Is it time to take the Great Barrier Reef off your bucket list? After historic coral bleaching events have left the world’s largest reef much worse for the wear, travelers are turning to closer-to-home destinations that have fared better.
Looking for inspiration for how to add some underwater adventures to your next Caribbean vacation? Even if you’re not an experienced PADI-certified scuba diver, there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the colorful reefs of the Caribbean. You can’t miss these destinations for the best snorkeling in the Caribbean!
Bay of Pigs, Cuba
While the Bay of Pigs is best known as the site of the failed U.S. invasion of Cuba in 1961, savvy travelers know it also boasts some of the most spectacular snorkeling in the Caribbean. Don’t expect picture-perfect white-sand beaches in the Bay of Pigs like those at Varadero. Still, the protected, rocky shorelines and cove beaches of the Bay of Pigs make this a great destination, even for beginner snorkelers.
Choose from several impressive snorkeling spots in the Bay of Pigs, including the popular Caleta Buena and Punta Perdiz. Caleta Buena is a sheltered cove with almost unlimited visibility and an incredible number of fish. Punta Perdiz has a stunning fringing reef close to shore, home to colorful elkhorn and brain corals hiding angelfish, snappers, and moray eels.
While the best beaches in Cuba are clustered on the island’s north shore in destinations like Cayo Santa Maria and Jardines de la Reina, spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving await off the island’s southern coast, with popular destinations stretching from the Bay of Pigs far east towards Santiago de Cuba. This rockier shoreline allows for colorful reefs and plenty of shallow areas to explore without diving deeper.
Little Bay Beach, St. Maarten
Rich culture, immersive experiences in nature, and stunningly clear Caribbean waters are just a few of the reasons to add the charming island nation of St. Maarten to your Caribbean island bucket list.
Little Bay Beach is among the island’s best snorkeling destinations, directly accessible from the beachfront at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. After a short swim from the shore, you’ll find everything from angelfish and parrotfish to reef sharks, sea urchins, and starfish thriving among various coral species.
With locations around the island, AquaMania Adventures is the perfect choice for helping you find your ideal snorkeling adventure, offering snorkeling gear to rent and buy and leading guided excursions to the island’s lesser-known off-shore snorkeling spots only the locals know.
Tent Bay, Saba
Little more than a lush volcanic cone peaking through the Caribbean Sea, the island of Saba is tiny but packed with adventure. Home to just a few thousand residents, this off-the-beaten-path island is home to some of the Caribbean’s best snorkeling and diving destinations, hidden along the sloping sides of the volcanic cone below the waves.
While Saba is only five square miles in size, it’s home to 30 permanent dive and snorkeling sites, including Tent Bay. Home to the legendary Tent Reef Wall, this snorkeling destination is popular with snorkelers and divers alike, where swarms of frogfish, angelfish, and even seahorses swarm among corals and sponges.
Tent Bay and many of the island’s other best snorkeling spots are only accessible by boat, so head out on an adventure with Sea Saba Dive Center, offering comprehensive and affordable snorkeling excursions to the island’s must-see destinations beneath the waves.
Tugboat Wreck, Curaçao
Sitting upright in just 15 feet of crystal-clear water, Curaçao’s Tugboat Wreck is a shipwreck that even beginners can enjoy, making it among the most unique and unforgettable destinations for the best snorkeling in the Caribbean.
Accessible from a rocky beach, snorkelers swim just 500 feet from shore before encountering the wreck, now home to beautiful corals and schools of tropical fish. Once you’ve peeked inside the wreck’s hull and pilot house and spotted its anchor, you can swim just past the wreck to the drop-off, where even more incredible corals await.
The Tugboat Wreck is just one of many stunning underwater scenes you won’t want to miss while visiting this lively gem of a Caribbean island. Curaçao boasts an incredible amount of underwater beauty, only to compare with its warm, vibrant culture, delicious food, and unending adventure activities to keep any traveler happy.
Coral Gardens, Grand Cayman
Located in the protected North Sound of Grand Cayman Island, Coral Gardens boasts some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean. An abundance of corals and tropical fish make for memorable underwater vistas, while easy access to the Barrier Reef in the North Sound makes for multi-destination snorkeling excursions sure to thrill.
Coral Gardens is also close to another major attraction on Grand Cayman: Stingray City. This shallow sandbar is popular with visitors who will enjoy the chance to spot hundreds of graceful stingrays up close! Most visits to Stingray City include an opportunity to snorkel at Coral Gardens, making for an incredible day spent exploring Grand Cayman’s favorite underwater attractions.
Perched on the soft sands of Seven Mile Beach, considered among the best beaches in the Caribbean, is The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa. This luxurious resort offers plenty of unique ways to explore underwater, including traditional snorkeling excursions, jetski excursions to popular snorkeling spots, and even an Atlantis Submarine excursion for up to 48 passengers for a once-in-a-lifetime way to experience Gran Cayman’s gorgeous reefs. The Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa resort makes it easy to relax and recharge, whether your definition of relaxation looks like long, lazy beach days or adventurous excursions below the waves.
S.S. Sapona Shipwreck, The Bahamas
Snorkelers rarely get the chance to enjoy a legendary shipwreck, which makes the S.S. Sapona Shipwreck in Bimini one of the most remarkable destinations for snorkeling in the Caribbean. This rum runner ship ran aground in 1926 during a hurricane. While it sits in 15 feet of water at its deepest point, it’s easily visible from above, making it a destination even just for nearby boaters looking for a killer picture. You can even book an excursion there on one of the Virgin Caribbean Cruises!
Just 50 miles off the coast of the United States and near the impressive Resorts World Bimini complex with its private marina, visiting this storied snorkeling destination is a breeze. Staying at the Hilton at Resorts World Bimini is on the top of my what to do in Bimini list because it’s one of the best Bimini resorts. Plan an excursion with Bimini Blue Adventures, whose office is conveniently located within the Resorts World Bimini complex. They offer comprehensive snorkeling excursions to the S.S. Sapona as well as Triangle Rocks, where reef sharks explore, and Honeymoon Harbor, known for its friendly nurse sharks and elegant rays.
Champagne Reef, Dominica
Taking its name from the tiny plumes of bubbles rising to the surface from volcanic vents on the ocean floor, the world-famous Champagne Reef off the coast of the island of Dominica is alive in more ways than one.
Hunt for everything from sea turtles and octopuses to sea horses and parrotfish among the reef’s array of corals, sea sponges, and marine ecosystems.
Known as the Nature Island of the Caribbean, Dominica has even more unique treasures to discover on shore. Experience the island’s volcanic heart on land at numerous hot springs, or hike through the lush jungle to plunging waterfalls. A new eco-luxury resort, Coulibri Ridge, is making waves across the Caribbean for its ultra-sustainability.
Totally off-grid and Earth-positive, Coulibri Ridge doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of style or luxury to stay clean and green, protecting the precious, verdant landscapes of the Nature Island.
1,000 Steps, Bonaire
Perched above some of the healthiest reefs in the Caribbean, the island of Bonaire is well known as a snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise, with almost too many dive sites to count. One of the best spots to explore under the waves for snorkelers is 1,000 Steps, though don’t worry, you don’t have to descend 1,000 steps to make it to the beach!
Sea turtles are frequent snorkeling companions at 1,000 Steps, a destination many compare to swimming in an aquarium for its abundance of tropical fish, technicolored corals, and other marine life. While the beach is a bit rocky, the stunning reefs close to shore make it an excellent place for snorkeling directly from the beach.
The ocean waters surrounding Bonaire are 100% protected, keeping in line with the island’s priorities of sustainability and environmentalism. Visitors can help keep the island’s reefs pristine by adopting a Coral Nursery Tree through Bonaire’s Reef Renewal, an organization dedicated to reef health and restoration.
Andros Reef, The Bahamas
Located just off the coast of South Andros Island in The Bahamas, the Andros Reef is the third-largest barrier reef in the world. Home to nearly 100 miles of pristine beaches, incredible blue hole ocean caves, and enough unique marine flora and fauna to make even the most experienced diver impressed, it’s a paradise for snorkelers.
While South Andros Island is the largest island in The Bahamas, it’s one of the least populated, meaning this incredible snorkeling destination is off the beaten path and uncrowded.
One of the best places to stay to enjoy this magnificent reef is Caerula Mar Club, a luxurious beach resort whose sands are just feet from the pristine reef. Even better, four of the area’s unique blue hole caves are located within just minutes of the resort. For both laid-back days on the beach and one-of-a-kind snorkeling adventures, this remarkable resort is the place to be. If you’re looking for other fun activities while you’re there, check my list of things to do in The Bahamas.
Mangel Halto, Aruba
One Happy Island, indeed! Aruba is a destination where it’s easy to add world-class snorkeling to your itinerary for a relaxing day at one of the island’s pristine beaches. While the island is home to countless snorkeling destinations, Mangel Halto is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Search for curious lobsters, barracudas, parrotfish, and an unending array of corals and fans at this must-visit snorkeling hidden gem.
Take in the best of the island’s snorkeling destinations with an excursion with De Palm Tours, which invites snorkelers to board the impressive Palm Pleasure catamaran for an unforgettable view of Aruba from the turquoise waters. Snorkelers will visit such illustrious spots as the Antilla Shipwreck, Arashi Reef, and the world-famous Malmok Beach. Stay at Aruba Marriott Resort while in Aruba; this dreamy resort even offers complimentary pickup and drop-off for De Palm Tours snorkeling excursions!
Your Dream Snorkeling Excursion
Closer to home and easier to access than expected, these incredible spots make for the best snorkeling in the Caribbean. Whether you’re looking for a shipwreck adventure or some of the most untouched reefs in the world, these are the excursions you’re sure to remember.
This article originally appeared on Savoteur.
Carley Rojas Avila is an avid traveler and the creator behind travel websites Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Having visited twenty-five countries and spent years living abroad, she shares destination guides and travel tips to help travelers and digital nomads feel at home when traveling off the beaten path to Havana or beyond.