With up to 80 percent of all earthly life located in the seas, there’s no shortage of remarkable creatures to encounter. And memorable aquatic adventures can be had near shore with a mask, fins and snorkel. Snorkellers can experience the intense natural beauty of the underwater world without heavy equipment or time-consuming certification – which means no matter what your level of experience, the ocean’s beauty is within reach.
To help you make plans to swim with sea turtles or mingle with manta rays, we reveal the 10 best places to snorkel in the world.
1. Baa Atoll, the Maldives
Why it’s special: Swim with manta rays, whale sharks and sea turtles in a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve
Nearly 1,200 picture-perfect coral islands come together in the Indian Ocean to form the magical Maldives. Located in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru offers the unique opportunity to snorkel with sea turtles, docile reef sharks, vividly coloured fish and even the occasional dolphin.
The indescribable experience of snorkelling amid the giant, notoriously rare manta rays and whale sharks is not to be missed. Join a marine biologist from the Resort for an escorted snorkelling and manta ray adventure, or hop aboard the Four Seasons Explorer for a magical boating foray into the ocean around the Maldives.
2. Maui, Hawaii
Why it’s special: Unique lava rocks and secret coves abound
With its abundance of tranquil beaches, sheltered coves and crystal-clear water, it’s no wonder Maui is a classic family favourite for fun in the sea. You’ll find an abundance of snorkelling sites around the island, but don’t miss a visit to the Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve. Get the gear you need at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, just a stone’s throw from the nature reserve and right on Wailea – a great place for beginners.
Watch for signs for the reserve on Makena Road, just past Big Beach. From here, look for Waiala Cove, an ideal spot just 100 yards (91 metres) into the reserve. The nooks and crannies of the lava rocks make perfect homes for a vast array of exotic fish, coral, eels and sea turtles. The site is easy to access; you need only go a few metres into the water before swirling schools of fish arrive to nibble at your feet.
3. Koh Tao, Thailand
Why it’s special: The Japanese Gardens’ one-of-a-kind granite boulders, home to spectacular coral and aquatic life
Surrounded by tranquil, cerulean water and dotted with enchanting bays and beaches, the small island of Koh Tao, Thailand, is synonymous with world-class diving and snorkelling, and only a short jaunt from Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui.
After exploring the Japanese Gardens, named for its spectacular boulders covered with ornate hard and soft coral, continue your adventure at Aow Leuk, one of Koh Tao’s most beautiful beaches. Baby sharks, clownfish, triggerfish and blue spotted rays all come out to swim in this underwater playground.
4. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Why it’s special: The world’s largest coral reef and more than 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays
The Great Barrier Reef is perhaps the most iconic diving and snorkelling destination in the world, and the exceptional beauty of this natural wonder warrants the reputation that precedes it. The easiest way to experience the grandeur of this underwater marvel is to join any of the boat tours that take snorkellers to various spots along the reef. Most snorkellers and divers choose to base themselves in Cairns, but Port Douglas and Townsville also offer easy access to beautiful swims.
If you prefer to stay as close to the action as possible, try a visit to the small but lovely Heron Island, a coral cay located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll have the opportunity to mingle with 60 percent of the species of fish that live along the Great Barrier Reef. Easy-to-access snorkelling spots right off the beach are notable bonuses.
5. Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia
Why it’s special: Drift snorkelling with the current, and crystal-clear water abounding with majestic manta rays
Bali is frequently referred to as the “Island of the Gods,” and it’s a fitting name. But what many travellers don’t realise is that extraordinary biodiversity and pockets of calm water surround Bali. A day trip from Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay will take you to one of the best snorkelling sites just off the island: Nusa Lembongan.
Spot more than 250 species of fish, along with sharks, coral and mesmerising manta rays. The crystal-clear water and calm bays are ideal for all levels of skill. For further exploration underwater, hire a private boat from the Resort and head to Manta Point, Crystal Bay and Mangrove Point, three popular snorkelling sites around Nusa Lembongan.
6. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Why it’s special: Feeding sharks at the Lagoonarium
If you yearn to get closer to sharks, a visit to Bora Bora should be at the top of your bucket list. In this Polynesian paradise, a close encounter with blacktip reef and lemon sharks is almost a given, along with rays, turtles, dolphins and colourful coral teeming with reef fish.
Stay in a beachfront villa at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora and slip into the water right off your bungalow to explore the underworld through your mask. Join a local Polynesian guide from the Resort on an outrigger canoe to visit the famed lagoon and coral gardens, explore the Lagoon Sanctuary, or join a snorkelling expedition to swim among manta rays.
7. Apo Island, Philippines
Why it’s special: Swim with giant sea turtles in a storybook setting
At first glance, Apo Island appears to be nothing more than a small, sleepy island. Slip below the waves and there’s no time for boredom; a whole world of marine life thrives beneath the ocean’s surface.
Don’t miss the opportunity to cavort with giant sea turtles who call the island home – it’s possible to sight up to 20 turtles in one afternoon. While the sea turtles tend to be the stars of the show, frequent sightings around Apo Island include sea anemone with clownfish peeping out, striped lionfish and striking nudibranch.
8. Punta Mita, Mexico
Why it’s special: Rock formations and waterways near an uninhabited island, and underwater swim-through tunnels
While many covet sand space in Cancún, the Riviera Nayarit – and more specifically the sleepy fisherman’s village of Punta Mita – remains one of Mexico’s best-kept secrets. Right at the heart of this gem is Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita, the perfect jumping-off point for aquatic adventures in the region, even offering prime snorkelling for beginners near the Resort.
The clear blue water and distinctive rock formations along the coastline provide chances to swim with eagle rays, moray eels, starfish and seahorses. You can also expect vibrant coral reefs, underwater caves and the occasional visit from a friendly pod of dolphins.
9. Silfra Fissure, Iceland
Why it’s special: This is one of the rare chances you have to see an underwater tectonic canyon
Tropical snorkelling destinations tend to get the most attention. But if you dare to brave frigid waters, embark on a cold-water snorkelling excursion in Silfra Fissure in Iceland. The shifting North American and Eurasian tectonic plates have created one of the few places in the world where snorkellers can swim through a narrow canyon between continents.
Due to Silfra’s natural filtration system, which consists of melted glacial water flowing through an underground lava field, visibility is more than 100 metres (328 feet). You won’t come across any fish, but the fascinating underwater landscape and the power of Mother Nature are sure to keep you entertained.
10. Florida Keys
Why it’s special: Spectacular coral and diverse marine life in the only living coral barrier reef in the continental U.S.
The sublime underwater landscape in the Florida Keys supports a vivid array of colourful coral and sea sponges, along with marine life such as sharks, turtles and multitudes of tropical fish. And it’s all an easy day trip from Four Seasons Hotel Miami.
In Key Largo, home to the immensely popular Molasses Reef, you can swim among some of the Keys’ healthiest and most colourful coral, along with stingrays, eels, Goliath grouper and various shark species. Farther south, the charming village of Islamorada is a secret sweet spot boasting numerous patch reefs (isolated platforms of coral) where you’ll encounter barracudas, sea turtles, and – if you’re lucky – hammerhead sharks.