Top Ten Snorkeling Spots

What are the top ten snorkeling spots we’ve visited? Sitting in the cockpit as we left our anchorage at sunrise this morning, Jamie and I talked through our favorites. Remembering each one is like talking about an old friend: recalling good times, personalities, and what occupied our lives at the time.

Totem on a resort mooring
The reefs off Misool in Raja Ampat are unforgettable

What makes a spot great is extremely subjective, of course. Some may prefer being surrounded by schools of colorful fish, some are all about the echinoderms, others geek out over pelagics or corals (I squeal over nudibranchs). In any given location, one day may vary significantly from another, depending on conditions and what you can spot. It is also heavily influenced by water clarity, which can be great- or terrible, and also dictate the experience you have. Of course, this list can only reflect the places we have been ourselves. We have seen a lot (oh, wow, are we lucky!)- but it is still just a tiny slice of what the tropical world has to offer. With those disclaimers out of the way: from the North America through the South Pacific and Australia to Indonesia, here are our top snorkeling spots!

We found that it split pretty neatly in half: the first five were outrageous, unforgettable experiences. The second five were incredible, but lacked a bit of the over-the-top quality of the top five.


Hyo at the motu reefThese are the places where we came out of the water with stupid grins on our faces. They are the ones where we had wild “did you see that? did that really just happen?” type experiences- not just once, but over and over. If you are making a list of Places to Snorkel Before You Die, these need to be included.

1. Suwarrow, Cook Islands
Suwarrow is an atoll in the middle of the vast Pacific area that is the Cook Islands, and one of those places that is truly a privilege to visit. The only way to get there is by private boat, as it is uninhabited and not along any managed transportation routes. It’s probably no surprise that it is such a pristine and healthy reef environment. Sometimes, the number of sharks made us wish it was a little less healthy! The atoll is eleven miles in diameter, but every spot we visited during the approx. ten days we spent there is still imprinted in my mind. Bring a friend and a shark poker- some of them were a little too curious. Read more about our visit to Suwarrow on the blog.

2. Southern Raja Ampat, West Papua Province, Indonesia
It’s in Wallacea and the coral triangle, which basically means outrageous wildlife and an environment that is both unique and diverse. It was the most incredible array of soft corals we have seen anywhere. Raja Ampat was the only place in Indonesia we saw sharks (indicating a healthy ecosystem, and not an overfished one). The best of southern Raja Ampat is accessible from the Misool Eco Resort, which has been instrumental in championing the conservation efforts which make this the stunning destination that it is. Thanks to a growing interest from dive and eco tourists, Raja Ampat is one of the most accessible places on our top ten list. Lots of photos and more on our posts about Raja Ampat.

you get used to them- sort of3. Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Fakarava’s south past was a drift dive / snorkel, where the current carries you like a conveyor belt past a continuous display of stunning corals and colorful fish. In the middle of the channel, sharks by the dozens rest and wait- don’t worry, they’re not interested in you! This was where we acclimatized to swimming with sharks. The resident Napolean Wrasse waiting in the shallows look too big and colorful to be real. This was one theme park ride we could do over, and over, and over. Read more about Totem in the Tuamotus islands in our blog.

4. Wuvulu Island, Manus Province, PNG
The water at Wuvulu was like a bottle of Bombay Sapphire: crystal clear with a turquoise tint. We snorkeled off the main village at the bay on the south side. This is a massive wall, and probably better as a dive spot than a snorkel spot, but it wowed us nonetheless. For the first time in nearly three months of sailing through Papua New Guinea, we saw sharks and turtles- quite a few, actually- even though we were in the water there for less than an hour. No surprise to learn from villagers that this area was off-limits for fishing! The anchorage wasn’t tenable, so one person stayed in the boat while the rest of us swam and gaped. We posted about the unique experience at Wuvulu here.

5. Moso Island, Havannah Harbor, Vanuatu
The reef off the south end of Moso, on the outside of Havannah Harbor, held the biggest fish we had ever seen. There was a snapper that dwarfed our snorkeling buddy Mike, and he’s a big guy! Wild networks of coral formations meant we could swim through underwater tubes, a freaky and exhilarating all at once. Big pelagic fish flew by; a tuna that must have been 200 lbs screeched to a halt to go back and look at Jamie. Nothing like being checked out by predatory fish that outweighs you to start thinking about your place on the food chain. Once again, no surprise to learn from locals that this reef was off limits for fishing- although I did find a sweet, shiny new rapala stuck in the coral so some tourons aren’t paying attention to local rules. See the gorgeous anchorage and more on the blog..

Anchoring in Vanuatu was like being suspended in blue jelly

The challenge with many of the countries we have passed through is that they are terribly overfished. It’s no coincidence that our favorite spots all have some kind of conservation measures in place. It’s a shame that many of the destinations in the uber-diverse “coral triangle” didn’t stand out, because they’re in the process of being pillaged. See ‘em while you can?

Next post: the second five…and I couldn’t help but mention more favorites that didn’t hit the top 10.

9 Responses

    1. You just caught me in an Aussie-ism. Before our time in Oz, I would have said jello- down under, those gelatinous watch-it-wiggle desserts are called jelly. Hello, unexpected ways that cruising changes us! -thanks Jane.

  1. I just found your blog through your post at the Secular Homeschool Forum. My kids and I are fascinated by your adventures and entranced by the beautiful pictures. We’ve been reading the Swallows and Amazons series and my kids are very interested in sailing right now. We’ll be back to read more!

  2. We have literally been following Totem around the world and there’s really no better crew out there on the water to be following. Behan brings a unique fact filled female perspective to blogging that the cruiser community desperately needs. From creative cooking, insightful home schooling, detailed passage preparation to passionate viewpoints of cruising topics and off the beaten path encounters, Totem is an unequaled resource for anyone cruising or just dreaming about blue water sailing.

    We are looking forward to seeing the Totemites again in Thailand!

  3. It’s a shame you missed Fiji. My experiences there eclipse Suwarrow and Vanuatu. But I still believe there are better days ahead. John S/V Oz

    1. Hey John, we didn’t miss Fiji- it just didn’t make it into the top five- perhaps you’ll agree with our selections after you see some of the spots in our top five you haven’t made it to just yet. 🙂 It sounds like Suwarrow didn’t do it for you quite the way it did for us, which I suppose just goes to show how highly subjective something like this is- and how much it can vary from one day or one person to the next. Stay tuned for the next five!

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