Bonaire Snorkeling

Important: You must have a STINAPA pass for ANY snorkeling on Bonaire, even from the shore. Buy them here: https://stinapa.bonairenaturefee.org/

Overall, we found the snorkeling very good. The best snorkeling spots in Bonaire are probably Andrea I & II, Klein Bonaire, Lac Bay, and 1000 Steps. There are tons of options for Bonaire snorkeling from shore. I’ll be honest, we weren’t completely blown away by snorkeling in Bonaire – but, we’re experienced snorkelers who have snorkeled in some of the best spots in the world. Manage expectations. The diving here looks phenomenal – much of the healthy reef is 20+ feet down. Still, this is one of the best overall spots in the Caribbean.

Make sure to pack a rash guard as we encountered quite a few jellyfish at Bari Reef and 1000 Steps Bonaire snorkeling sites, and it can be nearly impossible to avoid the patches of little ones. Saying this, the stings from small ones aren’t all that painful, just irritating more than anything – I had a few of these on my face. But if my body wasn’t covered, I probably would have turned back for shore on those trips.

In this post


BONAIRE SNORKELING MAP

Bonaire Snorkeling Map with sites labeled

ANDREA I & II SNORKELING

PETRIES PILLAR TO ANDREA II

If time is of the essence, Andrea II should be #1 on your hit list. We rate it as the best snorkeling in Bonaire overall. For a longer drift snorkel that includes two other fantastic spots, start at Petrie’s Pillar – you can drift snorkel all the way to Andrea II. The highlights were seeing an eagle ray and a turtle. The volume and variety of shallow healthy coral was the best we saw on the island.

Coral and Fish at Andrea I snorkeling spot
Colorful parrot fish at Andrea II Bonaire Snorkeling Spot

To get to Petrie’s Pillar, park at Andrea I then walk back up the road and down the paved path at the end of the subdivision (see the above map). After a short walk down the path, you’ll find a cairn and a rock trail leading through the woods to the shore – follow it to the water entry. This is one of the few dive sites that doesn’t have a yellow rock marking the site or entry but someone has built up a little spot in the sand and you can see a yellow dive buoy with “Petrie’s Pillar” written on it.

The drift is only around half a mile to Andrea II but we took our sweet time here because the reef layout meant we did a lot of swimming. The shallow reef is close to shore while the deeper main reef is about 30 feet off the shore, with mostly sand in between. So we kept swimming back and forth between the reefs. If you don’t want to do this, another idea is to do two days of drifting – one for each area of the reef. The shallow reef depth ranges from about 3-10 feet to surface level.

Andrea I entry and exit point

The deeper reef between Petrie’s Pillar and Andrea I has a shallower ledge than most of the other spots on the island, which tend to quickly drop very deep. This means there’s a good width of approximately 15-20 foot depth here.

Petrie’s has quite a bit of decent shallow coral and small fish. Andrea I has patchy shallow coral. We saw the eagle ray and turtle just near the Andrea I buoy at a depth of 15-20 feet. Andrea II was our favorite and the site that was recommended by every dive shop we talked to. It’s home to tons of shallow interesting and varied coral and colorful small to medium fish.


KARPATA BONAIRE

Karpata has long been thought to have the best snorkeling Bonaire has to offer, but recently, stony coral tissue disease was discovered here. In July 2022, STINAPA Bonaire or the National Parks Bonaire Foundation (a government organization that regulates the marine and national park), closed Karpata and neighboring La Dania’s Leap in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading.

However, in September, the location was reopened. After further investigation, STINAPA is unsure whether the discovered coral actually suffered from stony coral tissue disease. The affected coral has been removed, and the site continues to be monitored, but open.

Karpata is one of the most popular spots on the island. I haven’t been able to make it to this site yet, but I’ve heard it’s one of the best. So make sure to add it to your list of places to snorkeling on Bonaire.


LAC BAY BONAIRE SNORKELING

Lac Bay Snorkeling Map

I’d call Lac Bay an intermediate to advanced spot. There’s a half-mile swim/walk-out in typically windy conditions (you can walk pretty much the whole way there), so a bit of a workout to get to the coral. Watch out for windsurfers. Once you get out there, you’re pretty protected from waves by the reef, but the tops of waves do make it over and push you a bit toward shore.

The tricky part is the super shallow coral that’s out here – it’s easy to get knocked into the coral by the current and waves so you need to be aware of your surroundings and your path through the coral. If you take a look at the satellite image map, you’ll see a very dark patch in the middle of the site. This is a very dense section of staghorn coral stretching from the bay floor up to the surface (about 3-4 feet). Do not attempt to swim over it – this is not possible.

I went out with my eight-year-old son and 60-year-old mother. Sometimes I had to hold and guide my son, but he did very well overall. My mother, who is in excellent shape for her age, said it was difficult for her. It’s important you save some energy for the swim back in as it’s a long one.

group of windsurfers taking class at lac bay
Lac Bay Map at the beach

The coral here is healthy and shallow with plenty of fish. Lac Bay is better than most spots around Bonaire because of the depth of the coral. If you are an experienced snorkeler, are physically fit, and have good situational awareness, it’s well worth the effort to get out there.


1000 STEPS BEACH BONAIRE

1000 Steps Snorkeling Map

I was told that 1000 Steps Bonaire snorkeling had gone a bit downhill, but I thought it was still fantastic. There are a few noteworthy areas here. Left from the beach you’ll find an impressive amount of large healthy coral, and here the reef is relatively shallow.

Shore from my favorite coral area at 1000 steps
Entrance to 1000 Steps Snorkeling Area

Good snorkeling can be done at a 5-10 feet depth, rather than the 20-30 feet in most other places. Around where the reef begins to drop off here, I saw several turtles and tarpon fish.

Coral underwater at 1000 steps
Coral and fish at 1000 steps

In my opinion, the very best snorkeling at 1000 Steps was to the left of the stairway leading down to the water. From this area to the 1000 Steps buoy was still good, but deeper. To the right of the staircase, there are a few things to see, but the coral isn’t as healthy or plentiful as on the left side. 


BARI REEF BONAIRE SNORKELING

Bari Reef Snorkeling Map

Our accommodation for our trip was at Sand Dollar Condominiums – located in the middle of Bari Reef. From here, you can do a one-way drift snorkel from the harbor down to Dive Friends. This technically encompasses several spots, but it’s only about a half mile from one end to the other. 

The shallows don’t offer much to see as most of the coral is at around a 20 to 30-foot depth. All the coral looked to be very healthy and there was plenty of fish, but you’ll either need to free dive or observe from a distance at this spot. In front of Sand Dollar Condominiums, around the concrete dock/pad, there is a small patch of coral – here we saw tons of small to medium-sized fish. This spot has been given the nickname “the aquarium”. It’s better than most of the drift with an active healthy patch of coral, but it only spans around 20 by 30 feet.

Around the buddy reef pier, you’ll likely see schools of tarpon and other fish in the shallows here. Just north of the Sand Dollar Condominiums is a nice patch of staghorn coral – in shallow waters before the drop-off. At the south end of Rum Runners, there’s another good patch. Just off the pier at the reef, there’s a boat wreck submerged around 20 to 30 feet.

In front of the houses along the shore (just past Dive Friends), head past the pier at Captain Don’s and you’ll find a strip of sand that’s followed by a decent bit of wavy fan-type coral that runs all along the shallow area. Where to exit the water is marked by a flag at Dive Friends (next to a picnic table) – it’s just past the dive memorial flag.


KLEIN BONAIRE SNORKELING

Klein Bonaire Snorkeling Map
Corals underwater in Klein Bonaire

Snorkeling Klein Bonaire is a must. This is a day trip snorkel though – the only way to access the spot is by water taxi, snorkel tour, or renting a boat. The water taxi takes you to “No Name Beach”. The best thing to do from here is to walk about a quarter of a mile along the shore to the access point (as marked on the above map) for a drift snorkel back to the same beach. The only way to access this reef is from this point onshore or at No Name Beach – these are the local rules. You’re also not allowed to head inwards into the reef – you must remain outside.

Another option is to ask the water taxi driver to drop you in a different spot for a longer drift snorkel. They can take you past the regular access point and an extra half mile by dropping you at Jerry’s Reef (marked “C” on the map) – you can then drift back past Ebo’s Reef (B). There’s abundant beautiful coral here, both in the shallows and the deep water. To me, this spot has the best shallow coral on Bonaire. Generally, on Bonaire, the interesting coral is at a 10 to 30-foot depth, but here there’s a wide variety of coral that goes all the way to the water’s surface and plenty of fish to see as well.

Lots of people have said they’ve seen sea turtles at Klein Bonaire, but we didn’t see any. We did see two larger fish – probably belonging to the billfish family, similar to a swordfish. The reef extends all the way around the island, but you can only access it through the access points just mentioned or by booking a snorkel tour or renting a boat.

Island of Klein Bonaire Map

The snorkel tours will of course have their own itinerary, whereas if you rent a private boat, you’ll be able to dictate where to go. The tour company Sea Cow offers a “double dip” tour where you go to two sections of the reef. To see every spot, renting a boat is your only option. It’s important to note that you are not allowed to beach a boat anywhere on the island, not even if you’re in a kayak. Instead, you have to use the mooring balls. 


SALT PIER BONAIRE SNORKELING

Snorkeling entry point at Salt Pier Bonaire

Salt Pier was one of my favorite spots on the island. There are plentiful patches of stunning coral to explore on the south side of the main pier in the shallower water that extends out to the pier that runs parallel to the shore. On the north side, there’s less shallow coral.

turtle at salt pier bonaire snorkeling
coral on pier at salt pier

Take your time to explore all around the pier. There are beautiful colorful corals along all of the poles of the pier and tons of fish, including larger fish seeking protection under the pier. I saw a huge porcupine fish, several turtles, and some tarpon along the deeper end of the pier. It’s really important that you’re mindful that this is a working pier. Don’t snorkel if a ship is docked and regularly check for approaching ships.


MARGATE BAY & RED BERYL

Red Beryl to Margate Bay Snorkeling Map
Entry point at Margate Bay Snorkeling Spot

The spots pictured above were suggested by several dive shops. The coral is shallow here and close to shore, but it’s patchy – not one big reef. Saying that, the coral was interesting and varied and there were a lot of fish. You can do it as a drift snorkel (as we did) from Red Beryl along to Margate Bay. It’s about a half mile, all shallow and very close to shore.

Around Red Beryl is where the windsurfing beach begins, so you’ll need to stay to the right after entering the water. There is quite a bit of coral for the first quarter mile or so. After that, it thins out and gets a bit boring until you’re close to the Margate Bay entrance. Look for the large cairn as a marker for where to get out. There’s also a parking area here. 

Close up of Coral heads at Margate Bay Bonaire
Angelfish and staghorn coral at Marigate Bay Bonaire

SNORKELING TOURS IN BONAIRE

The Bonaire snorkeling tours can be worth it to get the most out of your time on the island. To snorkel at Klein Bonaire, you’ll need to join a tour, get a water taxi, or rent a private boat – there is no other option. The “double dip” option from Bonaire snorkel tours company Sea Cow seems to be the best option with two stops on Klein Bonaire.


BEST PLACE TO STAY IN BONAIRE FOR SNORKELING

Where to stay in Bonaire for snorkeling? There are a few Bonaire snorkeling resorts to choose from as well as villas if you prefer self-catering.

Sorobon Beach Resort

Probably the best resort option. It’s located on a beautiful beach (Lac Bay) and is built to a very high standard, but it’s pricey.

Villas between Andrea I and Andrea II

There are a number of villas here. Stay here and you’ve got great snorkeling on your doorstep. However, it’s a rocky entry beach, not sandy. Great ocean views though.

Resorts and villas from Bari Reef to Cliff Dive Site

There are tons of resorts and villas built along the beach from Bari Reef to the Cliff Dive Site and along here there’s good drift snorkeling in front of the resorts/vacation rentals between Den Laman and Dive Friends Bonaire.

Options include:

Looking for more information on Bonaire? Check out all our guides to the island Here!

About the author
Kristin Young