The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most astonishing wonders of the natural world. It’s a living organism that began to form between 8,000 and 20,000 years ago, following the last ice age. Given that all of recorded history only spans some 5,000 years, that puts the unimaginable age of the Great Barrier Reef in perspective. Throughout those millennia, countless types of marine life have made the reef their home; it’s one of the most complex, biodiverse environments on the planet. Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef is sure to give you an entirely new perspective on nature.

01Take Your Time

Aerial View of the Great Barrier Reef EyesWideOpen / Getty Images

For one reason or another, it can be tempting to rush yourself, either by taking too few days or packing your itinerary too full. However, only taking one day for your trip to see the Great Barrier Reef would be a mistake. To really appreciate the reef, you’d be best off staying for at least three days and two nights. If you can stay longer, it’s great to plan to do so. Spend even more time diving or enjoy the other benefits of your chosen destination, since there are many places from where to visit the Reef.

02Should You Dive From an Island or the Mainland?

The city of Townsville with Magnetic Island off in the distance Ian Hitchcock / Getty Images

The Great Barrier Reef stretches from the Northeastern coast of Australia off into the ocean, occupying a space of 133,000 square miles. You can dive from the mainland off areas such as the Daintree Rainforest, or you can head out to the islands. There are lavish resort islands such as Lizard Island, but also more off-beat islands such as Magnetic Island. If you want to avoid the resorts, you can procure a camping permit lasting up to ten days instead. However, many islands lack the full range of services you’re used to. You’re going to need to bring enough food, water, and other necessities to be self-sufficient if you go down the camping route.

03Pick the Right Time of Year

The Australian sunset over Port Melbourne James D. Morgan / Getty Images

Australia doesn’t have a summer and winter—it has a wet season and a dry season. The best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef is around May-November, which avoids the hottest Australian weather and the wet, rainy season. To cap it off, you avoid the worst of stinger season.

04Avoid Stinger Season or Rent a Sting Suit

Coral Banks, part of the Great Barrier Reef EyesWideOpen / Getty Images

From October to May, the high water temperatures draw in increased numbers of Irukandji and Box Jellyfish. However, jellyfish are present year-round and other risk factors increase your odds of running into a jellyfish, such as swimming near a river mouth or in calm, closed waters. If you’re at a risk area, you should rent a sting suit for diving that protects you from any jellyfish encounters.

05Dress for the Occasion

Beachgoers enjoying the Australian summer Brendon Thorne / Getty Images

Australia is always rather hot, and it’s a good idea to pack a lot of shorts, baggy t-shirts, and other loose clothes that cope well with the heat. Sunscreen is also indispensable, and sunglasses are an equally wise investment. If you’re visiting in the wet season, pack one pair of warmer clothes and an umbrella.

06Appreciate Your Location

The awe-inspiring Daintree Rainforest, one of Australia's most worthwhile destinations Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

Australia is a beautiful country, so regardless of where you base your Great Barrier Reef trip from, you're sure to have many other fun activities that you shouldn’t miss out on. Your trip will be more rewarding if you avoid focusing exclusively on what you came to see. Magnetic Island, for instance, is home to a beautiful National Park that deserves your time if that’s where you’re diving from.

07See the Coral Reef from Cape Tribulation

An aerial view of Cape Tribulation in North Queensland, Australia - stock photo DarrenTierney / Getty Images

Anyone interested in the Great Barrier Reef, and nature in general, ought to view it from Cape Tribulation. This ecotourism destination is the place where the Daintree Rainforest on land and the Great Barrier Reef at sea meet, and it’s truly a sight to behold. You can even seamlessly transition from one experience to the other; local tour companies such as Ocean Safari offer snorkeling tours from the coast around Daintree.

08Learn the Rules of Diving

Family Enjoy Snorkeling In The Red Sea CasarsaGuru / Getty Images

There are several important rules of diving to appreciate before exploring the Great Barrier Reef: you should never hold your breath, you should ascend slowly, and you should never dive alone. It's important to have several days to dive, so you can spend time testing your limits before you enjoy further trips at your leisure. You can also hire expert tour guides to help guide you on the experience.

09Hire a Good Tour Company

The Eco Island coral reef, which several companies provide tours for Mark Kolbe / Getty Images

There are companies that provide tours for all the popular methods of Great Barrier Reef exploration. Some, such as Ocean Safari, provide highly regarded snorkeling tours of the coral reefs. You can book a boat tour with Coral Expeditions to access some stellar, isolated reefs out in the water as well.

10Treat the Reef with Respect

A turtle swimming through a healthy, thriving stretch of coral reef Greg Sullavan / Getty Images

When diving at the Great Barrier Reef, you need to be aware of the rules meant to protect the reef. Coral is a remarkably delicate form of life, and even the touch of your hand might suffocate and kill an entire colony due to the oils your skin produces. Stepping on coral or breaking off a piece can also have severe consequences, and you ought to leave even dead coral in place. Everything has an important part to play in the life cycles of the Great Barrier Reef. If you and other tourists treat the reef with respect and care, it’ll be there for future generations to enjoy just as you have.