Snorkeling Mangel Halto is by far the best spot on Aruba, if you have calm enough water conditions that you can swim outside the reef edge. But, unfortunately this is really not a beginner spot because of the currents, exposure and potentially long swims. In fact, unless there is no wind and waves, and very little current, this is an advanced snorkeling spot if you plan on going outside the reef where you find the most healthy corals.
Looking at where the bay opens to the ocean, you will see two cuts in the reef, one with a white buoy. Since there is a left to right current all along this coast, the water tends to flow in pretty quickly through the cuts. And since the best snorkeling Mangel Halto area is outside these cuts, you either have to swim out through them against the current, or start further down the coast to the left, outside the reef and come back into the cuts with the current.
We have experienced such strong currents in the cut that we couldn't even swim through it to the outside. This may be due to stronger winds than normal, but generally speaking you need to expect a good bit of current flow and plan your trip based on this.
Small boats travel through the cut with the buoy in it (click the picture above to make it bigger). Motor boats need speed to be able to steer in a current, so they come through quickly. So always be watching for boats.
If you are able to reach the outer reef, you will find a huge field of healthy coral reef full of hard and soft corals, with tons of fish, in a variety of depths, with good visibility.
But for less advanced snorkelers, and when there are strong currents, there are things to see inside the bay as well.
You can enter the water at three different spots.
There is a little dock with a ladder down into the water in the corner of the bay. We prefer this entrance, and it's best for beginners. You can leave your shoes up on the dock. The ladder leads to a sandy bottom in shallow water. Walk in the water out the sandy trail a good ways until you reach deeper water. Then you can slip your fins on and swim.
You can also walk down the path through the mangroves, to a beach area. From there you can walk out the shallows along the reef edge to the right. For this walk you will need footwear as the bottom is rocky. Walk until you can float and change into your fins. You will be close to the cuts in the reef.
The last snorkeling Mangel Halto water entrance option takes advantage of the currents in the area by doing a one-way drift snorkel. You enter at Puerto Chiquito and exit at either the dock or mangrove area at Mangel Halto. Read about the water entrance on that page. And read later in the where to snorkel description for more about doing the drift.
Inside The Bay
If you are a beginner and are not confident with reading currents or swimming in them it is a bad idea to go outside of the bay, or to cross to the other side of the bay. You can instead snorkel in the shallows to the right and left of the dock, over sand with some patches of rocks, small corals, fish and other creatures. You will likely still feel a little current, but it should be manageable. Explore as much of the shallows as you want then head back. Just know that as you get closer to the cuts, and to the deeper center zone that drops away, the currents will get stronger.
Or, for the experienced snorkeler, if the waves and current permit, you can swim over the shallows toward the cut in the reef, marked by the floating buoy. In these shallows you will see a little bit of coral life along with fish and other creatures too.
Outside The Cut
The two cuts through the reef are near the left side of the opening to the bay. For snorkeling Mangel Halto, you will need to swim out one of the cuts to see the healthy reef on the outside. The deepest one is marked by the white buoy. But the one to the left (seen at right) is shallower and may be a better choice since there is less chance of boat traffic. Be prepared for the chance that the current is too strong for you to swim over to the outside.
Once outside the reef, you can snorkel to the left and right. Once in deeper waters past the cut, the current will be a little slower. But be constantly aware of how the current is affecting you and your energy level. Be sure you have the energy to swim back against it if you go to the right. The reef is excellent on both sides, with diverse hard and soft corals, many fish and schools of fish. Always keep an eye out for boats. You can re-enter one of the cuts to return.
Another snorkeling Mangel Halto option, if the currents are mild and you can comfortably swim a long distance, is to snorkel down to the right on the outside reef. There is a dock platform, with ladders on both sides so you can cross over from the outside back to the inside of the bay. Then you swim across the bay back to your exit at the dock. The reason to do this when the current is mild is because the swim back across the bay is against the current. The best route returning across the bay is to head for the center channel marker (click the picture below). This is the narrowest area, and you won't be over deep water for very long. And if you need to you can hang on to the channel marker for a break. Always watch for boats while you are crossing the bay.
During our visits the visibility was generally good, but if the waves are up the water can get cloudy. The water depths for snorkeling Mangel Halto range from 2 feet to over 20 feet in the snorkel areas.
Drift Snorkel From Puerto Chiquito
Our favorite way to snorkel Mangel Halto is to enter further down the coast at Puerto Chiquito, then just snorkel easily with the current until you reach the first cut, enter the bay, and swim to the dock to exit. You can see the route on the map above. Make sure you locate one of the two cuts. Don't attempt to cross early, because the current will drag you over coral. You can locate the cuts by finding the white buoy in the middle of the larger cut. The cuts are sandy bottomed.
The advantages of the drift snorkel are that you are not swimming against the current and there is no struggle to get outside the cut because you start outside. It is easy to navigate as you are simply following the shoreline. The swim is long, but the current is helping you, so you will not expend a lot of swimming energy.
This is a great spot to see diverse and healthy corals, fish and many other creatures when snorkeling Mangel Halto.
At Mangel Halto there are shade palapas, a porta-potty and trash cans.