Snorkeling In Punta Cana: Excursions, Beaches, Islands And Marine Life

punta cana snorkel beaches

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 usually provides a better experience for beginners.

1. Punta Cana Snorkeling Boat Tours

There are many different boat tours for snorkeling in Punta Cana. Some of them include other activities such as parasailing. The boats will take visitors to a location where snorkeling is ideal. Travelers can choose between catamarans or speedboats to get to these locations. There are a number of local adventure groups and tours available. 

Some tours will stick closer to the shore, but there is more to see on a tour that goes to local sites in the Caribbean. Isla Catalina or Saona Island are good examples. There are spots with shallow water and reefs where beginners can learn to snorkel safely. Some tours are more advanced and take visitors out to a reef in order to explore a more diverse marine life.

Whether travelers want to do a full day trip or take a boat out to the reef for a few hours, there’s always a tour that fits your desires. The water temperature is warm enough to snorkel without a wetsuit, and the visibility allows for snorkeling almost every day of the year.

Tip: If your tour operator provides all the necessary gear, make sure to read our review about full face snorkel masks. Yes, they can be awesome, but they can also come with risks. If you experience motion sickness easily, a boat trip could result in a disaster. Find more information in our article snorkeling and seasickness.

Saona Island Punta Cana
Mano Juan Beach on Saona Island (Fishermen’s Village)

Sharks and Stingrays Excursion

This is a fantastic excursion that offers vacationers the opportunity to snorkel in the tropical coral reefs of Punta Cana, as well as interact with stingrays and swim with nurse sharks. This is an incredible chance to have three unique marine life experiences in one tour. The company “Marinarium” offers these kinds of adventures in case you’re interested.

Reef Explorer (by Marinarium Excursions)

Visitors can book a tour and go out to the reef, where they can snorkel among sharks, stingrays, and a huge number of tropical fish. Often, these tours are combined with opportunities for kayaking, paddle surfing, and enjoying other activities as well.

2. Catalina Island

Catalina Island is located a 90-minute boat ride southwards from Punta Cana. The island is located in the Caribbean Sea. The coral reefs are vibrant, and there are many species of tropical fish that live in this environment. Dressel Divers is a company that takes you to the island. They know exactly where to spot a wide variety of marine life.

Catalina Island is considered to be one of the best snorkel spots in the Dominican Republic, and the views on the boat ride over are unforgettable. Many tours have a certified snorkel instructor onboard, which is great for beginners.

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.

catalina island dominican republic
The beach at Catalina Island

3. Saona Island

This island is located on the Caribbean side of the Dominican Republic, and there are many radiant reefs and tropical fish. The island has beautiful beaches, and it’s the biggest island in the country. It’s great for snorkeling because it has underwater caves and corals, as well as a variety of tropical fish and mollusks. More information about these excursions can be found on the Punta Cana Tours website.

4. Paradise Island

Some people say that this is the best spot to snorkel in all of the Dominican Republic. It’s a shallow sandbar, it has a few huts, and the water is crystal clear. Paradise Island is completely encircled by colorful reef.

paradise island
Relax in one of the beach huts on Paradise Island

5. Snorkeling Off the Beach in Punta Cana

Although the all-inclusive resorts do offer snorkeling from their beaches, there isn’t as much to see as there is away from the shore. It’s a fun and inexpensive way to get some snorkeling in, but if possible, it is best to take a boat.

Bavaro Beach

Bavaro Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the area. 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.

bavaro beach
Bavaro Beach in Punta Cana

6. Marine Life in Punta Cana

There is such a variety of marine life off the coast of the Dominican Republic that travelers always include snorkeling in their vacation adventures. Take a look at some of the marine life that live in this tropical paradise:

  • Sergeant fish
  • Angelfish
  • Blowfish
  • Parrotfish
  • Lobsters
  • Moray eels
  • Clownfish
  • Stingrays
  • Nurse sharks
  • Sea turtles
  • Barracudas
  • Dolphins
  • Trumpetfish
  • Lionfish
  • Atlantic sailfish
  • Seahorses
  • Starfish
Trumpetfish can grow up to 30 inches in length

In addition, there are living coral reefs, jellyfish, and anemones. In fact, some of the sea turtles and stingrays are over 50 years old. There is nothing more amazing than snorkeling and seeing the marine life up close.

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 the 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.

7. 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

This beach has a reef just 100 meters away from the shore. It has beautiful beaches, and there are tour guides who will take you to Paradise Island, which is nearby.

Bayahibe Beach

This is a nearby region, and it is full of beautiful beaches. There is great off shore snorkeling, and both Catalina Island and Saona Island are close to this shore. Vacationers can take a boat trip to one of the islands for some of the best snorkeling in the region.

Samana Bay

There is great off beach snorkeling here, and visitors will see crabs, needlefish, and coral. By going out on a tour, there are sunken ferries and other interesting things to explore.

samana bay
Samana Bay

8. Guidelines For Snorkeling In The Dominican Republic

The first thing to know is that snorkeling is better on the Caribbean side of the island. The Atlantic Ocean can be rough and there’s a good amount of sea traffic. As a result, the coral is not as vibrant and there is less marine life to see. 

Although there are a few places to snorkel off the beach, the best way to snorkel is by taking a tour. There is such a wide variety of tours available, that tourists can experience many exciting adventures at the same time. 

There are tours that take people out in a glass bottom boat to a great snorkeling spot off shore. Others combine snorkeling excursions with parasailing and other exciting activities. For people who are traveling in a group, some of these tours offer private charters, and snorkeling is almost always a part of it.

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, including the coral.

9. Final Thoughts

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 sea waters, 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!

The coral reef is diverse, with different types of coral of different shapes, sizes, and colors, and there are loads of tropical fish to see. In addition, some tours combine swimming with nurse sharks and stingrays, which is something to surely remember. The most important thing is to determine what you want to fit into your day, and choose the excursion that is best for you.

If you’re curious about other snorkeling spots across the globe, feel free to take a look at our locations category.


What a trip with Dressel Divers looks like from Bayahibe Beach to Saona Island (marine life included):

Our summary video of this article:

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