World-renowned for its breathtakingly clear water, it should come as no surprise that the Bahamas is named after the Spanish word for that exact term: "Baja Mar." While many visitors are content to appreciate the Caribbean Sea from beneath an umbrella on the nation’s (sometimes pink) shores, there’s much more to explore just beneath the ocean’s surface. The best way to explore this tropical paradise is to dive right in. Literally—tighten your mask, adjust your snorkel, and head for the reef.
A coral archipelago of more than 700 islands and 2,000 cays, the Bahamas is a snorkeling paradise. Yet, in this haven of saltwater sinkholes and underwater sculpture parks, deciding where to (aquatically) explore can feel overwhelming. But, fear not: We’ve got you covered. From the nation’s capital in New Providence to the outer islands of Bimini and Eleuthera, here are the seven best places to snorkel in the Bahamas.
Deadman’s Reef, Grand Bahama
Don’t be fooled by the perilous-sounding name—Deadman’s Reef in Grand Bahama is an eight-minute swim off the sandy coast of the (aptly named) Paradise Cove. An ideal destination for snorkelers of all levels, the reef got its name from Prohibition-era pirates, or rum-runners, who risked their lives while navigating this reef-lined coast in the middle of the night. While visiting, travelers should consider adopting a Reef Ball—a sustainable structure that fosters marine life and promotes reef growth. There are many of these innovative initiatives occurring throughout (or should we say beneath), the waters of the Bahamas.
Bimini Road, Bimini
The famed marlin fisherman, Ernest Hemingway, may have loved the island of Bimini for its sportfishing opportunities, but these days, we recommend swimming with the marine life, rather than reeling it in. The legendary snorkeling spot, Bimini Road, allows travelers to swim alongside dolphins, sea turtles, and—yes—marlin in their underwater adventures. Travelers with perhaps slightly more aquatic experience under their belt can sign up for scuba diving tours with the seasoned guides at Bahamas Scuba Center. Warning to the timid: They’re enthusiastic proponents of swimming with sharks. But if you’ve been dreaming about your own Hammerhead Shark Safari experience, you’ll find you’ve arrived at the right place.
Shark Reef, Long Island
Speaking of swimming with sharks, our next destination on the island of Long Island, is well-known for providing travelers with just that opportunity. The aptly named Shark Reef is famous for providing visitors with the chance to encounter a reef shark in the wild. Word to the wise: The afternoon is the best time to see these ferociously misunderstood animals. Prepare to be filled with awe. Who needs swimming with pigs? Long Island is also an ideal spot for travelers to explore Dean’s Blue Hole, a saltwater sinkhole, as well as Conception Island, an uninhabited wildlife reserve. Both are incredible natural phenomena that are just as worthy of exploration above the water or beneath.
Rose Island Reefs, New Providence
You don’t need to take a trip to the outer islands to experience spectacular snorkeling—just head to Rose Island Reefs, only three miles offshore from the island of New Providence (and roughly a 25-minute boat ride from the capital of Nassau.) Book a day trip with Harbour Safaris, or plan your excursions with Sandy Toes, an operator also providing overnight stays on the island as well. This spot is also a great choice for travelers who don’t have time to visit an outer island but want to experience life beyond the busy hub of New Providence.
Mermaid Reef, Abaco Island
For your next snorkel adventure, leave New Providence and its bustling capital of Nassau for the third biggest city in the Bahamas, Marsh Harbour, located on the Abaco Islands. Just off the Sea of Abaco is a delightfully multicolored feast for the (underwater, begoggled) eyes: Mermaid Reef. Book a trip with Abaco Escape to explore the region, which thanks to the dunes lining the coast, is just as pretty above the sea as it is beneath. Mermaid Reef is well known for being host to a plentitude of tropical fish, but if you’re still longing for sharks, make time for a visit to Walker’s Cay, in the North Abaco District—the company provides excursions to both destinations.
Snorkel Beach, New Providence
We’re returning to New Providence for our next choice, relocating to Snorkel Beach, which is situated within Clifton Heritage National Park. Sign up for a tour with Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, and snorkel above the Sir Nicholas Nuttall Coral Reef Sculpture Garden, and the largest underwater statue in the Western hemisphere, “Ocean Atlas.” Three statues have been erected 25 feet below the ocean’s surface in the project spearheaded by the Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) to restore the healthiness of the coral reef, and the magical underwater effect is akin to discovering buried treasure.
Devil’s Backbone, Eleuthera
The island of Eleuthera may be renowned for its pink sand beaches, but there are even more wondrous natural phenomena to explore underneath its surrounding waters. Thanks to its myriad of large and small islands, the Bahamas was once a favored hangout for pirates. Travelers can go back in time when snorkeling to underwater shipwrecks at Devil’s Backbone and Pineapple Dock, while Current Cut offers endless diversions of colorful, tropical fish.