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Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

Palamos, Spain
Level Contributor
38 posts
254 reviews
Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

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.

72 replies to this topic
New York City, New...
Level Contributor
53 posts
23 reviews
1. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

Valid criticisms. The Bonaire Tropical Snorkeling e-book spared us visiting poor sites. The best sites south of town were Red Beryl North and Margate Bay. The reefs at Lac Bay were phenomenal but you have to walk out in the shallow water for quite a while to get there. I did think snorkeling at Klein Bonaire was amazing but the Woodwind crew did the work and took us to three incredible sites. We did try scuba diving and it was phenomenal. When you get to the dark blue water, and the seafloor drops off, the coral is very healthy and abundant. It pretty much put the snorkeling to shame.

They say St. John, USVI has amazing shore snorkeling if you are interested.

Level Contributor
6,182 posts
136 reviews
2. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

We LOVE Bonaire for diving, but I always report on this forum that the shore snorkeling is not good (never snorkeled Klein) anymore for the reasons you mentioned. We go to St. John to shore snorkel only and to Bonaire to dive only. I just don't get all the positive reviews for snorkeling here unless people have never been anywhere else. Years ago, we would spend hours every afternoon snorkeling in front of our hotel and now it is just sand and rubble. Sad, but true.

Napanee, Ontario
Level Contributor
472 posts
57 reviews
3. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

The two previous years we went to Roatan. Lots of coral close to the shore but we did see more diverse range of fish this year in Bonaire. I like both places. Roatan is more beautiful but I liked Bonaire's climate and that I felt safe travelling around the island. Roatan I wouldn't of felt safe doing that. Every place has its good and bad points.

Palamos, Spain
Level Contributor
38 posts
254 reviews
4. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

Many thanks for the St John and Roatan suggestions. That Is exactly what I hoped for. I will look into them. And, yes, the diving on Klein Bonaire is good.

Edited: 22 March 2016, 07:50
Wantagh, New York
Level Contributor
2,360 posts
104 reviews
5. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

I am now rethinking our planned trip in January to Bonaire for snorkeling after reading this thread....all I was hearing was how great it is...we do great snorkeling in the BVI's so may just cancel this trip now...maybe we should just do it one day as a cruise stop?

Edited: 22 March 2016, 19:09
Napanee, Ontario
Level Contributor
472 posts
57 reviews
6. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

Souper we still had a great time. We saw things we hadn't seen in other places. But the coral wasn't as good as roatan. I loved the island. And there was great snorkeling out at Klein Bonaire. I still had a great time.

Toronto, Canada
Level Contributor
10 posts
31 reviews
7. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

Hi there! I am looking for a good place to take my adult daughters snorkeling in late April. Would prefer if there were a direct flight from Toronto (Cancun, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Florida). Not sure whether there are direct flights to BVI so wouldn't rule it out. Would love it if we could find somewhere where we could snorkel off the beach, preferably near a 4-5 star resort. Checked out Roatan but it will take us 19 hours to get there so removed that from the list. All suggestions greatly appreciated. I've spent hours researching with no luck!

Marietta, Georgia
Destination Expert
for Beach Vacations, Bonaire
Level Contributor
4,774 posts
54 reviews
8. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

Although the snorkeling is just "good", not "great", you might take a look at Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos islands. I believe there are direct flights from Toronto (might only be once or twice a week). There are two shore accessible snorkeling sites (Bight reef and Smith's reef) plus boat excursions to other snorkel sites. Most resorts are relatively small rental condo arrangements, no US style chain hotels or restaurants. Provo has a great beach, Grace Bay Beach, which was recently named the best beach in the world.

It is not cheap, but very nice. If interested, visit the Turks & Caicos forum here on TA ( https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g14739… for specific information and suggestions.

Houston, Texas
Level Contributor
1,324 posts
5 reviews
9. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

Check out Anse Chastanet or Sugar Beach in St Lucia. Not the best snorkeling I've ever seen - but ok shore snorkeling and lots of other things to do, too (zip lining, waterfalls, ATVs through the rainforest, the majestic Pitons, etc). Both resorts are beautiful, with Anse Chastanet being more "eco friendly" and Sugar Beach more luxurious.

I believe there is a direct flight from Toronto. Please forgive me if I am mistaken on that.

Edited: 25 March 2016, 20:06
Napanee, Ontario
Level Contributor
472 posts
57 reviews
10. Re: Bonaire snorkeling - one of two major disappointments

Wow im surprised about the 19 hour flight. We went two years in a row. We left early 630 am i believe and arrived around lunch. We were on a sunwing charter.

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