Port Douglas Snorkelling

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Port Douglas has some of the best snorkelling in the world, being perfectly located on the Coral Sea, a short boat ride away from the Great Barrier Reef. In Port Douglas you can go snorkelling from the beach (although there’s not much to see) or take various tours and boat trips to Low Isles, the Inner Reef, and Outer Reef. This post covers the best tours (half day and full day trips) for snorkelling from Port Douglas.

Port Douglas Snorkelling boat

Port Douglas Australia is a stunning holiday town in Far North Queensland, home to beautiful 4 Mile Beach, close to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Rainforest as well as the cooler Atherton Tablelands, but snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef is a huge draw for tourists and most will be visiting the reef during their time in Port.

Your options for snorkelling in and near Port Douglas are many, and you can learn more about what the snorkelling is like from Port Douglas, in our post.

We have lived and worked in Port Douglas for over a decade and sometimes spend time working as a reef guide, snorkelling assistant and lifeguard on snorkelling boats departing Port Douglas marina. You found the best source of information on this travel blog!

Low Isles Port Douglas
The Low Isles are a short boat ride from Port Douglas and have great fringing reefs for snorkelling. This is probably the best snorkelling site for turtles and soft coral. You can visit Low Isles for a full day or half day snorkel trip, choose a cruise that will allow you onto the island and that has a glass bottom boat.

What is the best snorkelling from Port Douglas? You have a lot of snorkelling options, visiting the reef is the #1 activity in Port Douglas and if you can, book in advance, the boats do get full.

There are two main areas of reef that you can see from Port Douglas, the Outer Reef, or the reefs around Low Isles, both are good. A few boats also visit the inner reefs.

If you’re heading to Port Douglas for the amazing snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef (and yes, it is the best place to do that, we believe) you’ll likely be arriving in the region at Cairns airport. From here you’ll need to hire a car to drive to Port Douglas along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, use this company to compare rates and deals, or book the shuttle. All of the reef boats here depart from Port Douglas Marina and many will pick you up from your hotel on the morning of your reef cruise. We recommend you stay at this hotel, it’s one of the very best. All links open in a new tab so that you won’t lose your place.

Speed boat snorkelling Port Douglas marina
These little red speed boats are fast, but won’t allow you access to the island a beach at Low Isles.

If your time is short, there are half-day snorkelling trips to Low Isles, but most visits to the GBR Marine Park from Port Douglas are full-day tours visiting 2-3 separate areas of the outer reef during your day.

Only Quicksilver has a pontoon for snorkellers. The pontoon can even allow you to see the reef without getting in the water. There are snorkel and scuba diving options, of course.

,One snorkelling catamaran, Sailaway can take you to a coral quay during your day.

Let’s take a look at the Great Barrier Reef snorkelling tours and cruises from Port Douglas.

Information was correct at the time of publishing, but please double-check what’s included for each tour, age limits, cancellations etc. Very bad weather does cancel reef tours for safety reasons, so consult a long-term weather forecast when you book.

What is “The Best” Snorkelling From Port Douglas?

This really isn’t a big deal no snorkelling site is particularly better or worse than any other from Port Douglas. I would say that the snorkelling is better than from Port Douglas than from Cairns.

The company we recommend, and use ourselves is Wavelength Reef Cruises, take a look here. They are family owned and 100% committed to preserving and maintaining the reef. We always have an amazing day on Wavelength. We recommend this cruise operator from Port Douglas for families with kids.

Every snorkelling site I’ve ever been to from Port Douglas has been good. A lot depends on the day, if you’re lucky enough to see dolphins, a humpback whale, or even a whale shark, you’ll have the best day ever.

Poor visibility because of tides or weather could spoil your day somewhat. Your swimming or snorkelling ability is also a factor in how good a day you will have.

That said, most people, even non swimmers can be coaxed into the water and enjoy snorkelling once they see how beautiful the water is out there on the reef.

Most boats visit 3 outer reef sites during the day and crew will choose your best option depending on weather and tides, these trips will give you the best possible experience on the day. Crew know the reefs like the back of their hand and know how to show guests the best snorkelling sites possible on the day.

The reef is not “dead”. You may see some dead (bleached) coral, snorkel guides will point it out to you, but you won’t be taken to a “bad” area of reef.

Low Isles is a great experience, so is the outer reef, if you possibly can, do both, as you’ll see a different type of reef. Low Isles is particularly good for turtle spotting.

Pick the trip that suits your needs from our list below. I would suggest that if you have time and enough money (its not cheap!), snorkel both the Outer Reef and Low Isles, they’re very different but both good options for a snorkelling trip. You do not need to be a good swimmer to snorkel and crews can hand out flotation devices to help you. They will also brief you on how to snorkel, it only takes a few minutes, you don’t need ‘snorkelling lessons”.

Best Half-Day Snorkelling Trips From Port Douglas

There are options for half-day snorkelling trips from Port Douglas. We think the best idea is to visit Low Isles if you only have a half day to spare.

There is a speedboat that will take you to Tongue Reef. But it won’t be a luxury trip and you only get 1.5 hours in the water. This trip has age and physical ability restrictions and is barely cheaper than a full-day trip and there is no Low Isles access and no glass bottomed boat.

More details of your snorkelling day on the reef and the options the various tours offer guests will be available from the booking websites, click through on our links below. The trip out to Low Isles is only about 30-40 mins, the trip to the outer reef is around 1.5 hours.

Best Snorkelling Trips From Port Douglas Including Glass Bottom Boat

Best Pontoon Snorkelling Trip From Port Douglas

Quicksilver own the biggest ships (boats?) running out of Port Douglas and passengers spend their day at a permanent pontoon on Agincourt Reef. Quicksilver are the large silver vessels in the photo above.

We’ve taken this trip many times, as snorkellers and scuba divers and it’s always been great. We took our kids snorkelling on Quicksilver from about 4 years old.

The pontoon offers an underwater viewing gallery and you’ll find that because the structure is permanent, many sea creatures have made their home around the pontoon’s anchor points.

There always used to be fish feeding and plenty of steps for swimmers to access the ocean. There was also lifeguard supervision and marine biologist talks. Extra features such as helicopter tours, marine biologist-guided dives and introductory dives should be available at additional cost.

Your day lasts around 7 hours, and boarding commences normally at 9.30 am at Port Douglas Marina. Because the Quicksilver boats are faster, your day can start a little later. Enquire about pick-ups from your hotel. Some of the other boats go out earlier.

Click through here to see the Quicksilver catamaran and pontoon in place on the reef and to book.

Best Scuba Diving Reef Trip From Port Douglas with Snorkelling

Calypso and Quicksilver have several boats, with scuba diving available on some, but non divers can also usually spend their day snorkelling. Scuba diving is also available from the Quicksilver pontoon.

Deep Sea Divers Den pulled out of Port Douglas in 2020. If you want to learn to scuba dive in Port Douglas, Quicksilver have a scuba tank for this, behind Port Douglas’s main street, Macrossan Street. Your first open water dive will then be on the Outer Reef.

There are no liveaboard diving trips from Port Douglas, for that you’ll need to go to Cairns, or maybe take out a private charter.

Best Full-Day Snorkelling Trips From Port Douglas

Best River Snorkelling Port Douglas

Yes, river drift snorkelling exists in Port Douglas. We haven’t had the chance to try this adventure activity for ourselves yet, but it’s possible to book a river drift safari snorkel tour here.

Snorkelling Tours From Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation From Port Douglas

A few operators take snorkellers to the reef from the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation, just north of Cairns. These half day tours can be built into your day seeing the Daintree, and take guests to two snorkelling sites on Mackay and Undine Reefs. Check out Cape Tribulation snorkel safaris here.

Best Time of Year for Snorkelling From Port Douglas

The best time to visit the reef from Port Douglas is normally late September through to late November to mid December. After Christmas the weather usually isn’t ideal. At this time the trade winds should have died off (May-Sept) and the water is warming up, but not too warm.

From December to May the wet season will be here, it will be very warm, underwaterr visibility may deteriorate and there is the possibility of a tropical storm or cyclones.

In May the water temperature starts dropping. That said, you can have a fantastic day snorkelling on the reef at any time of year.

  • You can visit the reef year-round from Port Douglas, unless weather conditions are severe.
  • You can visit the reef in summer, winter and in stinger season. Good Stinger season information here.
  • Dwarf Minke whale season is approximately July to September.
  • Dolphins and false orcas are slightly more common in winter.
  • Humpback whale season is also July to September.
  • It’s also possible to see dolphins and false orcas on a snorkelling trip from Port Douglas, if you’re lucky.
  • Whale sharks have been spotted on snorkelling trips occasionally, there was a sighting in September 2022. Crocodiles have been sited once that we know of.

More Port Douglas Information on This Site:

Useful Links:

Could you do us a favour, visit our Port Douglas Pinterest board, it’s one of the biggest you’ll find on Pinterest, and save some pins. Thanks. It helps us a lot.

The above Great Barrier Reef tours are available from this page, others may exist. ABC Dive is another snorkelling operator in Port Douglas, we don’t link to them. Full details of your day on the reef and the options the various tours offer guests should be available from the booking websites or direct from the companies.

Click through from the links here to find out more and book, alternatively, read more further down the page.

Video – What’s it Like Out on the Reef?

We take a little look at snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef in our video. If you’re interested in “Sharks in the Dark” that’s an option on one of the liveaboard trips out of Cairns. We cover that, with video, on the liveaboard review page.

Booking Your Snorkelling Tour From Port

If you’re short of time book your snorkelling our from Port Douglas in advance, online. The links are in this post.

Each cruise boat can only hold a finite number of visitors and in high season they do become fully booked. In low season snorkel trips can be cancelled because of low tourist numbers or bad weather, if you are booked, crew will sort another trip out for you.

 You can use our links below to find out more and to book through a company we use and trust. This company also had a best price or money-back guarantee, last time we checked.

Check weather forecasts before you book and current tropical cyclones. The snorkel cruise boats run all year, but high winds and storms sometimes make visiting impossible.

You can, of course, also book locally in any of the shops operated by the reef boat companies, there are many in Port Douglas, on Macrossan St and in the marina.

Tour Groups and high season (School holidays in December and winter) may limit availability.

Will You See Whales or Dolphins on Your Snorkelling Trip from Port Douglas?

seeing dolphins port douglas
This incredible dolphin sighting was on the way back to Port Douglas, in November or December 2021. This was a really lucky day!

Yes, it’s quite likely and possible, to spot whales from Port Douglas if you are travelling at the right time of year. While there are no dedicated whale watching trips, visitors do sometimes see whales and dolphins.

  • Dwarf Minke whale season is approximately  July to September.
  • Humpback whale season is roughly the same period.
  • It’s also possible to see dolphins and false orcas if you’re very lucky.
  • Whale sharks have been spotted on the reef but it’s incredibly rare.

Smaller boats are better able to stop to give you a better look.

Swimming or snorkelling with whales is generally illegal, but Silversonic has a license for Minke whale encounters as do Divers Den (Divers Den stopped operating out of Port Douglas because of Covid and low tourist numbers).

To swim with the minkies you’ll need to book a multi-day minke whale tour. My husband has taken one and it was amazing. It’s not cheap.

At the right time of year (July to August) you are quite likely to see humpback whales on your day trip from Port Douglas.

What Will You Need to Take With You Snorkelling on The Reef?

Kids on a great barrier reef tour from Port Douglas Australia
My son, then aged 5 or 6 out for a full day tour on the Great Barrier Reef with one of the Calypso reef boats. All of his gear, kid-sized wetsuit, fins and pool noodle, were provided by the tour operator. He had his own goggles which fitted and worked well for him so we went with those rather than the provided snorkel and mask.

Swimwear, a towel and sun protection are essential. You can take your own snorkelling gear if you prefer. I generally take my own long sleeve, long-leg wet suit in winter. I don’t like the short suits provided on most boats. You can usually borrow floaties, lifejackets or pool noodles out there for kids or weak swimmers. Stinger suits are generally provided by the boats in stinger season.

Sunblock is now considered a huge problem on the reef, the chemicals destroy marine life. Therefore, either get a safe product, or cover yourself as fully as possible with sunsuits, rashies and so on. In stinger season you will have to be fully covered anyway. Several boats provide reef-safe sunscreen.

We generally wear our swimmers under our regular clothes for the journey out but after being in the water all day you will want something warm and dry to change into for the return trip.

There are toilets or changing rooms on most boats or pontoons if you need them. Some boats will have a fresh water shower to rinse off at the end of the day

Underwater cameras are questionable. I’ve never got decent pictures with a disposable nor with the kids’ cheap waterproof digitals (although the above photo of my son on the surface was taken with a waterproof camera.) But then, I’m no photographer.

It was difficult to take underwater photos unless you really knew what you were doing. Most of the boats have their own photographer who will swim around taking shots all day, you can then buy his images of you as well as stock images of the reef and fish as well as any cool creatures that visited during your day.

Or you could get yourself a GoPro. These days, of course, there is GoPro and these work just great! See my shot below. To use your GoPro on the reef you’d probably be wanting a floating handle, as below.

Drones are generally not a good idea and it’s against local regulations to use them near a boat or people. We have a drone license and had special permission to use our drone from one of the reef boats.

Do Snorkelling Tours Operate During Stinger Season?

Port Douglas Great Barrier Reef Tours. Ships Returning to the Port Douglas Marina
The daily procession of reef tour boats returning to Port Douglas. The Sugar Wharf Jetty is on the left, 3 reef boats, including the vast Quicksilver ship, are to the right.

Yes, they do. Your chances of encountering a deadly jellyfish are slimmer on the reef than in inland waters but most boats and cruises will require visitors to wear a full-body stinger suit while snorkelling as a precaution.

You could possibly take your own stinger suit or wet suit, but they do stock them and usually have them in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes you’ll pay extra for gear hire, sometimes not.

Stinger suits on the Great Barrier Reef in wet season
In the wet season or stinger season, you’ll need to wear a stinger suit on the reef. They cover hands and parts of your feet and have hoods. At other times be sure to have at least a rashie as my younger son is modelling here, the sun is fierce out there and the less sunscreen you put in the water the better. Stinger suits go on over whatever else you’re wearing and no, they’re not very flattering. These are the suits we used on one of the Calypso fleet in 2019. Calypso used to be a family run business up here but it’s changed hands.

If you are visiting Port Douglas during the wet season (summer) keep a close eye on long term weather forecasts, cyclones visit us in the north and at those times the reef just won’t be happening.

You can often have incredible conditions for snorkelling in December. If it’s rainy in Port Douglas, you could still experience great visibility and conditions on the reef.

Is Lunch Provided on Port Douglas Snorkelling Trips?

Quicksilver reef cruise boat Port Douglas Marina
The huge Quicksilver boat in Port Douglas Marina ( back right), Quicksilver usually provides a great tropical buffet. The boat is huge.

Most of the reef fleet from Port Douglas used to provide a really good tropical buffet lunch. Covid restrictions stopped this but buffets are returning. If buffets aren’t possible an individually-wrapped lunch is normally provided.

You can sometimes find some hot items on some reef buffets and in winter, these are very welcome.

Most boats will also provide snacks such as cake, biscuits, fresh fruit and hot tea or coffee, you get incredibly hungry after snorkelling and they do like to keep you well-fed. Check what your chosen boat provides.

Can You Stay on The Boat and not Go in The Water?

Seeing huge fish on the Great Barrier Reef from Port Douglas. Giant Maori Wrasse
Sometimes the fish will come to you. D, then aged 7 meeting his first Giant Maori Wrasse. The kids call these curious, friendly fish ‘cuddle fish’ and most boats have ” their” Maori Wrasse, including Angus, George, Whally et al.

Yes, you can still see the reef without getting wet.

If you have concerns about age, lack of water confidence, or anything else that makes you unsure about snorkelling or diving, there are glass-bottom boats and semi-submersible tours waiting to show you the GBR.

The big pontoons can also have underwater viewing areas where you can see plenty of fish and watch the snorkellers and divers exploring. Check which each operator provides.

If you plan to go to Low Isles and snorkel from the beach, be certain that your chosen boat will take you to the beach (possible by glass bottom boat sometimes) and not drop you in the sea a considerable swim from the island.

Quicksilver Outer Barrier Reef Full Day Snorkelling Cruise. Pontoon Based with Semi Submersible

quicksilver port douglas
Some of Quicksilver’s fleet in Port Douglas Superyacht Marina. The large silver vessels usually take visitors out to a pontoon. They are vast!

Quicksilver own the biggest ships (boats?) operating out of Port Douglas and passengers spend their day at a permanent pontoon on Agincourt Reef. Quicksilver are the large silver vessels in the background of our photo above.

We’ve taken this trip many times, as snorkellers and scuba divers and it’s always been great. The pontoon offers an underwater viewing gallery and you’ll find that because the structure is permanent, many sea creatures have made their home around the pontoon’s anchor points.

There always used to be fish feeding, plenty of steps for swimmers to access the ocean, lifeguard supervision and marine biologist talks. Extra features such as helicopter tours, marine biologist-guided dives and introductory dives should be available at additional cost.

Your day lasts around 7 hours, and boarding commences normally at 9.30 am at Port Douglas Marina. Because the Quicksilver boats are faster, your day can start a little later. Enquire about pick-ups from your hotel. Some of the other boats go out earlier.

Click through here to see the Quicksilver catamaran and pontoon in place on the reef and to book.

Silversonic Great Barrier Reef Dive and Snorkelling Adventure

Silversonic is another snorkel boat we knew well a few years ago, and liked, but haven’t used recently. Silversonic is primarily a dive boat. It’s advertised that Silversonic takes you to 3 locations on Agincourt reef and it’s an 8 hour day.

Touring the reef with Silversonic was a great experience, we used this one for scuba diving as adults, never with the kids or for snorkelling.

This ship held a license to swim with dwarf Minke whales in season (Minke season is roughly July to September).

Minke whale tours from Port Douglas are available. Click through here to check information on Silversonic and to book.

Wavedancer Great Barrier Reef Sailing with Snorkelling, Glass Bottom Boat and Scuba Options

Wavedancer is an absolute beauty, but this sailing boat won’t normally take you to the outer reef, instead, you can enjoy your day on the reefs and beaches of the Low Isles for a full day or an afternoon.

This day trip lasts approx 7 hours and you can enjoy a complimentary glass bottom boat tour and guided snorkelling with a marine biologist. Check availability for your dates.

We’ve taken this trip twice, but not recently, and it was very enjoyable. We saw a lot of turtles and a huge variety of fish, many extremely large.

Returning to Port on the deck of a catamaran with somebody playing guitar was a wonderful experience. Wavedancer was owned by Quicksilver. Click here to book a full-day Low Isles tour on a luxury catamaran

Wavelength Reef Cruises – Snorkelling Only

 wavelength reef tours from port douglas on the great barrier reef
Wavelength out on the reef on a beautiful day. Photo taken by me on the GoPro. If you buy a GoPro be sure to buy a floating handle. For underwater shots a pink filter is very useful too.

Wavelength are a smaller operation and family-owned. They’re most certainly my pick for a great day snorkelling with a strong eco edge. They are one of only 2 family-owned (at time of writing) reef companies operating out of Port Douglas. We happen to know the owners, they bought the Wavelength boats and moorings a few years ago.

John and Jenny are both British marine biology graduates and committed to reef conservation. Wavelength is a smaller outer-reef snorkel operation.

We always love our days snorkelling on Wavelength and the 3 reefs they take visitors to every day are absolutely beautiful. Their marine biologist talks were some of the most informative and eco-conscious I’ve heard and I love that all food was vegetarian. The boat we were on was only 6 months old and sparkling new. The Wavelength website is here. 

Calypso Snorkelling

Calypso were a family-run operation until recently. The company has now been sold and in our opinion, it’s not quite as good as it was. We last went to the outer reef with Calypso in January 2019 and haven’t been out since, so can’t comment, sorry. We have used Calypso to visit Low Islees for a half day tour and had a great experience.

We have been to the reef many times with them in the past. They have multiple boats operating out of Port Douglas for both divers and snorkelers, full-day, and half-day.

The boats are nowhere near as huge as the Quicksilver boats, but still a fair size. We enjoyed our day on Calypso, but things seem to have slipped just a touch in terms of food and maintenance of the boats. Maybe it was just teething problems and everything will come good once the company has fully changed hands.

There are other dive and snorkel boats operating out of Port Douglas, as we get a chance to try them we’ll add them to this post. We feel that we cover the best, most popular and most well known GBR cruises here.

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There are now loads of sunscreens and sunblocks on the market that claim to be coral friendly, you should be able to find them in supermarkets or pharmacies. For a Go Pro, look here, Go Pro aren’t expensive these days depending on which model you choose. For the waterproof handle – we own and use this one on the reef, look here.

Obviously there is loads more high tech gear for underwater photography but that’s then a serious investment. Yes, we’ve taken our drone out to the reef with special permission from the boat’s owners and a commercial license but it’s not really a great idea and we think it could actually be illegal in Australia, just double-check Queensland drone laws. You certainly shouldn’t fly a drone close to whales or other wildlife.

We hope you found our round-up on options for snorkelling from Port Douglas useful. You can also snorkel the reef and surrounding islands from Cairns and there are options from north of the Daintree river. One thing’s for sure, even if you only do it once in your life, it is absolutely worth every cent you spend to see one of nature’s greatest marvels. You’d probably like our Things to Do in Port Douglas blog post next. If you enjoy sailing, you should check out the sunset sail options from Port Douglas too, on Sailaway or another luxury catamaran, or Shaolin. Have a great holiday in Port Douglas!

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About the author
Alyson Long
Alyson Long is a British medical scientist who jumped ship to chase dreams. A former Chief Biomedical Scientist at London's West Middlesex Hospital she started in website creation and travel writing in 2011. Alyson is a full-time blogger and travel writer, a published author, and owns several websites. World Travel Family is the biggest. A lifetime of wanderlust and over 6 years of full-time travel, plus a separate 12 month gap year, has given Alyson and the family some travel expert smarts to share with you on this world travel site. Today Alyson still travels extensively to update this site and continue her mission to visit every country, but she's often at home on her farm in Australia.

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