Intrepid travelers know that when you’re exhausted from exploring historical sites, when you can’t stand the thought of visiting one more museum, and you’ve trudged through every open-air market, there’s only one thing left to do—head underwater.
While scuba divers have the most freedom to explore underwater, snorkeling is easy enough for children, and exciting enough for even the most jaded traveler. Whether you’re taking your budding marine biologist to explore an underwater ecosystem or simply want to get up close and personal with a friendly shark, snorkeling is an opportunity to truly immerse yourself in nature.
To help plan your next adventure, we’ve pulled together 10 of the best places to snorkel around the world. The list ranges from U.S. National Parks to once-in-a-lifetime vacation destinations like the Maldives or Komodo Island. Whichever one you end up visiting, you’ll see underwater sights that would make your jaw drop—if you weren’t breathing through a snorkel, of course.
The underwater scenery in these islands, atolls, cayes, and reefs is unmatched, but sadly climate change is endangering the watery wonderland. Coral bleaching is already affecting many of the world’s reefs, coral is disappearing across the globe, and some scientists expect it could die out entirely as soon as 2050. Even more of a reason to start planning that snorkeling trip you’ve been dreaming about.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Home to the largest barrier reef outside of Australia (185 miles!), Belize has many opportunities to get up close and personal with eels, rays, and all kinds of brightly colored fish. There are hundreds of cayes and atolls that dot the Caribbean coastline, filled with colorful coral sunken beneath the turquoise waters. Some of the best options for divers and snorkelers are found off of Ambergris Caye, including the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the self-explanatory shark-ray alley teeming with nurse sharks happy to let you live out your swimming-with-the-sharks fantasies.
Ilha Grande, Brazil
Off the coast of Brazil, halfway between São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro, sits the wilderness wonderland of Ilha Grande. There are hotels on the island, but it manages to feel largely untouched with monkey-filled jungles surrounded by brilliant blue waters teeming with brilliantly colored fish. Dive into the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon (Lagoa Azul) to swim with seahorses, ogle the underwater coves, and follow a turtle or angelfish through a sunken jungle. The waters off of Ilha Grande are also home to dozens of shipwrecks—remnants of the battles between pirates and the Portuguese.