Exploring the open ocean is something some people only dream of. But with ocean exploration being something super easy to do these days, it shouldn’t only be a dream. I’ve now had the fortune to try snorkelling in several different countries, despite only learning to snorkel myself a few years ago.
Underwater marine life is something I, personally, have always found mesmerising. From the vibrant, colourful fishes swishing back and forth in schools or groups, to the dazzling corals swaying in the water and the giant mammals found lurking in the deep, it’s all incredibly fascinating to me.
And this is something I want others to experience too!
Diving into the water, not knowing what you’ll find can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. This complete guide to snorkelling for beginners aims to get you ready for your snorkelling adventure. From knowing what equipment you will need, to what tips you should keep in mind when out in the water, to what to expect when snorkelling and where you should try it, I hope this guide tells you everything you need to know…
What equipment will you need?
Goggles / Mask
Although goggles do tend to block your full viewing range, they are a must for both protecting your eyes underwater and letting you see more clearly than without.
Most goggles are good right out of the box, but if your eyesight is not brilliant, then you can also purchase prescription goggles (although this does come at a price).
Your goggles should cover your nose, as with snorkelling, you breathe out of your mouth (through the snorkel only).
For a perfect fit, you’ll need to test your mask before buying or renting. Hold the mask up to your face (without tying the straps) and breathe in through your nose. Does the mask suck into your face and prevent you from breathing through your nose? Great, you’ve found the perfect fit! If not, keep trying masks until you find the right one.
Without the perfect fit, water will leak into your mask, which can be a very unpleasant experience!
You may find that your goggles ‘fog’ up after a few uses. You can buy some defogging solution to rub on the inside of them to help with this, or you can spit on them. The latter might sound a little gross, but it really does work. However, if you’re a little squeamish, consider some defogging solutions like this one.
Of course, you can’t go snorkelling without a snorkel!
In most cases, your snorkel will be attached to the side of your goggles, but you can also get some that are attached to the front of your mask. Most experts would advise the front sided snorkels are the best, as they allow you to move your head and breathe a little more freely in the water. But these can be much more pricey compared with traditional snorkels.
For beginners, I’d recommend you start with a traditional snorkel (just in case you don’t enjoy it as much as expected). Once you get more confident in the water and start to head out more frequently, then a step up to front sided snorkels is certainly a good idea.
Fins (not “flippers”) – Optional
Fins aren’t required for snorkelling, although they will help with your movement through the water. If you plan on just snorkelling in shallow bays and not too far from the beach, then you don’t have to worry about fins at all. But if you plan on heading out further into the ocean, or if you’re planning on diving below the surface when you’re more confident, then fins should definitely be on your equipment shopping list.
Swim Shoes – Optional
Aside from fins, it’s also possible to purchase shoes especially designed for use in the water. Not only can these be good protection for your feet in the water (for instance, from stepping on urchins with totally bare feet), but they can also be great for allowing you to get to your snorkelling location without hurting your feet too, (for instance, if you have to clamber across some rocks in order to get into the water).
Noodle or Life Jacket – Optional
Some people will find themselves less buoyant than others, and unable to float in the water. Although this isn’t an issue in itself, putting too much effort into staying afloat will tire you out (particularly with the lesser amount of oxygen you’ll have whilst snorkelling). If you’re finding that you are getting tired far too easily, consider using a noodle or life jacket to help keep you afloat. We’ll take a look at some of the golden rules of snorkelling shortly – one being, relax! This is why I’m recommending getting some help to float if you need it.
Underwater Camera – Optional
How else will you take photos of the amazing marine life you’re going to see? One idea is to take a waterproof camera along with you, connected to a selfie stick. That way, you can extend the camera further underwater than your arm’s length, whilst maybe even getting a photo or two of you on your new adventure! One of my favourite cameras is this one:
You can also take your phone into the water with you if you really want to! Pouches like the Aquapac are completely waterproof, and mine is never too far away from me during my snorkelling adventures.
Now that you’ve got all of the equipment you need, consider these first timer tips for your upcoming snorkelling adventure…
10 Snorkelling Adventure Tips for Beginners
When snorkelling, your swimming should be relaxed and your focus should be on breathing. Snorkelling activities limit the amount of oxygen you’ll be breathing in, so you don’t want to exert yourself too much out in the open water. Some ideas to help keep things relaxed is to either float in one spot, or kick very gently to inch forwards slowly – don’t go chasing after those super quick fishes!
2. Practice makes perfect
When just starting out, you should practice breathing through your snorkel on land first. When you’re ready, progress to shallow water. You definitely shouldn’t make your first snorkel session to be one out in the open ocean as an excursion or day trip, as you’ll only panic and likely, not enjoy it at all.
3. Don’t panic!
With snorkelling, there’s lots of things to cause a few worries and concerns ebbing through your brain. Whether you’re not used to breathing out through your mouth, and concerned you won’t be getting enough oxygen, or maybe you’ve nearly stepped on an urchin. Whatever has caused you some concern, don’t panic! I know this is easier said than done, but just take some slow, deep breaths and compose yourself before continuing. But… if all else fails, you can always pop your head out of the water and take off your mask whilst you calm down again.
4. Look but don’t touch
Corals and marine life are incredibly precious and delicate, so please, please, please avoid touching them! We’ve all seen the photos of what the Coral Reef in Australia looks like in popular places now due to people disturbing its peace. So when it comes to marine life, let them be and just quietly observe.
5. Stick with your snorkel buddy
With your head below water, and your mind running wild with the excitement and anticipation of seeing underwater marine life, it’s very easy to not notice how much you’re drifting off to sea or away from where you started. Equally, we all know that ocean conditions have the tendency to change quickly, so it’s best to stick with your snorkel buddy. That way, if you run into a little danger or a sticky situation, someone always knows where you are and can help you if needed.
6. Look for calm waters
Snorkelling is always best in calm water – both because it limits the chances of water chugging down your snorkel, and so that you can better see the marine life. Read up on ocean forecasts before heading to your destination to ensure it’s a calm area.
7. Popular doesn’t always mean perfect
The popular spots are not always the best for snorkelling. With large groups of people around, and regular swimmers, marine life is most often scared away. This is why some of the most popular beaches, bays and snorkelling spots aren’t always the best. But if you head away from crowds (with your snorkel buddy and to calm waters), you are likely to see a whole lot more.
8. Learn how to defog your goggles
Your snorkelling goggles or mask will get fogged up after just a few uses, clouding your vision underwater almost completely. Get used to either rubbing spit on your goggles, or using a defogging solution so that you always have the best vision underwater.
9. Buy a book on marine life
When observing marine life, you will likely see a whole variety of species. Whether you spot fish you’ve never seen before, bright and vivid corals or large mammals, it’s great to be able to know what it is you’re looking at. Read up on marine life before you head out so you have some ideas of what you’re seeing, and then double-check when you get back to the beach to be 100% certain of what exciting creatures you’ve just seen.
10. Don’t forget about freshwater locations too
When it comes to snorkelling, most will always opt for the oceans. But what about freshwater locations such as rivers and crevices? Some of these will have the best and clearest conditions for seeing life underwater. Although likely to be freezing, so definitely bring your wetsuit gear!
Where are some places you can try snorkelling?
I’ve had the fortune to go snorkelling in a variety of places so far (although I still have many more on my list… more on that later). For now, I wanted to list all of the places where I’ve snorkelled, rated out of 10. Hopefully this will give you some ideas of where to go, and also what to look out for during your own underwater adventures.
Bagaglino I Giardini Di Porto Cervo (Private Beach), Sardinia, Europe
Sardinia was my first foray into snorkelling. This private beach (adjoined to our hotel complex) was a great first timer location. The bay was calm, relatively clear and offered the chance to see small fishes and urchins (rather than ginormous and alien creatures)! However, I must confess that the water could have been much clearer, and I would have preferred to have seen just a little bit more variety. Rating – 5/10.
Keaukaha Beach Park, Hilo, Hawaii, USA
Whilst holidaying in Hilo, we’d seen a couple of people heading out to sea from this beach park with both snorkel and scuba diving gear. This gave us the confidence to try this as a snorkelling location ourselves. First things first, the water was FREEEEEEZING! Next time, I’d definitely suggest a wetsuit! Aside from that, this was a beautiful location – there were plenty of small fishes to see, the bay was very calm and the water very clear. Downsides? The rocks were very sharp and had a tendency to appear out of nowhere, meaning I got cut up quite a few times. And the water, like I say, was incredibly cold. Rating – 6/10.
Aphrodite’s Beach, Cyprus, Europe
We’d ventured to this side of the island to see the Baths of Aphrodite and learn a little about the myths and legends of Cyprus. Little did we know that we would find a great location for swimming. Again, we saw quite a few people snorkelling here. But remember what I said about popular locations not always being the best? This was sadly true of this bay – we saw very little marine life, despite the water in Cyprus being some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen! It was also quite choppy in this bay, which meant that water kept running down my snorkel. Although a great swimming location, not the best in terms of underwater adventures. Rating – 3/10.
Sea Caves, Ayia Napa, Cyprus, Europe
This is by far the best place I’ve snorkelled at so far! The water was the most crystal clear I’ve ever had the pleasure of swimming in, and there were plenty of fishes to see. I’ve heard stories of others seeing octopuses out here as well, but sadly none when we arrived. Surrounding the water are deep and very dark caves, which are also an added bonus for exploring when on land as well. But there are a couple of downsides – first, it’s difficult to get down to the water. You either jump from the cliffs (which we saw plenty of people doing), or you have to climb down very steep rocks to get to the water. Now I’m not the fittest person in the world, but I also like to think I have strong thigh muscles… if you are a little less stable on your feet or less muscled, then you may want to give this one a miss, as it would hurt a lot if you fell from the rocks. The other downside would be the amount of people that come here (and the large number of daredevils jumping from the cliffs). This disturbs the marine life below the surface, so you do need to head out quite far before you can see anything. Still, this is my most favourite place so far for snorkelling, thus its rating of 8/10.
Where else should be on your snorkelling wishlist?
As an avid traveller, it should be expected that I’m always on the lookout for where else I wish to travel to. Let’s face it, my travel wishlist is ever changing and growing, and the same can definitely be said for my snorkelling wishlist. For now, here are some places I absolutely must go snorkelling to … maybe this will fuel your wanderlust too?
There are a number of decent snorkelling spots in and around Cancun (so I’ve been told). One of which is the Cenote Yal-ku nature reserve and lagoon. Although man-made, this is said to be a really safe and vibrant place to go out snorkelling to. Whilst there, you have the opportunity to see hundreds upon hundreds of bright and colourful fish. Also, when swimming right up to the mesh wire fence at the end of the lagoon, you can also see out into the wide open ocean… expect to see some interesting faces up against the wire trying to get in!
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Sadly, I’m more than aware of the effects tourism has had on the Great Barrier Reef. Although there are lots of snorkelling excursions available in Australia, I would plan on avoiding these on my trip. If it would be possible for me to hitch a lift with a local on their boat, or take my own boat rental out, then I would see a less popular part of the reef, and thus, a more vibrant part of it. Although I would of course be very respectful of the nature and look and not touch!
Bali has always be on my travel wishlist, but more so when it comes to snorkelling there. I can only imagine how clear the water would be, and how varied the marine life would be there – two very important qualities when it comes to snorkelling!
We’re currently planning a trip to Croatia for next summer, in which, we will be island hopping. As part of that, I also plan on seeing as much of the underwater life as I can out there too! I would be very interested in seeing just how different each island is for marine life, ready to compare the lot and pick out my favourites. I’m sure I’ll share my findings with you, so stay tuned!
Similarly to Bali, various locations in the Caribbean have been on my wish list for a long time now. Some firm favourites include Cuba, Jamaica, Bermuda, Belize and the Bahamas. Each of which I believe to have a few things in common with each other and Bali – crystal clear water, dazzling sunshine, warm water and vibrant marine life. A snorkelling dream yet to come true!
That’s all I have for you for the moment! I hope this guide to snorkelling for beginners has been useful, and full of marine inspiration! Have you tried snorkelling already? Where did you go, what did you see? Or do you have yet to try this amazing activity? Where would you go, and what would you most like to see? Let me know in the comments…
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