Whether you haven’t had any experience with either snorkeling or scuba diving, or maybe have only tried one or the other, you might wonder whether snorkeling or scuba diving is better. Well, as a lover of the ocean who is all about exploring it in any and every way possible, I once wondered the same thing. Then I hit the water to honestly answer that question for myself.
Both scuba diving and snorkeling will get you in the ocean, exploring reefs, swimming alongside incredible marine life, and so much else that will help to make incredible memories. That, most definitely, is the most important thing.
After that, they both also have systems for making sure that you can breathe while in the water, which is pretty helpful for staying alive to make those beautiful memories, and masks to keep the water out of your eyes. But, that’s about where the real similarities end.
So, which is better, snorkeling or scuba diving? Snorkeling allows you to enjoy the water from the surface with a much lower cost and equipment difficulty, while scuba diving provides a closer underwater experience but with increased equipment, costs and needed safety certifications.
Let’s take a look at 5 key areas of comparison (cost, difficulty, safety, experience, and getting started) to see if we can answer the question of whether or not snorkeling or scuba diving is better.
One of the most important factors when considering any new sport or hobby is how much it costs. This is especially true when that sport or hobby is something you may need to travel to enjoy because many of those costs will need to be built into your travel budget.
To snorkel, the base equipment needed is only going to be a mask (which covers at least your eyes and nose) and a snorkel tube to breathe. You can add in other niceties like fins, rash guards, etc., but the only things that you absolutely need are a mask and a snorkel. Nice and simple!
To start with a relatively basic mask and a snorkel tube meant for beginners, chances are that you can pick up something that works decently for $40-60.
After that, if you work your way to become more of an intermediate-level snorkeler and want better performance and features from your equipment, that will move you into more of a $60-150 price range.
When snorkeling becomes a passion and nothing but the best equipment will do, you’re looking at $150-250 for a high-end advanced mask and snorkel.
(Check out our guide, How Much Do Snorkel Masks Cost? 6 Helpful Price & Gear Guides with Examples, for more on snorkel gear costs and recommendations.)
Or, if you’re content to rent snorkel equipment to test out whether or not the sport is for you (which is totally reasonable), you can usually find rental equipment for $10-15 per day or $30-40 for a week’s rental.
When it comes to scuba gear, you will need a lot more minimum equipment in order to dive; specifically, a mask and snorkel, fins, buoyancy compensator, breathing regulator, scuba tank (with air), and dive weights. Often a wetsuit/dive skin and a dive computer are recommended for safety.
Typically, even with just the scuba basics (no wetsuit/dive skin, dive computer, or any other extras), you’ll be lucky to get out under $2,000 to buy relatively basic gear [source]. If you prefer to rent, you can definitely reduce your cost greatly, but you would still be looking at $40-60 per day or often $125-200 for a week-long trip.
Trips & Tours
Once you have your gear in hand, you need to actually go dive! There are some places in the world (like Bonaire, for example) where you can just walk into the water and find great snorkeling or scuba diving right near the shore. That’s almost always going to be free.
But, for most places in the world, you’ll be better served taking a scuba or snorkel tour and heading out with a guide on a boat to the best spots which aren’t easily accessible from the beach. Tour costs can vary significantly based mostly on where you are (for example, Hawaii is usually going to be a lot more expensive than Indonesia) and how many people are in the group.
Somewhere like Cancún in Mexico is a pretty decent worldwide average, I’ve found. In Cancún, average day tours usually work out to about $75-150 per person for snorkeling, while scuba tours are often $100-200 per person. Maui will be more expensive, Bali will be less expensive.
There isn’t a huge difference in cost between snorkeling and scuba tours, and often times these tours will include (very, very basic) rental gear as part of your tour cost which could save a little dough, but it’s enough to consider.
(Learn more about what snorkel tours actually cost at How Much Do Snorkel Tours Cost? 3 Price Points + Easy Booking Guides.)
Lastly, you need to consider the cost of certification. Snorkeling does not require any special certification to be able to get out in the water with a tour group, but scuba usually does.
There are multiple levels of scuba certification, but to get your initial open-water certification (which requires a book course and various in-water components), you’ll be in for at least $185 for the course and $200 for the first in-water component (usually in a pool) before you then need to figure out the costs for getting to an ocean and hiring a certified instructor to do your final open-water test [source].
Our average costs to snorkel would break down to something like the following:
|Buying basic snorkel gear||$40-60|
|Renting snorkel gear (daily)||$10-15|
|Renting snorkel gear (weekly)||$30-40|
|Snorkel day tour||$75-150|
So, if you were to buy gear and take a day tour, you would typically average about $115-210, which of course doesn’t take into account being able to reuse your gear many times going forward. If you wanted to stick with renting decent gear (instead of using super basic gear from your tour operator) and going on a day tour, your average should be around $85-165.
Conversely, our average scuba diving costs would look something like this:
|Buying basic scuba diving gear||$2,000|
|Renting scuba diving gear (daily)||$40-60|
|Renting scuba diving gear (weekly)||$125-200|
|Open-water scuba certification (course and pool)||$385|
|Scuba day tour||$100-200|
This means that a purchase of basic snorkel gear with certification and a day trip would put you in at least $2,485-2,585, where a rental situation after you’ve been certified and paired with a day trip would run at least $525-645.
- Much lower equipment purchase cost
- Lower tour cost
- No certifications needed
Scuba Diving Costs
- Rental and tour costs only somewhat higher than snorkeling
- Very expensive equipment prices
- Expensive certifications needed
The Winner in Price: Snorkeling. When it comes to the price tag, snorkeling is going to cost you way less money, hands down.
Now that we have a good idea what our costs for equipment and actually taking part in either snorkeling or scuba diving are going to look like, let’s talk about difficulty.
There can be special techniques surrounding both snorkeling and scuba diving, especially as you progress in each hobby. But, with snorkeling, its core boils down to swimming along the surface of the ocean and keeping your snorkel tube free of water.
So, are you a decent swimmer? If so, you’ve already taken care of the hardest part of snorkeling. From there, some things you may need to learn are effective ways to clear your snorkel mask or tube of water. And, as you progress far enough, you can practice techniques to hold your breath and dive underwater with your snorkel equipment to get a closer look at anything deeper, then returning to the surface and clearing your airways of water before continuing on.
(If you aren’t yet an amazing swimmer, or snorkeling makes you a little nervous, check out one of our guides on getting started, Scared of Snorkeling? 12 How-To Tips to Crush it as a Beginner.)
With snorkeling, if you can stay afloat and keep water out, you’re pretty much all set. Scuba diving is a bit more complicated, though.
When scuba diving, you have more complex equipment which allows you to stay underwater for long periods of time, which takes a certain level of skill in itself to manage.
For example, you need to know how to read the gauges on your snorkel tanks to make sure you have enough air, then know how to connect and activate those tanks so you can breathe. You need to know how all of the various pieces fit together so you don’t have any underwater problems. You need to know how to read your dive computer so you can manage your depth and time spent at various levels.
Then, you need to know what to do when underwater. You need to know how deep you can go and how long you can stay there. You need to know a sort of scuba sign language so you can communicate with fellow divers. You need to have a lot more contingencies in place in case there is some sort of a problem.
In short, scuba diving is a lot more complex than snorkeling. That’s why it has its own certifications and requirements to dive safely and effectively. There’s definitely a learning curve, and it can require a lot of practice.
- Relatively easy to get started with, especially if you can swim well
- No special courses or certifications required
- Equipment is much less complex
- Not safe or easy to get started without training
- Courses and certifications are needed to learn how to dive
- Complex equipment to manage
- More underwater technique needed to stay safe
The Winner in Difficulty: Snorkeling. If you’re looking for something that’s relatively easy to get started with and will get you in the water sooner, snorkeling holds a distinct advantage over scuba diving.
Both snorkeling and scuba diving, when done correctly, can be done very safely. But, they do take place in the water, and with that water comes special safety considerations. You should always be making sure to do everything that’s needed to enjoy as much of your underwater surroundings as possible while staying in control of your position, breathing and general health.
Some things like tricky currents or dangerous marine life are potential problems best to be avoided by both snorkelers and scuba divers alike. In the case of both hobbies, these can be mitigated by understanding the water conditions and possible creatures that are in the area before you even get in the water. And, you always snorkel or scuba dive with a buddy so you can keep an eye on each other.
From there, safety precautions between snorkeling and scuba diving start to look a little different.
The number one safety need for snorkeling is the ability to stay afloat. If you’re a good swimmer, chances are that this won’t be too much of an issue for you. If you aren’t a strong swimmer, or would just like some extra peace of mind, snorkeling can easily be done with a life jacket.
Once you can stay afloat, you need to keep water out of where you don’t want it to go. A well-made snorkel mask will do wonders, and special “dry snorkels”, which have a one-way valve built into the tube that allows you to breathe normally while keeping any sea water out, are now commonplace and hugely helpful for beginning snorkelers.
Ultimately, staying afloat and keeping water out of your mask and snorkel are your prime snorkel-specific safety needs.
(Learn more about snorkeling safely over at Is Snorkeling Dangerous? 17 Mistakes to Avoid to Stay Safe.)
Regarding scuba diving, well… where to start?
Since you’ll be spending the majority of your time underwater and won’t be able to just pop your head up if you have a problem, you need to be a lot more vigilant about your safety. Is your respirator working? Do you have enough air? Is your dive mask sealing like it should?
Then, beyond just keeping your airways dry, you have to think about some of the unintended consequences of diving underwater. The human body can do some weird things when exposed to the depths for too long, or not long enough [source].
For example, if you happen to dive too deep, you can experience some odd conditions which can leave you confused and making poor decisions without realizing it.
Or, if you dive deep and don’t spend enough time decompressing as you head back toward the surface, you can get decompression sickness (also know as the bends) where nitrogen bubbles build up in your body which can head to places you don’t want them to and which can threaten life and limb. Ever heard of a hyperbaric chamber? Those exist largely to treat decompression sickness.
The reality with scuba diving is that, if there is a problem, chances are it’s going to be more difficult to address underwater and the consequences could be more significant. It just takes more skill and knowledge to stay safe. That’s why so much emphasis is placed on learning and certification beforehand.
(Also, as we reflect on water safety, we’re reminded of how incredibly important travel medical insurance is when you’re snorkeling or scuba diving, just in case any problems arise. Read our guide on travel insurance, Does Travel Insurance Cover Snorkeling? 3 Critical Realities, which also discusses scuba diving.)
- Majority of your time is spent on the water’s surface
- Little risk from depth-related complications
- Equipment available to help keep airways dry
- Requires significant training to do safely
- Any problems that arise can be difficult underwater
- Depth needs to be carefully managed
The Winner in Safety: Snorkeling. It’s just safer on its own, and it takes a lot less skill, training and experience than scuba diving to manage any risks.
4. Experience in the Water
Both snorkeling and scuba diving give you a unique way to experience underwater coral forests, schools of shimmering fish, or colossal whale sharks in a way you never could from land. But, they have different ways of going about it.
Snorkelers spend the majority of their time on the surface of the water, with those more advanced able to learn how to dive underwater and spend a few moments closer to sea turtles, rays, or whatever else might be there that day.
But, scuba diving allows you to stay underwater for an extended period of time, giving you a front-row seat to the aquatic beauty around you for much longer, helping you to feel much like you’re part of the ocean.
That isn’t to say that snorkeling doesn’t have a fantastic experience in the water — it really, really does. Being able to hop in easily and get a top-down view of an underwater ecosystem with a few dives underwater to join in the fun is really incredible. But, scuba diving provides a unique ability to stay there and become a temporary citizen for an hour or so.
Snorkeling Experience in the Water
- Less equipment and technique to worry about
- Incredible ocean experiences
- Provides unique top-down view
- Allows you to dive down, but only for as long as you can hold your breath
- Extended time underwater is not possible
Scuba Experience in the Water
- Can give you snorkeling’s top-down view if you want it
- Allows you to stay underwater for an extended time
- Grants a closer view
- Incredible ocean experiences
- More equipment and technique to worry about
The Winner in Experience in the Water: Scuba diving. I love both snorkeling and scuba diving, but you just can’t match scuba’s time and experience underwater without its equipment and know-how.
5. Getting Started
Let’s just make this one simple since it builds on our previous 4 points of comparison: snorkeling is so much easier to get started with than scuba diving.
Between a much cheaper start-up cost, easier learning curve and less formal education required to do it safely, you’ll be experiencing the magic of the ocean much more quickly and for much less money snorkeling than with scuba diving.
And, getting started with anything is always the hardest part, so the fact that snorkeling has such a low barrier to entry is hugely helpful and that will let you get in the water much sooner.
Snorkeling Getting Started
- Much cheaper equipment
- Much cheaper tours and trips
- Easier learning curve for safety and technique
Scuba Getting Started
- Equipment is expensive
- Certifications often needed before diving is possible
- More expensive tours and trips
- Higher learning curve and needed education
Winner in Getting Started: Snorkeling. A lower initiation cost, lower trip costs, and an easier learning curve make snorkeling much more accessible than scuba diving.
The Deep Dive
Do we have a winner? As one-sided as it may seem with snorkeling winning 4 of the 5 categories, I would still say it’s not as cut and dry as that.
I love snorkeling for how easy, inexpensive and relatively easy it is to get in the water and start making beautiful memories. I’ll probably snorkel 20 times for every 1 time I scuba dive for those reasons.
But, if you want that really unique underwater scuba diving experience, don’t mind the cost and are willing to put in the work and learning in order to do it safely, scuba diving is still an immensely valuable way to experience our underwater world.
So, the question really should be, “is snorkeling or scuba diving better for me?” And, the answer doesn’t always have to be the same. For me, the overall winner most of the time is snorkeling because I love how easy it makes it to become a part of the ocean, and also because it’s easy on the savings account. But, if I want to shell out a little cash to do something special like explore a shipwreck or spend time with some marine life that doesn’t like the surface as much, scuba diving is totally awesome.
No matter what you choose, choose to do it well, do it safely, and make incredible memories.
If you’re curious about learning more about snorkeling, the following resources will also help you get started with the basics: