Punta Cana has the longest coral reef in the Dominican Republic, but some areas are better to snorkel than others. It’s different from other Caribbean destinations because Punta Cana touches both the Atlantic Ocean (in the north) and the Caribbean Sea (in the south).
The Atlantic Ocean means rough water, especially in the winter. In addition, many of the coral reefs have suffered damage from high traffic and fishing in the area. The Caribbean Sea is usually calm and provides a better experience for beginners.
Did you know: Punta Cana made it to the number 5 spot in our list of Best Snorkel Locations in the Caribbean.
How to get there
Punta Cana International Airport is the main and most straightforward airport to consider. From there you could either hire a car, grab a taxi or use public transportation.
We always use Skyscanner, especially because there’s an option to combine your flight with some great deals on airport car hire. If you don’t have specific travel dates in mind, try their “Flexible dates” function (you’ll get this option once you select your departure date). That’s where we often find some great deals!
In our opinion its best to join a boat tour. We’ll mention a few good (and popular) ones in just a moment. Like we said, if possible, consider to find a company that operates in the Caribbean Sea. Catalina Island and Saona Island are two examples (we’ll cover them both in the next chapter). Depending on your skills there must be something to match your expectations. Beginners could go for shallow areas whilst advanced snorkelers could join a tour towards reefs with a more diverse marine life. Last but not least, these tours aren’t only about snorkeling. It’s a fun way to explore the scenery from one of their catamarans. The water temperature is comfortable pretty much all year round.
If you experience motion sickness easily, a boat trip could result in a disaster. Find more information in our article about snorkeling and seasickness.
Marinarium is a company that provides a variety of excursions and activities. One of their most popular trips is called the “Reef Explorer”. You probably guessed it, they take you out to one of the nicest coral reefs in Punta Cana. Another popular activity is to observe stingrays and nurse sharks. If one of your friends isn’t interested in snorkeling, they provide catamaran and kayaking tours as well.
Catalina Island can only be visited by boat. The trip is quite long, about 1.5 hours, but its coral reefs and marine life make up for that. Dressel Divers is a company that takes you to the island. Their snorkel instructor knows how to keep you entertained for the day. However, more importantly, they know exactly where snorkeling is best. Some people say that Catalina Island is “the best” snorkel location in all of Punta Cana. Some disagree. We guess it all depends on having the right instructor.
If you want to teach your kid how to snorkel, find a location where the ocean is quiet and where the water temperature is pleasant. All necessary information when bringing your child can be found in our complete guide for snorkeling with kids.
Just like Catalina Island, Saona Island is also located on the Caribbean side of the Dominican Republic. This actually is the country’s biggest island with underwater rocks and caves. As a result, various corals and multiple fish species are attracted to the island. In between snorkel sessions you can enjoy the beautiful beaches. More information about these excursions can be found on the Punta Cana Tours website.
Some people say that this is the best spot to snorkel in all of the Dominican Republic. Uhm…didn’t we just say that Catalina Island is the nicest? Hmm…we leave it up to you to decide. Paradise Island offers a shallow sandbar, a few huts and (of course) crystal clear water. As the finishing touch you’ll find a coral reef.
Snorkeling Off the Beach
Even though the all-inclusive resorts allow you to snorkel directly from their beaches, both corals and fish species can’t be compared to the islands we just mentioned. However, if you’re traveling by car or if you don’t feel like joining a tour, some mainland beaches offer decent snorkeling. In our opinion, Bavaro Beach is one of your best options.
Bavaro Beach is one of the most popular beaches. It’s located about 20 minutes by car towards the north of Punta Cana. You’ll find many resorts and pools which is great if you prefer a relaxing holiday.
Like we mentioned, snorkeling off the beach directly is less fascinating than going on an excursion. But you can, of course, snorkel in Bavaro Beach. You’ll come across different schools of fish, but the coral is less impressive. For recreational snorkelers who don’t expect the most exclusive marine life, this is worth a consideration.
From Bavaro Beach you can also go on a boat trip in case you need a little excitement. The islands towards the south, like we mentioned, are some of the best locations if you ask us.
Marine Life in Punta Cana
- Sergeant fish
- Moray eels
- Nurse sharks
- Sea turtles
- Atlantic sailfish
In addition, there are living coral reefs, jellyfish, and anemones. Some of the sea turtles and stingrays are over 50 years old.
Be reminded: Coral in Punta Cana is not always fascinating. Water activities and fishing have destroyed a big amount of coral (learn how to contribute in our snorkeling and the environment article). The Punta Cana Foundation started to restore its coral with underwater nurseries. However, this repopulation takes time. That being said, all the damage is the main reason why this long coral reef and the lovely surrounding beaches are not in the Top 5 of most snorkelers. But if you manage to visit a non-damaged reef, you can still explore a fascinating marine life.
Tip: If you’re scared to snorkel because of all the fish, or if you’re anxious about water insects, consider to read some of our other articles. If you snorkel in rocky areas, feel free to check out our guide about rash guards.
Snorkel Spots When Traveling The Dominican Republic
Some visitors choose to travel to other locations in the Dominican Republic to snorkel. There are a few spots that are worth a day trip to enjoy snorkeling along the shore:
Sosua beach has a reef that sits about 300 feet (100 meters) away from the shore. You’ll find beautiful beaches and boat trips to Paradise Island (which is nearby).
This is a nearby area packed with beautiful beaches. Snorkeling directly from the beach is pretty decent. Boats to Catalina Island and Saona Island are available.
Samana Bay offers good snorkeling as well. You’ll probably see crabs, needlefish and some coral.
It’s important to remember that snorkeling should always be done with a buddy. If you are traveling alone, join a tour to make sure that you stay safe. You can rent any necessary equipment or bring your own (also read our guide about buying vs renting snorkel gear). The important thing is to make sure that the equipment is in good condition. To stay safe, avoid mixing snorkeling with alcohol, make sure that you are well hydrated, and to use proper UV protection. Be aware of the ocean, including the currents, waves, wind speed, and any other potential dangers. Take pictures and enjoy, but don’t touch the marine life.
Because the Dominican Republic is surrounded by both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, there is a wide variety of marine life to explore. The rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean create some unique coral structures, but this area can be very dangerous and should only be attempted by more experienced snorkelers.
The Caribbean coast has much calmer water, almost perfect visibility and beautiful sites. For some lovely snorkeling and a variety of marine life, consider a tour that includes a visit to Catalina Island or Saona Island. There is so much to see on the islands in addition to snorkeling, and it’s worth making a day out of the trip. Don’t forget your GoPro!