The World's 10 Best Spots for Snorkeling -- and Beating the Crowds

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Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Snorkeling is a terrific way to see some of the great sights the ocean has to offer: swirling schools of fish, magnificent coral reefs, sting rays and even sharks and whales. Less expensive than scuba diving (and without the required lessons and license), snorkeling is worth a try anywhere where the water is clear and shallow. Of course, some spots are better than others, so to help you choose, we’ve put together a list of ten awesome destinations around the world.

Each boasts crystal-clear water and stunning biodiversity, but don’t expect to see Hawaii or Cancun here. You won’t have heard of most of these islands, and that’s a good thing- the less well known, the less crowded. And that means more time snorkeling, and less time jostling with other tourists for your spot in the water.

 

1. Uepi Island, Solomon Islands

Sharks off the coast of Uepi Island. Photo: Xplore Dive / CC

Located off the northeast coast of Australia, Uepi Island is a tiny barrier reef, covered in rainforest. It’s only a mile and a half long and 600 meters wide. With the Marovo Lagoon (the largest of its kind in the world) on one side and a deep ocean abyss on the other, it’s got a lot to offer to both snorkeler and divers. For the former, stick to the shallow, warm waters of the lagoon.

 

2. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Photo: Ana_CottaCC

Photo: Ana_Cotta CC

The fact that this archipelago off the Brazilian coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site is both a pro and a con. The downside is that you’ll have to pay an environmental preservation fee upon arrival. The upside is that that money goes to making sure the amazing location stays beautiful.

Once you’re there, you’ll realize it’s worth paying twice as much: the warm waters are so clear, visibility reaches 50 meters. Fernando de Noronha was once used as a prison, but you’re sure to find snorkeling there a liberating and thrilling experience.

 

3. Menjangan Island, Indonesia

Photo: amsfrankCC

Photo: amsfrank CC

Part of West Bali National Park, Mengangan is uninhabited (except by wild deer, called manjangan in Balinese). Accessible for day trips, the island is surrounded by coral filled with tropical fish and sea turtles.

 

4. Plaza Sur, Galapagos Islands

Photo: Franco Banfi/Getty Images

The size of Plaza Sur, or South Plaza Island, is better measured in square feet (427) than miles. The rocky island is used for nesting by red-billed tropicbirds and swallow-tailed gulls, but your time in the water will be spent with the playful sea lions that inhabit the area.

 

5. Corn Islands, Nicaragua

Photo: H DragonCC

Photo: H Dragon CC

Once frequented by pirates, the Big and Little Corn Islands, east of the Nicaraguan mainland, are home to barracudas, nurse sharks, sea turtles, and spotted eagle rays. Little Corn Island tends to draw more tourists, but for snorkeling, skip the crowds and stick with its bigger brother.

 

6. Rurutu, French Polynesia

Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The best time to visit this tiny island south of Tahiti is between November and August, the months when migrating humpback whales stop there to give birth and raise their young.

 

7. Laughing Bird Caye, Belize

Photo: satanoidCC

Photo: satanoid CC

Laughing Bird Caye National Park is microscopic compared to an American park like Yellowstone or Yosemite; it covers just 1.414 acres of land and water. But what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty.

Snorkeling on Belize’s barrier reef, you can explore coral gardens and offshore caves where pelicans and brown boobies nest. In seagrass beds and among mangrove roots, you’ll find tropical fish, sea turtles and sting rays.

 

8. Sipadan Island, Malaysia

Jutting out of the water at the heart of the Indo-Pacific basin, Sipadan Island is one of the richest marine habitats on the planet, home to more than 3,000 species of fish. The island is a national park, so any visit requires a permit.

But once you get your hands on one, you’ll be able to enjoy the amazing location without swarms of tourists to get between you and a great time.

 

9. Anegada, British Virgin Islands

Where the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet, you’ll find Anegada, the island composed of an exposed coral reef that reaches just 28 feet above sea level. An offshore line of reefs forms a shallow lagoon, perfect for snorkeling.

A famed flamingo and sea turtle habitat, Anegada also offers mojarras, needlefish and mantis shrimp.

 

10. Bonaire, Antilles

Bonaire is widely hailed as one of the world’s premiere diving locations (the license plates say “Divers’ Paradise”), and the snorkeling is fantastic as well. The Bonaire National Marine Park does great work to keep the area pristine and thriving.

For a $10 snorkeling fee that’s good for a year, you’ll be swimming through the coral reef that surrounds the island, coming face to face with the fish and seahorses that make their homes there.

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