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Best Places to Snorkel in Argyll

Where are the best places to snorkel in Argyll?

We’ve been running snorkel & swimming trips around the coastline of Oban and the islands of Argyll for 10 years. Here are our top picks of places to visit for snorkelling in Argyll. 

At over 3000 miles, our coastline is made up of many islands, inlets, sounds, sea lochs and bays. This results in a total length of coast which is greater than that of France! Facing the Atlantic means we are swept by nutrient rich and clear water making it a hotspot for marine wildlife. The Atlantic can also be a fierce place, with strong currents, swells and winds lending it the nickname The Wild West. With such a large melting pot of conditions we have found there is no substitute for strong and capable boats, guides, local knowledge and some flexibility around weather & sea conditions.

It's a tricky paradox when trying to find suitable places. Usually, the best places to snorkel have  both clear water and lots of marine life. Marine life thrives in areas of high currents as that's what brings food and energy in. High currents mean that you need to have made appropriate plans to snorkel these areas safely - we always suggest ensuring you have done the appropriate courses such as our snorkel course and go with an experienced guide or have a boat as safety cover.


OBAN

Oban is known as The Gateway to the Isles and is also our base here in Argyll! Our favourite spots are reached by boat - there is always more marine life, better visibility and fewer other water users. We do also have some shore accessible sites that we use for training or perhaps in bad weather conditions. 

Shore Snorkel Trail

For a shore based site, Ganavan Sands is easy to reach from Oban town. You can hop on the bus or it's an easy drive of less than 10 minutes with a large council car park. Toilets are available along with a great selection of drinks and snacks from Dougie Dan's burger van. Cannae beat a roll & sausage after a snorkel! The wide bay is sand and gravel with rocks to the west and east, where you can find some kelp forest and seagrass beds. There can be a number of water users and boat traffic so just make sure you have appropriate visibility to them by using an SMB (Surface Marker Buoy). 

Boat Snorkel Trail

Our pick near Oban would be hopping on our boat to a secluded bay with much clearer visibility and a wider abundance of marine life. We would normally anchor in a sheltered part to start with, allowing you to access different reefs then either return to the boat or head with the current and the boat comes to pick you up. We've have several options from 5-30min away that we visit depending on the weather conditions and how much of an adventure we want to have! We always tailor our snorkel trips to the groups' needs depending on their experience and what they want to see.

 


ISLE OF COLL

The lovely Isle of Coll is where we move our operation to during the summer to coincide with the peak wildlife, water temperature and sea conditions. The island sits out to the west of Mull and has lots of beaches, coves, headlands, sounds and islands. We’ve spent many years exploring the coastline and found several hidden treasures beneath the waves. There are lots of currents and deep water around the island which means the marine life is fantastic. Our tours there are based from the boat which provides safety cover along with our in-water snorkel guides who escort our snorkellers to make sure everyone stays safe.

Shore Snorkel Trail

There are a few locations you can swim from the shore however you should seek local advice before doing so. Our top pick would be Cliad beach on which, as long as you stay close to shore, is outside of main current and trouble! The rocky reefs are lovely with kelp forest covered Gniess. You can park near the recycling centre and then it's a bit of a walk down through the track between the dunes being careful of the Machair and fragile dune grass. The bay is exposed to the west for both wind and swell.

snorkelling at the lagoon near the argyll snorkel trailBoat Snorkel Trail

We use a lot of different spots around Coll for snorkelling & swimming and we are very experienced with which places work best with regards to tide, wind, swell and our passengers experience levels and aspirations. As well as the main island of Coll there are hundreds of smaller islands just off the coast which make for lovely places to explore. Lots of smaller islands create passages where current is pushed through and in turn increase the amount of marine life. We have really exciting routes through rocky reefs such as the 'kelp rollercoaster' but our favourite has to be the lagoon which has so many different areas to explore. You can join us on a lagoon day trip from Oban or Mull or spend much more time exploring all these spots during our multi-day tours.

 

 

ISLE OF TIREE

Tiree is the neighbouring island to Coll where we spend our summers and we often visit this beautiful island in search of wildlife, visiting the harbour of Scaranish or swimming/snorkelling around the coast. It is well known for it’s sunshine but also wind & waves and strong currents. There are beaches on every side of the island which makes it perfect to find a sheltered area but local advice should always be sought before exploring from shore.

Shore Snorkel Trail

The beach next to Scaranish Harbour is a good combination of factors to allow for safe snorkelling and has great access to parking, the hotel and also toilets. It's relatively enclosed so has shelter from most directions and an easy beach entry. You can follow the rocks on either side or strong snorkellers can head round the wee island and round to the east and climb out on the rocks and walk back. Don't stray too far out from the coast as there can be strong currents and stay away from the harbour channel and entrance to the west which is busy with both recreational and commercial vessels. 

a great snorkelling & swimming spot near the Isle of TireeBoat Snorkel Trail

We spend a lot of time around the coast of Tiree as it's very close to our base on the Isle of Coll during summer. The islands are only separated by the small channel called Gunna Sound so for us exploring by boat it's really like one huge island playground. Like our boat snorkel trail at Coll, Tiree has so many bays, passages, nooks and crannies which have all different qualities and shelter from wind and swell. Tiree sits much further to the west of Coll and has increasing wind speeds and sea state as we head further west so we usually stay towards the east of the island. There are some fantastic, protected places only reachable by boat with outstanding water clarity and luscious kelp forests. 

 


 

ISLE OF STAFFA / FINGALS CAVE

The famous Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa is a bucket-list destination to visit after the likes of Queen Victoria, Felix Mendelssohn, Joseph Banks. Until recently it hasn’t been well known as a swimming spot until we started guided tours there. However not only do you need to be cautious of the giant Fingal, it’s also a place very exposed to Atlantic conditions with a lot of marine traffic. We would only recommend swimming the cave by boat (rather than from the island itself) with safety cover and guides. Entering from the shore can be very dangerous with sea conditions and boats who don’t know you are there. 

 

The cave is about 70m long with basalt column sides. You’ll be dropped off by the boat at the entrance and you’ll follow our guide who will lead you into the cave. Looking out of the cave with the islands and boat in the distance is a sight to behold, along with the roof 20m above you, the kelp forest underneath with the boulder/pebble seabed. A true 360° experience! Our guide will then lead you to the other main caves on the island, Boat Cave and MacKinnon's Cave whilst the boat keeps a watch close by. We run this as a day tour from Oban & Mull, however you do need a bit of luck to pick a single day with good weather. We plan a cave swim for all of our longer multi-day tours and choose to visit on the best weather window which is usually the best way to get suitable conditions. 

Here's a great video by the Wild Swimming Brothers who joined our tour a few years back and were blown away by the cave swim.

Or for a sneak peek at what it's like in one of the neighbouring caves, then check out this amazing video from one of our tours right. Shane with some good drone skills to capture this. Note - conditions were perfect that day!


 

ISLE OF MULL

The Isle of Mull is fourth largest of the Hebridean islands with a coastline over 300 miles! Most of our tours visit Mull and we even circumnavigate it on our longer trips which takes about 4-5 hours non stop!  There are so many place to swim & snorkel in a 300 mile coastline.

Shore Snorkel Trail

Calgary Bay is a renowned white sand and turquoise water bay in the north west of the island. It’s within easy driving (and bus) distance of the main village of Tobermory and has great parking facilities and toilets nearby. The Calgary Art in Nature is also very close by - a great cafe and art walk and craft shop. In terms of snorkelling, the bay is wide and sandy with fringing rocks to either side which change to accessible kelp forest further out. It’s usually away from the main currents, has good visibility and low boat traffic. So it’s a fairly benign location but do watch the weather as it face W/SW.

Boat Snorkel Trail

With 300 miles of Mull coastline to play with we have unlimited places to visit. It's very hard just to pick the best one but we'll opt for a visit the the unique Carsaig Arches. Usually we do this after a visit to the waterfall but it's worth highlighting on it's own. Nicknamed the "closer Fingal's cave", it has the added bonus of a pointy finger of basalt collumn, a keyhole arch and huge cavern. The formations lie at the foot of ~300m high cliffs, which have exposed volcanic rocks - it feels very Jurassic Park-like and many people note a similarity to Icelandic landscapes. This comparison is very relevant as geologically, Iceland is just like Mull but a lot younger.

You can reach the arches by foot but takes many hours with tricky rocky sections (there is a very good local walking guide at Carsaig that can help you if prefer two feet to two fins). The boat drops you off and we swim in over lots of big boulders and kelp forest to reach the keyhole. Once there, it's a stunning view out through the rocks and we then explore on foot through to the next huge cavern. We exit here and make our way along a rocky bay then back out towards the boat. Another amazing and unique snorkel! Check out a video from one of our previous trips there. We visit this on our 5 day Spring and 4 day Autumn tours along with offering it as a Wild Swimming day trip from Oban.

 

SNORKEL WITH BASKING SHARKS

No snorkel guide to Argyll would be complete with mentioning our buddies the basking sharks given we have the biggest worldwide hotspot for them here!  The second biggest fish in the world migrates from the sub-tropics to the islands of Argyll every summer to feed on the abundant zooplankton and also for courtship/ mating. We pioneered low impact swimming with them and we offer the chance to do so on many of our trips! A mind blowing and world class experience!
 
 

SNORKEL WITH SEALS

In Argyll another amazing animal encounter is snorkelling with seals. We have two species that are resident (the common and grey seal) and in Scotland we have very high numbers of both the European and worldwide population of these species. They are both protected species as are the places they live so interacting with them is something you need to do sensitively to avoid disturbance. You also need to have some good watermanship to 'earn' your encounters which we will teach you about on our tours. i.e splashing around, making lots of noise and swimming directly at a seal in the water is unlikely to get you a nice encounter! However doing the right things can increase your chances of good views and if lucky then you may encounter a 'player', the nickname for an animal who is very curious and will seek out a close encounter with you. We do run a day trip where you can snorkel & swim with seals, but our multi-day tours are far better for working on techniques and have better chances of good encounters.

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