Water is an amazing part of any vacation. From your private perch by the pool to time spent surfing, fishing or learning to stand on that paddleboard, the simple fact is: equal parts of water and sun make for a recipe of fun. But dip below the surface and another world awaits you. We’ve picked out best spots to don a mask and snorkel and immerse in the calliope of color that is the tropical reef.
St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Any place in the Caribbean chain deserves a spot on this list. The warm waters, endless hidden coves, and diversity of sea life make the entire region one of the world’s best for underwater exploration but St. John tops our list. Much of the island is National Park, with protected reef and vast swaths of undeveloped beach. And it is the one place in the country with an actual underwater National Park trail that guides you among the coral heads and sea fans past parrotfish, brilliant blue tangs and the occasional sea turtle.
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Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
The reef that stretches down both sides of Kapalua Beach makes an ideal snorkel spot for beginners and children alike. The calm, sheltered waters of the bay and the reef’s close proximity to the surface are an easy place to learn. The diversity of fish will quickly captivate even the most anxious of kids. Keep a look out for the state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa. Say that ten times fast with a snorkel in your mouth.
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Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
One of the most celebrated scuba destinations in the world is also a great spot for snorkeling. Right off the beach, you’ll find stunning reef to explore. From Starfish beach, with an array of the brightly colored orange and red sea stars scattered about, to the wreck of the Gamma, where you can snorkel in shallow water around a sunken tanker that is slowly being overtaken by the reef, plenty of options abound. Families enjoy a visit to Stingray City, where schools of graceful rays will surround you to be fed by hand.
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Bora Bora, French Polynesia
When most people think of a pristine underwater haven, they think South Pacific and Bora Bora does not disappoint. With biodiversity in fish and coral exponentially broader than the Caribbean, it’s a chance to see more exotic species than you could ever imagine, including the bright and curious clownfish, of Finding Nemo fame. Here, graceful manta rays, placid reef sharks and literally hundreds of types of colorful fish dart among the endless sponges, fans and hard corals in these amazing underwater gardens.
La Paz, Mexico
There is a good reason Jacques Cousteau called the Sea of Cortez the world’s aquarium. It has a larger conversion of aquatic diversity than nearly any other place on the planet. If you find schools of reef fish boring, maybe it’s time to step up your game. Here you can take a swim with a colony of playful sea lions or slip off the side of the boat and swim alongside a whale shark the size of a city bus. But don’t worry: while you may have an appetite for adventure, they only eat tiny krill.
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