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  • Writer's pictureThe Everyday Escape, LLC

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef - Tips & Tricks!

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is unlike any other snorkel experience you may have had. Forget snorkeling in the Caribbean or Mexico or even off of the coast of Florida. If you have snorkeled other places in the world, you may be surprised to find this experience is a tad bit different.

Plenty of room to sit and learn about how to snorkel and dive this amazing area.

If you’re planning a trip to Australia or New Zealand and plan to tack this excursion onto your travels, you may want to rely on the expertise of a trusted travel advisor to help you. Did you know that you’re required to wear a body suit? Do you happen to know why? Many, like me, may be surprised to find that this is a requirement and not merely a recommendation. Most of the excursion companies offer these wetsuits complimentary when you book the excursion with them, and regardless of your skillset, don’t plan to forego the wetsuit just to look cool. You’re going to have to wear it!

While many of us avid snorkelers look forward to swimming with the fish and exploring amazing corals and sea life, you may expect the Great Barrier Reef to be the greatest snorkeling experience in the world. But, did you know that the time of year, the weather and other factors can play into your experience? My experience wasn’t quite picture-perfect, which led to a few disappointments along the way. These excursions go rain or shine and with the morning clouds and rain everywhere, I wasn’t very confident that I’d see much. And sadly, that was my experience.

After traveling halfway around the world to what I hoped to be the best snorkel experience of my life, I was frustrated when the weather didn’t want to cooperate in late April. With the cloudy skies and windy forecast came a lot of choppiness at sea that left approximately 20% of the sea-goers on my excursion seasick. Thankfully, I have a strong stomach and I’m not bothered by the bouncing around at all, but for some, it ended up being an opportunity to give back to the sea life via their breakfast. Yes, it was that bad. Thankfully the operators expect this to happen, so they have provisions in place, but that doesn’t include a quick turn-around for anyone as it takes at least 60 minutes just to get to the Reef from the Cairns Harbor.

Wetsuits are required and you'll be glad they are!

Regardless of what seemed like an imperfect snorkeling experience, I still chose to make the most of it. I was thankful for the sun that eventually shined, but even as a good swimmer, I couldn’t hack the roughness of the waves. I found myself reaching out for a helping hand not once, but twice to get back to the boat. Only one other time in my life had I struggled with swimming in the surf, but this proved to be one of those days. Rest assured, there are plenty of skilled divers with you offering you the literal life raft that you may need. And when my FauxPro (my generic GoPro) decided to take a swim without me (the cord broke on my wrist), my knight in shining armor, or rather wet suit and life preserver, went swimming after it and got it. Thank you little yellow floating mount that saved my $150 piece of equipment and snorkel memories! You may want to consider getting one of those here: or here: to protect yours!


If you’re considering adding on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel, here are a few tips and things to consider:

  • Know that not every month provides the perfect weather - some months of the year are better than others. Since Australia is in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll want to go opposite of the summer here in the U.S. Their summer is during our winter, so planning a trip for the best weather is going to be during our winter months. Had I been there a month or two beforehand (in February or March), my experience likely would have been better. (Note - none of us can predict the weather, so know that regardless of the time of year, you could run into unfavorable weather!)

  • Excursions to the Reef are non-refundable unless the operator deems it completely unsafe. Sure, clouds and rain may not make for the best snorkeling experience (it won’t), but if the captain of the boat doesn’t find any reason that going out on the water will be unsafe, the excursion will still happen. That might mean no fish photos and cloudy murky waters.

  • Body suits ARE required! Be prepared to cover up from neck to ankles. Why? Jellyfish are the number one reason why they are required. Since the Reef is a natural habitat for these fish, you’re going to want to make sure you’re covered should you bump into one of these beasts. Having been stung by one in the past, I wasn’t bothered to suit up. You may not make the cover of the next Sports Illustrated magazine, but for your safety, you’re going to want to be covered, and it will be required.

The food kept coming!

  • A light breakfast, buffet lunch and snacks are provided on most of these excursions. You won’t go hungry! I was impressed at just how much food was available for us to enjoy. We had fruit and danishes in the AM as we headed out to the Reef, a buffet lunch in between snorkel spots and cheese and crackers, cake slices, and a fruit plate on our way back. Alcoholic beverages and soda were available for an extra charge, but at a nominal fee. Credit cards and Apple/Google pay were accepted for those extras. (Note - there are cubbies or areas on the boat to store your personal items, so taking a few small things with you is not a problem. Just pack them in a bag so they don't roll around!)

  • You don’t need your own snorkel equipment. I’m one who owns my own professional set, but you don’t need to take it. The tour operators offer fins and snorkels, suits and masks and have sanitization protocols onboard to keep everyone safe.

  • Snorkeling or diving is NOT required to go on the excursions! If you’re traveling with friends or family that want to snorkel or dive and you don’t, there is no requirement that you have to participate. Some just sat and enjoyed the boat while the rest of us enjoyed the water. But, be prepared with a hat and REEF-SAFE sunscreen. (If your sunscreen is not reef safe, you may not be allowed to use it!). That Australian sun can be strong, so you’ll want to protect yourself by ensuring that you have proper sun protection.

Bring sun protection!

  • If you’re wanting to protect your investment, go with a company that offers travel protection. Since these excursions go rain or shine, you may want to work with a company that offers insurance or a cancellation policy. Not sure which one(s) do? We have the inside knowledge on companies that offer this - so reach out to us to help you get the best product for you.

Want to learn more about working with us? Contact us at the link below and let us help you ‘Escape the Everyday’ on your next vacation getaway.

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