Healthy Coral Reef

The Best Coral Reefs in The World

Discover the world's most important and beautiful coral reefs – go snorkeling, take a private yacht trip and stay in sustainable luxury hotels
Travel+Leisure World's Best Awards 2023 logo in white
Written by
Louis Dhont

Published on: March 6th, 2024

Last modified: March 28th, 2024

Tropical coral reefs are some of the world’s most fascinating ecosystems, providing habitats for an immense number of undersea creatures. They’re a pillar of marine biodiversity and a natural defence against coastal erosion. Despite all this, they’re under threat from fishing, pollution and climate change – and all over the world, people are working to protect them.

These conservation efforts include educating people about the vital role that coral reefs play in the environment. It’s hard to imagine how brilliant and beautiful a healthy reef is until you’ve seen it for yourself. We’ve asked our travel designers to highlight some of the best coral reefs in the world, from Australia to Egypt, Belize to the Maldives, where you can do just that, while ensuring your visit makes a positive impact.

What are the different types of coral reefs?


There are three main types of coral reefs: fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls (some experts also include patch reefs as a fourth category). These classifications depend on the shape of the reef and where it is in relation to land. The Red Sea is home to a vast fringing reef, while the Maldives are made up of atolls.

Where is the biggest coral reef?


The world’s largest coral reef is the Great Barrier Reef. Located off the northeastern coast of Australia, it covers more than 344,000 square kilometres (about 133,000 square miles). In addition to being the world’s largest tropical coral reef system, it’s also the biggest living structure on the planet.

Australia's great barrier reef

Great Barrier Reef, Australia


Considered one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef is a truly mind-blowing destination. It’s not only enormous in size but also incredibly biodiverse, with more than 9,000 species of fish, coral, molluscs and more known to inhabit it. Anyone who’s into diving or snorkelling – or who just loves the ocean – should visit this singular site at least once.

Once you do make it down to Northern Queensland, we highly suggest staying at Orpheus Island Lodge. This all-inclusive luxury resort is a beacon of responsible tourism. It collaborates with local conservation organisations and research efforts to protect the reef, and ensures that all guest experiences are aligned with environmental regulations.

Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Raja Ampat, Indonesia


Raja Ampat is well known as one of the world’s best diving destinations, encompassing more than 1,500 islands right in the middle of the Coral Triangle. In fact, this Indonesian archipelago is one of the most biodiverse places on earth in terms of tropical marine life. Here you’ll find hundreds of species of coral, thousands of species of fish and many rare marine mammals.

The best way to discover Raja Ampat is on board a private chartered yacht like the Alexa or a traditional sailboat like the Silolona. These luxury vessels will take you to the most remote parts of the archipelago, including its top sites for snorkelling and scuba diving. The Silolona is even equipped with its own dive centre and instructor.

Great Blue hole Belize

Belize Barrier Reef, Belize


The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System is the second largest reef system on earth, and includes the biggest barrier reef in the whole northern hemisphere. It stands out not just for its size but also its variety, including fringing reefs, patch reefs, atolls and the one-of-a-kind Great Blue Hole: an ancient underwater sinkhole in the Lighthouse Reef atoll.

Located close to the Great Blue Hole, Ambergris Caye is among the top alternative scuba diving destinations for intrepid divers. Stay on this stunning island at the adults-only Matachica Resort & Spa to enjoy exclusive access to the surrounding reef and bespoke excursions. Activities range from private boat trips and helicopter tours to fishing and beachside barbecues.

Tawila island in Red sea, Hurgada, Egypt

Red Sea, Egypt


Egypt may not be the first destination that comes to mind for snorkelling or diving, but it actually boasts some of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs. The Red Sea, which forms the country’s eastern border, is home to spectacular fringing reefs and offshore reef formations. It’s world famous for its crystal-clear and unusually saline waters, creating exceptional diving conditions.

Another perk of visiting the Red Sea’s coral reefs is that you can enjoy underwater adventures all year round. That said, May to July is the best time to spot certain species, including rare whale sharks. The lavish Four Seasons Sharm El Sheikh is the perfect home base for exciting diving expeditions and private boat tours. To see more of the Middle East’s best coral reefs,

COMO Laucala Island - Reef Barrier

Great Sea Reef, Fiji


Fiji’s astounding Great Sea Reef is one of the longest barrier reefs in the world, and plays an integral role in the culture of this South Pacific island nation. Known as Cakaulevu in the local language, the reef system stretches for more than 200 kilometres (120 miles). It forms a natural wall that protects Vanua Levu and Viti Levu, the two largest islands in the archipelago. 

Fiji is known as ‘the soft coral capital of the world’ – a nickname bestowed upon it by the legendary oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. You can see its breathtaking undersea vistas for yourself at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort  (founded by Jacques’ son) or the gorgeous COMO Laucala Island, one of our travel designers’ favourite private island resorts.

Maldives Reef

The Maldives


The Maldives may be best known for their velvety white sand beaches and picturesque overwater villas, but what’s beneath the surface is even more magical. Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, this archipelago boasts nearly 9,000 square kilometres (3,500 square miles) of coral reef systems, which are home to hundreds of species of marine creatures. 

Those species include several types of rays, sharks and other large animals, making the Maldives a great place for big fish encounters. At Soneva Fushi in the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve, you can even snorkel with massive manta rays – which are completely peaceful despite their astonishing size.


Discover your underwater paradise

Choosing the world's most breathtaking coral reefs is just the beginning. Our travel experts are eager to tailor your perfect underwater adventure, ensuring every detail of your journey is as unique and vibrant as the reefs themselves. Whether you dream of snorkelling in crystal-clear waters or diving deep to explore hidden marine treasures, we're here to bring those dreams to life. Let's start planning the dive of a lifetime.

Trip Inspiration

Get inspired with our example trips and then get in touch to plan your own adventure