We have explored everything Bonaire snorkeling has to offer, and thoroughly enjoyed our time on this little Caribbean island. We were enticed to go there because we heard it was the best snorkeling in the world. Unfortunately we can't completely agree with that because we discovered a lot of reef damage from storms.
Don't get us wrong, Bonaire snorkeling is exceptional enough that we returned. But since 1999 there have been a series of tropical storms that really damaged the shallow reefs in a number of spots that used to be superb snorkeling. And unfortunately, few to none of the websites and printed guides have been updated to reflect this storm damage.
After scouring Bonaire and the little offshore island Klein Bonaire for the best snorkeling spots, we are happy to report that there are still many locations with healthy reefs and many fish.
Click on each location below, for full details and pictures. Also don't miss the movie, pictures and more about what you can expect further down the page.
Note: The locations below are samples from our popular Bonaire Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
Lac Bay (Sorobon) - The snorkeling at Lac Bay, off of Sorobon Beach is some of the best on the island, although it is a little odd to access. And if the wind and waves are up it can also be challenging because it is located on the east side of the island, behind a barrier reef.
Klein Bonaire - No Name Beach - The little island off the west coast of Bonaire is called Klein Bonaire. It has a spectacular beach called No Name Beach that you can do an amazing drift snorkel from. There are also many other snorkel spots around Klein Bonaire that you can only access by boat that are worth exploring.
Bari Reef - Although not really our favorite, this spot is great for fish, and when the winds are up it tends to have calm conditions. But it is also a good example of how the storms damaged the shallow reefs close to Kralendijk, so don't expect a lot of wonderful corals anywhere close to town.
We created the movie below to help you get a real sense of what the snorkeling is like all over the island of Bonaire.
1. An Abundance Of Free Shore Access
Much of the snorkeling in Bonaire is accessed from shore. That’s great because it means you don’t need to pay for boats to take you out, and you can go on your own schedule. Even the little island Klein Bonaire has a great snorkel spot that can be accessed from shore after an inexpensive water taxi ride.
2. Great Sea Life
If you visit the spots that have not been very damaged by the storms, you will find tons of fish, and lots of healthy corals and sponges. On our most recent trip we were happy to see even more fish and turtles than earlier, and clear evidence of coral recovery even in the damaged areas.
3. Physically & Governmentally Protected Waters
Bonaire’s physical shape creates a large area of snorkeling grounds in waters protected from the dominant winds and ocean waves (more about this below). And nearly all of Bonaire’s waters are part of the legally protected National Marine Park. And it shows. Fish don’t flee at the sight of you, like at other unprotected destinations.
4. Interesting Depths For Snorkelers
All around Bonaire you will find yourself in nice shallow waters that are perfect for getting up close and personal with fish and corals. But if you swim out 30 to 100 feet from shore, in about 25 feet of water depth, the bottom will suddenly take a near vertical plunge into the deep blue. We love the variety this offers. If you get freaked out looking over the edge of a reef with deep water below, Bonaire may not be so good for you.
5. Incredible Visibility & Warm Water
We experienced some pretty exceptional water clarity almost everywhere on Bonaire. Generally you can see from 85 to 150 feet. It is so clear at most every spot it has kind of spoiled us for other locations that have lower visibility. And the water is blissfully warm. Generally in the winter, from December through March, the water temperatures are just below 80°F, and it can get as high as 84°F in the summer from April to November.
Snorkel The Protected West Side
Bonaire’s snorkeling spots are nearly all on the leeward (west) side of the island, as can be seen on the map below. The prevalent trade winds blow from the east. And that kicks up waves. The east side of Bonaire is rough and dangerous, and you don’t want to get in the water there, with the exception of Lac Bay at times.
But most of the inner curve of the west side of Bonaire is very protected from the wind and waves. Even when the trade winds are blowing 23 miles per hour or more, which is common, the waters close to shore on the west side are often fairly calm, which makes snorkeling a pleasure. And the breezes you do get are nice and cooling.
Shore Entrance Conditions Require Foot Protection
Most water entrances on Bonaire are not over sand; there are only a few sandy beaches around the island. Nearly all of the entrances are over hard dead coral shelves (iron-shore), coral rubble and rock, like the picture at right. And you often encounter Fire Corals in the shallows that you do not want to step on. The footing can be uneven, and it is most certainly hard and sharp. So it is essential in Bonaire to enter the water with some form of footwear. We use a belt and flip-flop system that we describe here.
Overall, the currents are generally light at the snorkeling spots around Bonaire. There are some areas that we have encountered stronger currents, and we note those for each location in our eBook guide. Near the tips of the island currents tend to be stronger, and there is often a north to south current flowing between Klein Bonaire and Bonaire.
Best Time Of Year
The weather patterns have been less predictable the last few years, so this question is not as straight forward to answer. We choose to visit during March and April. Much earlier in the year and you may get more rain, and farther into the summer you may get more winds. The busiest season for tourism is December through April.
It is worth mentioning that while it gets pretty miserably hot without the trade winds, some of the snorkeling grounds have easier access during those times.
Bonaire Weather Patterns
Bonaire is a desert island, so it does not get a lot of rain, around 20 inches a year, 65% of which occurs October through January. The lowest rain months historically are March, April, May & June. October and November, while rainy, also happen to offer the lowest winds, historically. The winds blow out of the east 95% of the time, averaging 13mph to 20mph. When wind reversals happen it is often in October and November. See some Bonaire wind statistics here.
The daytime air temperature averages 84°F to 89°F, with nighttime averages of 76°F to 80°F.
The ABC islands are not in the typical hurricane belt because the storms tend to follow a path that moves away from the equator. They do occasionally get tropical storms though, and the season for these is June through November.
Getting To Bonaire & Around It
Bonaire is next to Aruba and Curacao, in the southeastern Caribbean. From the U.S., direct flights are limited to once a weekend, but you can connect through Curacao daily. Direct flights are more regular from Holland. Learn more about U.S. flights from this document. See all your flight options on this website.
To reach the best snorkeling you will definitely need to rent a car. There are not many major car rental companies on Bonaire, but lots of smaller companies. Be prepared to rent a small truck, with a manual transmission. This site has a list of the current car rental companies.
What About Bonaire Snorkel Boat Tours & Guides?
There is a small handful of companies that serve snorkelers specifically that can be fun to go out with. In our eBook snorkeling guide we provide a list of all those options.
Where To Stay
Bonaire has a nice variety of accommodations options, from resorts, to hotels, to apartments. Read our Bonaire accommodations page for help deciding where to stay.
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