Although this “one happy island” is certainly popular for its pure white beaches, lively tourist scene and abundance of land and sea activities, the “A” of the ABC Islands doesn’t always get the same top marks bestowed on its sister isles when it comes to great snorkeling and diving.
We’ve learned it’s all in where you go. Here are a few of our favorite sites that rival the reefs in the rest of the region.
A favorite with locals, Arashi Beach boasts gentle currents and abundant underwater life, making it a perfect spot for snorkeling in the Caribbean. Arashi Beach is a white sand beach north of Malmok Beach, just off the road to the California Lighthouse, offering beach huts, a fun bar and large parking area.
Advanced snorkelers can find a nice chunk of healthy coral reef all the way to the right end of the beach. Look for a small white buoy but be sure to enter in the sand before the water gets dark and wade out as the water around the reef is very shallow—one to five feet in some spots. Star and pillar coral offer habitat to a wide variety of small reef fish like fairy basslet, honeycomb cowfish, blue tang, grunt and goatfish.
Those less experienced, or when visiting on windier sea days when surge is strong, can opt to head left. (The area in the center is mostly seagrass and sand.) The left edge of Arashi juts out onto a rocky point that also comprises the right edge of Catalina Cove. Snorkelers with footwear to brave Catalina’s rocky entry can actually do a drift tour around the point and exit at Arashi, but a comfortable sand entry on the left end of Arashi beach offers access to the same site. Orange and white spotted filefish, rainbow parrotfish, Spanish hogfish, French angels and chubs can all be spotted among the colorful finger, file and brain corals.
The largest shipwreck dive in the Caribbean, snorkelers will not be disappointed dropping in for a perusal over this impressive former freighter. (If the sight of other tour boats concerns you, know that at 400-ft. long, there is plenty of room to share the experience.) The German ship happened to be in Dutch waters just offshore when war broke out, making the two countries instant enemies. The Dutch military made moves to take the ship, but rather than allow the vessel to be used against their countrymen the captain opened valves to the sea and set a fire, scuttling the ship as its crew pushed away in lifeboats.
Divers are able to take in the historical ship in the spot where it sank, now covered with tube sponges, coral formations, tropical fish, shrimp, lobsters, and orange anemones. Thanks to Aruba’s exceptional visibility, snorkelers can enjoy many of the same creatures, as well as schools of yellow tail and surgeon fish that congregate above.
Decent swimmers can make their way to the ship from shore, though numerous operators combining this site with a turtle-rich second snorkel makes for a great tour. (For those struggling with jealousy over the divers’ close encounters, snorkeling with SeaBob Aruba scooters combines the best of both worlds.)
This secluded beach is a perfect sunning and snorkeling spot in Aruba with calm, shallow waters rich in sea life and supported by an intriguing network of mangroves. Popular with SUP boarders for the easy sand entry, it also serves as an excellent shore diving and snorkel site.
This is an ideal spot for families or those new to snorkeling, as it is possible to practice skills safely and walk out to the edge of the reef to observe parrot fish, yellowtail snapper, sergeant majors, blue tangs and the occasional barracuda. Clear waters boasting impressive viz also make deep water gorgonians, sponges and anemones spottable as the reef drops to 110-ft. where octopi, morays and passing rays entertain divers.
Conchi, Natural Pool
Admittedly, Aruba’s Natural Pool aka “Conchi” (bowl) or “Cura di Tortuga” (Turtles Cove), isn’t the height of snorkeling when it comes to sea life and corals. But in terms of an unforgettable, otherworldly spot on earth, this tranquil pool surrounded by volcanic stone circles deep in desert-like Arikok National Park is a must-see. And, for those intent on getting an underwater perspective, a snorkel mask allows for spotting brave fish and jumpers as they leap from the rocky ledges.
The remote pool is surrounded by some of Aruba’s most rugged terrain, with a dramatic waterspout shooting sea foam over the craggy walls. One can reach the Natural Pool by either foot, horseback or 4×4 vehicle (ABC Tour offers a solid Jeep option) and climb down the stairs that lead to the shallow waters.
Known as one of the island’s hottest spots for snorkeling, Malmok Beach in Aruba is a narrow sandy stretch that interrupts the limestone and rocky terrace along Malmok’s coast. Its shallow, clear Caribbean waters are the reason for its popularity, and catamarans and sailboats stop for a daytime snorkeling stop just off the shoreline.
Reefs and sunken wrecks nearby afford excellent diving in Aruba, and the calm and crystal-clear waters (truly some of the best on the island) are perfect for a relaxing swim in the ocean.