Bonaire Snorkeling – Challenging and Limited
Bonaire snorkeling is good if you can overcome the challenges mentioned below, and if you have the right weather.
We visited Bonaire in October and November 2022 and this report is very hard to share, because this little island used to be one of our favorite Caribbean snorkel spots, and we had published first and second editions of our Bonaire Snorkeling Guide eBook. But after this visit we decided against writing a third edition.
Bonaire’s shallow reef health, fish quantities, sizes, and diversity have declined significantly in the last 10 years. We were there during a coral bleaching event from warm water, and there is lots of evidence of past bleaching events, and coral disease. Storms have also damaged the reefs. And a huge increase in cruise ship passengers has also damaged reefs. We only saw a few turtles, all very small. We only spotted a single sea cucumber and one urchin, other than the little rock boring types at the shoreline. We only saw two rays, both at Lac Bay.
Overall, our impression was an underwater environment under high stress and decline. Although Reef Renewal Bonaire has done an admirable job over the last 10 years planting staghorn and elkhorn corals in the shallows, which you can definitely see while snorkeling.
All of this has reduced the number of good Bonaire snorkeling spots we can recommend. And accessing the better spots can be challenging for a few reasons that we mention further down this page.
Don’t get us wrong. You can still have a nice time snorkeling in Bonaire, and there are still some good spots. Heck, you can get in the water almost anywhere and see some fish and enjoy yourself.
But based on our 2019 trip to Curacao, we would now say Curacao is a more enjoyable snorkeling destination, with lots of wonderful beaches, easy water entrances, and more spots with good snorkeling. It is also more affordable with more flight options.
Bonaire Snorkeling Spots and Boat Tours
Note: In the next few weeks we will be updating these locations and adding 10 more Bonaire snorkeling spots we recommend and will link to them here.
Click on each location below for full details and pictures. Also don’t miss the pictures, and more about what you can expect further down this page.
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 beautiful white sand beach called No Name Beach that you can do a drift snorkel from. You can also get on boat tours that snorkel other spots around the island.
Bari Reef – A popular spot with a couple nice areas to snorkel with fish and a few corals.
Challenges and Limitations to Bonaire Snorkeling
1. Rocky Shore Entrances – Footwear Required
Most Bonaire snorkeling is accessed from shore which is great, because you can rent a car and snorkel on your own schedule. But, as you can see in the picture below, most water entrances for Bonaire snorkeling are over a rough rocky (iron) shore, with holes, urchins, and fire corals, which is challenging in itself. And it can be downright dangerous if there are waves. There are very few sandy beaches on Bonaire.
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. On our last trip we used either neoprene boots or flip-flops with our belt system described here.
Foggy Masks, Fin Blisters and Angry Snorkels!
Poorly fitting, cheap gear, can ruin your trip. See our snorkeling equipment reviews and fitting suggestions to make sure your next trip is great.
2. Many of the Remaining Better Snorkel Spots Are More Exposed to Wind and Waves
Bonaire’s snorkeling spots are nearly all on the leeward (west) side of the island, as can be seen on our Bonaire Snorkeling Map. 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.
And when the normal trade winds are blowing out of the east, it definitely kicks up waves near the south and north ends of the island, and out on the little island of Klein Bonaire. And unfortunately those areas are where most of the best Bonaire snorkeling spots are located.
So, if you are not lucky enough to visit when the winds are a little lower, you may find it very challenging or even dangerous to get in at the better spots. We tried visiting during the lower wind months of October and November, which is also the rainy season. But we cannot recommend that option. The rains can be terribly disruptive, and while the winds can be low, they can also turn and come in from the west or the south, which ruins underwater visibility, and can make entering and exiting the water dangerous at nearly every spot.
3. Sargassum Blooms
As with many destinations, Bonaire is also affected by the sargassum seaweed bloom plaguing the Caribbean. The east side of the island is where the brunt of the impact is felt, but since many of the best spots are near the ends of the island, we would not be surprised to find that it is affecting those spots as well. Even in November we came across some sargassum at a couple of the southern spots on the island.
4. Boat Rentals Have Tripled in Cost
Finally, we used to recommend renting a boat to explore many spots around Klein Bonaire. But boat rental prices have tripled. So unless you have a group of people this is no longer a reasonable option, which greatly reduces the amount of spots to snorkel that used to be good. Taking a water taxi to Klein Bonaire or booking a snorkel boat tour are now the best options.
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Bonaire Snorkeling Travel Tips
National Marine Park Pass Required
Nearly all of Bonaire’s waters are part of the legally protected National Marine Park. And every person who enters the water is required to purchase a national park pass, which is easiest to do online here.
Best Time of Year for Bonaire Snorkeling?
The weather patterns have been less predictable in recent years, so this question is not as straight forward to answer. We have visited during March and April for Bonaire snorkeling. 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.
Winds are lowest in the fall months, but you risk being rained out, or the winds switching around to the south or west, and completely ruining your snorkeling. We experienced torrential rains in October and November, with flooded roads, and terrible underwater visibility.
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, and 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 and Around It
Bonaire is next to Aruba and Curacao, in the southeastern Caribbean. From the U.S. direct flights are somewhat limited, but you can also connect through Curacao or Aruba. Direct flights are more regular from Holland. Learn more about flights from North America in 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.
Where to Stay
Bonaire has a nice variety of accommodation options, from resorts, to hotels, to apartments. Read our Bonaire accommodations page for help deciding where to stay.