When you think shipwrecks, images of the ghostly, wooden pirate ships, the Titanic, and James Cameron exploring in a tiny bubble may come to mind. It’s often assumed that to explore a wreckage you’ll require scuba gear and extensive training. While scuba diving will always lure adventurous travelers, snorkeling can be as equally enthralling and much easier on the budget. In fact, scuba dives can cost more than $300 for an hour-long experience. Snorkeling? An entire day may cost a mere $10 for a mask rental. For those of you looking to explore hauntingly beautiful shipwrecks, but aren’t willing to spend the time or money on scuba diving, here are some options where snorkeling the wreck provides an equally intimate view.
Tobermory, Ontario: With 22 shipwrecks surrounding it in Canada’s Georgian Bay, this old fishing village has come to be known as the freshwater diving capital of the world. The crystal-clear waters here offer spectacular views of the sunken vessels that have settled just ten feet beneath the water’s surface. For novice snorkelers, Fathom Five National Marine Park features wrecks like 100-year-old Minch and Newaygo. Even more scenic relics include a wooden steamer, The City of Grand Rapids, that sank in 1879 and today, at a mere 15 feet deep, is nearly within arm’s reach. Since this is small-town Canada, snorkel tours are absurdly easy on the budget. One can be had at $50, whereas a typical scuba excursion would cost five times as much.
George Town, Cayman Islands: No surprise here – the Cayman Islands are a snorkeler’s paradise. As if rainbow reefs and fish feeding on algae weren’t enough, a couple of wrecks entice snorkelers to gaze into oceanic depth. The Wreck of the Cali lies 20 feet deep at only 100 feet off George Town’s shore, an easy trek for those renting equipment from the nearby dive shack (starting at $6). Better still, visiting the wreck is completely free. The nearby Wreck of the Balboa, a 1932 freighter that sank in the midst of a hurricane and now rests 25 feet underwater, gets hardly the same amount of love but offers the same majesty. Swim there to avoid the crowds.
Tulamben, Bali: Need a little R&R after hiking the rice paddies in Ubud? Consider taking a 90-minute detour northeast, to the small fishing village of Tulamben. Here, most of the handfuls of tourists visit for one reason: to see the wreck of the USS Liberty. The massive navy ship, spanning more than 460 feet long, now lies at a depth of 100 feet following torpedoing in 1942 by the Japanese, and further resettling of the wreck in the 1960s. But the top of the boat reaches up to just 15 feet, so it’s easy to view up-close. (You will have to take a boat to reach the wreckage.) If the presence of more serious divers at the Liberty intimidates you, head to the next town over, Banyuning, to snorkel atop the famed WWII “Japanese Shipwreck”, which rests 65 feet off shore and is surrounded by abundant coral formations, sponges, and gorgonian fans. Here, you’ll find even fewer crowds and an easy dive.
Key West, Florida: The Tile Wreck is a fantastic, sunken sight to see in Key West. Lying in 5 to 15 feet of water, this ship sank in the 1850s while carrying tile from Barcelona, hence the monicker. While little information exists about the ship and wreckage, we do know that it’s a phenomenal snorkel outing that’s close enough to touch. Dwelling nearby is the corpse of the USS Alligator, an 1820s navy ship with portions as shallow as 8 feet deep. Located 100 yards off the shore of Alligator lighthouse, the ship’s encrusted with coral and other sea life. You can spend a day snorkeling in and around both these wrecks for under $50.
Aruba: When you envision massive, ghostly shipwrecks, it’s images like that of the Antilla that come to mind. At over 400 feet long and nearly 5,000 tons, the German freighter, a WWII casualty, sits 30 feet deep in the clear Caribbean Sea. The rusty wreckage is so emblazoned with coral it resembles a spectacular reef. Since it’s renown as one of the best shipwrecks in the Caribbean, snorkel tours are a bit pricier and can cost upwards of $65. But the price does include a few perks, like snacks, small group-sizes, and a few hours of floating.