Many of the 30 million annual tourists to the Caribbean each year never stray much further than the beach. Expanses of white sand, oodles of sunshine, aquamarine water, and a tropical drink or two comprise their Shangri-La beach vacation. For others, though, their Xanadu lies beneath the waves in some of the richest areas in marine life on the planet.
Unlike scuba diving, which requires special equipment and training, snorkeling simply requires a mask, snorkel, and the desire to explore the fascinating world under the sea. Anyone can do it. The difficulty in the Caribbean isn’t so much in finding a good spot, it’s determining where to go out of literally hundreds of options.
Well, we’d like to suggest some of the premier places for snorkeling in the Caribbean:
Pigeon Cay, Roatan, Honduras
This uninhabited island, about 30 miles north of Puerto Castilla, is nothing short of a brag-to-your-friends-on-Instagram tropical paradise. White sand beaches and palm trees are the gateway to some of the most spectacular snorkeling anywhere in the world. The reef begins a mere twenty feet from the shore, and the conditions for coral growth are ideal. Almost immediately upon entering the water, you’ll be enveloped in a world of elkhorn coral, parrot fish, damsels, and countless other brilliantly colored reef fish.
Stingray City, Grand Cayman
Stingray City is among the most popular snorkeling sites in the world, and for good reason. Get ready to be mobbed by gentle, tame stingrays on this shallow sand bank. The rays know that boats mean snorkelers, and snorkelers have bait to feed them, so instead of being shy and keeping their distance, they are eager to beat their competitors to the handouts. Get up close and personal with these fascinating creatures.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Isla Mujeres – meaning “Island of Women” in Spanish – is less than five miles long and sits just off the coast of Cozumel. The Mesoamerican Reef, rich in marine life, runs for 600 miles along the coast of the Yucatan, and these islands are right in the middle of it. As if that weren’t enough, Isla Mujeres is one of the best places in the world to snorkel with whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. These gentle giants can reach over 40 feet in length, and swimming with them is an unforgettable experience.
Buck Island, St. Croix, USVI
The incredible array of underwater life off the north shore incudes more than 250 species of fish, sponges, and corals. And an underwater trail makes it easy to navigate among the stunning coral. It is a U.S. Reef National Monument and protected by the U.S. National Park Service. A short distance away is Turtle Cove, where three different species of sea turtles live and nest. The snorkeling is fantastic, and the beach is one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean.
Silver Bank, Dominican Republic
This makes our list, not because it’s easy to get to, but because it provides one of the most singular experiences in the world, even for veteran snorkelers and divers. Seventy miles north of the Dominican Republic, the bank rises like a spectre from the ocean floor to within 60 feet of the surface. Why would you come out here? Because you can swim with true giants of the ocean, humpback whales. These 30-ton creatures migrate to this area to breed and calve, and seeing mothers with their calves, floating above these magnificent creatures – and hearing them sing to one another – is an experience you’ll never forget.