One thing on my bucket list was to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but we had no idea how mind-blowing of an experience it would actually be until we did it, and now we can’t recommend it enough. Snorkeling / scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef is a once-in-a-lifetime, must-do adventure. It’s in our top 3 travel experiences of all time!
While, yes, visiting the Great Barrier Reef is an amazing experience, I also encourage people to go if they can to further educate and motivate us to love and conserve our oceans. The GBR is the world’s largest coral reef system, and due to climate change and overfishing, at least half of GBR has been bleached to death since 2016. 🙁 Though tourism contributes to this issue, it also offsets it as income generated by the GBR’s tourism industry serves to benefit ongoing conservation efforts.
Before going, we did a lot of research and then had a fun, hassle-free time — so I wanted to pass on our itinerary and tips for your future trip.
When to Go
My best friend was getting her Masters in Sydney, Australia at the time, so I wanted to visit her, and since we were already Down Under, we HAD to see the Great Barrier Reef and make a trip of it!
Because I’m a teacher, we traveled there in the summer during my break so we’d have enough time. Just remember that summer in the US is winter in Australia, but it was still 85 degrees in Port Douglas the day we went to the Great Barrier Reef and the water was warm.
How to Get There
Why Port Douglas: There are other access points to the Great Barrier Reef, like Cairns, but we decided on Port Douglas because we also wanted to explore Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, and more spots that are nearby. Plus, it’s a cute, beachy town that was a chill getaway from city life.
Snorkeling Tour Company: After researching, we chose Calypso Reef Cruises to take us out to the Great Barrier Reef and booked our tour online months beforehand. We decided to spend a full day to go to the Opal Reef, but there are half day tours. Calypso’s the only company I have experience with, but we had a great time so I’d recommend them! There were only like 20-30 people on our cruise so the Reef never felt crowded.
Snorkeling Tour Schedule: A Calypso shuttle picked us up from our hotel in the morning, and we were ready to depart to the Reef by 8:45am. It takes almost 1.5 hours to head to the outer reef, but time passed quickly as breakfast is included, so we spent time eating, changing into provided wetsuits, and enjoying the view. You visit 3 sites, and you spend about 1-2 hours at each, but I never felt rushed. You also get afternoon tea and lunch included before heading back around 4pm. See more schedule details here.
What to Expect
Views: The water is an unbelievable blue and everything is so vibrant — these photos don’t do it justice. You really need to see for yourself! There are guided tours offered on Calypso, so we would snorkel together then come up and debrief about what we saw. In this post are just a few things we got to see, like “Brain” coral, a reef shark, and the giant clam that made me feel like I was in the Little Mermaid!
Equipment: All the equipment you’ll need is provided: wetsuits, fins, snorkels, and optional pool noodles. We bought these underwater phone case bags but ended up renting this underwater camera from Calypso because it was more convenient to use.
What to Pack: When I wasn’t in the wetsuit, I wore a hat, long sleeve rash guard, tights, and polarized sunglasses to protect from the sun. Before I got int the water, I used reef-safe sunscreen (products without oxybenzone and octinoxate). Even though it was winter there at the time, I still got a little sunburned after a full day out in the water, so be especially careful if you’re there in the spring/summer!
Experience: I get mild motion sickness so I took a ginger tablet that Calypso provided and stared into the horizon, which helped. However, there was a passenger who threw up the entire time and ended up not snorkeling because he felt so ill. On the other hand, my Husband doesn’t get seasick at all. So it may help if you know how your body would react!
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Oaks Resort in Port Douglas and we loved it! The resort is spacious with fun activities and bars on site. We borrowed a couple bikes and would ride to the nearby beach and dinner. We got a King Room, which included a washer and dryer in the unit, and that was so nice to be able to do laundry after a day at the beach.
Have you been to the Great Barrier Reef or is the GBR on your bucket list? Also, is there anything I didn’t cover? Let me know if you have any more questions in the comments!