Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in Aruba

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Scuba Diving and Snorkeling

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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.

Expect snorkel gear to rent for about $15 per day and trips to cost around $40. Scuba rates are around $50 for a one-tank reef or wreck dive, $65 for a two-tank dive, and $45 for a night dive. Resort courses, which offer an introduction to scuba diving, average $65 to $70. If you want to go all the way, complete open-water certification costs around $350.

Operators

Aruba Pro Dive. Experienced divers head here for good deals. Ponton 90, Noord. 297/582–5520. www.arubaprodive.com.

Dive Aruba. Resort courses, certification courses, and trips to interesting shipwrecks make Dive Aruba worth checking out. Wilhelminastraat 8, Oranjestad. 297/582–7337. www.divearuba.com..

Native Divers Aruba. Underwater naturalist courses are taught by PADI-certified instructors here, and the company has legions of return customers. Marriott Surf Club, Palm Beach. 297/586–4763. www.nativedivers.com.

SEAruba Fly 'n Dive. Aside from the usual diving courses, SEAruba can also instruct your group in rescue techniques and the finer points of underwater photography. LG Smith blvd 1-A, Oranjestad. 297/587–8759. www.se-aruba.com.

Unique Sports of Aruba. Dive master, rescue, and certification courses are offered at this operator, which lives up to its name. Single and double Jet Skis are alos available here. Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino, J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 81, Palm Beach. 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. Malmok Beach.

Barcadera Reef. Only large types of coral—staghorn, elkhorn, pillar—find their niche close to this reef: the sand makes it difficult for the smaller varieties to survive. The huge (and abundant) sea fans here wave in the current.

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.

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.

Harbour Reef. Steeply sloped boulders surrounded by a multitude of soft coral formations make this a great spot for novices. The calm waters are noteworthy for their abundance of fascinating plant life.

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.

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.

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.

Sonesta Reef. Two downed planes are the centerpiece of this interesting dive site near Sonesta Island. Several types of brain coral abound in this sandy-bottom area.

Tugboat Wreck. Spotted eagle rays and stingrays are sometimes observed at this shipwreck at the foot of Harbour Reef, which is one of Aruba's most popular. Spectacular formations of brain, sheet, and star coral blanket the path to the wreck, which is inhabited by several bright-green moray eels.

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.

De Palm Island. Secluded behind clusters of mangrove, the reef system around De Palm Island stretches all the way to Oranjestad. You can get close enough to touch the nurse sharks that sleep tucked into reef crevices during the day. De Palm Island.

Isla di Oro. A wide expanse of reef grows far out along the shallow bank, making for superb diving. You'll be treated to views of green moray eels; coral crabs; trumpet fish; and French, gray, and queen angelfish.

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. De Palm Island.

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.

Shark Caves. At this site along the island's southeastern point you can swim alongside sand sharks and float past the nurse sharks sleeping under the rock outcroppings.

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.

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.

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