Curacao Snorkeling Trip Report April 2023

By Peter Henry

We spent two weeks in Curacao in April 2023. The snorkeling was great with lots of accessible locations to explore.

I purchased the Curacao Snorkeling Guide and it was fantastic. It had lots of details about getting to and exploring each of the locations. I found the descriptions of the amenities available particularly useful because I was traveling with family, some of whom were not as dedicated to snorkeling as I am. If out with the family, I could easily pick a spot that suited everyone.

Spotted Moray Eel seen while snorkeling Curacao

We were traveling all-inclusive, a requirement of my family of parents and adult children. I spent a lot of time picking a resort to suit the family and provide on-site snorkeling opportunities. We ended up staying at the Sunscape Curacao. I picked this resort for the potential house reef snorkeling and it did deliver that. It also had some other plusses… Mambo Beach next door for restaurants, shopping and bars, downtown was walkable from the resort or you could take the bus. The resort was okay but I would say the food was not on par with what we have experienced at Mayan Riviera resorts.

Curacao Snorkeling – My Experience

Now for the snorkeling. I snorkeled 11 different locations. At the end of the trip I had tallied 110 different animal species (fish, crustaceans, cephalopods, worms). I’m sure my rudimentary ID skills prevented me from recognizing many more. Water clarity was excellent at every spot with only minor exceptions where water was flowing from inland.

Snorkeling at Sunscape Resort

The beach at the resort is man-made and protected by a breakwater approximately 400m long. This creates a very protected lagoon with a sandy shore and a rocky, bouldery shore. I could swim out either end of the lagoon and snorkel the outside of the breakwater. The breakwater itself was made up of large boulders. So there was lots of habitat to explore.

The exit from the lagoon at the western end is quite shallow. The exit on the eastern end had lots of depth. Outside the breakwater was exposed and subject to wind and waves. There seemed to be a slight current from east to west. To swim the outside you should be comfortable in waves and deeper water. Outside the breakwater is not beginner friendly.

There were good numbers and varieties of fish inside the lagoon. It is a great area for beginners to be introduced to snorkeling. Water clarity was much better outside of the lagoon but tolerable inside.

I brought my light and did some night snorkeling inside the lagoon. I was able to find multiple eels (spotted, green), lobster and octopi at night that I didn’t see during the day.

I snorkeled extensively outside the breakwater. I swam east to the Sea Aquarium and west to the west end of Marie Pampeon Beach (the soccer field). End to end it is about 2km. Of course, as a snorkeler explores, it’s probably double that.

The area toward Marie Pampoen has a natural shoreline and more gently sloping bottom. You can snorkel from 5m off the shore out to probably 100m off the shore and still be in reasonable snorkeling depths.

From Sunscape to the Sea Aquarium the drop-off was much closer to the breakwater. In this area you are mainly snorkeling the face of the breakwater and a little bit out from that where there were natural ridges that were shallower.

Underwater concrete Curacao sign

Along the breakwater there were multiple places where coral was being cultivated. Near the east end of the Mambo Beach lagoon, I saw a couple of underwater sculptures. I’m not sure if this was part of a formal snorkeling trail or if they’re just random acts of submarine art.

Snorkeling Jan Thiel Beach

Jan Thiel was a 3km (30 min) walk from Sunscape. There is a natural area near the Sea Aquarium with an extensive trail network that is used by locals. I just followed the trail closest to the water to end up at Jan Thiel. The trails are shown in the Maps.me navigation app. I snorkeled here in the mornings after we returned the rental car.

The water clarity was very good outside of the bay, inside of the bay it was okay. I saw lots of fish species and varieties of healthy coral outside of the bay.

Peter freediving over the sailboat wreck at Jan Thiel Beach

Snorkeling Directors Bay and Tugboat

When I was there, there was security at the Directors Bay parking area with no cost to park.

There was a good sized area to explore and water clarity was excellent. I snorkeled from here to Tugboat and back (1.5km total trip). The snorkeling conditions are well described in the guide.

Peter freediving down next to piling Curacao

Playa Caracasbaai

The water clarity was good. There are a number of structures around the east end of the beach that had interesting creatures and fish around them. This is where I saw Flying Gurnards. I have been eagerly looking for these fish ever since I bought my first Caribbean fish ID book. It is amazing to watch them use their pectoral fins to sweep at the bottom looking for food, to walk along the bottom and then to open them fully to ‘fly’.

Flying Gurnard over a sandy bottom at Playa Caracasbaai

Snorkeling West Caracasbaai

This was probably my favorite spot. There is good variety of depths and habitats here and a very large area to explore. I was very leery about crossing the boat channel but there was no traffic when I was there.

More Curacao Snorkeling Spots

Santu Pretu – This is a very scenic hike-in beach, well worth the 15 minute walk.

Playa Lagun – Another scenic beach, my family enjoyed the restaurant on the cliff-side followed by snorkeling.

Playa Kenepa Chiki – fewer people and facilities than Playa Abou, similar snorkeling.

Playa Abou – Great beach for snorkelers and non-snorkelers.

Playa Grandi – We saw five turtles. As the guide indicates a very reliable place to see turtles. I did see turtles at other beaches but they were singles and more difficult to get close to.

Playa Kalki – The water seemed a little cooler here than the other spots we swam on the island. There is a nice restaurant overlooking the beach for beverages and food after a snorkel.

Miscellaneous Observations From My Curacao Snorkeling Trip

I was surprised that I did not see a single ray in the two weeks that I was there. Towards the end of my time I was purposefully exploring sandy areas looking for rays.

I found the average fish size seemed to be smaller around Curacao than what I experienced in Roatan (e.g., fewer mature parrotfish).

After having a few things stolen off the beach in Mexico (and discovering this website) I started using a swim buoy/dry bag. I can walk to a beach and put everything that I’m not using for snorkeling into the dry bag. Nothing left behind on the beach. I can even put a cold beverage inside for after my snorkel. I also put my phone with Strava running inside the bag, this gives me locations and distances that I snorkeled. My wife really likes it because she can see exactly where I am.

I have a line attached to the bag that is about 15ft long with a loop on the end. I hold the loop while snorkeling to pull the bag with me, but can release it in an emergency. If I need flip flops for the entry I can thread them on the rope when I put my fins on.

Driving on the island was easy. The only thing I had to watch for was the variable yield rules in the roundabouts. Some had you yielding to all traffic already in the roundabout, others had places where traffic in the roundabout had to yield to traffic coming into the roundabout.

The size of the island makes it easy to use a car to go and do things in the morning, swim at a beach or two in the west and return to the resort mid-afternoon. I rented from Advance Car Rentals. Very good to deal with. They brought the car to the resort and picked it up again when I was done with it.

7 Comments

  1. Love your report Peter! We were in Curacao in April 2023 as well. We stayed in Petermaai district in town, using this as a central home base and ventured out with a car rental every day.

    Galen and Nicole’s snorkeling guide is the main source of info we used for planning where to go. We loved every beach we snorkeled. Interestingly, we did not see any rays either! Totally agree with West Caracasbaai as your favourite. We have already booked a return visit to stay close to this spot.

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  2. I too love watching Flying Gurnards. Your photo is amazing. The blue edging to the wings, quite stunning.

    Many years ago, I saw them in Grenada. The only place I have ever seen them, on the seagrass beds. I saw them one year, and almost as though it was their address, when we returned a few years later, I took my husband – a nervous snorkeler to see them. He certainly wasn’t disappointed.

    The snorkel spot was beyond the fish market, going out of the town, and by a wonderful beach restaurant with a huge balcony over the water. It was an amazing bay with great snorkeling along the cliff wall, especially good for conger eels. The site has now been developed into a landing stage for cruise ships and snorkeling no longer possible – or certainly wasn’t when we last visited.

    I too loved Curaçao and Bonaire. But for variety and ease of snorkeling from any beach, Tobago remains a favorite.

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  3. Thank you for your informative review. We had planned to go in 2021 but that was cancelled. Hope to go sometime in the next two years. Your report inspires me to put Curacao to the top of the list again (just got off an Alaskan cruise, alas, no snorkeling!).

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    • Great report, Peter! We have been wondering how the snorkeling in Curaçao is because we’ve heard both good and bad reviews.

      We will be staying at Sandals Royal Curacao in February. If anyone has stayed there please share how the snorkeling is and any resort info.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  4. Hi, happy to report that the flying gurnards are still there in Caracasbaai. We saw two of them together this week Oct 17, 2023, looking for food on the sea floor. Their front tentacles are very strong, one of them turned over a relatively large piece of coral with ease, looking for food…

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  5. Headed to LionsDive resort in Curacao next week, and looking forward to using the snorkeling guide for tips and selecting locations. Already set to see Mambo Beach, Tugboat and Director’s Bay…I need to figure out how to add Caracasbaai to the list!

    On a somewhat related note, I saw a pair of Flying Gurnards in the grass beds off of Anse Chastanet when we were there last March. Your pic is better than mine!

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