Snorkelling is the bomdiggity. It’s slipping on a pair of snazzy swim shorts and exploring water-covered coasts, faraway islands, atolls, cayes and reefs, all of which are totally unmatched by most land-based splendours.
Sure, there is the teeny-tiny downside of losing a few Insta-followers thanks to the ginormous tube sticking out of your gob, not to mention those funky-looking masks that squash your nose, make your eyes seem bigger than a bush baby’s and your skin look paler than Lidl’s own-brand butter, but it’s still the most fun you can possibly have in the water (that doesn’t involve a 120bhp outboard, a vast sundeck and fridges full of chilled rose wine).
In fact, the way we see it, snorkeling is like a slightly-more-awesome version of scuba diving in that you get to enjoy all the incredible views, point at schools of colourful fish and spy on some of the most spectacular underwater vistas ever imaged, just without forking out £649 for a basic certification, trying to maneuver with a two-tonne tank on your back and then running the risk of a) the bends and b) an embolism.
Yup. All you need to soak up the ocean’s most-secret scenery - without straying too far from your boat or beach - is some basic swimming skills, the snorkeling mask to end all snorkeling masks and an inside scoop of the best snorkeling spots the planet has to offer. The latter is where we swoop in.
So, without further ado, here is a list of snorkeling sites that will knock your flippers off. Enjoy.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Much like choosing a great roadtrip, there are snorkeling spots and then there are snorkeling spots - the kind that makes bumps appear on your skin even though your breast-stroking your way through 30 degree coastal waters, your eyes fizzing at the vibrant sights of this, that and t’other, as your brain enjoys the peace and quiet of submarine life. Well, Isla Mujeres is the latter - a haven of sea creatures barely nine miles off the coast of Cancun. From the bow of a boat, it’s just another paradise of glistening turquoise waters. But the moment you slip under the surface, it’s a buffet of beautiful bonito tuna and whale sharks, as well as two underwater statue parks, both of them filled with more than five-hundred life-size sculptures that sit on the ocean floor just over twelve feet down. Oh yeah, this slice of Mexico is nothing shy of magical.
Papalaua Wayside Park, Maui
We know what you’re thinking. Telling you there’s great snorkeling in Hawaii is like telling you there are great bars in Soho and nice cars in Mayfair. It’s no secret. But that’s beside the point because knowing exactly where to find the best spots is no easy feat. However, if you’re exploring the lush island of Maui and keeping your ears pinned to the palms in the hope of catching the whiff of a whisper so you can discover the best snorkeling secret, you’ll want to head to the eastern end of the Papalaua Park where you can slip into the shallow coral reef and have your breath-snatched in the best way possible. Because the reef is so close to the surface of the water, you’ll get to experience sights that are usually exclusive to those with tanks, respirators and certifications. From blacktip reef sharks to bluespine unicorn tang, fourspot butterflyfish to green sea turtles - there are creatures here that snorkelers rarely get to revel in. You’ll also get to wave at Hawaii's state fish and then chuckle for hours after as you mutter the name “humuhumunukunukuapua'a” over and over again, sat around a beach bonfire as a delicious local beer warms in your hand. Now that’s how to live your best life.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
The Great Barrier Reef might be the biggest in the world, but it’s been done a billion times and billion times more, which is why you need to book a trip to the Caribbean coastline of Belize and dive into the sunken corals of the world’s second largest turquoise covered playground. It’s your chance to dance with exciting eels, rays rarer than red beryl gemstones and an almost infinite amount of fascinating fish as you explore the hundreds of cayes and atolls, your cheeks hurting from all the moments that yank your eyes open and keep your smile stretched wide. It’s also home to the pretty self-explanatory Shark Alley - a stretch of sea that’s teeming with nurse sharks, all of them quite happy to let you fulfil your swimming-with-the-sharks fantasy. Oh, come on, we all secretly want to slide our hand down the leathery skin of an ocean predator and live to tell the tale at every-other dinner party from this day forward.
Ilha Grande, Brazil
Dancing along the invisible halfway marker between the sensational Såo Paolo and raucous Rio De Janeiro sits the underwater wonderland of Ilha Grande - a technicoloured gem off the coast of Brazil. It’s an experience that will jerk your eyeballs every which way from the moment you clamber out of your hammock and wander through monkey-rich jungles down to the brilliant blue waters that glisten on the surface; a plethora of dazzling fish hiding just beneath it. What sort of mind-jerking moment you have is completely up to you though. If it’s far-flung wildlife you’re hoping to swim with, you’ll want to dive into the warm waters of Lagoa Azul (“The Blue Lagoon”), where you’ll get to float with seahorses, stroke the shell of a swimming sea turtle, follow an angelfish through the sunken jungles of this coral and wipe your lenses in disbelief as you ogle the enchanting coves that litter this part of the world. If, however, you’re hoping for a Swallows and Amazons style adventure, you’ll want to rush into the waters off Ilha Grande, where dozens and dozens of sunken ships stand to attention on the ocean floor - the heart-jerking remnants of a bygone time, when the Portuguese were locked in canon-filled battles with daring pirates, tussling over plunged treasures and caches of lost jewels. Just be prepared to suck in a lungful of water through your snorkel because your breath is going to be snatched. Hard.
We know what you are thinking: “The Philippines? Really? I mean, it’s pretty and cool and all that, but, a top ten snorkelling spot, come on?!” And we get it. This ain’t no obvious pick. But, trust us, this place will make your heart flutter like a jacked-up butterfly with a penchant for Vodka Redbulls because the water that flows and ebbs around the 7000 islands in this archipelago boasts one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet; one that’s full to the brim with wow-factor wildlife. From leaping into the warm waters at the Bay of Donsol where you can try and glide effortlessly with a pod whale sharks to a long visit to the coral reefs just outside Noa Noa Island, the stunning Palawan promises to produce happy-photos that will live in your downstairs loo forever. Of course, if you want to pull together a shot list before you go, we recommend you get an underwater snap of yourself swimming in one of the many fish-filled lagoons, a picture of you diving into the water at Honda Bay, one of you exploring the Tubbataha reef on the back of a snazzy speedboat, and maybe even a video of your day trip to Starfish and Cowrie Island, where there are more underwater tenants than you ever believed possible. Yeah, it’s a huge, Roman-style thumbs-up for this part of the Philippines.
Grand Turk & Salt Cay
It doesn’t matter what time of year you snap up a Skyscanner deal to this place, you’ll be met with crystal clear waters where your goggle-covered eyes can see over a hundred feet, your brain forever taking mental snapshots of the dazzling reefs around the Turks & Caicos Islands. But while the summer is sensational, it’s the arrival of winter that really sweetens the pot for snorkelers, as crowds of humpback whales arrive in this stretch of the Caribbean between December and February, ready to feel the love and get all fins-on and frisky with each other, before giving you the chance to enjoy an episode of One Born Every Minute you never thought you would see. Yah-hah. Sloshing around between the islands of Grand Turk and Salt Cay is the Columbus Passage - a stretch of shallow and warm water that is pretty much ideal for momma humpback to teach baby humpback how to breathe and swim and sleep and do all that other basic whale-life stuff. Essentially, you’ll get the chance to behold underwater greatness, the voice of Sir David Attenborough swish-swashes around your head as you look on, stricken by awe.
For most people, The Maldives is a faraway paradise that madly in love couples disappear into the day after walking down the aisle, kissing one-another in front of cheering crowds and shouting the words “I do” with that foreign twang of bliss, and it’s all because The Maldives is one of the most drop-dead-gorgeous destinations in the world. But forget about all that white-sand-curved-palm-tree-above-the-water-stuff for a moment because some of the island’s most staggering sights are scattered beneath the surf. It’s a paradise of postcard islands surrounded by aquamarine waters that play home to a kaleidoscope of tropical fish - everything from tuna wahoos that always wow to beautiful butterflyfish. But it’s not just the 700 species of fish that will grab your attention and shake your eyeballs, it’s the other marine wonders too. Reef sharks and sea turtles, anemones and coral, octopus, squid, eels and rays, all of them gliding in their own distinct way, showing off for all those lucky enough to snorkel in these shallows. That said, you don’t actually have to pop a tube in your mouth and goggles over your eyes to enjoy the undersea gardens here; that’s how crystal clear the water is in The Maldives. It’s magical.
North Sulawesi, Indonesia
This is the place to pop off for anyone that’s ever been hooked by Blue Planet, your mouths releasing a myriad of involuntary noises that range from whoooahh to aaahhhhh. It’s the reef that never sleeps - the carpet of colourful coral and curtains of dramatic fish forever rioting without pause for breath (that’s presuming fish and corals breath?!). There is just one teeny-tiny problem, however. Like staring at a Michelin-starred menu of mouth-watering bites, the island of Sulawesi is spoilt for choice. So, to help you out, our Chef’s Special would have to be Kungkungan Bay in the Lembeh Strait; a hideaway hotspot that snorkeling dreams are made of, the reef easily-accessible from shore and decorated with scads of exotic life, from blue ribbon eels to colourful cuttlefish. But that’s not all. There is also a local phenomenon that has swept this island by storm called muck diving, which is a pretty unusual way of checking out the unusual critters that live amid the unusual black sands on the ocean floor. It might not be anyone’s definition of glamorous at first, but once you’ve got past the original brow-furrowing realisation that you’re sifting through seabed-muck, your snorkeling experience will reach new heights as you behold a motley crew of seahorses, leaf fish, pipefish, bobtail squid, flamboyant squid and the fabled blue-ringed octopus, to name but a few. It’s really quite special.
And there we have it.
Eight mind-blowing snorkel spots that will prove scuba-divers don’t have more fun; the calming sounds of the ocean tide a mesmerising contrast to what your eyes will catch glimpses of, darting from left to right, up and then down, unsure of which moment is most magical. Where to disappear off to is never an easy choice. But you can sleep easy knowing each of these destinations can be popped into a hat, pulled out at random and leave you with enough polaroid-moments to fill albums and walls and 64gb phones.
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