Best Caribbean Snorkeling Spots: Tanya's Top 10

scuba diving and snorkeling photographer tanya burnettIslands contributor Tanya Burnett, a snorkeling and scuba diving expert photographer, shares her absolute favorite places to snorkel across the Caribbean, including snorkel tips for dolphins, whale sharks and more.

See the Best of the Caribbean Travel Guide.

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Swimming with Dolphins
I admit it, there really is something unabashedly joyous about sharing the water with wild dolphins. The first time I looked eye to eye with a curious Atlantic Spotted dolphin, I was hooked. After dozens of trips, the feeling is still enchanting. Summer's calm seas make it easier to locate the resident dolphins that are primarily found in 20 to 30 feet of beautiful Bahamian water. This is a wholly different world from swimming with captive dolphins; here the dolphins call the shots, and it makes every moment unique. Local scuba diving and snorkel experts for your trip: Jim Abernathy's Scuba Adventures | Tanya Burnett
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Stingray City
Grand Cayman
Perhaps the single most popular snorkel spot in the world is Stingray City in Grand Cayman — and there is a good reason for that. It is simply a wonderfully fun and at times silly experience that I do every time I visit. Any dive shop or resort can arrange to get you to this shallow sand bar with a jar of squid parts for the local denizens. The Pavlovian response of the stingrays to the boats and snorkelers arrival is hilarious above and below the water. Rays soar in and suck bait from fingers using smell, not sight, which can lead to occasionally awkward but harmless encounters as they explore with their rubbery lips while snappers clean up the stray bits. The ballet of flying rays is mesmerizing. The challenge is not losing your snorkel while laughing at the antics! Local snorkel tour for your trip: Stingray City Trips | Tanya Burnett
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Isla Mujeres
In the last few years, Isla Mujeres has become THE place to snorkel with whale sharks. These sharks are the antithesis of the "Jaws" image – think 25-foot-long puppy dogs of the sea and you'll be close. Every year hundreds of these gentle giants congregate from June to August to slurp in the local fish spawn while about a hundred lucky snorkelers swim in their midst. Even standing on board, I was entranced by a veritable sea of dorsal fins and the intricately patterned backs of these of these largest-fish-in-the-ocean visitors.
Local contact for your trip: Delfin Diving** ** | Tanya Burnett
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Cayo Diablo National Park, Fajardo
Puerto Rico
Only a 20 minute boat ride from the Fajardo shore, Cayo Diablo straddles the border of the Atlantic and Caribbean sea. In 10-15 feet of water sea rods, sea fans and pillar corals seem to cover every available inch of the shallow reef that is protected from the rugged Atlantic by a spine of jagged limestone. Stands of Elkhorn and Staghorn coral play host to countless tropicals, but the real reason I come to Cayo Diablo is for the sea turtles. They are almost always found lazing in the shallows – with "lazy" being the operative word. I found several hawksbill and green turtles that were calm enough to casually swim alongside at a leisurely pace, seemingly unconcerned as I marveled at their timeless features – truly a rare treat. Local hotel for your trip: Casa del Mar Inn | Tanya Burnett
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Pigeon Cay
This tiny postcard-perfect uninhabited island is a 45-minute boat ride from Roatan and feels a world away. When we first pulled up to the long spit of sand extending from the dense green of the island's interior, I already knew I was someplace special. The entire island was ours. The only sounds were the transparent waters whispering a gentle rhythm on the beach and birds chattering in the trees. The snorkeling was a personal exploration of the entire circumference of this pocket paradise. The bleached ivory sand bottom was punctuated by huge Elkhorn coral, iridescent damsels and careening parrot fish on some chaotic mission. Local snorkel tours for your trip: Subway Watersports | Tanya Burnett
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Thousand Steps and Windsock
Look for a numbered yellow rock beside the coastal road and it will likely mark a great location to don a mask. Two of my favorites are a Thousand Steps and Windsock. Thousand Steps is special for its breathtaking location – a pocket beach at the base of a sheer cliff that, as its name implies, takes a little work to get to. I love slipping into the crystalline water in this remote escape to fin over Elkhorn coral and schooling sergeant majors while indulging a private island fantasy. Windsock, on the other hand, is so easy and accessible that it is the perfect spot to take my parents for a plunge. Visitors and locals alike come here to frolic with an amazing diversity of life. In addition to the usual tropicals, it is not uncommon to see larger species like jacks, barracuda, turtles or even a tarpon. Local snorkel and dive experts for your trip: Buddy Dive Resort | Tanya Burnett
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The Cliffs at Negril
I have often dreamed of a Caribbean idyll where I could take a few steps from my private bungalow overlooking the intoxicating sea and immediately dive into aquarium-like conditions replete with all manner of fish life. This vision finally manifested with a stay at the Rockhouse Hotel on the cliffs of Negril in Jamaica. Many bungalows have private steps leading from cliff to water. Diving into the sea with clouds of reef fish schooling in an ancient rock alcove while breakfast is being served on your veranda can be absolutely addicting. The dramatic cliffs pockmarked with caves and fissures teaming with silversides and kissed by tropical light were as close to living my dream as I've yet found. Local hotel for your trip: Rock House Resort** ** | Tanya Burnett
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Silver Bank
Dominican Republic
Why would I (or anyone) spend 12 hours on a boat motoring to a remote bank 90 miles north of the Dominican Republic – with no beach or facilities in sight? Because it is the best place to swim with wild North Atlantic humpback whales that migrate to the Silver Bank to mate and calve. There is little else to do but enjoy the incredible displays of 30-ton leviathans launching in the air. When conditions are right, slip into the water to witness what few will ever see. It's an unbelievable feeling to share the same ocean with these majestic creatures. Watch playful youngsters and cautious moms. When floating above a male humpback singing to a female, you feel the experience as much as hear it. Local expert for your trip: Conscious Breath Adventures | Tanya Burnett
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Dry Tortugas
There was a time when sea planes were a typical mode of island-hopping around the Caribbean, and I've always felt a bit nostalgic for those days of romantic adventure that I never experienced firsthand. That is just part of what makes a trip to snorkel in Florida's Dry Tortugas special — a 30-minute flight in a small float plane soaring a few hundred feet above turquoise waters. Add in a final destination of Fort Jefferson National Park and some fabulous snorkeling to create my perfect day. The setting is breathtaking with shallow reefs and sea grass environments that are loaded with interesting life from conch to nurse sharks. Travel light, but bring everything you need, including a picnic. Local snorkel tour for your trip: Key West Seaplane Adventures | Tanya Burnett