By: Heather Keys
Coral reefs are some of the most inspiring and vibrant ecosystems in the world, home to abundant marine life and breathtaking scenery.
From the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Red Sea in Egypt, you’ll find a wide variety of coral reef systems, each with its distinct features and characteristics.
Let’s have a look at 13 different reefs you can see yourself—whether on a snorkeling tour, a diving adventure, a cruise, or a quick jaunt!
1. The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Located along the coast of Queensland, Australia lies the magnificent Great Barrier Reef—a natural wonder that spans an area larger than the United Kingdom and is home to thousands of species of marine life. The waters are teeming with vibrant coral and a kaleidoscope of tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and even humpback whales.
It is the most extensive coral reef system in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The reef is comprised of thousands of coral cays and a labyrinth of lagoons, channels, and coral gardens. Visitors can experience the reef’s beauty through snorkeling, diving, or even taking a scenic flight.
Read our guide to visiting the Great Barrier Reef
2. The Red Sea, Egypt
The Red Sea hosts an underwater paradise in the northeastern part of Africa renowned for its stunning coral reefs and marine life. Schools of colorful fish, sea turtles, and dolphins are just a few of the many species that call the Red Sea home. The sea is relatively narrow and deep, with steep walls and canyons providing a perfect habitat for its 1,000 species of fish and 200 species of coral.
The warm, clear waters of the Red Sea offer an ideal environment for coral growth, and visitors can witness a splash of color and activity with every dive or snorkel excursion. The reef system is also a popular destination for wreck diving, with many historic shipwrecks lying in its depths, adding an extra layer of intrigue and excitement to the underwater experience.
3. The Maldives
An archipelago of 26 atolls and a true tropical paradise in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are home to some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world. The warm, crystal-clear waters make it a popular destination for snorkeling and diving.
You’ll find 250 species of coral here, as well as tons of fish, whale sharks, manta rays, turtles, and much more. The area is unfortunately quite vulnerable to climate change, making the reefs quite fragile and in need of greater protection—if you’re interested in sustainable and responsible tourism, there are tour operators that specialize in travel here, offering fantastic vacations with as little negative impact on the environment as possible.
4. The Caribbean Sea
The Caribbean is a tropical paradise known for its pristine beaches and warm, turquoise waters. It is also home to several different coral reef systems, each offering unique features and marine life. The reefs are accessible by the shore, meaning you can see tropical fish and gorgeous coral species by snorkeling in just a few feet of water.
With excellent visibility, the coral reefs of the Caribbean are a must-see if you’re interested in scuba diving or even taking a boat tour (glass bottom boats are a particularly fun option)—also check out kayaking and paddle boarding while on vacation here.
Read our guide to what expats can expect when moving to Caye Caulker, Belize
5. The Florida Keys, USA
The Florida Keys are a chain of islands connected by a scenic overseas highway—they’re also home to the only living coral barrier reef in the United States, and are a top-rated destination for snorkeling, diving, and other water activities.
The coral reefs in the Florida Keys are teeming with beautiful marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, rays, and dolphins. The shallow waters of the Keys are ideal for snorkeling, and divers can explore deeper waters to witness the beauty of the coral formations and the wide array of marine life.
Read our guide to snorkeling the Dry Tortugas off of Key West
Read our Key West road trip itinerary
Palau is a tropical paradise in the western Pacific, home to some of the world’s most jaw-dropping coral reefs. From the serene jellyfish lakes to the historic shipwrecks that dot the ocean floor, Palau’s coral reefs are home to over 1,400 species of fish and 500-plus species of coral. If you’ve decided to visit Palau for your bucket list adventure, be sure to check out the Rock Islands, a group of over 300 limestone islands surrounded by absolutely beautiful water and incredible dive sites. Whether you’re an experienced diver or a first-time snorkeler, exploring Palau’s coral reefs is something you’ll always remember; you’ll see vibrant fish like the anemonefish and the mandarin fish, as well as jellyfish!
7. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Located in French Polynesia, Bora Bora is surrounded by crystal-clear waters and dotted with stunning coral reefs. The reefs are a hub of underwater activity, teeming with schools of colorful fish, playful sea turtles, elegant sharks, and much more. Whether you’re seeking adventure or simply soaking up the sunshine, the coral reefs of Bora Bora are a must-visit—immerse yourself in the turquoise waters and take in the breathtaking beauty, surrounded by the sounds of the ocean.
Read our guide to over-water bungalows in Bora Bora
Seychelles, a string of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, is home to gorgeous coral reefs that host over 1,000 species of fish, plus sea turtles and other exotic marine animals. Visitors to Seychelles can immerse themselves in this isolated underwater world through snorkeling, diving, and other water activities. From the comfort of a boat, you can explore the beautiful reefs, taking in the rainbow of colors and the sounds of the ocean. If you plan a vacation here, visit the Aldabra Atoll, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a large population of giant tortoises!
9. Raja Ampat, Indonesia
Raja Ampat, located off the coast of Western Papua in Indonesia, is a tropical paradise of over 1,500 islands and home to over 1,600 species of fish and 75% of the world’s known coral species (plus the famous mantis shrimp!). Relatively untouched and incredibly biodiverse, this area is easily accessible from the shore if you want to see some of the most pristine coral reefs on the planet. If you want to go island hopping, visiting these Indonesian islands should be on your list.
Fiji is a true paradise, with glass-clear waters, white sandy beaches, and an array of coral reef systems. Each reef offers its own experience for visitors, with all kinds of marine life and a wide range of water activities available for exploration. Snorkelers and divers will be in awe of the endless color provided by the coral, while the opportunity to swim with majestic manta rays and other exotic marine life only adds to the magic of this idyllic destination.
11. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal host pristine white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. Their vibrant reef ecosystems are teeming with life, providing a fantastic experience for snorkelers and divers. As you explore the coral reefs—such as those at Barracuda City or the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park—you’ll encounter various exotic animals, from tropical fish to sea turtles and everything in between.
Micronesia is a veritable underwater wonderland with a range of coral reef systems that are as diverse as they are beautiful. Each reef system offers spectacular features, with gorgeous waters full of exotic marine life, from vibrant tropical fish to majestic manta rays. Visitors can explore the reefs through snorkeling, scuba, kayaking, and much more, immersing themselves in the beauty of this underwater world.
13. The Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands in the western Pacific are a must-see, with vibrant and pristine coral reef ecosystems teeming with life. Isolated from the rest of the world, the reefs here have allowed the development of endemic species that can’t be found anywhere else—you’ll find 500 types of hard coral, over 1,200 kinds of fish, and other animals like turtles, rays, and sharks. If you love diving, you must visit the Marovo Lagoon, the world’s largest saltwater lagoon; you should also check out the Russell Islands, where you’ll find lots of snorkeling and diving opportunities.
Have you had the chance to go snorkeling or diving in a coral reef? Share your experience with the Frayed Passport community!
About the Author
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Heather is a writer who loves her two kitty cats, collecting books faster than she can read them, and of course—travel!
Featured image by Biorock Indonesia on Unsplash