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Bermuda is known for the gin-clear purity of its waters and for its vast array of coral reefs. If you're ready to explore, all you need are a snorkel, mask, and fins -- if you can swim, you can snorkel. A handful of companies can help you; otherwise, you can hit the water on your own.

The best places to go snorkeling are public beaches . Many hotels that are right on the beach will lend or rent you fins, masks, and snorkels, and will advise you of the best sites in your area. You almost never have to travel far.

Die-hard snorkelers -- some of whom visit Bermuda every year -- prefer Church Bay above all other snorkeling spots on Bermuda. It lies on the south shore, west of the Fairmont Southampton Golf Club and Gibbs Hill Lighthouse. The little cove, which seems to be waiting for a movie camera, is carved out of coral cliffs. It's well protected and filled with snug little nooks. Another advantage is that the reefs are fairly close to land. But remember, the seas can be rough (as is true anywhere in Bermuda); use caution.

At the eastern end of the south shore, John Smith's Bay, east of Spittal Pond Nature Reserve and Watch Hill Park, is another top spot, especially if your hotel is nearby. Even more convenient, especially for snorkelers staying at St. George or at a hotel near the airport, is Tobacco Bay, north of St. George's Golf Club. Another small but reliable snorkeling spot is West Whale Bay; it lies along the south shore at the west end of Southampton, west of the Port Royal Golf Course.

Although snorkeling is a year-round pursuit, it's best from May to October. Snorkelers usually wear wet suits in winter, when the water temperature dips into the 60s. The waters of the Atlantic, which can be tempestuous at any time of the year, can be especially rough in winter.

Some of the best snorkeling sites are accessible only by boat. If you want to head out on your own, and you have a knowledge of Bermuda's waters, we suggest renting a small boat, some of which have glass bottoms. If you rent a boat, the rental company will advise you on where to go and not to go. Countless wrecked boats lie on the many reefs that surround Bermuda. If you're not familiar with Bermuda's waters, you should stay in the sounds, harbors, and bays, especially in Castle Harbour and Harrington Sound. If you want to visit the reefs, it's better and easier to contact one of the diving outfitters recommended below than to captain your own boat. The use of snorkeling equipment is included in the prices listed.

A Look Under Bermuda's waters

The Ocean Discovery Centre at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, East Broadway (tel. 441/292-7219; www.buei.org), hopes to give visitors an underwater adventure. The highlight of a visit is a simulated dive 3,600m (12,000 ft.) to the bottom of the Atlantic. Author Peter Benchley's videotaped commentary adds to the fun of exploring Bermuda's reefs. You'll learn about newly discovered ocean animals that live in the murky depths. Displays include large murals of sea creatures, artifacts rescued from long-sunken vessels off the coast, and even a scale model of a ship that wrecked centuries ago. On-site facilities include gift shops, a theater showing films, and La Coquille, a French bistro that specializes, of course, in seafood. Admission is $13. for adults, $6 for children 6 to 17, free for children 5 and under; hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 4:15pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Bus: 1, 3, 7, or 8.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.