Nobody goes on a Caribbean vacation without getting wet. The irresistible turquoise hue of the sea just lures you in. These warm waters are teaming with fish, coral, turtles and shipwrecks that make the underwater world is as much as a draw as the islands themselves. While not everyone is a certified scuba diver, just about anyone can snorkel. The minimal equipment is easy to pack or pick up while your there – mask, snorkel and optional fins – and the basic skills take just a few minutes to acquire (just float and breathe). Suddenly the amazing aquatic ecosystem beneath the surface is yours for the exploration. Here are some of the best snorkeling destinations in the Caribbean.
Belize boasts the world’s second longest barrier reef and some of the top snorkeling opportunities on earth. The spectacular reef runs 192 miles along the length of the coastline and has three offshore atolls with standout snorkel sites. The only minor downside is you need a boat to access the best spots, but there is no shortage of tour operators that can take you there. Try Shark-Ray Alley for a close encounter with stingrays, Gladden Spit to hang with enormous whale sharks or, ideal for beginners, Hol Chan Marine Reserve which has a narrow channel cutting through the reef that is home to ridiculous numbers of jacks, groupers, snappers and barracuda.
You can’t beat this Mexican island for its abundant sea-life and remarkable water clarity, regularly reaching visibility levels of 100 to 200 feet. More than 230 species of fish call Cozumel home and the coral diversity is world class. Chankanaab lagoon is an easy-access shallow cove perfect for families or novice snorkelers. The hotels and beach clubs along the Southern shore all offer superb aquarium-like snorkeling right off the beach. At Paradise Reef you might spot the foot-long Splendid Toad Fish found nowhere else on the planet.
The reef around the laid-back Netherland-Antilles island of Bonaire has been somewhat damaged by tropical storms of late, but there are still some amazing snorkeling opportunities here. There are 17 designated snorkel spots all within easy reach from the shore. It sounds lack-luster, but No Name Beach on the little island of Klein Bonaire is the place to go for phenomenal drift snorkeling. Calm and accessible Bari Reef has an abundance of fish, turtles, rays and seahorses. Over on the east side of the island try Lac Bay (Sorobon).
4. Tobago Cays
The Tobago Cays, a cluster of five small uninhabited islands in the southern Grenadines, is an unrivalled tropical paradise for snorkelers. Fulfil all your “escape from civilization on a deserted island” fantasies here. The government recently declared the region a wildlife reserve to preserve the natural beauty and biodiversity in the area. The crystalline cobalt waters around Horeshoe Reef, which embraces four of the cays, is home to a rainbow of vibrant coral, sponges, fish and sea turtles. Petit Tabac, made famous by the movie ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, lies to the east. Charter a yacht, grab your snorkel gear and go island hopping.
A bit off the mainstream travel radar, wild and rugged Dominica is a secret jewel of the Caribbean and an effervescent snorkeling destination. Quite literally. With nine active volcanoes on and around the island, thermal ocean vents produce a delightfully warm fizz in the water that the fish and coral thrive in. Aptly named Champagne Beach is a favorite jacuzzi-like snorkeling site, with a bubbling array of sea urchins, frogfish, seahorses, anemones and sponges to astound you. Check out the cool shipwreck with cannons at 25 feet.
6. St. Lucia
Anse Chastanet and Anse de Pitons, in the shadow of St. Lucia’s towering twin peaks, offer some of the best snorkeling in the Caribbean. The dreamy landscape around here is so stunning you might not want to venture under the sea, but it’s well worth donning a mask for. This marine reserve around Anse Chastanet reef is popular with scuba divers and underwater photographers, but the relatively shallow reef top and beach accessibility make it and ideal coral garden for snorkelers too. Anse de Piton descends much deeper as it is the base of the iconic mountains themselves, but there are a plenty of colourful fish and corals to dazzle you near the surface.
7. Cayman Islands
Sparklingly clear current-free waters make the Cayman’s a no-stress snorkeling destination, perfect for first-timers. The Stingray City sandbar is the main attraction where you can feed and stroke the friendly creatures like an aquatic petting zoo. The Wreck of the Cali, just a short swim from George Town shore, is shallow enough for snorkelers to revel in too. Seven Mile Beach and Cemetery Beach are convenient and easily accessible to hotel and villa residents along the strip. Devil’s Grotto allows snorkelers to snake through a series of underwater tunnels while keeping company with colorful parrot fish, sergeant majors and tarpon.