For most folks seeking a cruise with awesome opportunities to snorkel, they look at the Caribbean or down under to explore Australia's Great Barrier Reef. While cruises from west coast ports aren't known for being choice opportunities for snorkeling, that really isn't true. Sure, some destinations like California and Alaska are much colder than the Caribbean, they offer some incredibly unique opportunities. Plus, Mexico and Hawaii shouldn't be overlooked when it comes to warm water snorkeling destinations. Let's take a look at eight awesome places to explore if you are looking to go snorkeling on a west coast cruise.
It should be obvious that most of these excursions will take you away from the cruise ship by boat and those schedules can be unpredictable for a variety of reasons. As such, we highly encourage you to consider excursions offered by the cruise line unless you are a very experienced cruiser and familiar with the dive locations that you are visiting.
Here are some of the best options while on your cruise, whether you’re heading north, south, or west. Keep in mind that not all places are great for all participants, some may require special equipment or advanced skills. We’ll provide all the information you need so that you can start dreaming about your next cruise experience.
La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
Located at the southern end of the Baja California peninsula, La Paz is the capital of Baha California Sur. Tucked just inside the Sea of Cortez, this is a vibrant area for sea life, everything from barracudas, grouper, and parrotfish to the sea lion colony and whale sharks.
There are ample opportunities you will want to explore, depending on how involved you want your experience. The easiest is to stay close to the shore and explore shallow waters right off the beach.
If you want a little less people, you might explore booking a guide to head over to the Isla Espíritu Santo. This is located about 30 kilometers to the north of La Paz, and is a great place to find unobstructed sea life and coral. Just be sure to keep an eye on your time, as most port calls to La Paz are for the day only.
San Diego, CA
San Diego has so much to offer for anyone who enjoys visiting the beach and snorkeling. One of the most coveted spots is La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park. This slice of underwater paradise allows you to encounter dolphins, turtles, leopard sharks, shovel nose guitar fish, an assortment of other color fish, and eve playful sea lions.
This snorkeling experience so much more than what you’ll find among tropical coral. It offers several caves and the regions only underwater caves for your exploring and adventuring spirit. Choose to head out on your own, or join in on a guided tour with an experienced guide to find the best spots.
Catalina Island, CA
Catalina Island is located off the coast of California, southwest of Los Angeles and Northwest of San Diego. The primary town in Catalina is Avalon, which is only about one square mile. Being the ship will anchor offshore, you may want to consider utilizing a paid excursion for this adventure.
Two of the popular snorkeling destinations for the island include the Lover’s Cove marine preserve and the Avalon Dive Park. While in these waters you can expect to see bat rays, kelp bass, Garibaldi damselfish, and even Giant Black Sea Bass.
While this excursion is fun, keep in mind it is not the best for beginners. You’ll want a wetsuit and experience navigating the key to ensure you stay safe.
If you’ve ever dreamt about swimming with the whales, Ketchikan is a must for your snorkeling bucket list. The surface water in this northern destination averages about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’ll definitely need a wetsuit for this one. But don’t worry, these are included when you explore the area on a guided tour. However, that cold water makes it a perfect destination to encounter the majestic humpback whale. Other fun encounters include sea cucumbers, sea stars, jellyfish, moon snails, and urchins.
Keep in mind, this is a wholly different experience than snorkeling in more tropical environments. The visibility here is shorter, and the sea life is a lot more skittish. This is why going with a guide is helpful to point out what you could otherwise easily miss.
One of the favorite destinations for any pacific cruise is Maui, Hawaii, and the snorkeling won’t disappoint. The warm, calm water makes this the perfect destination for both beginners and experience snorkelers alike.
From your ship, you can book an excursion to Molokini, which is a small island off the shores of Maui. This particular island is a state bird sanctuary and the crater is a Marine Life Conservation District. This means there is abundant sea life to see as you explore this tiny volcanic island. If you want to venture out on your own, there are plenty of opportunities from the main island. Consider exploring the Coral Gardens, which hosts a beautiful assortment of coral and the sea life that surrounds it. There is also the Turtle Town if you are in the mood to see the Hawaiian green sea turtle. For this particular location, you’ll still need a guide to avoid getting hurt or damaging the delicate reef.
You may want to explore Napili Bay if you want to get a more secluded experience. This sandy beach is still relatively sleepy, being about an hour from the seaport. However, that also means it's the perfect place to have a relaxing swim with yellow long nose butterflyfish, red pencil urchin, and more.
Another popular destination for cruisers headed to Hawaii is Kona Island. For snorkeling, take a quick 30-minute drive south to find Kealakekua Bay. If you don’t want to go on an excursion, you can rent a car and make the short drive yourself. The waters of the Bay are another designated Marine Life Conservation District, making it appealing for those wanting vibrant sea life. The coral starts in very shallow water right off the shore, so be careful not to stand up and damage it.
Be careful while snorkeling here, because the water gets deep quickly, with rougher tide and channel currents. If you are not a seasoned snorkeler, either go on an excursion or stay close to shore in the calmer water.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
Puerto Vallarta is one of the most popular destinations on the western coast of Mexico, with ample opportunity for snorkeling. For your safety and to ensure you get back to the ship on time, we recommend going on a ship-booked excursion or professional guided trip. Regardless of where you end up going while in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll have time for both snorkeling and soaking up some sun on the beach.
One of the best places to visit is Los Arcos, on the Banderas Bay. During your time here, you can expect a spectacular array of coral, tropical fish, and birds. It is a perfect example of a thriving tropical ecosystem.
Another must-see is the Islas Marietas in the Marietas State Park. This special tour takes you into a uniquely beautiful area with beaches, cliffs, and of course some amazing sea life.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Cabo is a favorite destination for not only cruises, but also anyone just seeking to get on the beach. The waters around Cabo can be strong and dangerous if you don’t know the local conditions. For that reason, it is best to stay with either a ship-sponsored excursion, or book your guide before setting sail.
Like Puerto Vallarta, there are many options to enjoy the waters around Cabo. If you want a truly breathtaking experience, consider the Pulmo National Marine Park and Cabo Pulmo. This vibrant area boasts the most extensive coral garden in the Sea of Cortez. You’ll also up close and personal with giant manta rays, tiger sharks, hammerheads, swarms of eagle rays, and even whale sharks.