If a snorkeling adventure is on your to-do list when you return to traveling, you probably have plenty of questions. Newcomers to snorkeling often don’t know where to start (where to go, when to visit, what to bring, etc.), and seasoned snorkelers are sometimes curious about new regions and hidden gems. So, what do you need to know when planning your next snorkeling journey? We’ve tapped into our experience running trips in some of the most remote snorkeling sites on Earth, and gained insight from our staff specialists, two of whom have their master’s in marine biology, as well as our team on the ground (or water), to answer 10 of the most commonly asked questions about snorkeling.
1. WHERE ARE THE BEST PLACES TO SNORKEL?
Indonesia’s Coral Triangle is known for healthy reefs and the highest marine biodiversity in the world—some of the best snorkeling sites here include Komodo National Park, Raja Ampat, and Cenderawasih Bay. There is also the rock island nation of Palau, which is home to healthy reefs in shallow waters and lots of marine megafauna. And of course, we can’t forget the Great Barrier Reef, which still has some healthy reefs you can visit despite experiencing coral bleaching.
The Galápagos Islands has all kinds of amazing wildlife encounters, both underwater and on land. From penguins, sea lions, and cormorants to blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises—it’s home to some of the most unique species on earth.
Central America and the Caribbean
Belize has extremely healthy reefs due to government protections, plus the unique Blue Hole, Baja is home to the Blue Triangle—one of the best places in the world to see blue whales, sperm whales, and whale sharks, and the Bahamas are great for sharks and shallow reefs.
The Indian Ocean and Africa
Madagascar, Zanzibar, and the Seychelles all have remote snorkeling areas that are great for all levels. Madagascar is even known to be a seldom-visited destination where you can swim with whale sharks. The Maldives is home to a lot of fish, though the coral reefs are not as pristine as the Pacific.
It is important to note that the best snorkel sites are different from the best dive sites because many dive sites are too deep for snorkelers to enjoy. Nonetheless, when the conditions are right (i.e. great visibility, calmer water), these places are frequently optimal for both snorkelers and divers.
2. WHAT GEAR DO I NEED?
The essentials are masks, snorkels, and fins—we recommend travelers bring their own to ensure a proper (and comfortable) fit, but some of our adventures offer them as rentals or even for free. We recommend a long-sleeve rash guard for sun protection no matter where you are, and for many areas of the world you will need a wet suit if you plan to stay in the water for long periods of time. Many people like to bring an underwater camera to capture those serendipitous moments beneath the water’s surface.
3. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO?
This will depend on the area, and even locations in the same country can have vastly different optimal times. For example, Komodo National Park in Indonesia experiences their dry season in the summer, and the optimal time to visit is between May and October. Raja Ampat, also in Indonesia, typically has excellent conditions year-round, with the exception of July and August when the winds shift, which can reduce visibility and create rougher sea conditions. Other areas, like Palau, have a rainy season in the summer months, so October to March are the best months to visit. The Caribbean experiences its calmest conditions in the summer, which tends to be the best season for snorkeling.
For an easy-to-use tool to check what locations we recommend based on months of the year, navigate to our Snorkeling Adventures page and use the drop-down feature in the blue search bar to filter by Month and Country!
4. WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A BOAT-BASED VS. LAND-BASED TRIP?
Again this typically depends on the area as some places have a reef right off the beach, so you don’t need to travel far to get to your snorkel location. If you only want to visit a specific snorkeling site, a land-based trip will suffice, but keep in mind that many areas, like the sprawling Raja Ampat Archipelago and Galapagos Islands, are so spread out and diverse, that a boat-based trip is the best way to go. Staying at a resort will only give you a small snapshot of the underwater diversity. Additionally, if you are on a boat, you are often much closer to your snorkel locations each day so you can maximize your time in the water instead of relying on day trips from a resort.
5. WHERE CAN I SNORKEL WITH WHALES OR WHALE SHARKS?
Whales: There aren’t many places in the world where this is allowed. Currently, you are allowed to swim with humpback whales in Tonga, the Dominican Republic, and French Polynesia (specifically Mo’orea). Both Tonga and French Polynesia have a steep reef shelf that whales prefer so you don’t need to travel far offshore to experience up-close encounters.
Whale Sharks: Swimming with whale sharks—the largest fish in the world!—is more common. You can get lucky and see them in lots of places, but in terms of reliability, Baja, Mexico, is arguably the best. Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia, is another place that is much less explored and is also a more unique overall experience. Here whale sharks gather around bagans (fishing platforms) where the local fishermen have encouraged their presence for several decades, believing the sharks bring good luck. This presents a unique opportunity for our groups to snorkel within close proximity.
All of these locations adhere to strict guidelines about swimming with these creatures so both humans and whale sharks are safe.
6. WHERE IS THERE NO CORAL BLEACHING?
Unfortunately, there is no area of the world that is 100% spared from bleaching, but there are many areas that haven’t seen too much of it. In Palau, Raja Ampat, the northern Bahamas, and some areas of French Polynesia are a few areas that haven’t been too affected, though of course, this could change at any time. Many factors contribute to coral bleaching (see our blog post about it here), so even if much of the Great Barrier Reef has experienced a bleaching event, for example, you can still find many healthy reefs if you know where to go. Generally, the healthiest reefs on the planet are in the Coral Triangle, primarily in Indonesia but also in parts of the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.
7. WHAT AND WHERE IS THE CORAL TRIANGLE?
The region known as the Coral Triangle encompasses parts of Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, and various other Pacific islands. It is known to have the highest number of coral species in the world.
8. WHERE SHOULD I GO IF I WANT TO SEE THE MOST BIODIVERSE REEFS?
The Coral Triangle, specifically Raja Ampat, Cenderawasih Bay, and Wakatobi have retained the most diversity.
9. WHAT OTHER ACTIVITIES CAN I DO ON A SNORKELING TRIP?
On many of our boat-based trips, we will take time to explore the islands by dinghy, paddleboard, kayak, and on hikes. Some trips are more focused on snorkeling than others, but there is always time for additional exploration if you didn’t get enough during the day!
10. WHY DOES IT TAKE SO LONG TO GET TO THESE DESTINATIONS?
One of the reasons that certain areas have healthier reefs is that they are so remote—they exist in places without a lot of human pressure from agriculture, fishing, and tourism. It takes a long time to get to the middle of nowhere, but that is one of the highlights of these trips!