Due to its location in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico combines the rain forests of Central America with the beautiful beaches of the Caribbean, making it one jewel of a vacation destination. With its main island home to the culture-rich San Juan and the smaller islands of the archipelago home to pristine wilderness just waiting to be explored, Puerto Rico is a tropical paradise full of adventure.
With tropical weather all year long and warm ocean waters that support a variety of coral and marine life, one of the most popular pastimes in Puerto Rico is snorkeling. Not only are avid snorkelers treated to a vibrant ocean during the day, but the bio-luminescent bays of Puerto Rico present a once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling chance during the night.
Often referred to as the best snorkeling destination in Puerto Rico, Culebra is a small island off the coast of the main island. Although it is only home to a population of roughly 2,000 people, visitors come frequently for the multitude of small sandy beaches that dot the shoreline. As the island has very few island streams that flow into the ocean, visitors who snorkel around Culebra are privileged to optimum clarity in the water even on overcast days.
As for where to snorkel on Culebra, while Flamenco Beach is easily the most popular beach, snorkelers often prefer the smaller, lesser known Tamarindo Beach. While Tamarindo Beach also lacks huge crowds, it is actually preferred due to the abundance of sea life that lives offshore in the sea grass, including sea turtles that come to graze.
Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island)
This island, whose name comes from a pretty bittersweet love story, is an uninhabited nature reserve off the municipality of Ponce. Although out of the way, only accessible by boat or ferry, and lacking any freshwater, it is its remoteness that has lead to such great snorkeling on the island. As the island is protected, this has allowed the marine life to thrive. Caretakers for the island have even created an underwater snorkel trail that visitors can trace for some of the best sights.
Do to the ample ferries from Ponce and the remoteness fostered by the nature reserve, Coffin Island is a convenient place for snorkelers to escape the crowds while not sacrificing the sights.
Cayo Aurora (Gilligan’s Island)
The popular snorkel spots in Puerto Rico are not always so kind to the young enthusiasts among us. With changing ocean conditions, sometimes they can be not quite so kind to even veteran snorkelers. However, for those snorkeling with kids, Cayo Aurora, otherwise known as Gilligan’s Island, provides a safe and beautiful place to learn the finer points of this sport.
What makes Cayo Aurora so spectacular is that the ocean waters are as clear as your hotel’s pool and surrounded by lush mangroves to keep the ocean swells to a minimum. With depths of only around two feet, everyone can get up close and personal with tropical fish that are born and live here before setting off into the open ocean with adulthood.
Located on the southwest coast of the main island, La Parguera is a nature reserve made up of a series of mangrove islands, coral reefs, and salt marshes. Due to such a varied ecosystem, La Parguera supports an array of marine life, the likes of which snorkelers will see nowhere else in the world. The landscape attracts everything from dolphins, turtles, barracudas, and manatees as well as an abundance of tropical fish. However, due to the presence of such exciting marine life, this area gets crowded during the summer and is popular for snorkeling tours rather than just solo groups.
However, La Parguera has another secret. It is also home to one of Puerto Rico’s three bioluminescent bays. During the summer, La Parguera fills up with marine plankton known as dinoflagellate that glow at night, giving the water a speckled, night’s sky appearance. What’s more is that this bay is the only one of the three bioluminescent bays that allows for night-time snorkeling and swimming.
Located outside of Rincon on the main island, snorkelers need to make sure they only go snorkeling here during the summer months. While Steps Beach is a great snorkel destination when the water is calmer, the beach is actually world famous for its huge swells during the winter. Unless you happen to also be a surfer, be sure to avoid getting in the water here during the winter months.
That being said, when you can snorkel it, visitors are privileged to be able to view one of the largest Elk Horn coral gardens in the Caribbean, a reef that also supports sea turtles as well as schools of Blue Tang, Angelfish, and many more.
Balneario El Escambron
If you only find yourself in Puerto Rico for a short while, you may not have the time to explore the archipelagos outermost reaches. However, even in the crowded city of San Juan, snorkelers can find a great snorkel spot. While the beautiful beach of Balnerario El Escambron is a popular swimming destination, if snorkelers trace the sand far too the left to the protected waters facing the Caribe Hilton, they will find a lot of marine life. This area prevents a lot of the sand stirrup that ruins clarity at swimming beaches, and attracts a lot of tropical fish. While other spots are better, this is a great place to visit if you are short on time in Puerto Rico, but still want to do some snorkeling in those beautiful tropical waters.