There are quite literally hundreds of “best places to snorkel in the world” lists out there. And they’re all about the same. The Great Barrier Reef, Oahu, the Maldives, Bonaire. Don’t get us wrong — we absolutely love those places and they definitely deserve to be on all of those lists. But, the lists themselves are a dime a dozen.
What about the world’s most unique snorkeling sites?
Now that sounds like something new and interesting. And, we’ve had our fair share of unique, weird and fun snorkeling experiences around the globe, so what better way to share those with you, our friends?
So, let’s take a look at our top 11 most unique snorkeling adventures along with what makes each one of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites.
Jellyfish, as beautiful and elegant as they are, are generally meant to be avoided because of the nasty stings they can leave you with. Sometimes their presence can even cancel your snorkeling altogether (boo!) if there are too many in a particular area.
That’s not the case in one of Palau’s marine lakes on Eil Malk island, though. Instead, it’s the more jellyfish, the merrier.
Over generations, due to a lack of predators and with a food source that only includes tiny organisms (algae), the millions of golden and moon jellyfish that inhabit the lake have lost any sting that is harmful to humans. That means you can safely glide through clouds of hundreds (if not sometimes thousands) of jellyfish.
Where else can you snorkel with jellyfish like this? Nowhere. That truly makes Jellyfish Lake in Palau one of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites.
(My favorite Jellyfish Lake tour in Palau is with Neco Marine Palau.)
One of my most favorite and most unique snorkeling experiences of all time was swimming with a group of over 100 whale sharks off the coast of Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres in Mexico. Spending time in the water with these gentle giants as they passed on all sides of us was truly magical.
Whale sharks are generally pretty rare to happen upon in the ocean (relatively little is known about them, including where they spend most of their time), but there are 3 primary events around the world where whale sharks congregate in great numbers at different times. One is in the Philippines, one is in Australia, and one is in Mexico near Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres (not too far from Cancún).
That means, from June through September each year (with July and August being the peak), it’s really common to be able to jump in a boat with a guide and have the same experience we did, gliding alongside these 40-foot beauties as they feed on fish eggs and tiny plankton. It’s a reliable, incredible experience that definitely makes this area one of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites.
(Check out our complete guide on the best places to swim with whale sharks, Swim with Whale Sharks: The 3 Unbeatable Best Places to Snorkel & Dive, including more information on whale shark snorkeling in Isla Holbox & Isla Mujeres.)
Who doesn’t love manatees? These round, derpy marine mammals are always the stuff of smiles.
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On this Monday, let’s go into this week with our eyes wide open. When it comes to the rules about interacting with manatees, this gentleman’s behaviour was by the book. The rules at Crystal River Springs are very strict and state that no one can pet a manatee, but nothing says that a manatee cannot pet you. #manatee #boundaries #respect #nature
They’re common in the Crystal River in west-central Florida (just north of Tampa) and are seemingly very welcoming to visitors when they return from the Gulf of Mexico during the winter months (typically November to March). The clear, shallow waters of Crystal River (and the nearby Homosassa River) provide an excellent environment to snorkel with these gentle goofballs.
Note that you’re not allowed to make contact with the manatees, but that doesn’t mean a manatee is held to the same standard. As social animals who have largely spent their previous months more solitary in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it’s not uncommon for an inquisitive manatee to approach you to check you out, and maybe even hold you a little bit in flippered, friendly curiosity.
Being hugged by a manatee? Awesome. That makes Crystal River another of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites.
While unspoiled nature and her incredible marine life are usually the biggest driving forces behind creating the world’s most unique snorkeling sites, humans can (accidentally) make some, too.
Enter the Roman empire, whose beginnings a couple of millennia ago in what’s now modern-day Italy made for innumerable marble-clad cities and towns throughout the ancient world. Today, you can tour tons of ancient Roman sites on the terra firma of Italy, and even as far away as Egypt or Spain. But, land isn’t your only option for exploring Roman ruins.
In the 16th century, volcanic activity near the fashionable ancient Roman resort town of Baiae collapsed much of its coastline, leading to the town being submerged under the Bay of Naples. Today, you can hop on a boat to the Parco Archeologico Sommerso di Baia just offshore of the present-day city of Pozzuoli (not far from Naples) for a most-unique snorkeling experience.
When you dive into the waters of the Parco, you aren’t greeted by expansive coral reefs or unique species of tropical fish. Instead, you come face to face with the ancient Roman town of Baiae, preserved under the waves over the centuries where you can swim among marble statues, ancient mosaics, and iconic columns hewn thousands of years ago.
It’s certainly one of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites and one that you won’t find anywhere else.
(Snorkel tours of the sunken Roman city are somewhat exclusive, but I’d recommend checking out Tour Guide Naples which runs an excellent private tour that spends the morning at Pompeii, another incredible bucket-list stop, and the afternoon at the Baia Archeological Park.)
Raja Ampat in Indonesia, in my opinion, deserves not only to be on our list of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites, but on any list for the best snorkeling in the world as well.
Yet, it’s almost never included because so few people know about it (and most of the best-snorkeling lists just copy the same locations from one another, anyway). And, admittedly, it is really difficult and expensive to get to.
Indonesia has some of the absolutely most incredible biodiversity on the entire planet. But, like so many places in our world, it has been struggling with reef decline, overfishing, and general ocean pollution. That was certainly the case with one of the country’s most beautiful and unique areas, Raja Ampat.
In response, the government in Raja Ampat has declared multiple protected marine areas, including almost 18,000 square miles (46,000km2) of its waters as the first shark and manta ray sanctuary in that area of the world, prohibiting nearly any activity that could hurt these populations. Conservation organizations were psyched.
As a result, nature has returned in incredible style. The region now includes over 600 species of hard corals and over 1,700 species of tropical fish [source], along with endangered and rare marine mammals like dugongs, blue whales, pygmy blue whales, dolphins, orcas, and countless others calling Raja Ampat home [source].
Now, Raja Ampat is considered to have the richest biodiversity for its size of ecosystem in the entire world [source], making it both one of the best places to snorkel on Earth, as well as one of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites. It is snorkeling in as pure a form as you can find anywhere.
The Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia was a site of an Imperial Japanese naval base during World War II, and also the site of a large-scale battle when the United States attacked the base a little over two years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The battle sunk 60 ships and downed almost 300 war planes into the blue waters of the lagoon.
And, those ships and planes are still there. Today, the protected waters of Chuuk Lagoon make for one of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites, offering a first-hand encounter with some very real World War II history.
Many of the deeper ships and planes are only accessible to scuba divers, but about 15 wreckages are close enough to the surface that they make for an unforgettable, eerie and fascinating trip for snorkelers.
Can’t stand snorkeling in chilly water? How about swimming among some underwater volcanoes to the keep you warm instead?
While it doesn’t make for any unsafe water temperatures in snorkeling areas, the geothermal activity is plenty bubbly near Champagne Reef off of Dominica’s southern Pointe Michel. Instead, it’s a blast to jump into the balmy water (over 80 degrees) and swim out over the reef while being percolated by millions of tiny bubbles rising from the rock fissures below. It’s like taking a warm bath in champagne, hence the name of the reef, and hence a “world’s most unique snorkeling sites” designation from Coral Nomad.
There are also a ton of interesting fish and marine life in the area, and a guide can help you find where they hang out as well as take you to some of the more interesting geothermal sites.
(PH Whale Watch Dominica has a really nice afternoon tour that includes snorkeling at Champagne Reef and Scotts Head with a stop at the Bubble Beach hot springs.)
If you can brave a bit of a brisk snorkel, Churchill River in north-central Manitoba is definitely one of the most unique snorkeling sites you can find.
After the river’s ice begins to break up in early summer, several thousand beautiful, snow-white beluga whales arrive in the Churchill River after overwintering in the Hudson Bay. They’ll spend their summer here, and much like the manatees of the much warmer waters of Florida, often seem happy to see to visitors.
Any snorkeling tour that you book from the town of Churchill at the river’s mouth will provide you with an arctic-rated wetsuit along with things like insulated booties and a hood, but make no mistake: it’s going to be chilly.
Once you get past that chill, though, you should be rewarded with curious, intelligent and even playful beluga whales who are often more than happy to interact with you. Try a barrel roll and see if they’ll mimic and play with you. Try whistling to them and listen for a delighted whistle back. It’s a trip.
It’s so rare to be able to snorkel in such a usually-inaccessible place, let alone with such beautiful and intelligent marine life. That undoubtedly makes the Churchill River another of the world’s most unique snorkel sites.
If you need a little warmer weather with you around your most unique snorkeling experiences, head to the Riviera Maya, just south of Cancún in Mexico.
The entire Yucatan Peninsula, of which the Riviera Maya is a part, sits atop massive underground aquafers, and the geology of the area often creates huge holes in the ground that expose water from these aquafers which can make for some of the world’s most unique snorkeling experiences. The water is often crystal clear, and sometimes winds through intricate cave systems that are accessible to snorkelers.
Check out guided snorkel trips to iconic cenotes like Aktun Chen, Dos Ojos or Gran Cenote (among tons of others) for a chance at snorkeling through cave stalactites and stalagmites, groups of unique cenote fish species, and through ancient Mayan sources of fresh water.
[You can also check out our complete guide on the best snorkeling in the Riviera Maya (Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Tulum, etc.]
If you didn’t feel small enough snorkeling with a huge group of 40-foot whale sharks, kick it up a notch and snorkel with incredible 50-foot, 30-ton humpback whales in the Domincan Republic.
The protected Silver Bank Santuario de Mamíferos Marinos (Sanctuary for Marine Mammals) about 80 miles north of mainland Dominican Republic includes a much shallower plateau (only about 60 feet/18 meters deep) that awe-inspiring humpback whales frequent from December through April each year to mate, give birth and start raising their calves.
Nothing will make you feel smaller than swimming with whales, and it is truly awe inspiring. With Silver Bank being only one of a handful of areas in the world that allows swimming with these beautiful cetaceans, its definitely one of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites and worthy of a spot on the bucket list.
Six hundred miles west of Ecuador, you’ll find the 19 volcanic islands that make up the Galapagos Islands. The Galapagos are typically thought of as an Eden of biodiversity for its birds, lizards, tortoises, and so much else, but the life found under the waves is equally as impressive. The Galapagos Islands is truly a paradise for wildlife lovers.
In the waters surrounding the islands, you’ll find amazing marine life like sea lions, seals, sea turtles, dolphins, humpback whales, manta rays, orcas, penguins, eels, and reef sharks along with a spectrum of coral and a kaleidoscope of fish. It’s tough to see so much in such a localized area anywhere else on the planet, definitely making these islands one of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites.
One of the most popular snorkel destinations to maximize your in-water biodiversity experience in the Galapagos is Devil’s Crown, the site of an ancient collapsed volcano. You’ll undoubtedly get your money’s worth in terms of the amount and diversity of fish and undersea mammals that you find, but it is more of an advanced spot with some currents to mind, so make sure to hire an experienced guide to take you out.
(Most people who visit the Galapagos take a small cruise throughout the important spots in the various islands like Metropolitan Touring’s 5-day or 7-day cruise on their La Pinta yacht which cover all meals, really nice live-aboard housing, activities like snorkeling, and a ton else.)
Having been lucky to have so many experiences at some of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites (and learning from a few mistakes along the way), we’ve learned a lot about how to have the best experiences at these spots. Here are a few things that we think you should keep in mind:
- Hire a Guide. Some of these snorkeling sites are pretty easily accessible (like Champagne Reef in Dominica), but we always spend a few extra bucks to hire a guide. A guide always knows the area best which means they’ll be able to take you to the coolest places that you otherwise wouldn’t know about, and can make sure to keep you safe in a new environment. Viator is a good place to find a guide.
- Don’t Over-Research. You’ll definitely want to make proper travel and guide plans, but don’t do too much research about what the experience of any of the these most unique snorkeling sites are actually like. Instead, just email your guide beforehand to ask about anything special you should know (for example, sunscreen of any sort is not allowed to be worn in the water with the whale sharks off Isla Holbox & Isla Mujeres, so you’ll want to bring sun covering for the boat ride), but otherwise allow yourself to have no real expectations and instead just be surprised by your own unique experience.
- Use Good Snorkel Gear. There’s nothing worse than having to worry how your snorkel gear is performing, especially when you’re farther out with marine life like humpback whales or whale sharks. Snorkel gear isn’t all that expensive overall (even the highest-end stuff), so it’s worth spending even an extra 50 bucks to get a nice, reliable mask and snorkel. (Also, guide-provided gear is usually so-so at best, so we always recommend having your own.) Check out our guide on getting started with snorkel gear, What Snorkel Gear Should I Buy? The Full Guide to Getting Started Affordably, for guidance.
- Get an Underwater Action Camera. One of the best things I ever did was to get an underwater action camera to record the memories I was making while working my way through this list of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites. It’s really helped me capture some incredible photos and video and hold onto those memories for life. My absolute favorite action camera for snorkeling is the GoPro HERO 11 Black (check it out on Amazon), but there are other options, too. Check out some of our other helpful guides on action cameras for snorkeling:
The Deep Dive
Snorkeling in a typical beautiful place from one of the “best places to snorkel in the world” lists out there is the stuff of lifetime memories. But, add some of the world’s most unique snorkeling sites to the already incredible experience of snorkeling itself and you’ll have adventures that just can’t be topped.
Some of the adventures on this list do require a bit of commitment and focus on the snorkeling experience itself (like Churchill River in Manitoba), but many of them can easily be added onto normal, relaxing tropical vacations like the cenotes and whale sharks in Mexico or humpback whales in the Dominican Republic.
But, no matter what adventure on this list sounds most epic to you, they’re all entirely worthwhile and definitely make for the most unique snorkeling out there. Start planning now, and send us a postcard!
Check out some of the other guides that we mentioned in this article:
- Best Snorkeling in Bonaire: The 10 Most Incredible Spots
- What Snorkel Gear Should I Buy? The Full Guide to Getting Started Affordably
- Is the GoPro HERO11 Black Good for Snorkeling & Scuba? How The New Version Stacks Up
- The Best Underwater Action Cameras for Snorkeling: GoPro & More
- The Best GoPro Accessories for Snorkeling: 5 I Can’t Do Without