We enjoyed Curacao snorkeling a good bit more than we expected to. We heard some reports that it was not as good as it's neighbor islands and we had trouble finding good snorkeling location details.
Fortunately, after snorkeling the dickens out of this enjoyable little island, we found many great spots to share with you. Does it compare to Bonaire? Underwater, not quite. The waters are not as protected legally, so there are less fish, particularly larger fish.
But for beach lovers, those less sure on their feet and less experienced snorkelers, we believe Curacao will be much more enjoyable than Bonaire. That's because Curacao's many beautiful beaches make entering and exiting super easy compared to Bonaire's ankle twisting iron shores. Better yet, spend a week on both islands.
Still, Curacao snorkeling is not without challenges. Like Bonaire, some beach reefs have suffered storm damage. So having up-to-date information is important to find the best spots without wasting your vacation time. Oh, and did we mention Curacao doesn't believe in street signs?
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.
Tugboat - Likely the most visited and well-known snorkel location on Curacao, Tugboat is wonderful. If you book a snorkeling boat tour, this is where they will probably take you. But you need not pay to access this great spot unless you love a boat trip, because it's accessible by car.
Little Knip Beach - If you are looking for a gorgeous west end Curacao beach with great snorkeling, look no further. You will swim with fish and explore live coral reef. And you could be lucky enough to see a large school of squid or catch a glimpse of an octopus hiding in a hole, like we did.
Klein Curacao - Some of the best snorkeling available from Curacao is on this small island. Klein Curacao lies six miles southeast of the main island. Of course you must take a boat to the island, but it makes for a great day to a beautiful destination.
There are oodles of beaches and places to get in the water on Curacao, but save yourself the trouble of trying to find the best ones for snorkeling. Our Curacao Snorkeling Guide eBook makes planning your snorkel adventure easy. It tells you where the best spots are, how to get to them, and what you can expect to see, with lots of maps, detailed written descriptions, and 500 pictures.
Check out our gallery page for snorkeling pictures from Curacao for 37 more images of what you could see on your adventure.
Also play our Curacao snorkeling movie below. It will give you a good sense of what to expect and is from all over the island.
1. Lots Of Free Snorkeling From Beautiful Beaches
While so many snorkeling destinations require boat trips out to barrier reefs, almost all of the snorkeling on Curacao is easily accessed from beaches. And, there are plenty of beautiful sandy beaches to choose from. Fourteen of the nineteen snorkeling beaches included in our guide have no entrance fee. One gorgeous sandy beach with great snorkeling is only accessible by boat, Klein Curacao, and it is worth the trip.
2. Excellent Snorkeling Depths
The vast majority of the beach snorkeling on Curacao is in ideal depths for snorkelers. Very often you will be snorkeling alongside limestone and fossilized coral cliffs, exploring the sea life that grows on the sides. The sea floor does not often get much deeper than 20 feet close to shore.
3. Wonderful Underwater Sights
There are some great snorkeling opportunities in Curacao, where you will encounter many fish and find some healthy coral reefs. While it is true that at most of the beaches on the west end the underwater life is a little more sparse, it makes you pay attention to the smaller stuff. We have found more beautiful and interesting sponges along the cliff walls in Curacao than anywhere else. And some of the eastern spots rival anywhere for diverse, healthy reefs and sea life.
4. Super Clear Water
Despite all the sandy beaches, most Curacao snorkeling is in crystal clear water. At most locations if you stick to the left side of the bay you will find good underwater visibility. This is because the wind and wave direction is normally from left to right, so sand from the beach clouds the visibility on the right. For the same reason, sea life tends to be better on the left side of the bays because when the wind kicks up it normally pounds the right side of the bays, doing damage to the corals.
5. Parking Lot Guards
Even though the beaches are often in rural undeveloped areas, Curacao puts out efforts to reduce theft, unlike Bonaire. The majority of the snorkeling beach parking lots have security guards. So you have some peace of mind about getting things stolen from your car. We really appreciated that.
Snorkel The West Side Of Things
If you check out the snorkel map below you will see that all the spots are on the southwest to northwest shore of the island. There are essentially no beaches on the opposite shore and no snorkel spots. The east shore takes the brunt of the trade winds and waves and the shoreline is full of bluffs and cliffs. Generally speaking you should not consider getting in the water on the windward side of the island.
Protected From Trade Winds
The trade winds in Curacao normally blow from the east. So even when the winds are blowing strongly you can expect to find lots of calm snorkeling spots. Because of this you can commonly get in more snorkeling during a trip compared to islands that are more exposed to the winds and weather. You still have to be careful though; wind conditions can change and even switch directions.
Open Ocean Exposure
Although the lee side of the island is protected from most of the trade winds, Curacao snorkeling is all fairly exposed to the open ocean. There are many small bays and coves that you snorkel from. These provide some additional protection from waves, but to access the better sea life at those locations you often have to swim outside the bays around the points. And some locations require you to swim over the reef drop off which is deep exposed ocean. So, just be aware that on Curacao you won't find any snorkeling spots that are fully protected behind a barrier reef.
At most of the spots we recommend in our guide we did not encounter strong ocean currents. As you get close to the tips of the island you are more likely to encounter currents. Also at the spot on Klein Curacao that we recommend there are some strong currents. But generally speaking we encountered very few currents we needed to battle. The normal current moves in a WNW direction.
When To Go For Snorkeling
We feel like the ideal time to visit Curacao for snorkeling is March and April. Earlier than that is the rainy season. And later than that it gets windier. High tourist season is December through April. April is also toward the end of high tourist season, so it is generally a little less busy and prices are lower. But really you can go any time of the year. The weather does not vary greatly, but it is not as predictable lately. We actually had a good bit of rain in April, which locals said was very unusual.
The rainy season is from October to February, see this rainfall chart. The lowest wind times are October, November and December. Late May, June and July are the windiest. But the average wind speeds only range from 12 mph in October to 14 mph in April to 16 mph in June, so it is not a huge difference. See some Curacao wind statistics here.
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.
Year round air temperatures average a daily high of 84°F to 89°F, and a nightly low of 76°F to 80°F.
Generally from December through March, the water temperatures are just below 80°F, and they can get as high as 84°F from April to November.
Getting There And Getting Around
Curacao is located in the southeastern Caribbean between Aruba and Bonaire just north of Venezuela. Flights from Holland are common but flights from North American cities are limited. This page on the Curacao airport website lists the airlines serving the airport and what cities they connect with.
If your goal is to snorkel all or most of the spots on the island, you will need to rent a car. It is easy on the island with many major companies to choose from.
Where To Stay
You have many options for accommodations on Curacao: resorts, hotels, Bed & Breakfasts and apartments. Read our Curacao accommodations page for help choosing.
One of the most popular accommodation areas on the island is Sea Aquarium Beach. It is not a great place for a snorkeler to stay, as we don't recommend the snorkeling there, and it is a decent drive to any of the good spots. Even though you will see the resorts along here saying that they are within the Curacao Underwater Marine Park, from our experience and research the park is only on paper and provides no environmental protection.
See Every Curacao Post