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Coral reefs are one of our planet’s most unique beauties, a must on any travel bucket lists. Their gleaming vivid colors and the explosion of shapes and sizes fascinate onlookers and provide an idyllic habitat to countless species.

Sadly, more than 50% percent of corals that once existed are now dead, due to a range of factors including the warming of ocean waters, overfishing, sedimentation, pollution and bleaching. Up to 70% of the world’s reefs are expected to die by 2020, and be almost extinct by 2050 (more than 90% dead).

This will mean extinction not only for the corals, but also for around one quarter of the Earth’s species (marine animals and fish that only live in coral reefs), and have worrying affects for the billion odd human beings who rely on them to provide a buffer against waves, storms, and floods.

So conservation efforts to preserve what’s left of the world’s reefs are of vital importance. In terms of reviving coral reefs, according to, scientists have begun researching the viability of transplants (similar to human ones), but haven’t confirmed whether this method is realistic yet.

Explore the Beauty of Coral Reefs in 5 Unique Trips

There are many ways in which you can visit a coral reef and admire its breath-taking beauty, while you still can. Tourism to coral reefs around the world happen in a highly supervised manner so that our presence doesn’t further contribute to their extinction.

The following are five unique trips which will allow you to explore the true beauty of the world’s coral reefs.

Buck Island, United States Virgin Islands

One of the best places to explore reefs in the Caribbean, Buck Island is very popular with snorkelers and divers of all backgrounds.

Its marine garden is beaming with bio-diversity, and you can also admire unique species on its beaches. The brown pelicans and the hawksbill turtles are some of the island’s surface attractions.

How to Get There

It’s easiest to access Buck Island from the U.S., through the tours organized by Caribbean Sea Adventures or Big Beard’s Adventure Tours.

Photo © James Kelley

Cape Verde Islands, The African Coast

Still not overcome with tourist hordes, Cape Verde is a great place to visit not only for the reefs, but also for the food, music and culture.

The former Portuguese colony is one of the most fascinating places on Earth, and the lava shoal coral reefs are as exciting as a reef can be: many have formed around shipwrecks, there are also underwater caves to explore, as well as unique species of animal life to be admired.

Furthermore, if you can visit Cape Verde in March and April, you are in for an extra treat: humpback and gray whales are making their yearly migrations at this time, offering a breathtaking view.

How to Get There

TACV is the national carrier of Cape Verde (also known a Cabo Verde). Most international flights land on Sal or Santiago, though there are also international flights arriving in Boa Vista and São Vicente.

Tumbalen, Indonesia

Considered to be one of the world’s most diverse coastal environments, this island destination of Indonesia has become a tourist’s paradise.

For the best coral reef sights, tours will take you a bit offshore from the Lombok Straight harbor and from Amuk Bay coast. For best access, make your base in the Candi Dasa, a small resort town where you can hire many storefront operators for diving.

You can go snorkeling for a chance to admire the reefs up close or observe the surface marine species that make the islands their home.

How to Get There

Visibility is best during April to July and October to November, so we recommend travel at this time. Day trips can be taken from Bali, and the best way to get there would be to fly into Bali’s airport, Ngurah Rai International Airport.

Sea coral reef RF

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia

It’s one of the most important coral reefs in the world and perhaps the most spectacular. It’s so big you can see it from the moon (no kidding!).

The best views are reserved for Green Island and Beaver Cay, accessible by boat from Mission Beach (south of Cairns). The fascinating marine life of the area can be visited and admired by snorkelers across vast areas; the shallow waters are welcoming, and the visuals are spectacular!

How to Get There

It’s best if you set your base in the Whitsunday Islands. Local diving operators can then take you to the best sight-seeing spots for the reef.

Great Barrier Reef Australia RF

Cozumel, Mexico

Another great spot for coral reef gazing is Cozumel, conveniently located in the western hemisphere and, thus, easy to access from the U.S.

The spectacular coral reefs here are built up by the strong (but navigable) currents, and the variety of colors is stunning. The underwater geography is also spectacular: dramatic drop-offs and rise-ups, along with underwater caves make Cozumel one of the best marine sights in the world.

How to Get There

Cozumel is located just off the coast of Yucatan and travelling there is easy enough. The tricky part, however, is finding a good reliable diving operator, with plenty of experience in the sometimes-tricky waters of Cozumel.

We recommend Liquid Blue Divers or Aqua Safari (you can find them easily to book diving tours in advance).

Photo © James Kelley

Wrapping it Up

There are at least 10 other great coral reef tourist sights not included in our list, for reasons of editorial space. The Fiji Islands, Japan, Hawaii and even California and Florida are other popular destinations for admiring beautiful coral reef.

Regardless of where you choose to go, it’s important to experience the beauty of reefs at least once, while we may still have the chance.


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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.



  1. I was just planing my trip to Indonesia,looking for a diving spot. Thank you for the info,Megan! Will check Tumbalen for sure :)

    • So glad we could catch you at the right time Slav :) Hope you have a fabulous trip to Indonesia – enjoy Tumbalen!

  2. The Great Barrier Reef is on my bucketlist to see before it disappears. Is Cairns a good base?

    • Awesome Rima! Hope you have the chance to travel soon :) Cairns is a great base, and from there you can explore a lot of tropical North Queensland. We’re planning on traveling back to QLD at the end of the year, and will be basing in Port Douglas, which is closer to the rainforest, so that’s a great choice of base too. And if you have extra time, Fitzroy Island is supposed to be incredible – it’s not technically the Great Barrier Reef, but I’m looking forward to getting there, it’s supposed to be just as incredible, and with less crowds :)

  3. This gives me even more of a reason to get my dive cert – I needed a kick in the ass, so thanks for the inspiration. Have just been snorkelling to date but I think it’s better opportunities with proper diving.

    • Absolutely Bobbie – and obviously you can get deeper with scuba vs snorkelling which is access to a completely new world :) You can usually do a PADI course in most destinations which have a big scuba scene, so could easily work the course into a holiday if you’re finding you’re short of time at home :)

  4. Cozumel is fantastic, we visit every year. The water is always so exceptionally clear, we often get visibility of up to 200 feet. It’s easily one of the best spots to spend time on a reef.

    • Awesome to hear that Jose – Cozmuel is a great place for an annual vacation :)

  5. Surely if you’re going to start with any, you’d start with the biggest in the world right! I want to do the Great Barrier Reef because it’s also a wonder of the world!

    • It’s definitely a wonder! Hope you have the chance to visit soon :)

  6. The New Caledonia Barrier Reef is another good one to add here; it’s UNESCO like the GBR, and you had better believe that there are that many shades of blue. The Belize Barrier Reef is also a beautiful spot for anyone visiting Central America.

    • Thanks for the tips Melinda, I’m located in Australia at the moment, so many New Caledonia can be the next vacation spot on the list :)

  7. Did you find Nemo? :D

    • Haha schools of him!

  8. WOW how close did you get to that humpback whale … or did you have a really good zoom? Which camera do you use?

    • Pretty close! We use a Canon Powershot SX60 for above water wildlife photography – we have DSLR cameras but the zoom on the mid range achieves far better quality than the zoom on the DSLR :)

  9. Love this! Very insightful. Thanks! :)

    Noel from the Philippines

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Noel :) Happy travels!

  10. Yes, coral reefs are an incredible natural wonder of the world. But I think it’s naive to believe that tourism doesn’t have an equally damaging affect on these ecosystems as other factors.

    Human activity is a huge factor which is contributing to the decline of reefs all over the world. When people snorkel and dive, they stand on, walk on, kick, touch, and trample, the corals. Boating and anchors damage the habitats, tourist fishing and seafood trade leads to overexplotation of the population, and certain fishing techniques actually cause damage too. Sewage, waste, chemicals, invasive species that come along for the tourist boat ride on people’s shoes, clothes, and that’s not to mention the desire people have for taking souvenirs from the sea.

    Yes tourism might happen in a highly supervised manner, but the best way to protect a reef is to remove tourism all together.

    • Hi Tyson, thanks for sharing your opinion. I personally believe that controlled, responsible, and sustainable tourism is enough to combat the negative affect of human interaction with the coral reefs, and while a certain percentage of human activity is inevitably going to have some type of impact, I believe that tourism is vital to protecting these ecosystems at all.

      Firstly, the $$$ that tourism to these regions generate usually makes up the biggest chunk of funding for research, preservation, and conservation, and without it, the resources we currently have access to to sustain the reefs would disappear. But more than that, people have to actually experience something to care about it. If they don’t care about it, then it’s essentially doomed.

      So yes, tourism might have unfortunate negative effects on some ecosystems, though it’s a necessary evil if you want to protect it at all.

  11. Even though Eilat isn’t considered to be one of the world’s greatest reefs, it’s quite majestic, and one of my favorites. The water is so salty (though not as bad as the Dead sea) so you float effortlessly. You should go!

    • Thanks for the recommendation Angela! We haven’t made it to Israel yet, but hope to have the chance to travel soon :)

  12. One of our favourite things to do when we travel.

    • Mine too!

  13. Fantastic

    • Glad you enjoyed the post :)

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