I have traveled to Aruba on business more times than I can count, and it turned out to be my first international assignment back in the late 1980s. I knew that the island was well known for its fantastic beaches and unique cultural heritage but not as a snorkeling destination. In fact, an online search of snorkeling in the Caribbean brings up more results for sister islands Curacao and Bonaire. But in researching activities on Aruba, the many possibilities for snorkeling became a recurring theme, especially for viewing sea turtles.
Mind you, we are diving neophytes with very little experience or knowledge of the pastime. The online search mentioned above probably highlights this fact and I am not ashamed of this. But in a COVID influenced world, being underwater and looking at anything inspiring seemed to be an upgrade. So, our days in Aruba would begin with a big breakfast, and we would then load the snorkel gear into the rental car and enthusiastically make a trip to one of the diving spots we had researched. We had six on our list, or one for each full day we would be on the island.
First port of call: Arashi Beach.
We stayed in a hotel on Palm Beach so getting to the dive sites near the California Lighthouse in the northwest was dead easy - within 15 to 20 minutes of the hotel. This is the northern-most point of the beaches above Palm Beach, has great parking and availability of ‘palapas’ for shade. There is also a great beachfront bar for snacks and beverages.
Second port of call: Boca Catalina
A few minutes southwest of Arashi is Catalina, which also has adequate parking and some ‘palapas’ but no services. The beach is not as wide and deep as Arashi. The early morning commercial diving excursions also will tend to encroach on this area. That is not necessarily a bad thing as it is a bellwether for good sightings and activity.
Third port of call: Tres Tapi
This spot is just south and east of Boca Catalina and has no beach nor cover, but was one of the more interesting spots we found for snorkeling. The entry is a small, protected cove that quickly overlaps with areas comprising reef and vegetation. Our encounters with sea turtles were more numerous in this diving spot than any other in Aruba.
Fourth port of call: Baby Beach
At the extreme southeastern tip of the island is one of the most fascinating beaches in Aruba. It is remote, and for the most part, protected by breakwater. But it also has as a distant backdrop, the remnants of the island's industrial past – oil refinery towers. There are excellent facilities here – plenty of parking, ‘palapas’ and sun tents to rent, as well as a nice beach bar for snacks and beverages. Assuming you are staying on Palm Beach or Eagle Beach, expect this to be an excursion that takes up most of the day.
Because this is a man-made lagoon, the snorkeling is not as ideal within the protected area. The viewing is best on the perimeter, but this is also the area where the current is the most active. If you are not a good swimmer, it is best not to attempt to dive on the fringe (near to the breakwater), especially when the wind and current are strong.
Other prospects include Mangel Halto at the southeast end of the island, near to Savaneta, and Malmok Beach, just north and west of Palm Beach. Both are probably better approached from a party boat or excursion cruise, rather than from shore.
If paddling around in deep blue water (every day) looking at colorful fish and sea turtles seems appealing to you, do not overlook Aruba as a prospect.