Top 31 best island beaches for swimming and snorkeling

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Plaza Sur is among the best snorkeling destinations in the world. Plaza Sur - South Plaza - is one of the smallest yet richest islands in the archipelago, known for its rich marine life. The abundant and friendly sea lions, the largest animals on the islands (with adult males weighing up to 550 pounds) are one of the main reasons snorkelers go there. Covering the seabed you'll also find damselfish, triggerfish, hogfish, sea stars, and urchins.

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Stingray City, Grand Cayman

Stingray City is one of the largest tourist attractions in the world and one of the best animal encounters you can have. It is in 12 feet of water and is mainly, but not exclusively, visited by scuba divers. This series of shallow sandbars is home to tons of southern stingrays that divers and snorkelers can touch and feed with the help of a guide.

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Buck Island, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

This 176-acre island just off of St. Croix has pristine white sand beaches perfect for swimming, but it's also the focal point of Buck Island Reef National Monument, which includes nearly 19,000 acres of submerged lands and coral reefs. Snorkelers can follow a marked underwater trail that helps identify features of the coral reef, which hosts rare and vulnerable fish along with three species of sea turtle. If you're looking for warmth and romance, the U.S. Virgin Islands are a fantastic destination, and St. Croix in particular is gorgeous.

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Uepi, Soloman Islands

Uepi is a true snorkeling paradise. Whichever edge of the island you descend from, you'll find a fascinating underwater ecosystem. Uepi drops off into 165 feet of water at the Welcome Jetty and 6,560 feet at the Point. Two other popular snorkeling access places are the Lagoon and the Dive Jetty. You can look forward to marveling at coral "gardens," huge schools of fish, large gorgonian fans, vase sponges, lionfish and snowflake eels, plus many small invertebrates in the cracks and holes.

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Maldives

This beautiful tropical island nation is best known for its exceptional beaches, snorkeling, and topnotch diving. The water is so clear that many hotels have built overwater bungalows to accommodate guests. You can jump off your private balcony into the water and swim with exotic fish. Enjoy Technicolor coral, soft sponges, mantas, whale sharks, and pelagic fish that are regularly seen on almost any dive. If you are a certified wreck diver, you can explore the British Loyalty, a 450-foot tanker covered in coral reef.

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Corn Islands, Nicaragua

These islands off Nicaragua have very diverse beaches. On the south end of Big Corn you can explore the most swimmable shore, which is a wide, sandy, baylike seaside. Take the road north from Casa Canada to come across a path with a very narrow beach, which has some great snorkeling, some in little protected coves. There are all sorts of coral and fish to swim with.

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Champagne Reef, Dominica

There are several active volcanoes in Dominica, which affect the reef. Underwater geothermal springs vent gasses in the form of thousands of warm bubbles, giving snorkelers a feeling of swimming through a giant glass of Champagne. You can expect to see a myriad of sea life including sponges, lobster, parrot fish, and a resident population of Hawksbill turtles.

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Molokini Crater, Maui, Hawaii

Molokini Crater alone is a reason why you should visit Hawaii in the winter. It offers a diving and snorkeling experience like no other. More than 200 species of fish reside there. Winter is the time to go, because this is when the water is the clearest - more than any other place on any of the islands - and not as choppy. You will probably hear the spooky sound of the whales "singing" if you go very early in the morning.

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Bonaire

If you want to escape the crowds and still have a blast, consider Bonaire. Most of the 6,672-acre park is water. There is a no-anchoring policy for boats, but the nearly 60 species of coral underneath the surface are some of the most unspoiled in the world. The variety and scenery are unmatched in the region. Popular snorkeling sites include Karpata, Front Porch, and Captain Don's Reef.

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Bay Islands, Honduras

The Bay Islands are made up of the islands of Utila, Roatan, and Guanaja. Home to a massive barrier reef, one of the most diverse in the region, the Bay Islands are a world class scuba diving and snorkeling site. Utila is the smallest of the Honduras Bay Islands, but it offers some of the largest underwater animal encounters in the Caribbean. The affordable pricing and easy access from the U.S. make these islands a popular snorkel destination.

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Mauritius

Situated in the Indian Ocean southeast of Africa, Mauritius boasts bright blue waters, warm white sands, and tropical temperatures all year long. It is almost entirely encircled by a coral reef, which makes the island nation a superb destination for snorkeling. Mauritius has some of the most copious marine life in the Indian Ocean. A favorite place, especially for beginners, is the Lagoon, which is generally calm in the majority of places. Colorado and Roche Zozo are among the other most popular sites.

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Ilha Grande, Brazil

This is a charming destination with astonishing waterfalls, lakes, secret coves, and secluded beaches. All of those make it an exceptional place for snorkeling and diving. The rich local marine life - as well as the several old shipwrecks - can be explored all year round, but November through May is the best time to snorkel.

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Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands

One of the most popular of the British Virgin Islands is the Virgin Gorda, a land mass whose shape resembles that of a large reclining woman, and a place where the laid-back pace will wash all your worries away. There are many vivid and shallow-water snorkeling spots to keep you wide-eyed. The Dogs, a small group of uninhabited islands just off the western shore, have some of the best snorkeling in the BVIs. Other popular places are Savana Bay and Prickly Pear Island.

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Dry Tortugas, Florida

A highly underrated national park, Dry Tortugas is a cluster of seven islands composed of coral reefs and sand. The area is known for its famous bird and marine life. Fort Jefferson, one of the largest coastal forts ever built, is a central feature. Take the ferry to the national park for pristine snorkeling. The wrecks and patchy reef system surrounding the islands host a tremendously diverse array of sea life.

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Palau

Palau's marine environment is incredibly well-preserved, which means you'll see some amazing things if you dive or snorkel. Go on a snorkeling trip in the Rock Islands where you'll paddle to hidden marine lakes and hike to waterfalls deep in the rainforest.

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Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are one of many tropical destinations that don't require a passport for Americans. If you want to explore the Caribbean Sea, head to the absolutely serene Trunk Bay - but go early in the morning, because it gets really busy later in the day. Try the Underwater Trail, which is a snorkeling path of coral and fish with underwater signs. Boat tours, scuba diving and snorkeling are by far the most popular activities for tourists.

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Whitsunday Islands, Australia

The lavishness of the reef's marine life makes for breathtaking views. Bright blue waters and white sand beaches are the norm for the Whitsundays. The area is made up of 74 individual islands that TripAdvisor describes as "mini paradises."

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Big Island, Hawaii

No matter where you choose to start swimming on Hawaii's Big Island, you will never get bored, because you will be busy for a long, long time, marveling at what you see. Go to Kealakekua Bay, an unspoiled marine sanctuary filled with colorful marine life and coral where you can see, among other fish, whales and dolphins. Other favorite locations are Kahaluʻu Beach Park, Captain Cook, and Honaunau Bay.

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Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Known worldwide for breathtaking sunsets, five-star resorts, iconic cottages, and lavish floating villas with glass floors, Bora Bora is more than just honeymoon hotspot. The island is also a hotspot for sharks, and snorkeling trips to see lemon sharks are very popular. Head to the Coral Garden, an underwater park teeming with tropical fish, or hire a guide to lead you through some of the lesser-known spots.

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The Seychelles

The general rule is that the reefs are to the left and right of the beach wherever you choose to swim in this collection of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. Baie Ternay Marine Park has the best underwater fauna from all Seychelles. Beauvallon, a small cove with small rocks on both sides, extends under the water with corals. You'll find here a lavish and colorful marine life. The right side of the bay consists of lush rocky islets. Swim there with butterfly fish, surgeon fish, and parrot fish.

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Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

The coral reef systems of the stunning Phi Phi Islands are so abundant and astonishing you're going to need at least a month to explore them properly. When the tide is right, the stunning Monkey Bay is accessible. The coral is just below the surface, and brightly colored fish dart just inches from your mask. Hin Klang is in the middle of the sea, and Phi Phi Leh has a few more popular snorkeling locations such as Phi Phi Don and Bamboo Island.

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Culebra, Puerto Rico

Explore Puerto Rico's best kept secret, the island of Culebra, a pristine eco-destination. It's a natural paradise, home to one of the oldest bird sanctuaries in the U.S. and some of the most spectacular beaches in the Caribbean. Snorkel in a secluded cove and swim among turtles, sting rays, coral reefs, and colorful fish in warm turquoise waters.

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Boracay, Philippines

Boracay is world renowned for its pristine beaches. Enjoy fewer crowds and a lighter burden on your wallet, especially in the wintertime. The islands' varied landscape is matched by its many offerings; adventurous travelers will find themselves with endless options. White Beach is the most famous site, and much of it is finely ground coral. Banyugan Beach is another great location with large groups of fish swimming together just offshore. 

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Santa Catalina Island, California

One of several Channel Islands in the Golden State, Santa Catalina Island offers up a domestic island vacation. It is known for its snorkeling and dive sites. By far, Lover's Cove is the most popular snorkel spots off Catalina. It is a protected area with kelp forest, rock reef, and a "zoo" of cool-water inhabitants. The rugged island is a popular summer escape, so visit now, without breaking the bank, for fewer crowds and nicer weather. 

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Menjangan Island, Bali

The warm and adventurous destination of Bali has some amazing underwater gardens around Menjangan Island. Located within the protected area of West Bali National Park, the island is one of the more popular dive and snorkeling spots in Indonesia. Menjangan is known for calm clear waters, a profusion of marine life, and gorgeous coral formations. You may also see whale sharks, mantas, and turtles, if you're lucky. 

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Isla Holbox, Mexico

A hidden gem in the Cancún area, Isla Holbox is the best place in the world for swimming alongside whale sharks. Come in the summer, when the whale sharks feed on plankton near the surface, and you'll find yourself having one of the most surreal swims of your life. You'll also find sea turtles and other marine animals here, as well as gorgeously clear waters.

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Palawan, Philippines

Palawan is one of the last unsettled places in the South Pacific, which makes it one of the best island vacations in the world. If you're looking for a mixture of adventure and tranquility, you have found your destination. The archipelagic province of the Philippines is full of amazing landscapes, beautiful beaches, and diverse marine life.

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Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

Koh Nang Yuan, located close to the Thai island of Ko Tao, is made up of three small islands and is an absolutely stunning vacation spot. You can go swimming in its stunning clear water without having to worry about getting hurt, as the granite rocks there have been polished into smooth stones over time by the current. Go snorkeling and you'll find all sorts of amazing creatures, such as butterfly fish, clams, clownfish, and parrotfish. 

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Raja Ampat, Indonesia

The archipelago of Raja Ampat has one of the most stunning coasts in the world, as well as the greatest concentration of marine life for a region of its size - 75 percent of all known coral species on the planet can be found here. You won't find many people here, which means having many beaches much to yourself - so you can enjoy snorkeling amongst undisturbed aquatic creatures. More than 1,000 different species of fish, manta rays, sea turtles, and sharks call the water around Raja Ampat home. 

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Silver Bank, Dominican Republic

If you're a fan of swimming with whales, Silver Bank is one of the few places where you can swimg alongside a humpback whale. This ocean bank is too shallow for ships, which means whales come here to mate and give birth, particularly between Decenber and April. 

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Silfra Fissure, Iceland

The Silfra Fissure is famous for being one of the world's best dive sites because it's actually a crack between the North American and Eurasian continents. It's a great place to go if you're ever visiting Iceland, as it's the only place where you can dive or snorkel right where the continental plates meet. It's also known for its incredible underwater visibility - over 330 feet. This creates a nearly unbeatable experience that should be added to any avid American traveler's bucket list.

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