The 10 Best Places To Snorkel if You Can't SCUBA Dive (2023)

1. Sea of Cortez, Baja California, Mexico

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A World Heritage site, the Sea of Cortez is one of the planet’s most diverse marine environments. Also known as the Gulf of California, the narrow ocean channel separates the Baja Peninsula from Mexico’s mainland. It’s a key breeding ground for marine mammal, and more species of whales and dolphins have been recorded here than anywhere else. Commercial fishing has taken its toll, but the 2009 establishment of Cabo Pulmo Marine Park revitalized local wildlife populations within a few years.

Baja’s cactus-strewn desert coasts are the backdrop for endless miles of tranquil sandy bays and shallow reefs. Aside from Cabo Pulmo, with its schools of tornadoing jacks, the islets off La Paz are home to a large colony of California sea lions. These feisty critters are only too happy to show off to visitors with their zooming acrobatics and cheeky antics. For hardcore adventurers, ecotourism outfit Pelagic Life offer multi-day trips from La Paz searching for whales, orcas, sharks, and mobula rays.

2. Great Astrolabe Reef, Fiji

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Encircling Fiji’s fourth largest island, Kadavu, the Great Astrolabe Reef makes up one of the largest barrier reefs on earth.

Staying in a waterfront Kadavu resort, epic snorkeling is possible right off the beach. More adventurous trips take place on the current-swept outer reef, where you can search for the marlin, tuna, and trevally that patrol the sheer vertical walls along the reef’s edge. Fiji is the world’s soft coral capital, and Astrolabe’s underwater gardens are a vivid display of fluorescent pinks, violets, blues, and greens. Shimmering schools of small fish turn at once in a brilliant, unified flash, should a snorkeler attempt to dive down among them.

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3. Vava’u, Tonga

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to swim side-by-side with one of the ocean’s largest and most emotionally advanced inhabitants, make it your mission to meet the humpback whales of Tonga’s Vava’u island group.

The 60 islands of Vava’u form a network of secluded bays where the whales, after an exhausting migration from their Antarctic feeding grounds, stop to give birth, rest, and play. Tonga is one of the few places that permits swimming with humpback whales. Only four people are allowed in the water at a time, ensuring intimate, eye-level encounters with these gentle giants. Snorkelers have the chance of a life-changing interaction with the curious calves, as their mothers watch over them with an apparent mix of pride and protectiveness.

4. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

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Photo: Emily Hamley/Shutterstock

1,200km from Perth, along Western Australia’s Coral Coast, Ningaloo Reef isn’t the easiest or cheapest place to reach, but its remoteness provides the possibility to explore world-class tropical reefs, often without a single other snorkeler in site.

Most tourists only arrive during the April to September whale shark season. Whale shark expedition boats are accompanied by spotter planes, so getting in the water with the world’s biggest fish is almost guaranteed. It’s humbling to be so close to these huge animals in their own domain. With a 4WD vehicle you can also access the untouched reefs along Ningaloo’s rugged coastline, home to manta rays, reef sharks, turtles, dolphins, and even the shy, endangered dugong.

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5. Kicker Rock, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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Photo: Ksenia Ragozina/Shutterstock

A two-hour boat excursion from San Cristobal Island, Kicker Rock is in fact the remnants of an extinct volcano cone – now a dramatic basalt monolith towering 500 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

The Galapagos have plenty of incredible snorkeling spots, but Kicker Rock ranks with the best. It’s one of the few areas accessible by day-trip where the archipelago’s famous hammerheads school in relatively shallow waters. Kicker Rock’s abundance of large animals make for a surreal, underwater safari-style experience. Even if the hammerheads don’t make an appearance, you’re likely to come across Galapagos sharks, white spotted eagle rays, massive turtles, and the occasional friendly sea lion.

6. Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll, Maldives

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Photo: divedog/Shutterstock

Possibly the best place in the world to get up close with manta rays in mind-boggling numbers is the Maldive’s Hanifaru Bay. Its crystal clear tropical waters become a veritable buffet for the plankton-eating giants between May and December each year.

You might see 200 mantas at a time. In a spectacular ‘cyclone feeding’ event, mantas fly together in formation and perform barrel rolls with mouths wide open, sucking in their microscopic meals. These huge, majestic, and intelligent beings are social and curious by nature, often approaching awe-struck humans at close range seemingly just to get an eyeful.

7. Crystal River, Florida, USA

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There’s something mesmerizing about close encounters with marine mammals. They’re intelligent and charismatic, and often appear as fascinated with us as we are of them. One of the most enigmatic marine mammals is the manatee, a gentle, slow moving sea-grass eater weighing up to 1,200 pounds.

Florida’s Crystal River is the only place in the US where swimming with endangered manatees is legal. Guided encounters take place in cool, spring-fed estuaries that offer refuge for the world’s largest manatee population. Pontoon boats navigate the river’s twists and turns looking for manatees grazing the shallow river bottom. Once in the water, you should keep as still as possible. Eventually the manatees’ curiosity will overrule their shyness and they’ll often approach snorkelers, face to whiskery face. Despite their size, manatees are incredibly endearing, making meeting them in the wild a quietly thrilling experience.

8. Misool Island, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia

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Photo: Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock

The Pacific Ocean’s Coral Triangle is the epicenter of marine biodiversity. Here, the 1,500 islands of Raja Ampat make up Indonesia’s premier diving destination. Most islands are uninhabited, covered in lush jungle. Misool Island has a scattering of small villages and most of Raja’s land-based accommodation. There are a couple of homestay options for travelers on a budget, but Misool Eco Resort is Raja’s most luxurious, eco-conscious retreat.

Misool’s villas are on stilts over a dazzling turquoise lagoon, creating a snorkeler’s paradise at the doorstep. Wake up and explore the lagoon and house reef, which is one the world’s richest shore dives. Pristine hard corals grow right up to the surface, buzzing with swarms of flitting fusiliers, parrotfish, turtles, and octopus. You may even spot the tiny, adorable epaulette, or ‘walking’ shark, casually strolling along the reef at low tide. The lagoon is a sanctuary for a local population of baby black tip reef sharks.

9. Vilanculos, Mozambique

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Despite being a popular winter retreat for South Africans, Mozambique isn’t well known on the international dive scene. Yet the country has the longest stretch of Indian Ocean coastline in Africa, with miles of unexplored, often unnamed beaches and Africa’s best tropical diving and snorkeling.

Among the great destinations along the Mozambique coast is Ponta du Oro, not far from the South African border. If you’re prepared make the 445 mile trek north of the capital Maputo, Violincellos will reward you with crowd-free, world-class snorkeling. A short speedboat ride from shore, Two Mile Reef’s calm conditions invite hours of leisurely discovery. Healthy coral communities shelter brightly colored clown fish, surgeon, snapper, and moray eels. Look out into the blue for passing tuna, barracuda, potato bass, and kingfish. Whale sharks, manta, and devil rays also visit the reef occasionally.

10. Bimini, Bahamas

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Photo: Martin Voeller/Shutterstock

The Bahamas are undoubtedly the top spot in the Caribbean for big fish encounters, which have sadly become rare elsewhere in the region. The enlightened Bahamian government managed to preserve big fish populations, placing a ban on shark fishing and on the sale and export of shark products, focusing instead on sustainable shark tourism.

Shark geeks should head to the Bimini islands for adrenaline-pumping free swimming with Caribbean reef and other shark species in amazing visibility. If you’re a shark-phobe wanting to face your fears, experiences like this can completely change your perspective. Fear will give way to admiration for these graceful predators with an unfortunate image problem. The 10 Best Places To Snorkel if You Can't SCUBA Dive (11)

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The 10 Best Places To Snorkel if You Can't SCUBA Dive? ›

But, if you are a beginner in each activity, is it easier to learn than the other? Snorkeling is definitely the easier of the two water activities. Scuba diving requires a multi-day class/school and passing certifications while snorkeling does not require anything more than a special mask.

Is snorkeling harder than scuba diving? ›

But, if you are a beginner in each activity, is it easier to learn than the other? Snorkeling is definitely the easier of the two water activities. Scuba diving requires a multi-day class/school and passing certifications while snorkeling does not require anything more than a special mask.

Do you have to scuba dive with a snorkel? ›

The truth is, there is no straightforward answer to this question when it comes to commercial diving. Some seasoned divers argue that they never bring a snorkel with them as they never encounter scenarios that require them. Others stick rigidly to this rule and always have a snorkel tucked in their BCD pockets.

Where is the clearest water for snorkeling in the US? ›

Two Harbors, Santa Catalina Island, has clear waters with 40 to 100 feet visibility and water temperatures ranging from 55 to 72 degrees, making it a top snorkeling spot in the United States.

How do people stay underwater so long with a snorkel? ›

The float valve seals up the breathing tube when it is completely submerged, stopping water from getting in. Dry snorkels are a good idea if snorkeling in waves and are perfect for beginner snorkelers. The float valve does, however, trap the air in the tube and can create extra buoyancy and drag if diving underwater.

Can poor swimmers snorkel? ›

The short answer is yes, doing it right non-swimmers can snorkel! Once understanding this, a shallow waters area is needed to offer the briefing, where non- swimmers feel safe and open to listening to any instruction. In Total Snorkel Cancun, we offer a useful briefing/lesson before getting on board.

Is there any good snorkeling in the United States? ›

With 95,471 miles of coastline, it's no surprise that America has some incredible places to snorkel. From San Diego's sea caves to the Florida mangroves, you have to get in the water to really experience these spots, where you'll be swimming alongside tropical fishes, forests of giant kelp, and wild dolphin pods.

What is the snorkeling capital of the world? ›

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is probably the most well-known spot in the world to swim, snorkel, and dive. Famous for being the world's largest coral reef system, it covers an area of approximately 133,000 square miles.

Where is the best place to snorkel for shark teeth? ›

Known as the Shark's Tooth Capital of the World, the Gulf waters at Caspersen Beach has converging currents that deposit all sorts of sediment on the shallow drop-offs along the beach.

How deep can snorkelers go? ›

The average snorkeler can swim down 3-4 meters (12-15 feet). Experienced snorkelers may reach 7 meters (25 feet). By comparison, experienced divers can explore down to 40 meters (130 feet). Don't worry, scuba students aren't expected (or allowed) to dive that deep.

What is a dry snorkel? ›

A dry snorkel, or dry-top snorkel, is the only kind designed to keep water from entering the breathing tube when submerged and is the best option for beginners. Dry snorkels achieve this effect through a mechanism called a float valve located near the opening of the tube.

Should you try snorkeling before scuba diving? ›

Snorkelling is a fantastic way to get comfortable in the water and improve your breathing technique, both of which are important when learning to dive.

Where is the bluest ocean water in the United States? ›

1. Blue Hole - Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Blue Hole in New Mexico, along with the color swatch that matches its blue waters.

Where is the clearest water on earth? ›

The Weddell Sea has been claimed by scientists to have the clearest waters of any ocean in the world. Described by a historian as “the most wretched and dismal region on earth”, due to the flash freezes that caught Shackleton's ship, its clarity is only belied by the sheer depth of the ocean below.

Is snorkeling hard for beginners? ›

This water sport is easy to learn, requires only a few skills and very little equipment, but there are a few rules that beginners should learn and follow so their water experience will be safe and comfortable.

Which is better snorkelling or scuba diving? ›

The major difference between both sports is depth. Although, the goal of snorkeling, as well as scuba diving, is to explore life underwater the extent of depth varies. Snorkelers swim on the surface of the water and breathe via a snorkel. But scuba divers go deep and stay longer.

Is snorkeling hard for non-swimmers? ›

Essentially, snorkeling is a surface sport that involves mostly floating and requires very little (if any) actual swimming. Plenty of non-swimmers snorkel all the time, still, it's important that you know how to do it right and prepare a bit ahead of time.

Is it hard to breathe through a snorkel? ›

It's not an uncommon reaction, breathing through a snorkel doesn't feel natural. There are a couple of things that can contribute to the feeling of "not getting enough air." Most of them can be overcome with slow, steady, deep breaths.


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