The best snorkelling spots in Asia

With the welcome arrival of summer many of us have visited or plan to visit the seaside for a dip in refreshing coastal waters. Out of all sea activities snorkelling is a firm favourite at Bamboo Travel and luckily for us Asia is home to the Coral Triangle, an area with a staggering number of coral reefs home to numerous species of fish and other marine life.  

We may be a little biased, but we are of the opinion that Asia is home to some of the best coral reefs in the world and to help entice you to the continent’s enchanting reefs we have developed a list of what we consider the best coral reefs for snorkelling in Asia. 

Here are what we consider the top 10 snorkelling spots in Asia:

Bunaken National Marine Park, Indonesia

Established as Indonesia’s first National Marine Park in 1991, Bunaken covers 89,065 hectares of sparkling clear, warm tropical water protecting a huge amount of biodiversity. Located north of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi the coral reefs here include 70 types of soft and hard corals sustained by rich oceanic currents. Snorkelers and divers in the protected water enjoy 40m visibility and can expect to spot several species of butterfly fish, groupers, damsels, wrasses, parrot fish and gobies.

Our top pick of places to stay is the Siladen Resort located on the picture postcard island of Siladen in the heart of the Marine Park. The hotel’s setting, offering snorkelling and diving on tap, and the fine snorkelling directly off its beach make it a must visit for enthusiastic snorkellers. Bamboo’s Robin visited the Siladen Resort and had this to say: ‘There’s decent snorkelling straight off the beach on Siladen Island with superb water clarity and plenty of marine life darting around the brightly coloured coral. The most impressive snorkelling was accessible by boat further out on the reef where I saw immense shoals of large fish hanging out on the coral walls and the largest number of turtles I've ever seen.’

How to get there: The Bunaken National Marine Park is a short boat trip from the port of Manado which has flight connections with Singapore, Bali, and Jakarta. Snorkelling in Bunaken features on our Highlands and Islands of Sulawesi tour.

Apo Island, The Philippines

Apo Island is a volcanic island 7 kilometres off the southern tip of Negros surrounded by rich coral reefs which were declared a Marine Sanctuary in 1982. The sanctuary's waters are justifiably famous throughout the Philippines for huge coral mounds and drop offs supporting an abundance of fish, such as the iconic clownfish, and provide excellent opportunities to get up close with sea turtles – both leatherback and green turtles visit the shallow waters surrounding the island.

There are a couple of hotels on the island which cater almost exclusively for divers so we suggest staying on the mainland in Negros with the Atmosphere Resort being our top pick. Currents around Apo Island can be strong in places, so we recommend embarking on a snorkelling day trip to Apo Island with an experienced guide.

How to get there: Apo Island is connected to Negros with regular boat services from Dumaguete, a journey of around 40 minutes. Dumaguete has a small airport with connections to most major Philippine cities and can also be reached by ferry from Cebu, taking around 5 hours. Snorkelling the reefs of Apo Island features on our Voyage into the Visayas tour.

Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

The islands off the east coast of Malaysia are blessed with clear water and stunning beaches making them ideal for snorkelling. The Perhentian islands and islands of Tioman and Redang were once a well-guarded secret amongst the backpacking crowd, but the construction of upmarket boutique resorts means the secret is out. The best snorkelling can be found off the Perhentian Islands where visibility can reach 20 metres with the chance to see numerous reef fish, turtles, and blacktip reef sharks.

Day trips can be arranged to take you to the best snorkelling spots around the islands with the gentle currents making the snorkelling accessible to casual snorkellers. The Tuna Bay Island Resort has possibly the best house reef on the Perhentian islands and is a great base for snorkellers and divers looking to explore the surrounding reefs.

How to get there: The Perhentian Islands are a 45-minute boat ride from Kuala Besut jetty close to the city of Kota Bharu. Kota Bahru is connected by domestic flight to most principal cities in Peninsula Malaysia and Kota Kinabalu on Malaysian Borneo. The Perhentian islands feature on our Borneo and Island Family Adventure tour.

The Maldives

The Maldives is formed of over 1,000 islands stretching across 26 atolls, each one with the kind of soft beaches and crystal waters that dreams are made of. The Maldives is one of the best places on the planet to snorkel with manta rays as they migrate through Maldivian waters throughout the year. The country is a true snorkelling paradise with a variety of activities available ranging from snorkelling with whale sharks in the South Ari Atoll to snorkelling at night through natural bioluminescence.

Most island resorts in the Maldives have fantastic snorkelling direct from the beach but the Reethi Faru and Angsana Iharu are both renowned for their spectacular house reefs.

How to get there: A range of airlines fly to the Maldivian capital Male from which an onward resort connection by speedboat or sea plane is required. We can arrange stays at a variety of hotels and resorts on a holiday to the Maldives.

Komodo National Park, Indonesia

The Komodo National Park covers some 170,000 hectares of sea and volcanic islands off the west coast of the Indonesian island of Flores. The Komodo dragon is its most famous resident, but the waters of the National Park are packed with amazing reefs and a huge variety of marine life including manta rays, whale sharks, dolphins, and the occasional migratory whale.

A private cruise in the Komodo National Park offers a flexible itinerary with a knowledgeable guide and is our recommended way to explore one of the best snorkelling sites in the world. The Sudamala Resort Seraya is an excellent alternative thanks to the abundance of marine life in its house reef and its easy access to the rich marine biodiversity of the waters of the Komodo Islands National Park.

How to get there: The Komodo National Park can be accessed by boat from the busy port of Labuan Bajo, Flores, which has flight connections with Bali. A combination of private cruise and a stay at the Sudamala Resort Seraya works very well. The Komodo National Park features on our Treasures of Indonesia tour.

Tufi, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is home to some of the most pristine reefs in the whole of Asia and is a mecca for keen snorkellers and divers. Some of the country’s best snorkelling can be found at the small coastal town of Tufi, an area of magnificent reefs and rias (fjords), which provide a unique ecosystem for marine life. The waters of the fjords are crystal-clear with visibility up to 30m most of the year and sheltered from ocean currents encouraging many sponges and coral species to grow prolifically.

The Tufi resort specializes in scuba diving, but they also run snorkelling trips to some of the outlying reefs. The waters off the resort’s jetty are superb for snorkelling and it is possible to snorkel all the way into the nearby fjords spotting hundreds of different species of colourful fish along the way.

How to get there: Tufi is connected with PNG’s capital, Port Moresby by domestic flight. Snorkelling at Tufi features on our Discovering the Heart of Papua New Guinea tour.

Havelock Island, India

The natural paradise of Havelock Island is one of Asia’s ultimate island destinations. Forming part of the Andaman Islands situated in the Bay of Bengal between India and Myanmar Havelock Island is famous for its white sandy beaches, rich coral reefs, and lush green forest. It is a true Robison Crusoe escape with some fantastic snorkelling off many of the island’s beaches, Elephant Beach is considered the best, or its outlying smaller islands, such as South Button, a short boat ride away.

Most of the beaches on the island are easily accessible and several of the outlying islands are reachable by boat as part of a snorkelling day trip. There is some fine snorkelling off the beach at the Taj Exotica Andamans and the hotel’s in-house naturalist can recommend some of the best snorkelling and scuba-diving spots in the area.

How to get there: Havelock island is accessed by a 40km ferry ride from Port Blair, the traditional gateway to the Andaman Islands. Port Blair has flight connections with the major cities of India including Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata. Connecting from a domestic flight to a Havelock Island ferry departure can be difficult so an overnight stay in Port Blair is recommended. Bookending most Indian trips in Havelock Island is possible, just be prepared to extend your trip by a minimum of five days, but it combines especially well with our Highlights of Tamil Nadu tour.

El Nido, Philippines

The El Nido Marine Reserve north of Palawan Island covers 96,000 hectares of mangroves, white sand beaches, coral reefs, and limestone cliffs supporting a variety of marine life such as manta rays, hawksbill turtles, whale sharks and the dugong (sea cow), one of the world's rarest marine mammals. Bamboo’s Emily had this to say after her visit to El Nido: ‘the best snorkelling in El Nido is found off the smaller islands which can be reached on a private island-hopping tour. A knowledgeable guide took me to several spots around Bacuit Bay where I saw multitudes of brightly coloured tropical fish and reef sharks in several pristine coral reefs.’

Our pick of resorts in the reserve is Miniloc Island, run by El Nido Resorts, thanks to the fantastic snorkelling in its house reef, home to a variety of marine species including damsel fish, groupers, and jack fish.

How to get there: El Nido is connected by domestic flight with most major cities in the Philippines such as Manila or Cebu. Island hopping in the El Nido Marine reserve features on our Purely Palawan tour.

Karimunjawa Archipelago, Indonesia

Still something of a hidden gem, the Karimunjawa Archipelago is a National Marine Park protecting 27 coral fringed islands, yet still largely unknown to mass tourism. A large area of the Marine Park remains off limits with the remainder set aside for sustainable tourism resulting in a healthy network of reefs supporting a plethora of marine life.

Nestled on its very own paradise island, the Kura Kura Resort is the pick of accommodation options. The resort can arrange snorkelling trips to the best coral reefs and can also arrange a Robison Crusoe experience on nearby Krakal Island for those looking for snorkelling on tap from their very own pristine desert Island.

How to get there: The gateway of the Karimunjawa Archipelago is Menjakawan Island which can be reached by fast boat from Jepara ferry terminal, north Java, a journey of around 2 hours. Alternatively, the island can be reached by chartering a private yacht or aircraft which is especially recommended due to the risk of the ferry being cancelled. Snorkelling in the Karimunjawa Archipelago features in our Indonesia in Style tour.

Koh Lipe, Thailand

Koh Lipe is wonderfully positioned amid the deep blue waters of the Andaman Sea around 40 miles from the Thai mainland and is something of a magnet for beach lovers due to its rustic feel and its amazing white sand beaches. Forming part of the Tarutao National Marine Park, Thailand’s second national park established in 1974, the snorkelling and diving here is some of the best in Thailand. Getting to Koh Lipe is not as simple as some of Thailand’s more popular islands so thankfully its reefs remain largely free of the crowds which trouble some of the country’s other island reefs such as Phi Phi.

Sunrise Beach and the two nearby little islands of Ko Kra and Koh Usen offer some of the best snorkelling on the island. The Castaway Resort enjoys a prime position on the beach just a stone’s throw from the snorkelling hotspots and can arrange snorkelling trips to some of the more isolated islands in the Marine Park.

How to get there: In high season there are daily boat connections to Koh Lipe from Langkawi, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket (October – May). The main link with the mainland is by ferry from Pak Bara Pier, which is close to Hat Yai Airport. Koh Lipe features on our Island Hopping from Kuala Lumpur to Krabi tour.

We are sure you will agree that the above list includes some sensational snorkelling spots, but it is only the tip of the iceberg of snorkelling opportunities in Asia. There are a wide range of snorkelling and scuba diving options in many Asian destinations, but especially those countries which lie in the Coral Triangle - Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. If you are itching for an underwater odyssey in the enchanting reefs of Asia, please do get in touch and we would be happy to help design your tailor-made escape to Asia.

For regular news and updates on all our destinations, please sign up to our monthly newsletter using the box below or join us on social media – Facebook and Instagram.