Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
With visibility of up to 90 feet, the waters around Aruba are excellent for snorkeling and diving. Advanced and novice divers alike will find plenty to occupy their time, as many of the most popular sites—including some interesting shipwrecks—are found in shallow waters ranging from 30 to 60 feet. Coral reefs covered with sensuously waving sea fans and eerie giant sponge tubes attract a colorful menagerie of sea life, including gliding manta rays, curious sea turtles, shy octopuses, and fish from grunts to groupers. Marine preservation is a priority on Aruba, and regulations by the Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species make it unlawful to remove coral, conch, and other marine life from the water.
In 2010, the Aruba Marine Park Foundation was established to protect the island’s reefs and waters. It’s a not-for-profit government organization, and they have been busy studying and defining the parameters that will best serve the island. One big issue they are tackling is the invasion of the non-native lionfish that threatens reefs throughout the Caribbean. If you spot a lionfish, report it to their organization, and do not touch it. The venom is poisonous and the sting very painful.
Aruba Pro Dive. The fact that this is a small outfit that only caters to small groups (six max.) helps make each dive more personal, flexible, and unique.They also do night dives and all levels of PADI certification. Ponton 90, Noord, n/a Aruba. 297/582–5520. www.arubaprodive.com.
Dive Aruba. Resort courses, certification courses, and trips to interesting shipwrecks make Dive Aruba worth checking out. Small groups make it more personal. Wilhelminastraat 8, Oranjestad, n/a Aruba. 297/582–7337. www.divearuba.com.
JADS Dive Center. JP Fang has moved his dive operation out to Baby Beach in San Nicolas where they have built an entire complex around the old Esso Social Club. There is a dive shop and snorkel equipment rental, and they have their own boats to charter for experienced divers. They also specialize in first-rate instruction for beginners. After the briefing, you head to Mangel Halto nearby for an easy shore dive that takes you to a little ship they scuttled to make an artificial reef. The complex also has washroom facilities, a playground, an outdoor shower, and a full beach bar/diner that has great local food, specialty cocktails, and sometimes live music. They are also planning a new dining spot next to an infinity pool there. Seroe Colorado 245E, San Nicolas, n/a Aruba. 297/584–6070. www.jadsaruba.com.
Native Divers Aruba. A small, personal operation, Native Divers Aruba specializes in PADI open-water courses. Ten different certification options include specialties like Multilevel Diver, Search & Recovery Diver, and Underwater Naturalist. Their boat schedule is also flexible and it’s easy to tailor instruction to your specific needs. Marriott Surf Club, Palm Beach, n/a Aruba. 297/586–4763. www.nativedivers.com.
S.E.Aruba Fly 'n Dive. One of the island's oldest diving operators, S.E.Aruba Fly 'n Dive offers a full range of PADI courses as well as many specialty courses like Nitrox Diver, Wreck Diver, and Deep Diver. They can also instruct you in rescue techniques and becoming an underwater naturalist. L. G. Smith Blvd. 1A, Oranjestad, n/a Aruba. 297/588-1150. www.se-aruba.com.
Unique Sports of Aruba. Diving is the specialty here, with scads of one- or two-tank dives scheduled weekly, but they also offer a snorkel sail on a luxury catamaran and a SNUBA (deep snorkeling with an oxygen raft), snorkel, and sail trip for those who are not yet certified. The staff teaches beginner resort courses as well as a wide range of PADI courses, including dive master and rescue. They depart from both the DePalm Pier and the Pelican Pier, depending on the trip. Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino, J. E. Irausquin Blvd. 81, Palm Beach, n/a Aruba. 297/586–0096 or 297/586–3900. www.uniquesportsaruba.com.
West-Side Dive Sites
Antilla Wreck. This German freighter, which sank off the northwest coast near Malmok Beach, is popular with both divers and snorkelers. Scuttled during World War II not long after its maiden voyage, the 400-foot-long vessel—referred to by locals as "the ghost ship"—has large compartments. You can climb into the captain's bathtub, which sits beside the wreck, for a unique photo op. Lobster, angelfish, yellowtail, and other fish swim about the wreck, which is blanketed by giant tube sponges and coral. Malmokweg, n/a Aruba.
Black Beach. The clear waters just off this beach are dotted with sea fans. The area takes its name from the rounded black stones lining the shore. It's the only bay on the island's north coast sheltered from thunderous waves, making it a safe spot for diving. n/a Aruba.
Californian Wreck. Although this steamer is submerged at a depth that's perfect for underwater photography, this site is safe only for advanced divers; the currents here are strong, and the waters are dangerously choppy. n/a Aruba.
Malmok Reef. Lobsters and stingrays are among the highlights at this bottom reef adorned by giant green, orange, and purple barrel sponges as well as leaf and brain coral. From here you can spot the Debbie II, a 120-foot barge that sank in 1992. n/a Aruba.
Pedernales Wreck. During World War II this oil tanker was torpedoed by a German submarine. The U.S. military cut out the damaged centerpiece, towed the two remaining pieces to the States, and welded them together into a smaller vessel that eventually transported troops during the invasion of Normandy. The section that was left behind in shallow water is now surrounded by coral formations, making this a good site for novice divers. The ship's cabins, washbasins, and pipelines are exposed. The area teems with grouper and angelfish. n/a Aruba.
Skeleton Cave. Human bones found here (historians hypothesize that they're remains of ancient Arawak people) gave this dive spot its name. A large piece of broken rock forms the entrance where the cave meets the coast. Noord, n/a Aruba.
East-Side Dive Sites
Captain Roger Wreck. A plethora of colorful fish swish about this old tugboat, which rests off the coast at Seroe Colorado. From shore you can swim to a steep coral reef. n/a Aruba.
DePalm Island. A must-do for a full or half-day trip is a visit to this terrific little private island outpost full of incredible adventures for the entire family. Their all-inclusive offerings include snorkeling with giant neon blue parrotfish, a giant waterpark, banana boat rides, salsa lessons, beach volleyball, zip-lining, and a massive all-you-can-eat buffet plus open bar and snack shack. For additional cost, you can also try Snuba@—deep snorkeling with an oxygen raft—and children 4–7 can join their parents with their unique SNUBA Doo® set-up. Motorized Power Snorkel is another fun undersea option. They also have Seatrek®—underwater walking tours with air-supplied helmets—and have added zip-lines over the water recently as well. There’s also a small seaside spa on site. Complimentary bus transportation from all major hotels includes access to the island by water taxi. De Palm Island Way Z/N, Balashi, n/a Aruba. 297/522–4400. www.depalmtours.com.
Jane Wreck. This 200-foot freighter, lodged in an almost vertical position at a depth of 90 feet, is near the coral reef west of De Palm Island. Night diving is exciting here, as the polyps emerge from the corals that grow profusely on the steel plates of the decks and cabins. Soft corals and sea fans are also abundant in the area. The current is strong, and this is for advanced divers only. De Palm Island, n/a Aruba.
Punta Basora. This narrow reef stretches far into the sea off the island's easternmost point. On calm days you'll see eagle rays, stingrays, barracudas, and hammerhead sharks, as well as hawksbill and loggerhead turtles. n/a Aruba.
Vera Wreck. In 1954 this freighter sank while en route to North America. The crew, saved by an Aruban captain, claimed the ship held Nazi treasures. n/a Aruba.
The Wall. From May to August, green sea turtles intent on laying their eggs abound at this steep-walled reef. You'll also spot groupers and burrfish swimming nearby. Close to shore, massive sheet corals are plentiful; in the upper part of the reef are colorful varieties such as black coral, star coral, and flower coral. Flitting about are brilliant damselfish, rock beauties, and porgies. n/a Aruba.