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Bahamas Snorkeling

For residents of the eastern portions of the U.S. and Canada, Bahamas snorkeling destinations represent the most affordable and convenient way to enjoy a top-notch Caribbean snorkeling holiday.

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The Bahamas consist of a collection of hundreds of low islands that, with few exceptions, rarely exceed 100 ft. in elevation.

The underlying geological structure of The Bahamas differs from that found in almost all other island nations of the Greater Caribbean region.

Nearly all of the islands and coral reefs of The Bahamas are found along the rims of large submarine formations called the Bahama Banks.

These atoll-like plateaus rise steeply from surrounding ocean depths. Portions of the outer rims of the Bahama Banks take the form of island chains and/or fringing reef systems.

Bahama Banks
The Bahama Banks and Caicos Bank from space. Courtesy NASA

The chain of geologic formations that make up the "Bahamas Banks" actually extends to the southeast beyond Bahamian territorial waters.

The southernmost of these "banks" (Caicos Bank) forms the foundation for the Turks and Caicos island of Providenciales. "Provo", as this island is popularly known, is itself an excellent snorkeling vacation destination.

Bahamas Snorkeling Environment

Depending upon the island, good snorkeling opportunities can be found both within the Bank interiors as well as along the reefs that lie along the outer rims of these formations.

shallow plains
The shallow interior platform of the Bahama Banks. © Fotolia

The Bahama Bank interiors consist of large expanses of shallow (less than about 5 to 7 meters) sand habitat, puntuated by the occasional patch reef and seagrass meadow (see left).

The interior margins of islands bordering the rims of the Bahama banks are frequently lined by extensive mangrove forests that can make small boat access difficult if not impossible.

Access to good snorkeling within the Bank interiors is therefore generaly limited to self-sufficient island "cruisers" whose boats can traverse the Banks and/or remain anchored on site for as long as desired.

The very best snorkeling sites to be found in The Bahamas are located within the lagoons that separate offshore fringing reefs from the seaward island shores.

Bahamas patch reef
Lagoon reefs - the best places to snorkel. © Istockphoto.com

Here, shallow, protected waters blanket a patchwork of sand plains, isolated coral heads and patch reef, and seagrass meadows.

The Bahamas are situated at the northern edge of the Greater Caribbean region and experience substantially cooler winter air and water temperatures than those of the more southerly Caribbean islands.

Thus, some corals, fishes, and other marine life of the Greater Caribbean region - organisms that require warmer waters to thrive - are absent or rare in The Bahamas.

The Two Bahamas

Human populations and extensive tourism infrastructure are by no means more or less evenly distributed throughout the hundreds of islands and thousands of square miles that comprise The Bahamas.

Rather - as seasoned travelers and locals will readily tell you - there are really two Bahamas, and they differ like night and day in many respects. This self-evident fact is truly critical when it comes to choosing where to go for a Bahamas snorkeling holiday, for each caters to folks with different tastes and priorities.

In a nutshell, the choices are:

So, let's take at a closer look at each of these Bahamas snorkeling options.

Option 1: Nassau/Paradise Island and Freeport/Lucaya

Nassau (New Providence Island) and its tiny neighbor Paradise Island, along with the Freeport-Lucaya complex (Grand Bahama Island) comprise the main population and tourism centers, and are the largest cities in The Bahamas.

Freeport Beach
Secluded unspoiled beach hideaway in Freeport, Bahamas

These are places you can fly to nonstop from the US, stay in a mid or upscale hotel with all the amenities you'd expect "back home", and have a reasonably wide choice in dining, high-end shopping, night life, and snorkel tour operators.

Here too you can rub shoulders with disoriented throngs of disembarked cruise-ship passengers - hardy pink seafarers who arrive on an almost daily basis and cruise the straw markets in search of local trinkets.

However, avid snorkelers beware. Those visitors who place a high priority on ready access to varied, high-quality snorkeling sites should be aware that the price of this extensive tourism development has been highly degraded coastal and coral reef ecosystems.

About 60% of the coral reef habitat from the north coast of New Providence Island (Nassau/Paradise Island) has been lost since 1943. Most of this damage is attributed to the extensive coastal development that has occurred here; specifically from sedimentation, dredge and fill, and construction of the cruise ship port.

In truth, Nassau and Freeport are good destinations for visitors who want to be in The Bahamas but retain all the comforts of home (Dunkin' Donuts, McDonalds, nightmarish traffic, raunchy discos, 200 channels of cable TV, etc.) AND intend to - maybe - try an hour or two of snorkeling just for yet something else to do.

If - on the other hand - you are a serious or even semi-serious snorkeler who wants to put in a few hours every day (weather permitting) you definitely want to explore Option #2 (below).

Option 2: The "Out Islands" of The Bahamas

The Out Islands of The Bahamas (or "Family Islands" as they are sometimes called) have always been considered a separate category of Bahamas vacation destinations.

sailboat in the Bahamas out islands
The out islands are uncrowded and remote.

These low-lying specks of land are far less developed or populated (and in some cases considerably remote) than the main population centers of Nassau and Freeport.

Here, you will find more of the laid back "real Bahamas" lifestyle so treasured by many visitors, with more privacy and natural beauty.

The eastern shores of some of the Out Islands offer by far the best Bahamas snorkeling, providing ready access to far healthier, less visited coral reefs and marine life than can be found near Nassau or Freeport.

We have devoted separate pages of our website to a few of our favorite out-island Bahamas snorkeling destinations, which include:

Bahamas Travel Information

Getting to The Bahamas is easy, particularly for visitors from the U.S. and Canada.

map of The Bahamas
Travel map of The Bahamas

Nassau (New Providence Island) is the main point of entry to the islands of The Bahamas, although Grand Bahama Island (Freeport/Lucaya) also has an international airports served by flights from the U.S. mainland and other international destinations.

From Nassau, you can make daily connections to many of the Out Islands, with more remote island vacation destinations served at least several times a week.

There are non-stops into Nassau from New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, Toronto, Calgary, Halifax, and London.

The Bahamas also offers a very wide range of accommodations, from luxury hotels at the main tourism centers to high-end resorts and rustic island-style accommodations on the out islands.