I am an avid snorkeler and have been lucky enough to snorkel all over the world. My vote for best snorkeling in the world is Eastern Indonesia, West New Guinea, Papua New Guinea. There are amazing reefs throughout these countries with fantastic coral colors and shapes and these reefs are unknown to most of the world. The Coral Triangle has fantastic coral and is worth the trip.
Here are my experiences that hopefully will be helpful to others. I prefer more shore snorkeling as I get a little freaked out in open water. I have emphasized coral quality versus quantity of fish. I have only included locations not already on Galen and Nicole’s list in 2013.
- Roatan, Honduras- good coral, reasonable shore snorkeling
- Turks and Caicos Provo- good coral, excellent shore snorkeling
- Eleuthera, Bahamas– OK coral, excellent shore snorkeling
- Grenadines and Tobago Cays- good coral, mostly boat snorkeling in reasonably shallow water
- US Virgin Islands, especially St. John– good coral, excellent shore snorkeling. In my opinion the best shore snorkeling option in the Caribbean because it is mostly easy sand access.
- British Virgin Islands, Virgin Gorda- good coral, good shore snorkeling and boat snorkeling
- Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora – French Polynesia – excellent coral, lacks color but great quality. Moorea has good shore snorkeling on the island and excellent shore snorkeling on motus (near shore islands).
Melanesia and Micronesia (The Coral Triangle)
- Palau– excellent coral, mostly open water boat snorkeling
- Papua New Guinea, East Coast- amazing coral and colors, some shore snorkeling and open water boat snorkeling
- Fiji, Mamanucas- excellent coral, excellent shore snorkeling on some islands, mostly boat snorkeling on others
- Indonesia, Sulawesi and Eastern Islands- amazing coral and colors, mostly boat snorkeling, some shore snorkeling
- Philippines, Palawan, El Nido- excellent coral, mostly boat snorkeling but reasonably shallow water
- Great Barrier Reef from Cairns, Australia- excellent coral, all open water boat snorkeling.
I hope this helps. My lifetime goal: to snorkel Raja Ampat and Indonesia West Papua.
Happy snorkeling everyone!
P.S. Thanks to Galen and Nicole for this site. It has been extremely helpful and informative. Keep up the good work.
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Pat – Oct 25, 2013 – Wow. WOW. Oh. Wow.
Wow, oh, wow. That’s all I could say reading your post. You are one lucky duck to snorkel so many many places. Thank you for sharing!
I especially appreciate the shore snorkeling information. I don’t care to take a boat out to snorkel, and exclusively look for shore snorkeling. I can’t seem to breathe when I am in deeper open water, even if it’s just swimming over a canyon to another reef.
Snorkeling above Molokini (off Maui Hawaii) I got off the boat in a bit too deep of water for my taste, and felt an incredible fear of heights even though I knew there was no way I could “fall” down to the bottom, seeing it there 100 feet or more below was just too scary.
Sounds like St. John may be a destination in my future!
Anonymous – Oct 26, 2013 – Update to Original Post
Pat, glad you enjoyed my post. We sound very similar about snorkeling in deeper water or open ocean. I feel the same way regarding snorkeling from one reef to the next over a deep channel or getting dropped off a boat and having to snorkel hundreds of yards in open ocean just to get to the reef.
At one point I was an advanced snorkeler with no fear and used to do it all the time. Many of the places I listed above do require some very advanced snorkeling in deep water with very strong currents. However I nearly drowned a few years back snorkeling a very advanced location, so now I am a bit more timid and try to stick closer to land. I prefer to go no more than about 50-100 yards in any direction before I can put my feet back on the sand, even if that sand is still in the ocean and not officially back on land.
For those like me who may be a little timid in open water, my number one recommendation anywhere in the world for shallow snorkeling and a high quality reef is French Polynesia, especially Moorea. The water in many places is about 3-6 feet deep. The coral heads look like giant individual boulders, some the size of a car with sand around each one of them. So it is easy to stop swimming and stand on the sand next to a giant coral head if you need a break or get nervous.
Also in the South Pacific, Fiji has excellent shore snorkeling off Navini Island and Matamoana Island but the coral is much tighter together so there are less options to rest while still in the water without crushing the coral.
In the Caribbean I think I would pick the Virgin Islands over Bonaire for the best shore snorkeling as it provides a large number of islands very close together, a great choice of shallow sand beaches for snorkeling with a high quality reef very close to shore. In the Virgin Islands there are so many islands so close together it is possible to hit many of them in the same vacation. I think St. John is the best option for shore snorkeling. I like Honeymoon Beach and Hawksnest Beach. Secret Harbor on St. Thomas is also nice. The BVI also has good access to shore snorkeling. On Virgin Gorda, from Mahoe Bay to the Baths, there are various locations for good shallow sand snorkeling.
One last thing, a great way to determine if a reef is truly shallow and can be easily accessed by land is to go on a home vacation rental website. Look up an excessively expensive beach front house located right on a beach you heard had good shore snorkeling and look at their images. Anyone trying to get a renter for a house that expensive has high quality photos of the inside and outside of the house including the backyard, sand and how close the coral truly is to the shore. I have found those websites can have excellent images on what the reef actually looks like and if it is shallow enough that I would feel comfortable at that reef.
JFB – Dec 20, 2014 – Raja Ampat
We are just coming back from a Raja Ampat snorkeling tour. I hope you will go soon; it really is a paradise for snorkeling.
Nancy A. – Nov 30, 2015 – Nancy A.
I would add Octopus Resort on Waya Island in the Yasawas, Fiji if looking for good snorkeling from shore. It has an exceptional house reef with healthy corals of many varieties. Entry is a bit tricky but easier at high tide.
Monika – Mar 25, 2017 – Snorkeling Indonesia Summer 2017
Husband and I are planning a snorkeling trip to Indonesia this summer. Our travel window is late July to mid August. We are thinking of flying to Cebu, Philippines and taking it from there. Indonesia is a large area and while we can’t cover as much as we’d like, we are hoping to visit some of the top snorkeling sites.
Neither one of us scuba dive so our main focus is on snorkeling.
For now, we are considering planning this trip without a travel agency. If there is an itinerary that someone recommends, we’d appreciate taking a look at it. However, we’re also open to joining a snorkeling tour group. Is there a good tour company that anyone recommends?
Anonymous – Jul 30, 2019 – Raja Ampat
Raja Ampat is stunning. My wife and I went a few years ago and were blown away. Reefs accessible by both boat and shore were teeming with life. We’re wanting to go back because everywhere else we’ve snorkeled has been, “Ah, it’s OK but nothing like Raja Ampat.”
Nicole & Galen – May 22, 2020 – Our Updates
We have now had the absolute pleasure of snorkeling three areas of Indonesia ourselves and it really has been the best snorkeling we have ever experienced. Our favorite is Misool in Raja Ampat. Our next favorite is Alor and Komodo is wonderful too.
We did visit St John, USVI, linked to above, and found some great snorkeling too, but Hurricanes Irma and Maria affected the island severely and we have not revisited to see how the snorkeling reefs fared.
And our trip partner is offering organized group trips to many of the destinations mentioned in this story; check them all out here.