Snorkeling or diving a coral reef is an experience like no other—and between the weightlessness and otherworldly landscapes and animals, it’s like being on a wholly different planet. And just like traveling around dry land, each reef has its distinct features and characteristics, from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Red Sea in Egypt, and beyond.
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 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 filled with bright coral and 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 overhead.
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: schools of colorful fish, sea turtles, and dolphins are just a few of the many species that call this area 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 great views for every dive or snorkel excursion. The reef system is also a popular destination for wreck diving, with many historic shipwrecks lying in its depths.
Read our guide to archaeology volunteer vacations, including shipwreck diving!
3. The Maldives
An archipelago of 26 atolls and a true tropical paradise in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are home to pristine coral reefs, and are of course 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.
Read our guide to volunteering abroad ethically
4. The Caribbean Sea
The Caribbean is known for its gorgeous beaches and warm, welcoming waters. It is also home to several different coral reef systems—the reefs are accessible by the shore, meaning you can see tropical fish and 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 filled 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 see even more.
Read our guide to snorkeling the Dry Tortugas off of Key West
Read our Key West road trip itinerary
Located in the western Pacific, Palau is home to some of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs. From the jellyfish lakes to the 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 exotic 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 bright, clear waters dotted with stunning coral reefs. The reefs are a hub of underwater activity, filled with schools of fish, sea turtles, sharks, and much more. Whether you’re seeking adventure or just want to soak up the sunshine, the coral reefs of Bora Bora are a must-visit.
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 are home to 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 comprised 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.
Read our overview of visiting Raja Ampat!
Fiji is a true must-see, with clear waters, soft beaches, and a variety of coral reef systems. Each reef offers a different experience for visitors, with all kinds of marine life and a wide range of water activities available for exploration. Snorkelers and divers will love the colors of the corals, while the opportunity to swim with manta rays and other exotic marine life only adds to the magic of this destination.
11. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal are another fantastic destination for snorkeling and diving. As you explore the coral reefs—such as those at Barracuda City or the Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park—you’ll have the chance to encounter exotic animals, from tropical fish to sea turtles and everything in between.
Micronesia is a wonderland of coral reef systems that are as diverse as they are beautiful. Visitors can explore the reefs through snorkeling, scuba, kayaking, and much more, with the chance to see a passing manta ray on their excursions.
13. The Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands in the western Pacific are a must-see; 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 here. 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!
Featured image by Biorock Indonesia on Unsplash