The 25 Best Island Beaches for Swimming and SnorkelingJuly 30, 2018
A great place to first discover the underwater treasures of this independent island nation east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is Blue Bay Marine Park. Visibility is near-perfect and it’s great for beginners, as you can snorkel straight from the beach. The park is home to angelfish, damselfish, parrotfish, and clownfish—among other colorful exotics. Note: Don’t forget to look up once in a while, as you’ll spot airplanes landing and taking off from the architecturally impressive Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport.
Favorite place to stay: Shangri-La’s Le Touessrock Resort & Spa, fully renovated and reopened last winter, less than an hour’s drive north.
24. Big Island, HI
Nearly twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands combined, the snorkeling on Big Island is fantastic, especially at Honaunau Bay, also known as The City of Refuge, with an historic backdrop to boot. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park has smooth lava rock flats to help you ease effortlessly from shore to sea into year-round crystal-clear water, and you’ll find healthy coral gardens teeming with tropical fish, moray eels, and even turtles in shallow depths to the right. Spinner dolphins frequent deeper waters to the left.
Favorite place to stay: The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is about an hour’s drive north.
23. Ilha Grande, Brazil
Ilha Grande, almost exactly midway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, is heaven on earth—somewhat untouched, still, with deeply green jungle, turquoise water, and a totally laid-back vibe. Snorkeling here might include exploring colonial-era ship-wrecks, but take a dip in the Lagoa Azul first (think Brooke Shields in The Blue Lagoon) with delicious water temperatures in the mid- to upper-70s providing the perfect habitat for seahorses.
Favorite place to stay: We like Asalem, set on the calm Bay of Abraäo, for it’s authentic simplicity (candles and gas lights at night).
22. Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
The Baths on Virgin Gorda are a must for any visitor to the island—although it’s best to get there early in the morning or the late afternoon to dodge overcrowding by cruise ship tours. Gigantic granite boulders form a series of natural tidal pools filled with a myriad of grottoes and tunnels to explore. The further from the shore you go, the better the coral and sea life is.
Favorite place to stay: Alas, the Rosewood Little Dix Bay will be closed for renovations through late 2017, so head instead to the Bitter End Yacht Club in North Sound.
Palau, a nation of 250 islands in the western Pacific, is home to dozens of unusual seawater marine lakes connected to the ocean by tunnels and channels. Only one, Jellyfish Lake on Eil Malk, can be visited, and is filled with millions of—you guessed it—jellyfish. Floating through swarms of these gelatinous beings is definitely an out-of-body experience, but don’t worry—their non-poisonous stings can hardly be felt.
Favorite place to stay: An overwater bungalow at the Palau Pacific Resort on Koror.
By far the most interesting snorkeling in Bermuda can be found off its western beaches. Arrange a tour to visit the remarkable Western Blue Cut, which contains three shipwrecks—the Constellation, Montana, and Lartington—all within easy swimming distances of each other and all lying in less than 20 feet of fabulously clear water often visited by giant grouper. Note: Wet suits are a must in wintertime.
Favorite place to stay: The recently renovated, art-filled Hamilton Princess & Beach Club.
19. Cayman Islands
One of the more unusual highlights of a trip to Grand Cayman Island is the chance to snorkel at Stingray City, surrounded by a virtual fleet of 50 of one of the ocean’s most fascinating and friendly creatures. The water is shallow (less than five feet deep) and crystal clear, making it great for beginners. Visitors are given ray-appropriate treats, and snorkel gear is included in the price of admission.
Favorite place to stay: The ultra-elegant Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman (its sushi restaurant, Taikun, is superb).
18. St. John, US Virgin Islands
Snorkeling between Salomon Bay beach and Honeymoon Beach has long been a favorite because of the abundance of octopus and psychedelic parrot fish you’ll encounter. Although just north of busy Cruz Bay, you’ll need to hike a mile-long trail beginning at the National Park Visitor’s Center (water sports gear is available to rent at a small shack-cum-bar).
Favorite place to stay: A quick shuffle north from Honeymoon Beach is one of the Caribbean’s most classic resorts, Caneel Bay, opened in the mid-’50s on land once owned by Laurance Rockefeller.
With water visibility of up to 100 feet, Anguilla is a paradise for snorkelers. There are so many spots to chose from for a dip, but we’re partial to exploring the monumental coral gardens (some more than eight feet tall) off Great Dog Island, which is inhabited only by feral goats. Here, you’ll find puffer fish aplenty and even a school or two of squid.
Favorite place to stay: If you can hold off travel until October 2016, what was formerly a Viceroy resort will become the Four Seasons Resort & Private Residences Anguilla (only the second property in the Caribbean for this excellent brand).
16. Turks & Caicos
Directly off Grace Bay Beach, and protected by Bight Reef a mile offshore, the White House Reef Snorkel Trail (restored recently by volunteers and the Turks and Caicos Reef Fund) is well marked and a delight for anyone on the look out for barracuda, spiny lobster, or harmless nurse shark or two.
Favorite place to stay: The nearby Gansevoort Turks + Caicos has cleverly managed to combine urban sophistication with beachfront relaxation.
15. Kauai, HI
It’s all about the chance to swim with elegant Green Sea Turtles in the waters off this unimaginably-lush Hawaiian island. Best months for snorkeling are October through April, especially from the south shore’s Lawai Beach. You’ll also find rainbow colored Wrasses and Convict Tangs—some of the more unusual fish in the Pacific Ocean.
Favorite place to stay: Highly-rated in our annual Readers’ Choice Awards survey is the Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort at Po’ipu Beach.
14. Whitsunday Islands, Australia
Bait Reef has some of the most eye-popping coral formations in the world. Most famous are The Stepping Stones, made up of nearly 20 flat-topped pinnacles lined up like soldiers in formation on the southwest side of the reef. Each rises from a depth of 80 feet and stop only three feet from the surface. They are completely covered with coral. Be on the lookout for the small tropical fish that swarm around the tops of the stones.
Favorite place to stay: Without a doubt, the One&Only Hayman Island is worth it for its sublime seclusion.
13. Moorea, French Polynesia
Often overlooked by neighboring Tahiti and Bora Bora, Moorea is a secret favorite of snorkel fans. For an up-close-and-personal encounter with black-tip reef sharks, the best place to find them is in the lagoon facing Motu Irioa. Join a full-day tour group or hire a private guide and boat if you want to really explore the area and it’s critters in depth.
Favorite place to stay: The Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, on the north shore, has direct access to snorkeling from two beaches.
12. Oahu, HI
It’s hard not to pick Hanauma Bay for Oahu’s best snorkel spot as it’s filled with so much to see, including Reef triggerfish, known in Hawaiian as Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. This nature preserve, an ancient volcanic crater, used to be mobbed but now allows only a maximum of 3,000 visitors per day (and all must watch an informative introductory video at the Marine Education Center before hitting the sand and water). Note: The center is closed on Tuesdays, so adjust your itinerary accordingly.
Favorite place to stay: Just outside of Honolulu, below the eastern slopes of Diamond Head, the Kahala Hotel & Resort.
11. The Seychelles
Comprised of 115 tiny islands, the Seychelles is one of the best spots in the Indian Ocean for snorkeling. We like La Digue, Félicité, and Coco the most, purely for their intense variety of sea life including surgeonfish, Bengal snappers, and green humphead parrotfish, as well as gentle hawksbill sea turtles.
Favorite place to stay: For the ultimate private island escape, nothing beats North Island.
10. Phi Phi Islands, Thailand
Hire a long-tail boat from Tonsai Pier on Koh Phi Phi Don and high-tail it to Pi Leh Bay on Koh Phi Phi Leh. Here, you’ll snorkel in incredibly clear, green water surrounded on both sides by 330-foot-tall limestone cliffs (note that the sun only hits the water between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., so plan accordingly for the best photo ops).
Favorite place to stay: The very stylish Zeavola resort on Koh Phi Phi Don.
9. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
With so many properties on Bora Bora offering accommodations in overwater bungalows, snorkeling here couldn’t be any easier. However, the “Aquarium” off the southern tip of the main island shouldn’t be missed, and if you chose to stay at the Sofitel Private Island Resort you’ll have unlimited access via kayak or Tahitian canoe to its adjacent motu (small island) otherwise accessible only by private boat rental.
Favorite place to stay: The aforementioned Sofitel Private Island Resort (sister property is on Marara Beach on the main island).
8. Vieques, Puerto Rico
Cast just off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, Vieques is still an under-the-radar Caribbean destination. Most of the island was once a U.S. Navy training area and remains completely undeveloped. Green Beach has shallow, clear water, a great variety of marine life, and is rarely crowded.
Favorite place to stay: W Retreat & Spa, Vieques is your best bet on this sleepy island.
7. Maui, HI
Maui has many ideal snorkel spots, but for something completely different don your gear and sail on the luxury catamaran Kai Kanani to Molokini Crater—a tiny, volcanic crescent off the island’s southernmost shore. A State Marine Life & Bird Conservation District, it is home to dolphins, manta rays, turtles, and dozens of varieties of insanely colorful tropical fish.
Favorite place to stay: You can’t go wrong at the chic, cheerful Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort.
6. Culebra, Puerto Rico
Sister to neighboring Vieques, this tiny island 17 miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico is about as chill a place as you’ll ever find. There are no big resorts, fancy restaurants, or pricey boutiques. What the place does have is empty beaches and fantastic snorkeling. The beaches of Carlos Rosario, Tamarindo Grande, Tamarindo, and Melones are all a part of the Luis Peña Channel Natural Reserve and a feeding ground for sea turtles and stingrays.
Favorite place to stay: Tiny, 12-room Club Seabourne is the best choice all-around.
5. Boracay, Philippines
Lying 196 miles south of Manila in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines, Boracay can only be described as Asia’s “next best thing” for a beach vacation. White Beach stretches for two-and-a-half miles and, although crowded in some spots, it remains an excellent place to snorkel from its gently-sloping sandbar.
Favorite place to stay: Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa, with not one but two pristine (semi-private) beaches and more opportunities for underwater excursions.
4. Sipadan, Malaysia
Sipadan is located in the Celebes Sea off the coast of Sabah (Malaysia’s easternmost state on the island of Borneo—Google-map it!). Best known for world-class diving, and described as an “Untouched Piece of Art” by Jacques Cousteau himself, the snorkeling here is equally stunning with easy viewing of otherworldy coral formations, sea turtles, and Bumphead Parrotfish.
Favorite place to stay: In one of the ethereal overwater villas at the Sipadan-Kapalai Dive Resort.
3. Palawan, Philippines
Voted #1 Island in the World in our 2015 Readers’ Choice Awards survey, Palawancontinues to impress. Daytrips by boat from Puerto Princesa to Luli Island, Starfish Island, Panden Island, and Cowrie Island only take 45-minutes and will reward with sightings of Star Fish and sea snails, marine gastropod mollusca called “cowrie.”
Favorite place to stay: Do anything, anything at all, to book a villa at the sybaritic El Nido Pangulasian Island resort, only an hour’s private flight from Manila. We mean it.
2. Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
Hard to get to, but well worth the effort, the Bazaruto Archipelago of Mozambique keeps us visiting and dreaming. Barely 22 miles off the east coast of Africa, this group of six islands (Bazaruto, Benguerra, Magaruque, Bangue, Shell, and Santa Carolina) continue to top our “must-visit” list of places in the world. The entire area was declared a National Park in 1971 and hosts a plethora of snorkel and dive opportunities.
Favorite place to stay: The super-classy andBeyond Benguerra Island, featured in our Hot List for 2016.
1. The Maldives
It’s no surprise that the Maldives tops your list of best islands to snorkel. A chain of 26 atolls and over 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean, it’s the world’s most geographically dispersed of countries, and can’t be beat for underwater exploration. Seeing as each island is barely the size of a small estate in the Hamptons, we’re hard-pressed to pick a top spot, but consider the Anantara Kihava Villas Maldives your first stop.