ANDREA I & II
This island was built for shore diving. And though storms have beat back much of the shallow reef that once created an almost impenetrable coral forest right up to the edge of Bonaire’s rugged coastline, excellent snorkeling can still be found. At Andrea (this piece of coast is split into two sites, I and II), you wade across the rocky beach and then swim out amid shallow corals to find plenty of fish, including large schools of blue tang that swarm across the bottom and stop all at once to pluck at algae fields.
If it seems like everyone on this entrancingly beautiful island has one destination, it’s because they do. And yes, The Baths are that majestic — white sandy beaches framed by otherworldly formations of granite, some reaching 40 feet in diameter. These gigantic boulders, sculpted by the elements, create pools and grottoes that hide a variety of exotic creatures, with coral formations and caves extending farther off the beach.
It can be a bumpy drive to this quiet beach, but that only adds to its out-there appeal. The best snorkeling is on the main reef, which runs parallel to the white sand. Paddle out from Scavengers Beach Bar (you’ll pass over a dead patch) or follow the reef out from the right-hand side of the beach. Head to the seaward side of the reef only when it’s calm, and be wary of a strong cross current.
EDEN ROCK/DEVIL’S GROTTO
Just south of George Town, a huge mass of limestone coated in a living shell of coralline algae, sponges, sea fans and patches of living coral towers 30 feet over the sand. Honeycombed with caves and sunlit caverns, Eden Rock and adjacent Devil’s Grotto attract many fish — damselfish, parrotfish, trumpetfish and, down in the shadows, big tarpon — along with multitudes of snorkelers who use treats to attract hordes of yellowtails and sergeant majors.
For those who don’t require any distractions beyond empty beaches, luminous blue water and great snorkeling, this most remote of the British Virgin Islands is next to nirvana. Park at the Big Bamboo bar/restaurant and walk through the sea grapes to the beach. The lagoon is dotted with coral heads you can easily spot from the surface, and the main reef is just a short swim beyond. Fin to the left and you’ll find a series of fish-filled caves and caverns
This narrow slice of sand is not the best for the sun worshipers, but for snorkelers, it’s what’s under the surface that counts. There’s a wrecked fishing boat about a half-mile to the south in five feet of water, a hideout for bottom feeders. North of the entry, mounds of crusty rock and coral tempt a diverse crowd: starfish, puffers, crabs and fire worms.
Slightly off the grid, peaceful Playa Jeremi lies just north of Lagun and two miles south of Knipbaii. The sheltered bay embraces a soft, sandy beach with walk-in entry to brain corals, orange cup corals and flowery anemones feeding in the current west of the shore. Farther out, damselfish dart and groupers glide in clear waters near algae-covered boulders in depths of up to 20 feet.
Nestled behind the Royal Naval Dockyard and its historic British fort, this protected lagoon’s relaxed atmosphere makes it a good spot for families. Paddle out to the marked snorkel trails (with floating rest stops) and coast through the fringing coral reef. Lifeguards will be happy to tell you whether you’ve seen a wrasse or a tang. Look for rays around the sunken sloop Seahorse. (441-234-6989)
Renowned for its picture-postcard beach and 650 feet of meandering snorkel trail, Trunk Bay is a Caribbean classic. For an off-the-beaten-path adventure after you cruise the trail, explore both sides of the two rock formations about 200 yards offshore. Near their bases, you’re sure to discover bashful critters — eels, lobsters and the like — that the rest of the crowd will miss.