Snorkeling is definitely one of our recommended activities on Providenciales. The Bight Reef and Smith’s Reef are the two main snorkeling sites accessible from the beach. The Bight Reef is easy to access, but the more difficult to find Smith’s Reef offers much more to see. Snorkeling on a boat cruise can be excellent and better than the beach reefs, but it depends on where your captain takes you. One of the dedicated snorkeling trips available from a dive company will usually give the best underwater experience.
Providenciales offers some great snorkeling right from the beach. Generally, the best snorkeling reefs are off the north coast, but there are quite a few interesting sites elsewhere also. See detailed information on the main locations below. If your schedule allows, it’s worth waiting for calm and sunny conditions as your snorkeling experience will be much more enjoyable.
Where to buy or rent gear
Many of the watersports and gift shops in Grace Bay sell snorkeling gear and prices range from about $30 for a basic quality mask, snorkel and fins, up to $70-100 for a really good set. We recommend visiting one of the dive shops to get the best selection and advice on gear and fitment. Snorkeling gear is also available for rent from most dive shops and at the SNUBA stand at the Bight Reef.
Bandtail Puffer Fish at Smith’s Reef, Providenciales.
Important Snorkeling Guidelines
Don’t touch or stand on anything. Coral is a living animal and you will likely kill or severely harm any part you contact.
Make sure not to brush anything with your flippers or gear.
Don’t take anything. This includes all shells, sand dollars, sea urchins, starfish and small pieces of coral.
Don’t heavily coat yourself with sun screen or other lotions before snorkeling.
Don’t follow closely or chase any sea life.
Don’t attempt to feed any sea life.
All of the snorkeling sites listed here are in national parks and it is illegal to fish or collect conch and lobster. Penalties can be harsh, especially for foreigners.
Flamingo Tongue sea snails on soft coral at Smith’s Reef, Providenciales.
Power boats and reckless operators are the biggest danger to snorkelers. Although all of the snorkeling sites we list are in national parks with regulations on vessel speed, boaters commonly ignore these rules. Generally, the areas around the reefs are safe, but please be aware in the open spaces and far from shore.
Currents, waves and rough conditions are another concern. Generally, the popular snorkeling sites in the Bight and Turtle Cove areas have rather tame conditions, but locations off the east and west coasts of Providenciales are subject to currents and rough surf at times. Beginners and unsure swimmers should consider using a snorkeling vest.
Lionfish are probably the biggest sea life threat to swimmers. The Lionfish are an invasive predatory species from the Indo-Pacific and are quite damaging to the native fish and reefs. The fish are predators and although only reaching a mature length of about 14 inches, they consume an incredible amount of the smaller reef fish. The danger to humans come from the venomous spines on the back of the Lionfish. The stings are usually just very painful, but in worst case scenarios can cause temporary seizures or paralysis. Fortunately, the lionfish are not aggressive to humans and only sting in defensive situations.
Very small jellyfish are occasionally seen around Providenciales. The jellyfish appear usually show up in large groups, but tend to disappear after a couple days. The stings from these jellyfish tend to cause small itchy welts and are more of a nuisance than any danger. It’s extremely rare to see Portuguese-Man-Of-Wars or the larger types of jellyfish here.
Although they can look scary, sharks and barracudas should be considered harmless to snorkelers. The only known cases of shark attacks on snorkelers in the Turks and Caicos are a couple of incidents that happened to spear fishers (spear fishing results in blood and thrashing fish and is illegal here) far from shore and the attacks weren’t fatal.
The Bight Reef is by far the most popular snorkeling site on Providenciales and can be quite busy when conditions are good. This is an excellent site for beginners as the reef starts right off the beach and is clearly marked and easy to access. The many fish here are used to people and are more tame than the other snorkeling spots. Many different types of reef fish and a sea turtle or two can be seen here consistently, along with the occasional barracuda.
Smith’s Reef is the name for several reefs near Turtle Cove. Smith’s Reef is a lot more extensive than the Bight Reef, but is less busy as the reefs can be a little hard to find. Impressive spotted Eagle Rays are often seen here, along with sea turtles and many types of fish. The density of fish is a little lower than at the Bight Reef, but there’s a lot more to explore.
Northwest Point Marine National Park offers some amazing snorkeling, but caution should be taken as the area is remote and conditions can be rough at times. Be careful not to step on any sea urchins in the shallow water right of the coast. We don’t recommend Northwest Point to casual snorkelers.
Snorkeling from the Beach Compared to a Snorkeling Boat Cruise
A good snorkeling cruise will typically be better in several ways than the experience at one of the reefs near the beach. Visibility is almost always far superior, reef and coral formations are usually much better, and you’ll also have a greater chance to see some of the larger sea animals. However, one of the decent shore sites on Providenciales (such as the outer reef at Smith’s Reef) will typically offer a wider selection of approachable reef fish and small creatures, along with the obvious benefit of not costing anything.
One of the dedicated snorkeling trips (usually travelling out to the south edge of the Caicos Banks) offered by the local dive companies will usually give by far the best underwater experience compared to a combination beach and snorkeling cruise. Most boat tours include the use of snorkeling gear, although quality and condition vary.