Snorkeling Tugboat is the most well-known snorkel spot on Curacao. It has good snorkeling, though you are swimming in an industrial area, right next to a huge dock and possibly a ship. This location is famous for the Tugboat wreck, but there are some fish and corals to see, 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, east of Willemstad. 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, being small and rocky. But, above the beach on platforms, there is a small dive shop with lounge chairs and snorkel gear for rent, and drinks for sale.
Don’t leave anything valuable in your car. There is not a security guard watching the parking area.
There are some stairs down to the beach from a wood deck. Enter the water straight out from the stairs close to the boulders on the right side of the beach for snorkeling Tugboat. The beach is coral rubble and small rocks including where you enter the water. Bigger rocks and boulders are on the bottom not far out. So, wearing shoes is a good idea for this entrance. Walk out until you can float and switch to your fins.
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 the most alive area under the cliff around the point.
The dock area to the right and the bay itself have a lot of wreck remains scattered around, like a big chain, a huge anchor, ruined old docks and pilings, and other stuff.
First, swim over to the right from your entrance and explore the big dock and the rocks on the shore next to them. The steel pilings have some colorful sponges and corals on them. We don't recommend swimming under the dock. In the rocks next to shore there are a few fish hanging out. Depths at the rocks are up to about 10 feet (3 meters) and the depth under the dock around the pilings is up to 20 feet (6 meters). This is a 150 foot (46 meter) swim from the entrance.
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. Near the edge of the drop-off on a sandy bottom we saw some racks for growing corals. Depths in this area range from one foot (0.3 meter) near shore to 20 feet (6 meters) and deeper past the racks over the drop-off. It is about 200 feet (61 meters) from the shoreline to the drop-off.
The next area is the Tugboat itself which is past the last square steel mooring platform, about a 500 foot (152 meter) swim from your entrance. The wreck sits on the bottom at about 15 feet (4.6 meters) and comes within about eight feet (2.4 meters) of the surface. It is a mostly intact wreck sitting upright with some corals in mixed health and sponges growing on it and sometimes fish swimming around it. The top of the pilot house corroded off since our last visit.
The best snorkeling here 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 15 feet (4.6 meters) 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 Elkhorn Corals, other hard corals, sea fans, rods and plumes, sponges and more fish. The hard and soft corals are in mixed health. You are in shallower water above the drop-off once you get around the point. Depths are from a couple feet to 60 (0.6-18.3 meters) or more over the drop-off. If the current is from left to right, you will have an easy swim back. The rocky point is about 200 feet (61 meters) past the tugboat.
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 snorkeling Tugboat 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, about 850 feet (259 meters) from
your water entrance. 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. The round trip swimming distance
from your water entrance to the area under the parking lot at Directors
Bay is just over a half mile (0.8 kilometer). You can read about the snorkeling in this
area in our Directors Bay description in our Curacao eBook, linked to above.
The visibility for snorkeling Tugboat was decent.
This is a good place to see some fish in good variety, some live corals if you swim far enough, and some other creatures too, not to mention the Tugboat itself.
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 and follow the road around to the water, then turn left.
4. Follow this dirt road and then take the first left.
5. Follow the road to the next intersection where you turn 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, past the windowless cement building. Park on the side of the road.
There is a little dive shop that rents snorkel gear and beach lounge chairs. They were also selling drinks and hot dogs. There is also a paint your own souvenir sign activity here. You have to walk through all of this to reach the stairs to the beach. The closest restrooms are the port-a-potties back at Caracasbaai Beach. The ones here are out of order.
A Compact Snorkeling Camera