The Newby Guide to Snorkeling Aruba

BACKGROUND

A little background on the wife and I’s snorkeling experience. I had been snorkeling once before at St Marten 30 years ago for less than an hour in six-feet of water and my wife had never snorkeled before in her life. In fact, Jean dislikes the murky ocean water so much that she only goes in the ocean 1-day of our week-long vacation each year, and only if I am next to her and holding her so she doesn’t have any creatures brush up against her. We were a little skeptical if she’d even want to snorkel once in Aruba. We purchased a nice mask and snorkel set anyway. We ended up renting fins on day 2 and extended the rental for the duration of our trip. We never wore any kind of floatation vest. (You can rent all your snorkel (or scuba dive) gear at Aqua Windie’s. Great people and great prices.) I’ll go ahead and spoil the cliff-hanger, Jean actually LOVES snorkeling so much we went EVERY day and cancelled our desert UTV trip just to snorkel more.

FULL DISCLOSURE

We talked to several people who all said the water was pretty calm during our week, and one couple said they’ve been coming to Aruba for 20 years and this was the calmest they’ve ever seen it. So this probably made our experiences easier, more rewarding and allowed us to be a bit more adventurous.


Below is a break down of all 9 beaches we visited in Aruba and any highlights worth mentioning. This listing is purely in regards to snorkeling and does not include comments or critiques of the beach itself or services. These are in order of our (or at least my) favorite and can be considered a very subjective guide to NEWBY SNORKELING in Aruba. If you haven’t seen it, here’s our Aruba video containing footage of most of these beaches.

Boca Catalina Beach

For it’s clarity, amount of varying rock groupings and variety of fish, this is probably my favorite snorkeling beach and we snorkeled this beach twice. I don’t believe there’s a ton of beach area here to lay around on and is primarily a snorkeling beach.  We snorkeled once from the Jolly Pirate cruise and once from the shore. While the Jolly Pirate drops you straight into 12 feet of pristine-clear waters, the shore entry provides many more rock structures to explore. We experienced very large schools of small (less than 3”) fish surrounding us during both times snorkeling here. Truly amazing and an awesome experience to have the school split around you as you swim through them. Literally hundreds of thousands of fish surrounding us. There’s fish a-plenty here with the clearest water we experienced. While probably a rarity, I did see and film a 3-foot long Barracuda about 20 feet from shore among the rocks. It didn’t seem interested in me and swam away as I followed with my GoPro.

Baby Beach

One of the most above-water geographically beautiful beaches, we visited this beach twice on our six-day trip as well. Baby Beach is high up on the list of must snorkel beaches. We went here on day one as it was supposed to be the most calm for beginner snorkelers due to being in a protected bay. The wave height on our first visit was about 3” from top to bottom of the wave. (yes 3 inches). It felt more like a lake. The entire bay area is relatively shallow (less than 7 feet?) and provides slightly less-clear water than the other beaches probably due to its’ shallowness and activity. However I would still consider it clear and you can still see the ground from any depth. Additionally there’s not much to look at in the greater bay area besides a small rock-ledge around the center of the bay. However, there is a patch of sea-grass close to the parking and rental-chair area that attracted sea-turtles every day we were there. We saw 3 turtles within 15 feet of each other and they let you get as close as a few feet away from them. The seaside-opening provides a bit deeper (10 feet) and more interesting snorkeling as you swim out just past the white buoys (15-20 feet). There was a lot of fish feeding going on with bread and food brought out in zip lock bags. The surf was ‘relatively calm’ while we were there so a newly-made friend and I decided to go out past the reef (through the vertical caution bouys) and circle around the rock island reef and come back through the center of the bay opening. We knew this was probably not-advised and included a 100-ft trek across a rocky 3-feet deep of wavy-water. As hoped, it eventually dumped us into 20 feet depth and revealed the most interesting coral, sea-growth and structures we would see on any of the beaches we snorkeled.  This area can also be reached from going straight out the center of the opening of the bay if you feel up to it. I believe this is not recommended snorkeling and well past the safety buoys. This trek produced a straight 45-minute snorkel to get around as well as a slight fight against the current so I would not advise this to anyone who’s is not adventurous or a decent swimmer. After returning to the states and reading about this reef, we found it was pretty dangerous to swim outside the reef on the path we did, but the risk/reward worked out for us as we saw many unique sightings and even another sea-turtle swimming past us going back out to sea.

Mangel Halto

While it is not a traditional beach, it’s one of the most beautiful for pictures (see above photo) due to the long shallow waters. Since this is toward the southern part of the island as well, we visited this beach both times we treked down to Baby Beach. During our first visit to this beach, we parked along the road and walked down a ladder to a wooden dock to enter the water. The entire beach here is about 12 feet above sea-level and essentially a small cliff and you can only enter the water in a couple places that have wooden ladders. Once we got in with masks and fins on, we engaged in a conversation with some other vacationers. They informed us of a sunken ship far out at this beach. After they pointed out a 6-foot tall buoy about 250 yards from shore, we didn’t think we were up to that far of a swim.  However, due to the makeup of the beach, most of this 250 yard swim was over water less than 10 feet deep….. until the very end!  We decided to start swimming and see where it took us. After the long swim out 200+ yards from shore, we hit the edge of the shelf and the depth quickly plummeted at a 45-degree angle down to about 30-35 feet of water. The wife and I quickly put on the brakes and got a gut-check as the water got dark and deep. We surfaced, regrouped and spotted the small yellow volley-ball sized buoy marking the sunken ship just another 40 yards or so out to sea. We decide to hold hands, go slow, and see where it took us.  After a couple more minutes swimming over 30 feet deep of water, we slowly saw the dark sunken ship come into view.  This single self-motivated experience was probably the most rewarding and exhilarating for both of us. The ship, about the size of the Gilligan’s Island SS Minnow was very clear to see. After a few minutes of checking it out, we decided it best to head back since we were almost 300 yards from shore!  This was probably pretty aggressive for first time snorkelers and took about 30-minutes for the round trip. We went back to this beach a 2nd day with newly made friends, yet this time entered through the Mangrove trees (southern part of this beach by parking area) which provided a more traditional zero-depth entry from the sand. It also allowed us to leverage the current to float toward the shipwreck making for an easier trek out to the sunken ship our 2nd time around. An absolute must-snorkel area!

Arashi Beach

This beach is the Northern-most and a typical beach and does include a large beach/sand area for those who just want to lay around. It’s very beautiful as well. Once out in the water, it provides crystal clear water to explore and investigate. Due to the fact it’s a very long beach, it provides many different rock-littered formations to explore. We snorkeled this beach twice as well, once from the Jolly Pirate cruise and once from shore. We came across an octopus hiding near a conch shell as well, likely waiting for a crab to crawl in.

Malmock Beach

Another less-popular beach provides unique snorkeling of its own. Located just south of Boca Catalina, you can’t miss it as it has a half-sunken ship clearly visible from shore. Apparently an intentionally sunken ship to provide an artificial reef, it provides a great hiding spot for zillions of fish. With no real sandy beach access it proved to be the most difficult beach to get into. We had to walk across about 100 feet of rocks in less than 2 feet of water, some of the time backwards (in fins). Once out to 3 feet of water we quickly snorkeled shallow and swam out rather than walking backward. The ship is about 200+ yards out and we never experience water greater than 8 feet deep, even out to the wreck. We found a beautiful 10″ red starfish here. Water was nice and clear, and this is a great beach to snorkel if you can make it through the entry.

Boca Grande Beach

Not even sure why we stopped here besides I read somewhere this may be a place to snorkel.  While technically on the windward northern side of the island, it’s toward the southern tip and the large beautiful bay provides “some” protection from the direct waves. There was only 1 other person sitting on a log at this beach when we pulled up and it’s littered with trash and sea-debris. I decided to go snorkeling here just to say I tried. Although probably a public beach, it’s what you may imagine a deserted island beach to look like.  While at least the sand was white and soft, the water entry got deep quick. I fought some waves and swam out about 50 feet off-shore. Did not see a SINGLE THING the entire 5-minute swim, and not even the ground after 8′ deep, as the choppy water kicked things up too much. Got back out and enjoyed the walk back through super-soft almost quicksand type sand where each step put your foot about 4” deep in sand.  Weird sand experience, which was the only notable thing from this beach.

Palm Beach

Knowing this wasn’t necessarily a snorkeling beach, it was out in front of our resort-hotel, so we floated here each night, sipping some drinks as we reflected on the snorkeling of that day. Water is not terribly clear due to all the boats, commotion and everything else from a populated tourist area. Visibility is maybe 4 feet? Still a truly beautiful and more traditional white-sand beach.

Eagle Beach

We stopped at the public parking area for Eagle Beach just so we could say we stopped at this “most” popular beach on the island. We knew we were out of place as we scanned the area and did not see a single mask or snorkel on the hundreds of beach goers we saw.  We almost opted to just leave them in the trunk but instead made the walk of shame through all the lazy sun-bathers carrying our snorkeling gear. While a truly beautiful, white-sand, and relatively clear water beach, snorkeling produced exactly the same results as expected.  Zilch. Once I got out to about 5’ deep, I could no longer see the bottom, and after swimming all the way to the safety buoys where the jet skis and other boats realm, I still couldn’t see a single thing. This beach is not for snorkelers.

Rincon Beach

Another windward side beach we voyaged to while heading north up the coast from Baby Beach. It’s a rocky beach and provides no snorkeling (or swimming) opportunities and I’m only mentioning this beach since its the last beach we investigated during our trip. This beach also offered dozens of interesting old dilapidated plywood buildings just 20 feet from the water’s edge. Good for pretty much exploring and that’s it.


I hope these experiences and descriptions help someone out there who was as lost as we were, without some experience folks to guide you along. However, being forced to explore for ourselves was extremely rewarding.