Below land, there is an entire world that makes up 71% of the earths’ surface.
Though I’ve traveled to many tropical locations, it was my recent experiences in the Islands of Hawaii that left me breathless for reasons beyond my lack of gills. My time in Maui created enchanting memories of swimming beside majestic sea turtles and successfully going on my first dive. Kauai filled my mind with sights beyond the imagination such as unified pods of spinner dolphins by the hundreds, & peering into the mint green eyes of a baby octopus as it was wrapped around my arm. This trip inspired me to embark on adventures around the globe where I can continue to immerse myself in the magic of the underwater kingdom.
I encourage everyone to do the same, so I did the hard part for you – the research – here are 10 of the world’s most beautiful places to snorkel & dive.
1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Located in the Coral Sea off the coast of Queensland, Australia, this is one of the world’s most sought after tourist destinations. With over 3,000 individual reefs and 100’s of islands stretching across 2,300 km(1,400 mi), The Great Barrier Reef contains the world’s largest coral reef system. It’s home to over 1,500 different species of tropical fish and some of the largest varieties of sharks on earth, further defining this reef as a snorkeler & diver’s paradise. If all of this isn’t enough incentive to hop on a plane to the Down Under, just remember that the family members of Marlin, Dori, & Nemo reside in this very place.
Fun Fact: This reef is the only living thing on earth visible from space.
2. Raja Ampat, Indonesia (The Four Kings)
Due to its location near the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Ocean, Raja Ampat has been described as a ‘Species Factory.’ It’s part of the Coral Triangle, the heart of the world’s coral reef biodiversity, & NatGeo states this region has the greatest coral reef biodiversity for it’s size in the world. Who can deny, that with a site that has more than 550 species of coral, over 1,427 species of fish, and the Pacific’s most important Leatherback Turtle nesting site.
A word to the wise, do your research when picking your desired location – these are not all vacation spots with gentle water.
3. Great Blue Hole, Belize
A mysterious looking submarine sinkhole surrounded by turquoise waters off the coast of Belize. It’s 407 feet in depth and 43 miles from the mainland. The Great Blue Hole is part of the larger Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System and was ranked #1 on Discovery Channel’s list of “The 10 Most Amazing Places on Earth” in 2012.
Those who choose to dive will find tropical fish, coral formations, and a variety of sharks including nurse sharks, bull sharks, black tip & caribbean reef sharks. If diving is not for you or your travel partner(s), the opportunity to snorkel for a full day around the hole or in a nearby area is available.
photo: Mark, Long
4. Rainbow Reef, Fiji
A site inhabited with over 1198 fish species such as clown and trigger fish, and more than 230 hard and soft corals which are comparable to a rainbow. The Reef is part of the Somosomo Strait which translates to ‘good water,’ and earns Fiji it’s title as the soft coral capital of the world. Beyond the several existing bommies are possible sightings of barracudas, white-tip reef sharks, and leopard sharks. The best months to visit this location are April – October.
5. Cozumel, Mexico
This island is home to the MesoAmerican Reef, the largest reef system in the Americas. It doesn’t matter if you’re a snorkeler or a diver. These waters are brimming with hundreds of tropical fish, turtles, and additional striking sea life. Of the 250 species of fish, some of the spotted favorites are the queen angelfish and the illusive toadfish which is seen nowhere else in the world. Tourists will feel tempted to extend their stay with island temperatures that remain in the 80’s year round, and water ranging from 77-82 degrees throughout the year.
6. Kona, Hawaii
Hawaii’s big island diving ranks amongst the top in the world & there’s no doubt that the overall feel of the earth extends to the tides. The clear waters in the west coast of this moku (district) is teeming with fish and colorful coral, arches, caverns, and incredible lava tubes that are fun to swim through. The larger animals which are sure cause to take your breath away consist of green sea turtles, manta rays & eagle rays, sharks, whales, and dolphins.
Both scuba diving and snorkeling tours are available off the Kona-Kohala coast. Whether you’re on or off the waters, Hawaii will have you feeling “hau’oll.”
7. Cayman Islands
Found in the western caribbean sea located south of Cuba and north west of Jamaica, The Cayman Islands are host to some of the best snorkeling in the world. Due to the calm seas, and clear water, visitors have been known to mistake these island waters for a lake.
Of the three islands, Grand Cayman is the top choice for divers. Its North Wall has been nicknamed ‘stingray city,’ and its depth exceeds 1800 metres/6000 feet providing plenty of opportunity to see spotted eagle rays and sea turtles. With little to no currents, the North Wall’s shore diving on coral reefs is an equal favorite. From the 100’s of dive sites available to people of all levels to the coral reefs located close to shore, this is a safe & easy trip for families and friends alike.
8. Vamizi Island, Africa
More than 400 species of fish are found swimming off the coast of Mozambique, a south east region in Africa. Its clear water and array of marine life have deemed this location one of the healthiest coral reef eco-systems in the world. Snorkel opportunities are available both from the shore and by motorboat, and dive sites are suitable for beginner and experienced divers.
Vamizi Island is home to one of the top ten scuba sites on the planet known as Neptune’s Arm. Recognized for it’s coral gardens which cascade down the edge of a cliff. It’s packed with fish and aquatic species you’re guaranteed to see such as the gray reef shark, hammerhead shark, turtles, barracuda, and batfish. For calm seas and steady ocean currents, you’ll want to visit in the months ranging from September-November.
9. Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
In the heart of south east Asia is the land of a thousand smiles, and they don’t call it that for nothing. The Phi Phi Islands in Thailand are well known for leaving visitors with happy faces due to their rising limestone mountains, caves, and white sandy beaches. Within its coral gardens and sponges are pipefish, razorfish, crocodile long-toms, turtles, seahorses, leopard sharks and reef sharks. Additionally, people can spot moray eels, bearded scorpionfish and birdwrasse.
It’s warm, clear, and calm water make it one of the world’s most beautiful places to dive/snorkel all year round with it’s best season present in the months february-may. These island adventures are fit for all skill level divers & their non-diving companions.
Bonaire puts the B in the group known as the ABC islands, located off the north coast of South America and the western part of Venezuela. Each diver/snorkeler will have easy access to the 470+ species of fish, turtles, and barracudas as this island is well known for it’s short trip on foot from the shore to the reef.
Visitors will find that the 240 foot ship Hilma Hooker and Bari Reef are two great locations to visit an abundance of marine life which includes tarpon, seahorses, and octopi.
Special thanks to my instructor Ty for making my first dive experience a journey. www.in2scubadivingmaui.com
If you’re online reading this article right now and you have the ability to do so, do yourself a favor. Open up a new tab, take a deep breath, and book a flight to a new destination where you can happily explore the underwater world for yourself.