If you are traveling to Punta Cana, you are most likely coming to enjoy the beach, the Caribbean sun and the warm waters of the Atlantic ocean. “Why not snorkel a bit”, you might think? This is a legitimate question as there are some nice snorkeling spots in Punta Cana and beyond. In this article, I am showing you where to go for a decent snorkeling experience and am also telling you a little secret most people don’t know about Punta Cana.
- General Information about snorkeling in Punta Cana
- The (best) snorkeling in Punta Cana and beyond
- Snorkeling at Isla Catalina
- Snorkeling at Isla Saona
- Snorkeling during Punta Canas booze cruises and catamaran trips
- Punta Cana Marinarium
- Snorkeling in the Bay of Samaná
- Snorkeling off the resort in Punta Cana/Bavaro
- Snorkeling in the Dominican Republic
General Information about snorkeling in Punta Cana
Let’s start right with the secret I mentioned in the title and the introduction. Although Punta Cana is home to the longest reef in the entire Dominican Republic, it is not the best snorkeling place. Yes, there is some decent snorkeling in the area of Punta Cana, and especially for a beginner it might be awesome. But if you have snorkeled before in some of the most popular destinations worldwide (Maledives, Belize, Red Sea, etc.), better come to Punta Cana with lower expectations when it comes to snorkeling.
In other words, if you are looking for the best snorkeling destination in the Caribbean, head elsewhere and save your trip to Punta Cana for the next time when (serious) snorkeling is not a crucial activity. Some of the best places for snorkeling in the Caribbean I have visited so far were the Tobago Cays in the Grenadines and the San Blas Islands in Panama.
On the other hand, if you have booked your holiday in Punta Cana and would like to add some fun snorkeling, usually combined with other tour elements such as a catamaran cruise or visiting islands, please read on. I am going to show you what to take care of when looking for the best snorkeling experience in Punta Cana.
Furthermore, if you are a beginner in snorkeling, the options in Punta Cana will be amazing for you as all reefs and spots are super easy – no currents, usually shallow water and guides who take care of you.
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The (best) snorkeling in Punta Cana and beyond
Snorkeling at Isla Catalina
If you are looking for THE best place to snorkel in Punta Cana and beyond, Isla Catalina is your place to go. Isla Catalina is an island off the coast from La Romana, a major city in the Dominican Republic approximately 45 miles away from Punta Cana. It features two snorkeling spots – the reef called “The Wall” and some off-shore snorkeling right at the place where you spend your time for lunch, sunbathing and relaxing. “The Wall” is sometimes considered to be one of the best reefs in the whole area of La Romana and Bayahibe.
The best way to go to Isla Catalina is by an organized excursion. You get picked up from your hotel in Punta Cana, head to La Romana and then change onto a catamaran for a relaxing and fun cruise. The snorkeling stop is on the way to Isla Catalina. Honestly, I wasn’t super impressed by the snorkeling, but it was way better than at Isla Saona and also several times better than what you get to see right in Punta Cana when snorkeling, so it is a decent choice. However, I loved the whole excursion, especially as it was a full catamaran excursion where you get drinks, music, food and you can explore a new island, so I can highly recommend this excursion.
I have written a comprehensive article about Isla Catalina here if you are interested in further information.
Snorkeling at Isla Saona
Isla Saona is by far the most popular excursion for all Punta Cana visitors – and it is without a question a stunning one. Marvelous beaches, turquoise ocean (with a color which appears too blue to be true …), stunning scenery and on most occasions and animated party cruise are a combination hard to resist when looking for a typical Caribbean holiday experience. And indeed, I can confirm, the excursion is amazing and will fulfill all your ideas of a picture-perfect tropical backdrop as you can also see here in my complete guide about Isla Saona.
Nearly all tours to Isla Saona also include a snorkeling stop at an artificial reef consisting of a wreck and an old jetty devasted by a hurricane some years ago, which is home to some species of fish. However, snorkeling here is subpar and the diversity of species low, maybe due to the many tours stopping here. Depending on the visibility, sometimes the wreck is also too deep to have a clear view.
This being said, you should visit Isla Saona during your Punta Cana holiday if you are interested in a tropical island scenery, but please don’t go there just for snorkeling.
Snorkeling during Punta Canas booze cruises and catamaran trips
Isla Saona and Isla Catalina are both around an hour driving away from Punta Cana, from most all-inclusive resorts in the area it is even around 1.5 hours. If you rather would like to start a boat trip right from your accommodation than driving so far, there are also several boat trips available that begin right off the beach in Bavaro and Punta Cana. There are plenty of choices, among them party-infested booze cruises, elegant catamaran trips or a combination of both, using various styles of boats including yachts, glass-bottom boats, pirate ships and many more.
Some of those tours include a snorkeling stop on a little reef off the coast from Bavaro. Compared to Isla Saona you might indeed see an abundance of fishes – but only because they are attracted and fed with bread when the tours are coming. Furthermore, it is kind of a monoculture, with most of the fishes being of the same kind.
Therefore, my recommendation is similar to the one for Isla Saona: the booze cruises and catamaran trips along the coast of Bavaro and Punta Cana are fun with some nice scenery and it’s worth to go, but don’t book those tours if you are looking for excellent snorkeling experiences (as long as you are not a beginner).
Punta Cana Marinarium
The Punta Cana Marinarium is another tour you can book while on vacation in Bavaro and Punta Cana. Compared to the other snorkeling spots presented above it brings you a different experience as you have the opportunity to swim and snorkel with stingrays and nurse sharks.
However, as most of the world-wide animal encounters, this comes along with serious limitations of the freedom of those animals. The whole area is mainly fenced off, taking away all the unspoiled beauty of this ocean paradise. The animals are visited and touched multiple times during the day, probably 365 days a year.
Please consider seriously if you’d enjoy this type of snorkeling experience.
Snorkeling in the Bay of Samaná
The best snorkeling reachable from Punta Cana in terms of a day trip is located in the bay of Samaná, which has two stunning reefs: “The Wall” and “La Farola”.
While “The Wall” is located right next to the famous “Bacardi Island” Cayo Levantado, “La Farola” is a sunken ferry between Cayo Levantado and the city of Samaná. I visited both spots and especially La Farola was top-notch with an incredible abundance of fishes and the best snorkeling I had in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic.
However, it would be too easy if such an amazing snorkeling spot would be easily reachable from the all-inclusive resorts in Bavaro and Punta Cana. While it is indeed, as mentioned, only a few hours away and possible as a day-trip, there is, unfortunately, no organized excursion who visit the Bay of Samaná just for snorkeling.
Therefore you only have two options: either you book a pricey private tour (contact me for tour operator details) from Bavaro/Punta Cana or you’ll take advantage of the various group excursions heading towards Cayo Levantado and charter a fishing boat for a quick one-hour side trip while your group has free time on Cayo Levantado.
Snorkeling off the resort in Punta Cana/Bavaro
With around 40 miles of coastline in the Punta Cana area, there should be some snorkeling opportunities right off the beach, people might think. That’s why visitors often raise the question which resorts in Bavaro and Punta Cana are the best to snorkel right off the beach?
To be honest, there is no great snorkeling in front of any resort as the large Punta Cana reef surrounding the whole area is several miles off the coast. The best bet would be the few resorts in Cabeza de Toro (Dreams Palm Beach*, Catalonia*, Be Live Experience*, Natura Park*, etc.), as there is a small reef close to the beach.
If snorkeling right from your resort is important for you, you should check out the Bayahibe area (approx. 1 hour away from Punta Cana), as there are some artificial reefs accessible from the shore, especially along the resorts Dreams Dominicus*, Viva Wyndham Dominicus Beach*, Catalonia Royal* and Iberostar Hacienda*.
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Snorkeling in the Dominican Republic
I hope I have not destroyed your vacation dreams with this blogpost. As mentioned, snorkeling is possible around Punta Cana and might be even great for beginners, but experienced snorkelers can easily be disappointed. However, if you are planning to see more from the Dominican Republic than just Bavaro and Punta Cana, there are amazing snorkeling options available. As those are quite far away from the Punta Cana area, they are only suitable if you are keen to stay several nights in other regions and discover the country road-trip style. Contact me here if you are looking for help crafting an amazing off-the-beaten-track itinerary for your holiday in the Dominican Republic.
Snorkeling at Cayo Arena
One of the best spots to snorkel in the entire Dominican Republic is the tiny little sandbar of Cayo Arena. It is one of the most picturesque sceneries in the country, as it is just a sandbar in the open ocean surrounded by shallow water and an impressive reef. It is the perfect spot for snorkeling. You can see tons of colorful fishes of all different species and if you are there in the early morning or late afternoon, you have the whole reef on your own.
Cayo Arena is located approximately a 20 minutes boat ride away from Punta Rucia, a tiny sleepy fishing town west of Puerto Plata. Punta Rucia itself is already an attraction itself as it has the charm of a seaside village like 30 years ago. Time seems to have forgotten this place.
From Punta Rucia, you can easily get a small boat that brings you to Cayo Arena. Alternatively, there are tours offered from Puerto Plata and beyond*. However, I highly recommend spending the night in Punta Rucia and head off individually the next morning.
Shoot me a message if you need more help planning such an itinerary.
Snorkeling in Sosua
Sosua is a town on the Dominican Republics’ north coast with a kind of sketchy image, especially at night. However, it also hosts a beautiful beach – Sosua Beach – which is widely known and especially popular with locals at the weekend. It is also one of the best options for off-the-beach snorkeling without the need for a boat or an excursion – so why not give it a try. Playa Sosua is home to a vibrant coral reef with different species of tropical fish.
Snorkeling at Silver Banks
You are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling experience in the Dominican Republic? Then Silver Banks might be the place to go for you, as long as you have some spare change available.
Silver Banks is a submerged bank in the Atlantic Ocean between the territories of the Dominican Republic and Turks & Caicos. The area is famous for being home to one of the largest humpback whale populations during the migration season, which is usually from January to March. Due to the remote area, which requires a multi-day trip by boat to reach it, interaction with the whales is still possible in a very sustainable way and reaches until face-to-face encounters in the water, which is hardly possible anywhere else in the world. You can actually snorkel and swim with whales which is a big difference to the regular whale watching tours in the Bay of Samaná.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to experience this adventure on my own so I can’t share any personal experiences of the Silver Banks trip with you.
If you are interested about whale watching in the Dominican Republic, you can continue reading here.
What do you think about the snorkeling options in Punta Cana and beyond? Are you keen to go on one of the mentioned excursions? Do you have any questions? Which is your favorite spot to snorkel? Or maybe you have already been snorkeling in the Dominican Republic and can share your highlights with us? I am delighted to read in the comments about any snorkeling experience you might have had.
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CHRISAuthor, Travel Coach & Punta Cana based digital nomad
Hey, I am Chris, a born and raised German, travel-addictive and Caribbean Soul. Since 2011 I have been living in the Caribbean, among them 5 years in the Dominican Republic. Punta Cana is my home-base here in the country and I’d love to tell you more about how to experience Punta Cana off-the-beaten-track and give you all the advice you want to know for your vacation in Punta Cana.