Snorkeling 101: The Complete Guide to Snorkeling
Get your fins on and mask ready!
Here’s our guide to getting the most out of your next snorkeling adventure.
In this guide, we’ll cover three aspects that are necessary to getting the most out of snorkeling:
Snorkeling is often an underrated activity. For many travelers to tropical destinations, it’s presented as something anyone can do, and often involves plowing along the surface with rental gear and a swim vest on. But snorkeling can be so much more!
In fact, modern scuba diving grew out of snorkeling, or skin diving as it was known then.
Snorkeling can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. It benefits from its simplicity, where you can simply grab a mask and some fins, rather than hauling a bag full of heavy scuba gear. This also allows for more flexibility, allowing you to bring your gear on trips where packing tons of scuba gear isn’t a possibility. And the lack of bubbles means you can often get closer to marine wildlife than with scuba gear on.
Learn The Differences Between Snorkeling, Free and Skin Diving
In this guide, we’ll cover the three aspects that are necessary to getting the most out of snorkeling.
Table of contents
- 1 Preparation
- 2 Improve your swimming
- 3 Practice
- 4 Improve your breath hold
- 5 Conserving Energy While Snorkeling
- 6 Conserving your air while snorkeling
- 7 Snorkeling deep
- 8 Best Places For Snorkeling
- 9 Share your best snorkeling experience &tips!
To really make the most of your next snorkeling trip and leave the newbies in your wake, a bit of preparation is helpful.
Improve your swimming
If your swimming skills aren’t the best, take some swimming lessons at your local pool. And, even if you’re a decent swimmer, becoming an even better swimmer will only benefit you in the water.
Focus in particular on the freestyle, as the kicking technique from that style is the one you’ll be using when snorkeling.
“Improving your strength and endurance in the muscles engaged by the kick will help you snorkel more, and with less effort, leaving you free to enjoy the environment instead.”
Being a strong swimmer will also allow you to ditch the swim vests that are often popular with snorkeling outfits.
While a snorkeling vest helps you with flotation, it will also hinder your movements in the water. And make it harder, if not impossible, to dive down to check out a reef or fish.
Good swimming skills will help keep you safe in the water.
Swimming is one thing – Swimming with fins on is something else entirely.
The extra drag and weight of the fins put an extra toll on the muscles, which is why you might experience cramping if you’re not used to swimming with fins.
So take a pair of fins to the local pool, or your home waters, and do some laps with them on.
Learn The Finning Techniques used for Scuba Diving
Mix it up, so you do both long stretches at a mid-level pace, and shorter, faster stretches.
Improve your breath hold
Many snorkelers simply stay at the surface and use the snorkel to breathe while looking down.
A number of more advanced snorkelers, though, move into skin diving territory by doing occasional dives below the surface while holding their breath.
This will allow you to get a much closer look at the marine wildlife, and you’ll be able to see reefs and other underwater features up close.
To maximize your time underwater, you can train your breath holding capacity, as well as your swimming efficiency.
Read the Full Skin and Breath-hold Free Diving Guide
For more experience, hit up your local freediving club for hands-on training and practice. With the growing popularity of freediving, these are becoming increasingly easy to find.
Conserving Energy While Snorkeling
Going for a leisurely swim in tropical waters may not sound like serious exercise, but make no mistake, snorkeling can take it out of you! Even in very warm water, your body loses heat continuously due to water’s increased capacity over air to conduct heat away from the body.
Propelling yourself forward with fins on requires some energy as well.
Add to this that snorkeling trips can be all-day events, with hours spent in the water, and you can see why keeping your energy expenditure down is useful!
As with scuba diving, remember to slow down, relax, and let your fins do the work for you.
“Being in water is a new experience for most, so taking the time to relax your body and mind is a big first step.”
Many new snorkelers tend to try and swim along using their arms, like they’d do in a pool. But our legs, in particular with fins on, outperform our arms many times over. So conserve energy by keeping your arms relaxed at your sides and focusing on your fins instead.
And don’t kick too hard—even a leisurely kicking pace is enough to drive you forward, and moving too fast just means you’ll zoom past interesting sights.
Plus, kicking too hard and flailing with your arms creates a lot of splashing that will scare away the very animals you’re there to see!
Conserving your air while snorkeling
Breathe deep and slow. Breathing through a snorkel can be quite different from breathing without one.
Taking deep breaths is important to get the most out of the experience. Taking deep breaths also helps keep your heart rate down, which in turn helps you relax and conserve energy.
Many snorkelers are completely happy staying on the surface throughout their dive, and in that case, they should.
Others, however, feel the urge to take short dives on a breath-hold to get closer to reefs, marine animals, or other features in the deep. To get the most out of your single breath, there are a few things you can do:
First and foremost, relax.
Take a few moments on the surface to move as little as possible and get your breathing under control.
Then, take a few deep, controlled breaths.
“Don’t hyperventilate! This was taught on scuba courses years ago, but has since been proven to be counterproductive.”
Simply breathe deeply and slowly to fully fill and empty your lungs. Then, take an extra deep breath, making sure to fill up your diaphragm first, then chest, and finally, the very top of your torso.
When you’re ready to descend, bend 90 degrees at the waist so your torso is submerged and vertical in the water, and raise your legs up so they, too, are vertical but above water.
The weight of your legs will drive you into the depths, saving you energy in the process. As your fins reach the water, use them to gain further depth.
This is much, much more efficient than the swimming ascent you often see inexperienced snorkelers attempt.
Once you’re underwater, relax.
Most people can significantly improve their breath holds simply by slowing down and relaxing. Swim slowly and efficiently, seeking to streamline your body and making every movement about propelling you forward.
Err on the side of conservatism. Come up well before you run out of air, and slowly extend your bottom time for each time you dive. Soon, you’ll get a feel for how long you can stay down safely, and most likely, it will be considerably longer than your first venture under the surface.
Best Places For Snorkeling
Now that you’re all set for snorkeling, its time to consider where to go to get your flippers wet!
This article contains five of the best places in the world to go snorkeling.
By no means an exhaustive list, these are simply a few of our favorite places to snorkel.
Feel free to add your own in the comments below.
Snorkeling Tulamben, Bali
Wrecks are usually only available to scuba divers, but snorkelers can explore several famous ones without a tank on their back. At the coastal town of Tulamben on Bali, you’ll find one such wreck, the USAT Liberty.
A World War II US Army transport, it was struck by a Japanese torpedo and beached on Bali.
Here is why diving in Indonesia is one of our favorites!
A subsequent volcanic eruption caused the wreck to slide out and submerge underwater, but the top of the wreck remains at a shallow 13 feet (4 m), making it accessible to snorkelers.
Combine that with the general clarity of the water and you can explore the entire wreck from the surface or during easy freedives to experience details of the wreck and the marine life that now inhabits it.
Scuba divers also flock to this place, so snorkelers and divers will get the rare treat of mingling underwater.
Snorkeling Jellyfish Lake, Palau, Micronesia
Snorkeling doesn’t have to take place in the open water; many lakes offer unique experiences of their own.
Jellyfish Lake on the island of Palau is no exception! It is very much what it says in the name, a lake filled with jellyfish! Each day, the millions of golden jellyfish that call this marine lake home migrate across the water to follow the sun, and you snorkel among them as they do.
Swimming and snorkeling in the lake is permitted, but scuba diving is not, so you’ll have no bubbles to disturb your outlook.
And swimming in the lake, looking up at the clouds of jellyfish breaking the bright sun’s rays as they filter through the water, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Snorkeling Silfra, Thingvellir, Iceland
The lake of Silfra in Iceland, formed by tectonic plates separating and literally tearing the country apart, is a place like no other. Here you can snorkel over the crack in the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, meaning you’ll be in two continents at once.
A deep, sometimes very narrow, crack in the rocky ground, it plummets down to 195 feet (60 m) or more, and is filled with the clearest, cleanest water you’re ever likely to swim in with visibility up to 325 feet (100 m).
It is also extremely cold, maintaining a year-round temperature of 35 to 39 F (2 to 4 C), so this is definitely a drysuit experience.
Here is more about Winter Diving: Taking The Plunge Into The Cold
Drysuits and snorkeling gear can be rented, when you hire a guide, from a number of tour operators in and around Reykjavik.
The water here is so clear, and the visibility so good, that people with severe vertigo may want to skip this trip, as vertigo can definitely set in as you’re swimming along the surface of what the locals call “liquid air,” with several hundred feet of plummeting depth below you.
Snorkeling Ras Mohammed National Marine Park, Egypt
Back to warm water!
Ras Mohammed, close to the resort area of Sharm el-Sheik, offers some of the most pristine corals and most abundant marine life in the northern Red Sea.
With easy access by boat or shore, and many sheltered alcoves, this area offers great experiences for beginning and experienced snorkelers alike, and even for advanced tech divers.
Take a day trip and explore the many coves, with coral-encrusted walls and a whole plethora of marine life, including antiochs, triggerfish, parrotfish, stingrays, and more.
Snorkeling Dean’s Blue Hole, Bahamas
A “blue hole” occurs when the roof of an undersea cave collapses, creating an abrupt change in depth compared to the surrounding area.
Dean’s Blue Hole is the deepest known of these, plunging down to an astonishing 663 feet (200 m), attracting hardcore tech divers for that very reason.
But just because it is popular with tech divers doesn’t mean its off limits to snorkelers.
Swimming along the surrounding reefs and sandy bottom and seeing the bottom just disappear beneath you and the deep opening up is bound to give you a bit of goosebumps.
Here’s our Full Guide to Snorkeling Equipment
And, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see a group of tech divers ascending or descending into the vast, blue nothing beneath.
Share your best snorkeling experience & tips!
Do you love snorkeling?
Where’s your best snorkeling spot?
We’d love to hear some more snorkeling tips!
Share them right here:
I want too do that snokeling ?. .
Is that the only time to snorkel, when you are near the ocean? What about fresh water snorkeling?
Wow, sounds amazing, it’s not often you’re able to get such good places all for yourself. Thanks for sharing!
Hi my friends
That was very good information about snorkeling.
I started snorkeling a year ago(2019) during Corona In Kish Island, Iran, and 5 days a week I go snorkeling, before this, I was a natural tour leader in Iran and I saw lots of beautiful scenes but in snorkeling, I can say I saw the most beautiful scenes in my life especially in Kish Island.
Thanks for such an informative article about snorkeling. I’ve just retired and have wanted to learn to snorkel. Was a strong swimmer in my youth so your article gives me some confidence to seriously consider snorkeling. I will be traveling in country while COVID continues.
I will definitely going to take swimming classes after this pandemic for sure…
Thanx for the info.
Enjoyed this article
Heber is here and Snorkeling in Great Belize Barrier Reef is amazing. Also, they have 3 of 4 atolls in the western hemisphere and the Great Blue hole within one of these Atolls. Amazing Experiences 100’s different locations and a lot of marine life.
I’m born and raised Belizean and grew up in the ocean and this article is my first time reading it and its sounds exactly just like me when I’m explaining to my visitors how to snorkel properly. It made me connect deeply that they are people out there that do care about the environment and teach other to do what we love and wish we could live in. #Ocean Time
Coiba–a protected group of islands in the Pacific side of Panama has stunning schools of fish and a wide variety of pelagic species. What makes it pristine and beautiful is that it has not been developed (yet). There are also beautiful hard and soft corals and really good chances of seeing Dolphins and Whales on the trip out and back.
I love this advice. I’ve been swimming, completely submerged underwater, mainly in pools, since 2000 and on Nov. 3rd of this year, I purchased a mask/snorkel set because I couldn’t stay underwater for long since I had to surface for air & the water obscured my vision as I swam. Now, all I need is a pair of flippers and I’ll be all set for snorkeling. This is good advice for anyone who loves snorkeling!
Thank you very much for sharing this. It really helped to learn more about snorkeling as I’m very new to it.
Definitely gonna come back to this site for more.
Was teaching my wife to snorkel in our public pool. I found an engagement ring. Week late I saw a “lost” ad, called it and returned it to the owner. Not the best scenery in the pool but the relief on this lady’s face was almost as nice as anything I have seen in the Caribbean.
I like that you brought up how you should practice swimming to prepare for your snorkeling trip. My brother has recently invited me to go snorkeling with him soon. I’ll try to get better at swimming before we go snorkeling.
It’s really great to hear about your beginning in snorkeling. It’s a really great approach.
If you have issues diving down, you can level out your buoyancy by adding weight(make sure you can eaely drop them). But I’d strongly advise that you gain some experience in snorkeling before you start doing this.
Regarding your mask/googles: I’d strongly advise you to buy a snorkeling mask that covers nose as well. Once you start diving down, you’ll also experience the water pressing on your face and if you can’t equalize this pressure be exhaling abit of air through your nose, you’ll risk getting a mask-squeeze.
Thank you for the advice! Im going to try this out next weeks vacation, ive spent enough time dreaming about it.
Even if i have no idea what im doing aside this guide and i know nobody who does it. But if i figured out how to swim, to a point where i can swim underwater, then ill figure this out too.
I need to try that diving way out too, so far i could go down only if i exhaled first. If i take a breath no matter how hard i try swimming down the water pushes me up stronger, like some beach ball. If i push myself down by the ladder and try to swim from there i still get pushed up in seconds, even if i swim downwards, my legs coming up first xD.
I wonder how should i pick my gear though?
I only have a pair of swimming googles, without nose cover, but i use clip too, because i couldnt figure out how to keep water out of my throat without it, i tried blocking with my tongue even, and also i loose my eyesight completely if water enters my nose, even if in the shower, and my head hurts like hell for a while. This too, i cant figure why.
For snorkeling, you need to keep any “standard sport” consideration. Snorkeling can be hard at times, event though we try to relax and stay calm it’s important to be able to swim if needed.
For Scuba Diving, there are quite a few things to consider: https://www.divein.com/guide/diving-with-asthma/
I have asthma (well controlled) but I swim around the coast of Limassol, Cyprus. Is there anything I need to know before attempting to snorkel or scuba dive. PS. I am not a young man but reasonably fit and would love to see up close what is beneath the surface of the water. The instruction you give is very encouraging and I would certainly like to know more. My nephew is a scuba diving instructor in Ras Mohammed and it would be nice to join him for a dive one day.
We can’t give you a definitive answer, but it’s not common for sharks to attack humans. We’re not part of their food chain, and the blood a shark usually detects usually comes from fish(cold-blooded) and not of humans (warmblood).
That said when in nature, there’s always a risk. The shark attacks we sometimes see (please note, that the chances of being attacked by a shark are very small), are a case of miss-identification by the shark. The sharks see a human as a seal or an animal it would usually attack, and then attacks.
The fear we have of sharks a based on movies link Jaws etc. not logic. It’s far more dangerous to be in the traffic of most cities than be swimming in waters with sharks.
There’s so little chance of a shark attach, as humans are not part of the food chain.
Somewhat delicate topic here but I you would be / have experts who could answer this question with authority. My daughter and son in law are visiting the Galapagos Islands in August, which is, as many are likely aware, a significant shark habitat. My daughter has just realized that she will be on her feminine cycle at that time, and she is trying to determine whether her condition, despite internal feminine protection, could put her at greater risk of having unintentional close encounters with the animals.
Can anyone up here give us a definitive answer on whether she can safely snorkel, or point us to someone who can answer that question?
Please advise and thank you!
I live on Oahu, and snorkling is my favorite thing because it is relaxing, and I can easily tan my backside which I don’t like to do on the beach!
I want too do that snorkeling ?. .
Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m sorry to hear you had a bad snorkeling experience but really glad to hear that you’ll give it another try. It’s a completely different world, but once you get settled in it’s remarkable! Please keep us updated with how it goes next time when you try out snorkeling.
Went snorkling with my family in Khao Lak, Thailand. I’m a non swimmer and had/took no prior advice. Big mistake ..
I found it terrifying Tbh as I had done no research and thought “how hard could it be”.
I couldn’t get used to the virtual zero gravity environment if the ocean, and even with bouyancy jacket felt my head pitch forward.. I also felt vertigo. Sadly I couldn’t participate in the next days snorkling adventure.
I wish I had found your site as everything you advise for beginners in my case is 100% Accurate.
First thing In going to do back home is learn how to swim..and come back next year !!!
Best way to get a tan for sure 🙂 Thanks for sharing your love for snorkeling!
It’s good to learn that you should take slow and regular breaths when learning how to snorkel. My wife and I are wanting to go on a tropical vacation and we were wondering how to snorkel. I’ll be sure to tell her that we should take regular and slow breaths if we try to snorkel.
I am a 69 y/o American guy who retired to Cebu Philippines 6 years ago. Lived in Cebu City over 5 years took 3 or 4 vacation trips per year to different islands here with my Filopina wife, who admittedly is a bit younger than I (by 36 years) and who did not swim and was afraid of the water, after swimming with whale sharks, snorkeling in Palawan, Bohol, Apo Island in Negros and surfing in Siargao, all in the Philippines, she has found a love of snorkeling. Two months ago we moved from the city to Oslob in south Cebu, and literally right across the road one of the best coral reefs and marine sanctuary’s in the country, we are often the only ones in sight, (no tourism because of covid) We are in the water twice a day, at low tide and high tide, there are advantages to both times. Thank you for your article there are some helpful tips I will pass along to my wife, I am teaching her how to free dive now and life is good.
No, you can also do fresh water snorkeling.