As they say, location is everything. Anse Chastanet, which sits right around the corner from the twin pitons that define this island nation, has the lion’s share of St. Lucia’s lush, shallow snorkeling right off its doorstep. Color rules here: Azure vase sponges battle it out for space with brilliant sea fans. Gangs of blue tangs and fanciful creole wrasse roam the reef. Striking goldspotted and sharptail eels slither in the crevices among seahorses and spotted drums. There’s even a boat drift snorkel over coral gardens farther afield.
With such an iconic name as Cousteau attached to a resort, you’d expect the experience to encompass all things having to do with the sea. This resort even has an onsite marine biologist for your inevitable, “What-was-that-blue-thingy-with-the-red-marks?” questions. The shallows just off the beach abound in marine life. You’ll find acres of vividly patterned giant Tridacna clams, clownfish and vibrant, soft-coral-covered reefs. Also check out nearby Namena Reef.
If there is one archetype of a world-class snorkeling site, Oahu’s Hanauma Bay would be it. This ancient volcanic caldera offers snorkelers protection from Pacific-borne waves, a lively, shallow reef and typically crystal-clear water. It doesn’t get much easier than this. If it flits, fins, hides or hunts in Hawaiian coastal waters, you’ll probably find it here in great concentrations. And with more than 30 percent of Hawaiian marine life endemic to the island chain, much of the parade before your mask can be seen only in Hawaii. Camouflage has not been a priority, so most species look like they’ve rolled around in a box of Crayolas. Take a little food with you and you’ll be immediately surrounded by millet-seed, raccoon, threadfin, pyramid and ornate butterflyfish. And keep your eye out for the Hawaii state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, or reef triggerfish.
Every inch of Australia’s 1,250-mile-long Barrier Reef could be considered a world-class destination for snorkelers. Since most of it lies 30 miles off the coast, what could be better than planting yourself on Heron Island, smack on top of the Barrier Reef and spending your days in the water mere steps from the shore? Heron Island, a short hop off Gladstone on the Queensland coast, has a bit of everything, from spotted eagle rays, green sea turtles and manta rays to legions of wildly colored nudibranchs. Sea turtles come ashore to nest from December to February. If you don’t feel like swimming, the resort offers a reef walk that will bring the reef alive — literally — right at your feet.