Snorkeling Karpata – The Best Reefs North of Town

Bonaire

Snorkeling Karpata is great. This popular spot has the best surviving shallow coral reef north of town. While there are many signs of coral health problems, from bleaching to coral disease, there are lots of hard and soft corals to enjoy, as well as a decent amount of fish. You are also likely to see turtles or rays.

Snorkeling Karpata, with Ocean Triggerfish and corals

The depths are excellent for snorkeling Karpata, from nice shallow reefs closer to shore out to the drop-off which is not too deep for a snorkeler to enjoy. It is easy to recommend, except that the entrance and exit are tricky with any waves, so a lower wind day is best.

You must commit to a bit of an island driving tour with this location. The waterfront road is one way here, so you will need to drive up through Rincon to get back to Kralendijk. You can extend your return drive with a tour through beautiful Goto Meer, a salt water lake that is a sanctuary for Pink Flamingos and many other birds.

Water Entrance for Snorkeling Karpata

Stairs down to Karpata

For snorkeling Karpata, you access the coral rubble beach by going down a stone staircase of about 20 steps. There is a large concrete platform near the water’s edge surrounded by rocks. This is your entry point. If there are large waves washing over the platform you will have a difficult and dangerous time getting in and should not try it.

Most people enter the water on the right side (looking from shore) of the platform, using the edge of it for support. You will be walking out over big coral rubble, and there are some shelves and holes, so be cautious. And there is fire coral right in the area you walk out.

This is definitely a place you need to wear protective footwear when entering and exiting. We watched a barefoot fellow step directly on fire coral, and likely suffered days of pain or worse after. Once you can float switch into your fins.

Don’t be tempted to leave your shoes or other belongings on the platform when snorkeling Karpata, as waves will surely wash them away.

Karpata water entrance

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Where to Snorkel

There is a nice reef shelf to explore when snorkeling Karpata, from close to shore out to a rather abrupt drop-off into the deep blue.

School of Chromis over corals at Karpata

On our last trip snorkeling Karpata we enjoyed the area in the shallows to the right of the entrance the most. There are nice coral heads in 5-10 feet of depth from the shore out a good ways, as well as some fish.

Right side of reef at Karpata

As you get closer to the drop-off it gets a little deep for a snorkeler to enjoy, but it does have many corals to see. You don’t need to explore too far to the right, as the corals start to thin out fairly soon. Keep an eye out for a number of fish cleaning stations in the corals.

But the corals right out in front of the entrance and to the left are also good for a long distance, in fairly shallow water, of 10-15 feet. In addition to fish keep an eye out for turtles and rays, as we have seen them often while snorkeling Karpata.

Southern Stingray at Karpata

The drop-off starts to get shallower, at about 20 feet, the farther you snorkel to the left, and it gets closer to the shoreline. You can snorkel down to the next rocky point, where the coral health declines again, before returning back to your water exit.

Hard corals in mixed health with signs of bleaching at Karpata Bonaire
Stressed corals with bleaching at Karpata

All of the areas above had obvious signs of coral bleaching, past bleaching events, and coral diseases. The picture above shows some. Learn more about how to recognize healthy coral here.

We enjoy exploring over the drop-off while snorkeling Karpata because of its interesting topography and decent coral health. We also sometimes see larger fish species coming out of the depths.

You can expect variable underwater visibility, depending on the wind and waves. Generally visibility is lower closer to shore, and better out toward the drop-off.

Snorkeling Sunburns Suck!

Check out the snorkeling rash guards and reef safe sunscreen we use to protect ourselves and to protect fish and coral from sunscreen chemicals.

Elkhorn Coral in poor health at Karpata on Bonaire

What We Saw

Schoolmaster Snapper at Karpata

You can see quite a bit of coral on the reef while snorkeling Karpata, but some of it was actively bleaching when we last visited, and there is lots of evidence of previous bleaching events and coral disease. We saw fire, brain, star, starlet, Elkhorn, Mustard Hill, Yellow Pencil, Pillar, and finger corals, along with sea rods, sea plumes, and sea fans.

We saw a decent amount of fish at Karpata including: parrotfish, wrasse, damselfish, Redlip Blenny, Trumpetfish, schools of Blue Tangs, Ocean Surgeonfish, Doctorfish, hogfish, groupers, goatfish, grunts, snappers, filefish, Ocean Triggerfish, Chubs, squirrelfish, soldierfish, French Angelfish, butterflyfish, flounder, and Bar Jacks.

In addition to the corals and fish we saw while snorkeling Karpata, we spotted a Green Sea Turtle, a Southern Stingray, and a number of large sponges on the deeper reef.

Pair of French Angelfish at Karpata

Driving Directions

Goto Meer, Bonaire, with Pink Flamingos
Goto Meer
  1. Drive north out of Kralendijk on the main road, Kaya Grandi. The name of this road changes to Kaya Gobernador N. Debrot when it turns a little left at Kaya Neerlandia.
  2. Take your second right in the traffic circle on the north end of town and keep heading north.
  3. The road will turn to the right away from the water and then turn left to parallel it again. And it turns a couple more times to be next to the water again.
  4. Continue driving north along this narrow two way waterfront road. You will see a number of yellow painted boulders marking other dive sites.
  5. You will pass a wall that is on both sides of the road that has a green sign that says Karpata. This is also where this road becomes one way from here to Karpata. It is marked by a blue and white arrow sign. We saw people driving the wrong way on this road so be careful.
  6. Karpata is just south of the intersection with Kaminda Karpata Road heading for Rincon. It is well marked and usually busy with cars. There is the old Landhuis Karpata on the right.
  7. There are yellow painted boulders at the first turn into the parking area and at the top of the stairs.
  8. To get back to Kralendijk you have to take the long route through Rincon. Consider the longer scenic route past Goto Meer.
Karpata Parking
Lots of parking at Karpata, but it can fill up early.

Facilities

There are picnic tables up on the hill near the parking area with some tree shade.

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