If there is an experience in Australia that you cannot miss, it is undoubtedly to see the Great Barrier Reef of Australia declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO .

The Great Barrier Reef is the longest natural living structure on the planet (It can even be seen from space). It extends practically along the entire coast of the state of Queensland, in Australia, 2,300 kilometers from Torres Strait, the northernmost point, to the Bundaberg region.

This wonder of nature is home to 600 types of soft and hard coral of different colors, 100 species of jellyfish, 3,000 varieties of mollusks, 500 species of worms, 1,625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays and more than 30 species of whales. and dolphins.

If you are making a trip to Australia, seeing the Great Barrier Reef is a must.

we found Nemo snorkeling off Australia's Great Barrier Reef

  • If you are planning a trip to Australia, take a look at the Guide to travel to Australia that we have prepared for you, it will surely help you organize your trip. We have given him a lot of love.

To know the Great Barrier Reef there are different options: Snorkeling, diving or by plane . Of course, if your physical condition allows it, it is best to dive into the water to see and feel the marine life of La Barrera.

We recommend you to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia because the coral is not very deep and it is possible to enjoy this wonder without having any prior knowledge of diving. Just put on your goggles, snorkel and fins and have fun!


Where to see The Great Barrier Reef. Location

Where is the great barrier reef in Australia? The coral reef is located on the Australian east coast , in the Coral Sea, in the state of Queensland , although part of it is on the coast of Papua New Guinea. The coral reef is 2,300 kilometers long and runs parallel to the east coast of Australia.

It is important to decide from where you want to visit the Barrier. Being so extensive there are different points scattered throughout the Queensland coast that serve as a base to visit it.

We have decided to divide them into two large groups: Cairns / Port Douglas and the Whitsundays Islands .

How to get to the great barrier reef?

To get to Cairns , which is the most important town, the most used is the plane. Australia is a huge country and the distances are colossal. Only if you are traveling by road along the Australian east coast do we recommend going by car, for the rest, flying is the best option. These are the distances:

  • Sydney: 2400 km
  • Melbourne: 3000 km
  • Brisbane: 1700 km
  • Uluru (Ayers Rock): 2400 km

Traveling to Cairns and Port Douglas is very easy because the city of Cairns has an international airport . To take an internal flight in Australia there are low cost companies such as Jet Star or Tiger Air .

How to visit the great barrier reef? Where to see the great barrier reef?

From Cairns and Port Douglas, boats set sail daily to see the Barrier Reef, they are the most popular places to use as a base to see the reef.

The most difficult thing is choosing which company you want to go out with, because there are many, it all depends on your budget and if you prefer to snorkel or dive with a bottle. As we have focused this article on snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, we are going to talk only about snorkeling excursions, we leave diving for another post.

We have traveled to the Tropical North of Queensland on two occasions and have done the excursion to the Great Barrier Reef twice to snorkel.

Snorkel Australia's Great Barrier Reef from Cairns and Port Douglas

Tours are usually a day depart at 8:30 am and return about 16:30 PM. The ship sails for about two hours to reach the Great Barrier Reef and once there the diving begins.

Depending on the boat you have chosen, you will do the dives in one area or another. Each boat is licensed to dive in a specific place on the Barrier, to avoid crowds. Our excursion included three dives in three different zones.

The price of the excursions is around $ 200.

Great Barrier Reef Australia

When you go to choose your excursion, avoid those companies that take you to platforms on the Barrier Reef, although the excursion is cheaper, the coral is destroyed on these platforms and you will not be able to appreciate the beauty of the reef. It's not every day you snorkel in the world's largest Barrier Reef, so don't be caught.

coral great barrier reef australia

The advantages of choosing this option:

  • The Barrier Reef looks impressive. Everything is full of corals, fish, mollusks ... it is a spectacle of color that we had never seen before.
  • You can take the opportunity to get to know the Tropical North of Queensland, which is wonderful. More information: What to do in Cairns: Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest and much more
  • Cairns has an international airport so it is cheaper to take a flight to Cairns from any of the major cities in Australia.

The disadvantages:

  • Although the landscape is beautiful, the beaches are not good for swimming. Do not imagine a natural paradise of fine sand beaches and turquoise water. In the north there are spectacular beaches, such as Cape Tribulation, but swimming is not recommended because there may be jellyfish, crocodiles and sharks.

Snorkel Australia's Great Barrier Reef from the Whitsunday Islands

Whitsundays in an archipelago of 74 paradise islands located in Queensland within the Marine Park of the Great Barrier Reef.

Boats to visit the Great Barrier Reef and Islands depart from the town of Airlie Beach and from Hamilton Island.

The closest airports are Proserpine Airport and Hamilton Island Airport . Both are regional airports, so it is more expensive to fly to these locations.

When we talk about the Great Barrier Reef in the Whitsundays we have to differentiate between the Inner Reef and the Outer Reef.

Map of Coral reefs in Whitsundays

Exterior reef (Outer Reef)

All excursions to the Great Barrier Reef from the Cairns and Port Douglas area lead to the outer reef, which is the one we all have associated with the Great Barrier Reef and which is located farther offshore.

In the Whitsunday area, however, only a few ships make it to the Outer Reef.

On the Outer Reef it is possible to see larger fish species than on the Inner Reef.

The Outer Reef is located in the open sea, where there are no beaches or islands. The boats anchor and from there you jump into the sea from the back of the boat to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef.

The best coral reefs in the Whitsundays for snorkelling are 105 km from Airlie Beach, while Cairns is only 50 km away.

The price of these excursions from Airlie Beach or Hamilton Island is around $ 250.

  • If you are looking for a tour to snorkel in the outer reef from the Whitsunday Islands, these are the ones that we have found the most interesting:

  • If you want to have a luxurious experience while enjoying the Great Barrier Reef spending the night under the stars and with gourmet meals then perhaps this excursion is yours:

    Reef Sleep: 2-Day Great Barrier Reef Pontoon and Gourmet Meals

  • If your budget allows it, a very cool option is to take a seaplane excursion to the outer reef to see it from the air with a 50-minute stop in a private lagoon of Australia's Great Barrier Reef to snorkel. The experience must be incredible, but the price is about 330 US dollars per person:

    Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Tour by Seaplane

whitehaven Beach Whitsundays Australia

Inner Reef

The inner reef or margin is closer to shore and is the one that surrounds the Whitsundays.

Most of the excursions that depart from Airlie Beach take you to the Inland Reef, the one that surrounds the 74 Whitsunday Islands. These boats line the shores of the islands and in some cases make stops at some of the most famous beaches in the area such as Whitehaven Beach.

  • If instead of going to the outer reef of the Barrier Reef you prefer to spend the day sailing through the Whitsunday Islands, get to know Whitehaven Beach and do some snorkeling in the inner reef of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, this is the excursion that we recommend:

Advantages of knowing the Barrier in the Whitsundays Islands:

  • Whitsundays Island is a paradise, a wonderful group of islands with beaches of fine white sand and turquoise water.
  • You can take the opportunity to get to know Whitehaven Beach , classified as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
  • You can take a two or three-day excursion by catamaran or sailboat to get to know the entire archipelago, enjoy the sun, the sand on the beach and go snorkeling. For us it was one of the best experiences we have had in Australia.
  • We tell you about our adventure in the Whitsunday Islands in our post Whitsunday Islands: What to see, what to do and how to get there , in case you want to take a look.

sailboat in whitsundays to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef


  • The coral reefs bordering the Whitsunday Islands are in shallow water, so their visibility can be affected by tides and wind.
  • The Great Barrier Reef doesn't look the same. We are sorry to admit that the number of corals and species seen in the Cairns / Port Douglas area is unmatched by what can be seen on the reefs bordering the Whitsundays.
  • Traveling to this area of ​​Australia is more expensive. The airport is regional and flights are very expensive and the nearest airport is a half hour drive from Airlie Beach.
  • There are fewer companies that take you to the Outer Reef from the Whitsundays, so the tour is more expensive.

Many of you ask us from where you can best snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Here's our answer : Cairns / Port Douglas is better for snorkelling and Whitsundays for sailing. If what you want is to really enjoy the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, hallucinate with the color of its corals, see coral sharks, turtles, clown fish (Nemo) and stay with your mouth open, then we recommend you snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef from the Cairns / Port Douglas area.

Both Cairns / Port Douglas and the Whitsundays have a number of advantages and disadvantages that you have to assess personally. But whatever it is and from wherever it may be, no trip to Australia is complete without seeing the famous Great Barrier Reef.

snorkeling in whitsundays. great barrier reef

Best time to visit the coral reef Australia and temperature

This area of ​​Australia has a tropical or subtropical climate, which means that it has a constant temperature all year round between 25 and 30 degrees.

The best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef Australia is throughout the year, although the rainy season is from November to March. Do not think that the rainy season is very strong, this area has almost 300 days of sunshine a year.

If you are organizing a trip to Australia, these resources will come in handy:

Article published in April 2016 and updated in September 2019.

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Pinterest snorkeling in Australia's Great Barrier Reef

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