The Caribbean is renowned for its gently lapping waves, powder white sands and rum cocktails. It’s the ultimate holiday for water babies too, home to eye-popping marine diversity, shallow reefs and epic wrecks. Year-round bath-water-warm sea temperatures and excellent visibility make for brilliant snorkeling too. But the archipelago is big too, comprising nearly 30 island nations offering up a staggering variety of snorkeling opportunities. So which to choose? We’ve done some of the heavy-lifting and have selected seven of the best places for snorkeling in the Caribbean to save you some time for your underwater adventure.
Where are the best places for snorkeling in the Caribbean?
1. Antigua and Barbuda
Between the two main islands and dozens of islets, Antigua and Barbuda is teeming with marine life, from shipwrecks to sandbank. Cades Reef offers two miles of protected reefs teeming with tropical schools of fish, as well as lobsters, sea fans, hard and soft corals, moray eels and nurse sharks. Over on the northwest coast of Antigua, Paradise Reef offers up schools of creole wrasse, Bermuda chubs, yellowtail snappers and needlefish, as well as elkhorn and anemones.
If it’s rays you’re after, Stingray City is just the ticket. You can expect o swim alongside at least half a dozen on this private island. They’re used to humans and will likely try to swim into your arms in search of food.
Jamaica boasts over 450 sq. miles (1165 sq. km) of coral reefs fringing the island, most of which are in excellent condition. The best snorkeling spots in Jamaica are located on the northern and easter coasts, where you can access living reefs from the beach. While there are dozens of locations to choose from, Montego Bay Marine Park is the country’s blockbuster offering. The first protected marine park in Jamaica, the reserve stretches all the way from the airport to the Great River, offering up plenty of opportunities to swim alongside big fish and turtles.
Devil’s Reef is part of the wider Ocho Rios Marine Park, which boasts some of the best snorkelling on the island. The reef system here is home to manta and eagle rays, scorpionfish, spadefish, snapper and trumpet fish. You might even spot a few nurse sharks too.
For something a little different, Luminous Lagoon offers nighttime snorkeling among millions of dinoflagellates that shimmer when the sun goes down.
3. The Bahamas
The seas surrounding the Bahama’s 700-plus islands are bursting with tropical fish and kaleidoscopic corals, as well as sea turtles, squid and stingrays. Rose Island Reef is one of the island’s most popular snorkeling destinations for good reason. Located around three miles to the east of Paradise Island and accessible only by snorkel boat, there are two shipwrecks to explore here, as well as a variety of exotic fish. Bimini is a world-class diving spot, but there are shallow snorkeling spots to explore here too. Its black coral gardens are easily accessible and if you’re lucky, you might get to swim alongside spotted dolphins too.
Andros boasts the third-largest reef in the world. It’s home to a staggering variety of marine life, with over 164 species of fish and corals. It boasts excellent visibility, dropping to around eight feet on the island and a staggering 6,000 feet in the aptly-named Tongue of the Ocean. It’s one of the best places to see the Blue Marlin, which can reach a whopping five metres and weigh up to 907 kg!
The second-largest island in the Dutch Caribbean, Bonaire boasts staggering marine biodiversity. Tori’s Reef, on the southwestern coast of Bonaire, is packed with healthy corals, barracudas, octopuses and rays. There are some spectacular fire coral and rare fish and eels hiding out here too.
Washington Slagbaii National Park is a secluded haven for adventurous snorkelers. Two of the best snorkeling spots in the park are Boko Slagbaii and Wayaka II. The sandy bottom sea bed is popular with rays and eels, while the park’s shores serve as nesting grounds for hawksbill, loggerhead and green sea turtles. Back on dry land, you’ll get to encounter Caribbean flamingos too.
Bermuda boasts calm, clear waters, perfectly-pink beaches and shallow shipwrecks that are teeming with marine life. It’s also a popular stop-off for migratory species, such as turtles and dolphins, too. While some of the best snorkeling sits off-shore, there are a few excellent snorkeling spots within easy reach of some of the island’s most popular beaches too. Horseshoe Bay, named for its crescent shape, is famous for its abundant brain coral, sea fans, blue and white damselfish and brightly coloured parrotfish. Over on the east end of the island, Tobacco Bay offers up a real slice of beach paradise with prime snorkeling conditions thanks to its shallow and sheltered waters. Snorkelers can swim alongside blue parrotfish, grouper, angelfish, blue walruses and sergeant majors too.
Those looking for shipwrecks won’t be disappointed in Bermuda either. Western Blue Cut, around an hour by boat from the northern shores of the island, encompasses two shipwrecks: the Constellation and Montana. They’re less than 20-ft below the shore’s surface with excellent visibility too. Both feature abundant coral and are teeming with schools of large, black grouper.
6. The US Virgin Islands
From the amenity-packed beaches of St. Thomas to the wild marine parks of St. John, the US Virgin Islands is ripe for underwater adventures. The region is teeming with schools of tropical fish, sea turtles and wrecks. President John F. Kennedy described Buck Island, off St. Croix, as ‘the finest marine garden in the Caribbean Sea’. There are 250 recorded fish species here. It’s also one of the few places where you can see the endangered hawksbill, green and leatherback sea turtles too.
Over on St. Thomas, there’s Cow and Calf Rocks, a relatively shallow spot packed with lobsters and elkhorn coral, as well as Coki Point Beach, which is popular with beginner snorkelers and families thanks to its sandy-bottomed entry point and easy access
For more exhilarating marine adventures, your best bet is the wilder St. John island. At Hurricane Hole, you can swim through a mangrove forest bursting with coral, sponges and starfish. Haulover Bay (St. John) offers dramatic underwater experiences too, due to its marine-packed ledges and walls.
Barbados is an excellent snorkeling destination. Its shallow reefs are teeming with colourful fish, corals, turtles and sharks. Excellent visibility also makes for brilliant snorkeling conditions too. Folkestone Marine Park offers up a huge artificial reef that’s brimming with marine life, including parrotfish, blue tang, moray eels, trumpet fish and barracuda. There’s often squid here too. It’s also where you’ll find the Stavronikita shipwreck. This 265-ft Greek freighter sank here in 1976 en route to the Caribbean.
Freshwater Bay is popular with beginner snorkelers and families since there’s virtually no current to speak of here. Underwater, you’ll find colourful coral, fans and schools of fish, while back on dry land you’ll find beach and rental gear, a few cafes and a handful of picnic areas. Seafood fans should hotfoot to Cliff restaurant for freshly caught, affordable fish dishes too.