Bonaire, in my opinion, truly has some of the best snorkeling in the world. It’s a special place.
This somewhat-little-known Caribbean island has a lot of unique things going for it that make the best snorkeling in Bonaire some of the best in the world. For one, the water along the entire coast out to a 200-foot (60-meter) depth is a protected national marine preserve. You just can’t find that anywhere else.
Next, a huge portion of the island is surrounded by a barrier reef, which means there are tons of spots where you can just walk directly into the water and into world-class snorkeling. Such a concentration of so many fantastic shore snorkeling spots is pretty rare in the world.
And, with Bonaire’s special location (tucked just 50 miles north of the Venezuelan coast), it’s pretty sheltered from hurricanes. That means that the massive storms which inevitably barrel through the Caribbean Sea every Fall almost always deflect away from the island, giving its coral and biodiversity a lot more peaceful time to grow, thrive, and stay protected from damage.
If you haven’t heard much about Bonaire snorkeling before, don’t worry. The island doesn’t make a lot of news, and it remains a little bit of a hidden gem which makes it a fantastic spot for a trip centered around incredible ocean experiences.
If you’re coming from the U.S. (or pretty much anywhere in North or South America), you’ll almost certainly end up routing through Curaçao or Aruba (Bonaire’s neighbors in the ABC islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao).
Curaçao itself is totally worth checking out for a couple of days, which we did on the way down from the U.S. before hopping on a regional plane to make the 25-minute flight over to Bonaire for a week. There are regular flights to Curaçao and Aruba from tons of different places, so you should be able to find flights there no problem. You’re probably only going to find direct flights to Bonaire from Curaçao, though (but you can get a flight to Bonaire from Aruba with a quick stop in Curaçao).
If you’re coming from anywhere closer to Europe, you’ll almost certainly connect to a direct flight from Amsterdam. Since Bonaire is one of the former Netherlands Antilles and a current special municipality of the country, Bonaire has a lot of ties to the Dutch including direct flights on KLM.
The best snorkeling in Bonaire is similar to much of the best snorkeling in the rest of the Caribbean in terms of water temperature, normal safety precautions to take, etc. But, there are a few unique points of information that are helpful to know.
First, while Bonaire does have some spectacular sandy beaches, a lot of its shores are actually fossilized coral, or are just generally more rocky. That means that water shoes are imperative to have when snorkeling in Bonaire. I use the Aleader Men’s Mesh Slip On Water Shoes (Amazon) and my wife uses the Aleader women’s version (Amazon), both of which worked really well for us in Bonaire waters.
Next, just note that most of your snorkeling is going to be done on the west side of the island since the east side tends to be winder and rockier, so the conditions aren’t as good for general shore snorkeling. If you want to check out what’s underwater on that side, it’s recommended to hire a guide with a boat.
Then, when you’re getting ready to step in the water, take note of where the reef looks to be. In a lot of spots, the reef is surprisingly close to shore or in really shallow water (sometimes the coral even sticks up a bit above the water at lower tide). Make sure that you note where it is and where you can make safe passage through it for both your safety and the safety of the coral.
And, a really cool thing about the island is that it’s really easy to find the best snorkeling in Bonaire. Tons of dive sites (85+) are marked around the island by bright yellow stones with the name of the site on them. You’ll even just see them sitting on the side of the road, and you can often just pull over and wade in the water to see what’s beautiful.
Also, since so much of Bonaire revolves around its incredible position for snorkelers and scuba divers, there are a ton of great guides and snorkel tours out there. You can enjoy plenty of independent Bonaire snorkeling, but I also recommend checking Viator for Bonaire snorkel tours and taking one to a harder-to-reach spot.
It can be really tough to choose the best snorkel spots on an island with over 10 square miles (27 km2) of protected marine park encircling the island, but these 10 sites stand out above the rest as the best snorkeling in Bonaire.
Klein Bonaire is actually a fully undeveloped miniature island just west of the main island of Bonaire, and it’s probably my favorite spot to snorkel here. It’s also probably the most unique.
To get to Klein Bonaire, you need to hop on a water taxi at either Eden Beach Resort or Karel’s Beach Bar (around $20/person roundtrip) and make the 20-minute trek over to the east side of the small offshore island. Once you’re there, though, you’ll step foot onto probably the most pure white sand beach in all of Bonaire. It’s beautiful and relaxing.
After you soak up a little sun, it’s time for some Bonaire snorkeling, but the snorkeling works a little differently on this island.
Stash your towel and sandals under a palm tree (it’s recommended to bring as little as you can, but definitely bring some food, water, sun covering and reef-safe sunscreen) and walk south along the beach on the east side of Klein Bonaire to Buoy B (Ebo’s Reef). Look for a break in the coral that circles near the shore and swim out to the far side of the reef. Here you’ll find a natural current that will slowly take you from the south end of the island to the north end (Buoy A, No Name Beach), passing through an impressive barrier reef that is absolutely full of curious fish.
You can swim in and out of the coral as you like, but you can also truly just sit back and float along and take in the view. It’s a unique snorkeling experience and a total blast.
Or, if you prefer a guided trip, Seacow Bonaire (over on Viator) provides an excellent double-dip snorkel tour to Klein Bonaire where they’ll take care of getting you to the island by boat and will also make sure that you get to snorkel at the best points along the reef before heading back to the main island of Bonaire, making the experience a lot easier and more thorough than going at it solo.
On the main island of Bonaire, 1,000 Steps is probably my favorite snorkel spot. And, it’s a really easy 15 minute drive north of the main town of Kralendijk.
Park along the road anywhere you can find room and head down the stone steps (it’s a bit of a descent, but not actually 1,000 steps 🙂). Find somewhere in the trees along the shore to stash your stuff and put on your snorkel gear. You’ll be able to wade right out into the water and start some of the best snorkeling in Bonaire.
1,000 Steps was the site where we found the most sea turtles; feeding, swimming, sleeping — they were all over the place. We also ran into spotted eagle rays, angelfish, parrotfish, flounder, needlefish, and tons of other species. Whale sharks have even occasionally been spotted here! Plus, the huge swaths of many different species of coral (star, elkhorn, staghorn, brain, etc.) made the whole area feel magical.
Pro tip: secure your lunch while you’re in the water because the resident lizards and hermit crabs do like to sample anything left out. 🙃 After lunch, walk north along the shore a few minutes and up the old stone stairs to a beautiful lookout point.
Karpata is a little further north of 1,000 steps and inching up toward Washington Slagbaai National Park at the northernmost point of Bonaire.
Park in the flat area near the shore and walk down to the old concrete platform that still dips into the sea where you can sit and put your snorkel gear on. You’ll notice that the area is a little more open, so it’s generally recommended more for advanced snorkelers and you’ll need to keep an eye on surf conditions.
But, if conditions are good, you’ll find a healthy thicket of coral spanning at least 150 feet along the shore with plenty of fish like blue tang, angelfish or hogfish darting in and out of the spires. Plus, green sea turtles (which are endangered) and hawksbill turtles frequent Karpata.
If you do find yourself on the eastern leeward side of Bonaire with a hankering for some snorkeling, Lac Bay is probably going to be your best bet.
Lac Bay is an area of Bonaire popular with windsurfers due to the nearly-constant breeze coursing through the bay. But, since it’s shallow and calm, some great snorkeling can be found here as well.
Park along the road near our maps marker linked below (about 200 yards before you get to the Sorobon Beach Resort) and walk out to the water. The water at the shore will actually be too shallow to snorkel (and will be too shallow for about 800 feet), so you’ll need to wade along the edge of the shallows out toward the middle of the bay until you can find a more suitable depth.
Once you do, you’ll be rewarded with a huge swath of over 15,000 square feet of staghorn coral where young barracudas, tarpons, sea turtles, rays and other adolescent marine life grow up in the shallows.
Since the water is more shallow here, make sure to keep your distance from the coral so as to not bump into it, and also keep an eye on where Lac Bay’s wind surfers set up shop so you can keep a safe distance there as well.
Lac Bay is also a great place to kayak, if that’s your thing as well. If so, Royal Tours (here on Viator) runs a great tour to Lac Bay that is part kayak trip, part snorkel tour. It’s my favorite to this spot because the guides are super knowledgeable about the area, you’re bound to see a lot of above-water wildlife that you otherwise wouldn’t have, and their provided transportation from Kralendijk makes getting to this spot for some of the best snorkeling in Bonaire a lot easier if you don’t have a car.
Just about 10 minutes north of Kralendijk, Petrie’s Pillar has some of the most unique coral structures on the island, but the coral is so dense that it’s actually tough to access from the shore. So, it’s best to access this portion of the reef from a boat.
Here you’ll find enormous sponges, expansive coral and at about 20 feet of depth, the huge eponymous coral pillar. Groups of squid are common, as are parrotfish, frogfish, file fish, and sea turtles.
At the most northern point of the snorkel spots on this list lies the Wayaka II snorkel site beneath the cliffs of Washington Slagbaai National Park. The Wayaka snorkel sites in Washington Slagbaai can be a little tricky to find, but follow the maps and look for a stone staircase that leads down to the water.
Before you make your way down to the water, look from above at the reef shadow and pick your route through the coral. Gaps do exist here, but can sometimes be difficult to see directly from the shore.
Since Wayaka II is farther north on Bonaire, currents do tend to be stronger here than many of the dive sites in the calmer middle of the island. So, only experienced snorkelers are recommended to check out this area.
However, once you’re in the water, you’ll find a beautiful gently-sloping shallow reef that abruptly drops off just beyond the buoy creating a steep wall frequented by tangs, chubs, parrotfish, angelfish, and plenty of sergeants.
Bari Reef is one of the easiest snorkel spots to get to from central Kralendijk, needing just a few minutes’ drive north. But, don’t think that its ease of access makes it less worthwhile. Perhaps more species of fish (over 300) have been counted here than any other Bonaire snorkeling spot [source].
This is a beautiful, easy dive site that will get you right into snorkeling Bonaire without much driving or concern about currents or other challenges. Instead, just walk over to the right side of the concrete pier and wade into the water.
At Bari Reef, lots of types of coral and sea sponges are abundant along with octopus, crab, shrimp, tarpon, and plenty of colorful tropical fish. It’s a great spot to take your GoPro to grab awesome underwater photo and video.
Since Red Beryl lies closer to the southern tip of the island, it’s a more open swim and can experience some stronger currents. (Have you noticed that the further you get from the middle of the island, the stronger the currents get?) So, it’s more of an advanced area.
But, with more open water comes the opportunity to see bigger marine life like massive manta rays, octopuses, stingrays and barracuda.
And, when you’re finished snorkeling, you can head just down the road to the salt lakes and Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, one of only four places on earth where American Flamingos naturally breed [source].
Also toward the southern end of Bonaire is Tori’s Reef, another more advanced snorkel spot with stronger currents but beautiful surroundings.
It can be a little tricky to get in the water here, and the recommended path is to look for an entry point near the bridge to the south. But, you’ll need to make sure to pick your spot correctly to make your way into the reef without contacting any coral.
You’ll find eels, rays, and large fish looking for a meal at the expense of the smaller fish in the area, always a sign of a healthy and biodiverse reef system.
Rounding out the southern area of Bonaire snorkeling is Margate Bay. However, unlike its neighbors of Red Beryl North and Tori’s Reef, Margate Bay is usually calmer and tends to have gentler currents. So, it’s more accessible to a wider audience of snorkelers.
Black margates are the most common fish in the area (hence the name, Margate Bay), but you’ll also see plenty of colorful fish along the lines of butterflyfish, trumpetfish, angelfish, and parrotfish along with spotted eagle rays and even the occasional sea turtle among the healthy coral.
Even though Bonaire is best known for being a snorkeling and diving mecca, the island itself also has some of the most diverse and interesting landscapes that I’ve seen in the Caribbean which makes for plenty of other cool adventures beyond the best snorkeling in Bonaire.
If you can drag yourself out of the water for a day or two, here are some other cool tours (booked through Viator) that can complement your epic Bonaire snorkeling:
- Washington Slagbaai National Park Tour — Washington Slagbaai National Park, at the north end of the island, has perhaps the most epic scenery in all of Bonaire. However, the roads can often be tricky (a 4×4 is definitely needed for the best spots) and local knowledge really makes all the difference in making your time in the park useful. Adventure Makers Bonaire does a great job in putting together a comfortable day tour to Washington Slagbaai that makes the most of its natural wonder.
- Sunset Sailing & Snorkel Tour — OK, we couldn’t resist throwing in another tour that visits some of the best snorkeling in Bonaire, but do you prefer to instead experience it at sunset whilst sailing? Blue Bay Bonaire puts together a beautiful experience sailing between the main island and Klein Bonaire at sunset with dinner to complement the views.
- Unique Deep Sea Fishing Adventure — Captain Jordan over at Mako Tours Bonaire has a reputation for finding some of the best local fishing spots for his guests and helping them hook some epic fish. Plus, this is one of the better-priced deep sea fishing charters I’ve found.
- Bonaire Landsailing — Make use of the windy side of the island (where snorkeling is tougher) and cruise across the landscape in a blokart (think of something about the size of a go-kart, but with a big sail attached) with Bonaire Landsailing Adventures. It’s a blast.
- Bonaire Cave Tour — Tired of being above ground? Sure. Bonaire is home to over 300 caves and Shekhinah Tours does a great job taking you to (and into) a few of the best on the island. You may even get to swim in an crystal-clear underground lagoon…
The Deep Dive
Bonaire is an incredible pick if you’re looking to make snorkeling a big part of your next trip. With the island’s unique blend of marine protection, sheltered geography, and its lack of being constantly overrun by tourists, the best snorkeling in Bonaire is truly some of the best snorkeling in the world. It’s a wonderful thing when it works out that way.
You can look at what’s available in terms of Bonaire snorkel (or other) tours over at Viator.
Or, check out some of our guides on using underwater action cameras to capture awesome photos and videos of everything you’re certain to see underwater in Bonaire (which was one of my favorite parts of the best snorkeling in Bonaire):
- The Best Underwater Action Cameras for Snorkeling: GoPro & More
- The Newest GoPro for Snorkeling: 3 Keys for Buying or Upgrading to the HERO 10 Black
- How to Use a GoPro for Snorkeling: 5 Easy Steps with Photos
- What Snorkel Gear Should I Buy? The Full Guide to Getting Started Affordably: Action Cameras
Looking for more snorkel spots? Head over to The World’s Most Unique Snorkeling Sites: Our 11 Ultimate Adventures.