If you’ve never been to Curaçao, you’re in for a fantastic discovery. The breezy and colorful island feels decidedly Dutch (after all, it is) with centuries-old historical buildings and forts. Here, you’ll find inviting beaches, tall mountains, and every type of water sport you can imagine.
If you love to snorkel, this may be the island of your dreams: Curaçao has some of the best snorkeling not just in the Caribbean, but in the entire Western Hemisphere. Snorkeling in Curaçao is a dream come true for anyone who loves the undersea world.
The best beaches in Curaçao for snorkeling provide easy access to the island’s marine life, much of which tends to live in and near the island’s reefs. While snorkeling on the island, it’s not unusual to see schools of large and colorful parrotfish, spiny lionfish, and graceful bannerfish—and you’re all but guaranteed to see unique coral formations like brain coral and giant sea fans. You may also be lucky enough to encounter rarer marine species, like frogfish and endangered sea turtles.
From snorkeling on shipwrecks to sandy bottom snorkels where you might see scurrying crabs and schools of garden eels, you’ll find it all under the water in Curaçao.
1: Mambo Beach
Mambo Beach is actually the name of a beach bar and restaurant located on the larger Seaquarium Beach, but people call the whole stretch of beach in front of the restaurant “Mambo Beach.” Visiting this popular beach is one of the best things to do in Curaçao as it features a house reef right in front of the restaurant teeming with life.
The Mambo Beach staff built a stone wall out in the water, which does an excellent job of protecting the beach from strong waves. It also protects the reef, so you’ll find plenty of small creatures living in the calm water. Look for juvenile angelfish and butterflyfish, and keep an eye on the nooks and crannies along the rock wall and reef as you might see exotic-looking lionfish. They’re beautiful, but they’re both highly invasive and quite poisonous, so be sure not to touch them.
2: Santa Barbara Beach
Santa Barbara Beach is one of Curaçao’s loveliest beaches, which is saying a lot on an island jam-packed with gorgeous beaches. It’s a private beach and part of the Santa Barbara Beach Resort, a high-end hotel with plenty of space to sprawl. The beach is in an area of the island mostly occupied by luxurious homes and lagoons, making Santa Barbara Beach both pristine and (usually) uncrowded.
Most people who aren’t staying at the resort arrive by boat to the beach, and while it’s an excellent beach for sunbathing, it’s also home to some of the best snorkeling in Curaçao. The water is clean, clear, and warm as it’s relatively shallow, so you can easily spend an hour or more floating above the underwater world and not get cold. Expect to see the usual colorful Curaçao marine life near rocks and reefs. On the sandy bottom, keep an eye out for crabs, flounder, and stingrays hiding just under the surface.
3: Caracas Bay
Caracas Bay offers more than just crystal clear water and tropical views—it’s home to a sunken tugboat, an absolutely fascinating place to snorkel in Curaçao. The ship is now a haven for marine wildlife and covered in brightly colored soft and hard coral formations. The tugboat is still mostly intact, making it an excellent spot not just for snorkeling, but for underwater photography, too.
You’ll see the bottom of the tugboat resting in about 25 feet of water, and since you can usually see for 70 feet or more through the water around the island, you’ll see the boat clearly from the surface. On the boat, look for small fish living in the brain coral, sea fans, and sizeable elk-horn coral (easily identified, as they look like an elk’s horns.)
You’ll likely see wrasse, harlequin fish, and larger parrotfish near the ocean floor. You might see schools of blue tang or grouper circling the wreck, and if you look closely, you may be able to spot rarer frogfish or moray eels tucked under the hull.
4: Blue Bay Beach
What’s better than an excellent house reef right off the beach? How about two house reefs? At Blue Bay Beach, you’ll have access to two fantastic snorkeling locations, making it one of the best beaches for snorkeling in Curaçao. You can snorkel on “The Wall” reef or “The Garden” reef, or just snorkel in the open ocean.
After about a 10-minute leisurely swim from the shore, you’ll notice something amazing: the entire ocean floor is covered in coral. Even if you don’t head towards a reef, you’ll still have a good chance of seeing many of the animals that live in the coral. You’re likely to see shellfish and trumpetfish darting through formations, or you could even spot an octopus trying to camouflage under cover of a rock.
As you swim above the sand, look for tiny green garden eels, which look like little worms poking their heads out. You can rent a lounger or grab a fruit drink from the Blue Bay Beach Bar when you’re back on land.
5: Knip Beach
Klein Knip, also called Knip Beach, is one of Curaçao’s best-kept secrets. The small beach is a favorite among locals, so you’re likely to be sitting next to Curaçao residents rather than fellow travelers. It also means you’ll be able to buy dishes and snacks on the weekends when locals walk around selling homemade treats.
Because of Knip Beach’s U-shape, you have several options for snorkeling. If you don’t mind a longer swim, you can swim straight out from the beach to explore over the reef. As with most areas in Curaçao, you likely won’t see large creatures like sharks, but the reef is a great place to look for frogfish and otherworldly-looking nudibranch.
If you don’t feel like making a long swim, just head left or right and explore the rock formations on either side of the beach. You can find many similar creatures living in the nooks of the rock walls in just a few feet of water.
6: Cabana Beach
Cabana Beach is what luxury vacation dreams are made of—envision modern sun loungers tucked under thatched-roof umbrellas, a private pier, and a toes-in-the-sand cocktail bar surrounded by swaying palm trees. But if you thought the beach was great, wait until you see what’s under the water.
Cabana Beach has a massive rock wall separating the cove from the ocean, which blocks nearly all the waves. The result is an always-calm underwater paradise that feels more like snorkeling in an aquarium than the open ocean. You don’t have to swim very far at all before you’ll start seeing Curaçao classics like angelfish, rock beauties, spotted trunkfish, and adult parrotfish. Many of the fish come into the cove to avoid the rough waves and swells and feed on the tiny fish that call this area home. It’s definitely one of the best beaches in Curaçao for snorkeling.
7: Alice in Wonderland/Playa Kalki
The underwater world off Playa Kalki (Kalki Beach) is called “Alice in Wonderland” by local scuba divers, which should give you a sense of the amazement and color you can expect to experience there. Only about 15 minutes from the capital city of Willemstad, most snorkelers enter the water from the dock in front of Kura Hulanda Lodge. A rope leads out to the snorkel site, and from there, it’s up to you. If you want to enter through the beach, water shoes may be helpful as the shore is rocky in places.
There’s usually not much of a current here, so you can swim in either direction on the reef. And because the reef is a straight wall, navigation is extremely easy—just keep the wall on your opposite side when you turn around to reach the rope again. The reef is around 25 to 30 feet below the surface, and since visibility is often 80 feet or more, you should have no problem seeing all the action on the reef.
You have a good chance of seeing nearly any marine animal that lives in Curaçao here, so be sure to bring an underwater camera or GoPro if you have one.
8: Playa Piskado
If your goal for snorkeling in Curaçao is to see sea turtles in the wild, head to the northern part of the island and visit Playa Piskado. The small beach is a popular fishing spot for locals, and the prospect of catching bits of fish scraps draws turtles close to the shore. While turtle sighting are never guaranteed, they’re common here, and some of the larger and older turtles are even known by name to the locals.
If you’re lucky enough to see a sea turtle while snorkeling, remember to keep a respectful distance. Sea turtles are endangered, and it’s important not to disturb their natural behavior. As a general rule of thumb, if your presence makes the turtles move or swim away, you’re too close. But since the water around the island is relatively clear, you should be able to take great photos of the gentle creatures even from further away.
9: Jan Thiel Bay
If you love snorkeling on shipwrecks, considering booking a snorkel trip that heads to Jan Thiel Bay. The large bay is usually filled with fish and has a sandy bottom, rocky sections, a reef, and open ocean where you have a chance of seeing schools of larger fish or more predatory fish like barracuda.
You can enter the bay through one of several beaches, but if you go with an operator, they’ll likely take you more towards the center of the bay to snorkel above a sunken sailboat. This is also a very popular spot for spotting sea turtles, and since Jan Thiel Bay is quite close to Mambo Beach, it makes a great addition to a day spent beach hopping.
10: Playa Lagun
Playa Lagun is one of the best beaches in Curaçao for snorkeling since it’s usually teeming with life. That’s because the ocean in front of the beach is more like a cove, much longer than it is wide. Rock walls on either side make this feel more like a protected swimming pool than an open ocean—and fish love it.
The entry into the water is gentle and easy, and navigation is easy, too—just swim along the rock walls on either side before turning around to return to shore. You’ll see tons of tiny fish living in shelters of the rocks, and because of that, you’ll often see larger fish swimming alongside you, looking for smaller fish to become their next meals. It’s not unheard of to see turtles here, either. If you’re looking for an easy, protected place to snorkel with a high amount of marine diversity, Playa Lagun is an excellent choice.
If you love snorkeling in Curaçao, you’ll love the beaches and activities offered in nearby Bonaire and Aruba—so why limit yourself to just one destination? On a Caribbean cruise to Curaçao, you can explore the best of the entire region’s small islands, exotic cultures, tropical vistas, and once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
Browse cruise itineraries on our website and book a luxury cruise vacation today.