Snorkeling Tugboat is the most well-known and recommended spot on Curacao, and for good reason. It is wonderful, despite the fact that you are snorkeling in an industrial area, right next to a huge dock and possibly a ship. This location is famous for the Tugboat wreck, but we also really enjoyed it for the good amount of fish and other sea life in the bay to the north and especially along the cliff to the south of it.
Note: This page is a sample from our popular Curacao Snorkeling Guide eBook available here.
The land access for snorkeling Tugboat is on the east side of Caracas Bay. It is a little hard to find, but well worth it and we give you good directions. Many boat tour companies come to Tugboat and you could come that way if you desire the boat trip experience. But you can come here for free on your own and that is what we recommend.
It is not a picturesque beach for hanging out on and the dive shop, snack and restrooms were all closed up when we were there. Except just as we were leaving, near noon, someone came in and opened up a container from which he rented snorkeling gear and beach chairs.
We did notice broken car window glass in the parking lot, so don't leave anything valuable in your car, and maybe leave it unlocked to avoid broken windows. There was not a security guard watching the parking area. Sundays are more busy here, so going then might help you prevent crime.
There are some stairs down to the beach from a wood deck for snorkeling Tugboat. Enter the water straight out from the stairs close to the boulders on the right side of the beach. The beach is darker sand, with coral rubble and small rocks where you enter the water. The dark sand will be hotter under bare feet. Bigger rocks and boulders are on the bottom not far out. So, wearing shoes will make this entrance easier and more comfortable.
There are really four different areas for snorkeling Tugboat. All the way to the right after you enter is the huge dock where a ship might be tied up for maintenance. In front of the beach is a shallow bay to explore out to the square steel mooring platforms. There is the Tugboat itself, past the last platform. And past the Tugboat is a great area under the cliff around the point. Put these all together and it is a nice long diverse snorkel.
The dock area to the right and the bay itself have a lot of industrial waste scattered around, like a big chain, a huge anchor, ruined old docks and pilings and other stuff.
Swim over and explore the big dock to the right and the rocks on the shore next to them after your entrance. The steel pilings have some beautiful and colorful sponges and corals on them. And we saw some interesting fish hanging out in the rocks here.
The next snorkeling Tugboat area is in the shallows of the bay, out toward the steel mooring platforms. You will see some of the ruins we mentioned, some fish and a few corals encrusting the rocks. Once you make it out to the steel square mooring platforms check out the life encrusting those. There are also more corals living on the bottom in this area.
The next area is the Tugboat itself which is past the last square steel mooring platform. The reef starts to get healthier around it. The wreck sits on the bottom at about fifteen feet and comes within about five feet of the surface. It is a well preserved wreck sitting upright with some corals and sponges growing on it and fish swimming around it. It's neat to see.
In our opinion, the best snorkeling can be found if you swim past the Tugboat, around the rocky point. You will be right on top of the reef drop off, in about fifteen feet of water. The reef drops off into a steep wall and dark blue water. You can swim along the top of the drop off around the first point if the waves and currents are not too strong or big. This is where you will find the healthiest reef and it is interesting to look down into the depths of the vertical wall. As you round the point you will find big healthy Elkhorn Corals, other hard corals, lots of sea fans, rods and plumes, sponges and more fish. If the current is from left to right, you will have an easy swim back.
Lastly, if you have time and want a longer swim, or come back a second time and want something new to check out, you could swim over to the right side of Directors Bay from here. We do not recommend doing this from Directors Bay because the currents have you swimming against them all the way back. Whereas if you do it from Tugboat, the prevailing current direction would help you with your swim back. Also, don't do this lightly. Check the wave and current conditions. If you are at all unsure, don't do it.
Here are some landmarks to help you with this. After you swim past the rocky points just past the Tugboat, you will see some rocks that just break the surface right at the edge of the drop off. Swim past these and you can see the parking area for Directors Bay on top of the rock cliffs in the distance. Snorkel along the top of the drop off only as far as the parking area and then turn back, or before you are tired. You can read about the snorkeling in this area in our Directors Bay description.
The visibility while snorkeling Tugboat was pretty good, but a little bit cloudy at times. And the depths range from three to fifteen feet in the snorkeling areas, but when you are looking down over the edge of the wall at the drop off it is sixty or more feet of depth.
This was a great place for seeing fish, corals and plenty of other creatures. In addition to the fish listed below, we also swam with a school of silversides when snorkeling Tugboat.
1. Get on the road named Caracasbaaiweg east of downtown.
2. At the end of this road there is a traffic circle. Take the second right heading east.
3. Soon, on the right, you will see Playa Caracasbaai. Continue straight past the beach on the pavement around toward the right and then go left on the dirt road.
4. Follow this road to the gate at the large ship dock and then turn left.
5. Follow the road to the next intersection where you go right. Keep the old Fort on the hill on your right.
6. When you get close to the water again, there are some huge rocks on the water's edge. Baya Beach is straight ahead and there is a Y in the road. Veer left around the Baya Beach buildings and water tank. This little paved road ends at another, turn right.
7. There is an old open gate on the road. Go straight here and Tugboat is on the left just before the end of the dock. Park on the side of the road. There might be a chain across the entrance to the area with buildings that used to be a dive shop and snack.
There were no facilities open when we were there, except some shade umbrellas. The dive shop, snack and bathrooms were closed. But someone showed up near noon to open a container where he rents snorkel gear and beach chairs.