ve pulled together 10 of the best places to snorkel around the world. The list ranges from U.S. National Parks to once-in-a-lifetime vacation destinations like the Maldives or Komodo Island. Whichever one you end up visiting, you’ll see underwater sights that would make your jaw drop—if you weren’t breathing through a snorkel, of course.
The underwater scenery in these islands, atolls, cayes, and reefs is unmatched, but sadly climate change is endangering the watery wonderland. Coral bleaching is already affecting many of the world’s reefs, coral is disappearing across the globe, and some scientists expect it could die out entirely as soon as 2050. Even more of a reason to start planning that snorkeling trip you’ve been dreaming about.
- Great Barrier Reef, Australia
It’s impossible to talk about the world’s best snorkeling spots without mentioning the largest coral reef ecosystem in the world—Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef is actually made up of 2,900 individual reefs that stretch over 1,400 miles off the Australian shoreline. Eye-popping coral, brilliant marine life, barracuda, manta rays, and the bones of ships that crashed on the reef all make the Great Barrier Reef a must-visit destination.
- Ambergris Caye, Belize
Home to the largest barrier reef outside of Australia, Belize has many opportunities to get up close and personal with eels, rays, and all kinds of brightly colored fish. There are hundreds of cayes and atolls that dot the Caribbean coastline, filled with colorful coral sunken beneath the turquoise waters.
- Ilha Grande, Brazil
Off the coast of Brazil, halfway between São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, sits the wilderness wonderland of Ilha Grande. There are hotels on the island, but it manages to feel largely untouched with monkey-filled jungles surrounded by brilliant blue waters teeming with brilliantly colored fish. The waters off of Ilha Grande are also home to dozens of shipwrecks—remnants of the battles between pirates and the Portuguese.
- The Big Island, Hawaii
The entire Hawaiian archipelago is surrounded by incredible snorkeling spots, but the Big Island—with more square footage than all the other islands combined—has the most to offer. The underwater state park at Kealakekua Bay not only has technicolor coral and colorful fish, but it a good dose of history, too, as it marks the spot where Captain James Cook landed on the island. I regret not snorkeling despite having visited Hawaii but in my defense I was a kid and I stayed over for a very, very short time.
- Komodo Island, Indonesia
While the giant lizards that call this island home get most of the attention from visitors, Komodo has some fascinating inhabitants under the water, too. Head to Pink Beach to swim with rays, schools of groupers, and hawksbill turtles in the undersea garden that grows there. Alternatively, visit the sea surrounding thewhich offers unmatched underwater exploration with over 1000 species of fish 260 types of coral, and 14 types of endangered whales, dolphins, and giant turtles.
- The Maldives
The Maldives are one of the most beautiful destinations in the world, but some of the islands’ greatest sights lie beneath the waves. The tiny islands that make up the archipelago are surrounded by aquamarine water that is home to some 700 species of fish, including tuna wahoos, and butterfly fish. The water holds a multitude of other marine wonders, too, like sharks, turtles, anemones, coral, and perhaps a friendly octopus or two.
- Eil Malk Island, Palau
Only one of the marine lakes that dot Palau is open to snorkeling, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Jellyfish Lake on the uninhabited island of Eil Malk lives up to its name, filled with millions of golden jellyfish that have thrived in the isolated lake for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. For a truly other worldly experience, visitors can snorkel among the floating, gelatinous creatures. While jellyfish are known for their stings, these have a non-poisonous sting, as they eat algae—not other animals—and reportedly, their stings can hardly be felt by humans who take the plunge into their waters.