Two snorkelers; two divers. Why did we choose Bonaire in February 2016?
Tripadvisor: “Bonaire is famous for its diving/snorkelling”
InfoBonaire: “… excellent snorkelling” ; “Many of our dive sites have great snorkeling too.”
Fodor Travel Caribbean Islands forums: “Bonaire was absolutely fantastic and I can’t believe we waited this long to visit. It is really a paradise for snorkelers” ; “WOW! It was incredible” ; “Our favorite (snorkle) sites were Windsock, Andreas 1& 2, 1000 steps, Oil slick, and Invisibles”.
Fodor’s Bonaire forum: “I did some excellent snorkel in Bonaire.”
Carib Journal: “Bonaire is often called the Caribbean’s unofficial snorkeling (and diving) capital, and that’s because, well, it is.”
Cruise Critic: “This island offers the best snorkeling in the Caribbean.”
Not so Positive:
Every now and then, an opposing view appears:
By Mike F. (2009): “Snorkelers beware of Bonaire! Bonaire may be great for divers, but is NOT for snorkelers. … Hurricane Lenny apparently wiped out the shallow coral in Bonaire in 1999. What Lenny didn't take out, Hurricane Omar finished off last year. Nearly every place we went was nothing but rubble. The reef typically begins at a drop-off anywhere from 25 feet to a hundred feet from shore. If hovering over coral in 50 feet of water is your idea of a great snorkel-you will love it. Otherwise this place is not worth going to. … There are two different books on "Best snorkel spots" Don't buy them they are crap. "Oil Slick" rated "Excellent snorkel" is coral rubble. Andrea 1 & Andrea 2 rated "excellent snorkel" is coral rubble. "Bari's Reef" rated "Excellent Snorkel" is coral rubble.
Cruise Critic: “It was OK.”
So how is the snorkelling-focussed tourist to judge? After a break of 16 years we were swayed by the preponderance of very positive reviews. A 2015 scientific study praised the recovery of Bonaire’s reefs after 2009. My wife is the snorkeler; I do both. So in February 2015 we went with the kids to see how the snorkelling had improved after the triple-whammy of hurricanes
First stop was the famous Windsock; a nice sandy beach entry, ideal as a ‘starter’ for our daughter-in-law. Oh dear. The shallows are 80% sand and coral rubble. This meany murky visibility. The remainder is dominated by dead algae-encrusted coral. By far the dominant of the few live corals is fawn-coloured bladed fire coral, with some small pioneer brain and mustard corals here and there. So we swam further out to see the “good stuff”. By the time we reached the fringing gorgonians, the water was already too deep to see detail. By the time we were above the hard corals, they were an olive green blur way down there. If this is one of the top snorkelling recommendations, we were underwhelmed.
Andrea1 was next; highly touted. Firstly the entry-exit was wicked, given the 70cm waves plus fire coral and half-hidden sea urchins. Once out, the fish variety was pleasant. But again the backdrop panorama, the stage setting, if you like, was dead and boring; a desert-coloured series of long-dead reefs connected by sand and coral rubble. Yes, the schooling blue tangs were pleasing.
Klein Bonaire is touted as providing the best snorkelling on Bonaire. Allow me to assure you that the snorkle videos of "Klein" cherry-pick the very best. My wife’s opinion (a dedicated snorkeler): “The interesting zones are too deep again. Not worth the extra cost”.
And this is how it continued with the exception of a few sites in the north such as Karpata – the gorgonians are easily visible here. The double-reefs in the south were near-useless for snorkelling – way too deep. And then we found two exceptions. We visited them again and again because they provided markedly better value. But imagine all the snorkelers on Bonaire piling into these two spots. So I will not mention their names or locations, save to say that neither of them had classic Bonaire west coast reef-architecture.
Do Bonaire’s interesting fish seen on trips over sand, dead coral and coral rubble provide the best snorkelling in the Caribbean? I cannot judge since most of my diving/snorkelling in recent years has been in the Indo-Pacific region. If it does …. then I have other regional destinations to recommend in distinct preference.
I presume it is clear that we were not impressed with the quality of the snorkeling - which begs the question - why so many (misleading) rave reviews.