Snorkeling Antigua: What to Expect and How to Prepare

If snorkeling above a 100-year-old shipwreck, rainbows of fish, and colorful coral reefs sounds like a dream, the island of Antigua should be on your travel list.

The abundance of beaches and bays makes it one of the most popular destinations for tourists. However, too much choice can sometimes be tricky to navigate on your own.

As they say on the island, “The beach is just the beginning.” So, if you’re looking for things to do or want to find the most luxurious villas to stay in, let Exceptional Villas be your guide.

What makes Antigua a premium choice for snorkeling?

Antigua and Barbuda are tiny Caribbean islands in the Lesser Antilles that boast an incredible variety of landscapes and climates. 

Antigua is widely stated to have 365 beautiful beaches, one for each day of the year. However, now that Hammock Bay Cove has added a new one, there are 366 pink and white sand paradises to explore. Some are accessible from the shore, while others you’ll need to travel to by kayak or boat ride.

antigua scenic ocean view

The clear waters of the eastern Caribbean sea host a rich array of tropical marine life, waving sea fans, and coral reef systems. The west coast on the Atlantic has different types of, yet just as spectacular, sea creatures and rock formations. This makes it a perfect destination for boat tours, water sports, and snorkeling trips.

While snorkeling is possible all year round, the dry season ranges from mid-December to mid-April. At this time, the chance of rain is minimal, while sunshine is abundant. It’s also peak tourist season, so be prepared for busier beaches but a more vibrant atmosphere.

If you’d like to visit in the quieter months, we can talk you through your options.

6 of the best snorkeling spots in Antigua

There are hundreds of idyllic bays and tranquil waters around the coast of Antigua—almost too many to choose from. However, we have an array of spectacular private villas that can be used as a base for any of them. 

We’ve narrowed down six of our favorite snorkeling spots to consider to get you excited for your upcoming trip.

1. Dickenson Bay

If some of your party want to soak up the sun on a sandy beach while others snorkel, look no further than Dickenson Bay. While there is an array of sea life close to shore, we recommend renting a kayak, stand-up paddleboard (SUP), or chartering a boat to explore a little further out.

Once you have your preferred mode of transportation, there are several uninhabited islands and the famed Paradise Reef nearby. Here, you’ll find schools of purple Creole wrasse, long needlefish, and yellowtail snapper.

There’s lots to explore onshore at Dickenson Bay, too, including beach bars, restaurants, places to hire water sports equipment, and tours. It’s also only 10 minutes away from Antigua’s capital city, St John’s. While the beach can get busy in the afternoon, you can always walk or paddle north to Bush Bay for a more secluded spot.

antigua beach palm trees

2. Great Bird Island

This 20-acre islet lies almost three kilometers northeast of Antigua’s North Sound marine park. The sandbar is nestled between two white sand beaches, and the shallow waters make it a popular snorkeling spot for beginners and those with children.

While Great Bird Island is uninhabited by humans, it hosts many endangered creatures like the red-billed tropicbird, brown pelican, and West Indian whistling duck. It’s also the last place you’ll see the Antiguan racer snake in the wild. 

Nearby Maiden Island is home to the largest coral reef restoration project. While Jumby Bay on Long Island, a little further north, houses nesting sea turtles and some of our most luxurious villas.

3. Cades Reef (Cades Bay)

Only reachable by boat, enjoy a tranquil cruise in a catamaran on the crystal clear waters as you head down the southwest coast to Cades Reef. This two-mile coral reef is considered one of the best snorkeling sites in Antigua because of the wealth of marine life, including moray eels, barracudas, nurse sharks, surgeonfish, and eagle rays.

Most organized tours will stop by the barrier reef, so make sure to add one to your list before you arrive. Please note, as it’s an open-ocean site, it may not be suitable for children or beginner snorkelers. 

The resort village of Jolly Harbour is only 15 minutes away, with restaurants and bars for refreshments and plenty of places to watch the staggering sunsets. A little further south, you’ll find our stunning collection of villas in Tamarind Hills.

Cades Reef Antigua Cades Bay

4. Deep Bay Beach

Deep Bay is another well-known snorkeling location that’s pretty close to the capital city but certainly one of the quieter tourist spots. The highlight here is the 100-year-old shipwreck of the Andes that lies fairly close to the shore. We recommend you visit on a day with calm seas around midday—this strong sunlight will help illuminate the 100-foot-long structure from the surface.

It’s a perfect location for scuba diving, too, if you’d like to explore the skeleton of the wreck around 30 feet down. It’s now home to vast shoals of Mangrove Snappers, sea sponges, and moon jellyfish (don’t worry, these are harmless to humans). 

Afterward, you can finish up the trip by heading to Fort Barrington—the 18th-century fort that overlooks the beach—for spectacular views.

5. Half Moon Bay

Named after the crescent-shaped formation of the sand, Half Moon Bay sits quietly away from the hustle and bustle of the busier spots. The seas are a little rougher here, and it’s trickier to get to, so may not be suitable for those traveling with children. When snorkeling, take care of the currents and stick to the rocks on the left side before the turn.

Considered one of Antigua’s most gorgeous beaches, it’s definitely worth the trip for those who want a tranquil place to relax. There are some bars and vendors on the beach, but you may want to bring your own supplies if you’ll be spending the day there at a quieter time.

Further around the coast is the idyllic Green Island (a favorite of green turtles) and Long Bay a little further north—swim out just past the tied-up motorboats to find sponges, sea grass, and schools of fish living among them.

6. Galleon Beach

A secluded beach in the calm waters of the English Harbor area makes this an ideal spot for swimmers, families, and beginners. However, this stretch of coastline also has plenty to explore for more experienced snorkelers.

It’s where you’ll find the unique rock formations called the “Pillars of Hercules”. There are also a few shipwrecks in the shallow waters (one is 10 yards from the eastern shore marked by three buoys set in a triangle) and a small reef nearby. If you want to see sea turtles, stingrays, and an abundance of tropical fish (like the below parrotfish), this is the place.

antigua snorkelling fish ocean

Galleon Beach is part of Nelson’s Dockyard National Park, with plenty of trails and places to hike to once you’re finished in the water. Some notable points of interest include Shirley Heights Lookout (a restored gun battery) and the ruins of Fort Charlotte. You can also hire the equipment for “scooter snorkeling”, which uses battery-powered propellers to create an unforgettable experience.

What you’ll need to pack for snorkeling in Antigua 

Most snorkel tour companies will be able to provide you with basic gear for use in the water. Our concierge can also help you with anything you need. However, you may wish to bring your own. There are also other items that can make your experience more comfortable that we’d recommend adding to your list.

Here are the essentials you’ll need:

  1. A mask and snorkel
  2. Fins
  3. Reef shoes or booties
  4. Rash guards
  5. Snorkel vest

A mask and snorkel

A properly fitted mask should be top of your kit list for any snorkeling adventure. It should feel like a second skin—this will prevent it from leaking or steaming up. 

There are a few different types, so compare full-face versions with single-lens (for unobstructed views) and dual-lens (easier for prescription lenses) masks. 

Your choice of snorkel also depends on your preferred size and style. There are flexible roll-up options or dry-top snorkels which stop water from entering the breathing tube when submerged.


A good pair of fins makes it easier to keep up with all the wonderful fish you’ll be watching. They will also be invaluable if you encounter currents or rougher waters. Snorkeling without fins is a lot more difficult and can sometimes be dangerous. They can also help steady your grip if you’re planning on taking underwater photos.

antigua snorkeling adventure fins

The two most popular are open-heeled or full-foot fins.

Open-heeled fins are the slightly more expensive, heavier version that are worn with socks or booties for insulation. As their name suggests, they’re open at the back, which makes them a little more work to kick. They’re usually for cold-water swimming, but if you have to walk across rough terrain to get to your entry point, they are ideal for any weather.

Full-footed fins are lighter and less rigid as you wear them barefoot. They are the more comfortable choice, but you can’t adjust them, so the fit needs to be exact. These are a great option for warmer climates with sandy bottom beaches.

Reef shoes or booties

While you’re never allowed to stand on or touch reefs, you’ll need protection for your feet from jagged shorelines or sharp objects in the water. 

Reef shoes will help you traverse rocks on the shore as you head to your snorkeling entry point. Booties are the type you’ll usually use with open-heeled fins. However, they can do the same job as reef shoes.

Note: on certain tours, such as Stingray City, you won’t be able to wear these to protect the rays from being accidentally stood on.

Rash guards

Rash guards are a necessity in warmer climates when you’ll be in the water for an extended time. As well as sun protection, these provide a layer of warmth and a thin shield from coral scrapes or small sea creatures. 

You may also want to wear a full wetsuit or leggings for added protection. A swim cap or bandana can also be helpful to protect your head from the sun’s rays. Whichever you choose is completely down to personal preference.

antigua snorkelling rash guards snorkel vest

Snorkel vest

Rougher seas may not be enough to put you off snorkeling in gorgeous Antigua. In these cases, a floatation device is recommended. While life jackets can work, snorkel vests are designed to keep you afloat while still allowing your face to be in the water. These are also great options for beginners and children to make the experience more comfortable.

Recommended extras

To protect your electronics and record your extraordinary memories for everyone back home to see, here are some recommended extras:

    • An underwater camera (e.g. a GoPro) to remember your adventure
    • Microfibre towels that are quick-drying and don’t take up much space
    • A mesh bag for kit transportation that helps it dry faster afterward, too
    • Dry bags for precious items
    • A waterproof phone case to protect your device from splashes

Top tips for snorkeling safety

If you’re visiting outside of the tourist months, be aware of the chance of tropical storms that could affect sea conditions. Just like any Caribbean island, Antigua is best enjoyed safely and responsibly.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your snorkeling adventures:

  1. Always snorkel with a buddy
  2. Make sure your swimming level matches the area you’re snorkeling in
  3. Check the weather conditions before heading out
  4. Don’t ever touch marine life or reefs
  5. Protect your skin and invest in good equipment for a comfortable experience
  6. Don’t snorkel under the influence of alcohol or when overtired
  7. Avoid snorkeling at dawn, dusk, or in murky waters

If you’re using a guide or tour company, all of this will be covered. (Our concierge service will be sure to only recommend the best guides with top-quality safety procedures.) Just bear these tips in mind if you decide to do some snorkeling in your own group during your trip.

antigua snorkeling tips fish ocean

Where to stay in Antigua

With over 70 villas in Antigua, we have homes perfect for trips with friends and family or those looking for a romantic getaway. Our team has personally inspected and vetted each to ensure they meet your highest standards.

If you require a full complement of staff or an abundance of on-site features and amenities, we’ve got you covered. When you’re not experiencing complete luxury in your villa, there are plenty of activities, bars, restaurants, and shops on your doorstep.

Noreen will be your concierge specialist for Antigua to ensure every detail of your trip is well organized. She can assist you with anything you need—fast-track arrival and departure, ground transportation, car rental, half-day and full-day tours and excursions, yacht charters, and restaurant reservations.

Let the expert Exceptional Villa’s sales team talk you through your dream Antigua snorkel vacation.

About Sean Walsh

Sean Walsh is one of our Luxury Caribbean Villa Specialists and has an in-depth knowledge of our luxury villa rentals in The British Virgin islands, Puerto Rico and The US Virgin Islands. Seán studied Customer Service and French in College, where he received a student of the year award. Having worked in France, Spain and Norway and travelled in Asia and The United States, Seán has a real passion for exploring new places.

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