Discover the best places to snorkel on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao
The Caribbean’s ABC Islands-Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao-lack the lush greenery of the windward chain, and instead offer arid interiors where cacti thrive. This is not only good news for sun worshipers, who seldom have to dodge rain clouds, but also for snorkelers, who will find coastal waters unsullied by runoff from rivers and streams. Combine this clarity with underwater topographies that place coral reefs close to shore, and you have the makings of ideal snorkel destinations.
If you just fin out from a resort along Palm Beach, you might not think Aruba has much to offer the snorkeler. Finding the island’s more scenic reefs and clearest water will require a bit of travel, either by car or boat. On the island’s northwest corner, the calm waters just offshore of Arashi Beach and Boca Catalina hold colorful schools of fish and are a favorite destination for tour boats. The shores are accessible by rental car or taxi, though reaching the reefs from shore requires one to negotiate coral rubble and rocks in the shallows. Adjacent Malmok Beach offers similar conditions and fewer people. South of the hotel zone, Renaissance Island provides guests of the namesake resort with access to a private island for snorkeling and sunning. Also worth checking out is De Palm Island, which offers an all- inclusive day at their beach club that includes the use of snorkeling gear, instruction and a lunch buffet. Driving or taxiing towards San Nicolas will yield more sites that are accessible from shore, including Savant Beach, and sheltered Baby Beach, a favorite with families and novices. A stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino gives first-timers a protected cove to hone their skills, along with exclusive access to the resort’s private island.
This quiet island’s nickname is “Diver’s Paradise,” but the same clear waters and nearshore reefs scuba enthusiasts crave are also ideal for snorkeling. Along Bonaire’s sheltered western shore, the reefs begin mere feet from land. Entries can be made directly from one of the waterfront resorts, or at any shoreside parking spot along the coast road where a painted yellow rock marks a dive or snorkeling site. Signature mid-island sites include Karpata and Thousand Steps, where coral growth encroaches on the ironshore. Some of the most colorful and extensive shallows are also found at sites south of the Salt Pier. A number of the dive resorts offer boat trips to more remote reefs to the north and around the desert island of Kline Bonaire. There are several diver-centric resorts perched on low bluffs just north of the town of Kralendijk where one can plunge in from a dockside ladder. If you want a more complete resort experience along with a sand beach, try Harbour Village or the Plaza Beach Resort.
Curacao’s southern coast creates shelter from the region’s prevailing trade winds, providing calm shallows that nurture colorful arrays of hard and soft corals. One of the island’s most popular snorkeling sites is Caracas Bay, where the remains of a small tugboat sit in shallow water near a coral garden, and the broken pilings of an old pier provide additional opportunities for fish watching. Several charter companies offer boat trips to this site, or you can create a self-guided tour by wading in from the shore. For more snorkeling adventures, rent a car and head to the central and western sections of the coast, which is punctuated by a number of snorkel-worthy bays. Many have beachfront eateries or parks where you can rinse off afterward and enjoy a libation. Stay at one of the waterfront resorts east of Willemstad, such as Sunscape Curacao Resort, Spa & Casino or the Royal Sea Aquarium, and you’ll have walking access to the Curacao Sea Aquarium and the island’s favorite sandy strand, Mambo Beach.