Best Dive Destination Overall in the Atlantic and Caribbean Region
Scuba Diving Magazine Readers Choice Awards 2012
=#1 Cayman Islands and Bonaire.
Bonaire’s greatest asset is the nearly continuous coral reef that in many places begins only yards from shore. Bonaire’s dive sites are marked by yellow stones on the coastal road along the leeward coast. All you have to do is find one, pull off the road and wade in. As great as the shore diving is, you’re not limited to it. You can take a boat to many of the sites or to uninhabited Klein Bonaire (both islands fall under the protection of the Bonaire National Marine Park). Want more? Bonaire offers an array of outdoor adventures. These qualities earned Bonaire a tie with Cayman Islands for Best Destination Overall – as well as No. 1 rankings in Best Shore Diving (for the 19th consecutive year), Marine Life, Macro, Snorkeling and Value – in this year’s Top 100.
Healthiest Marine Environment in the Caribbean/Atlantic
No. 2 Bonaire No. 1 was Turks and Caicos, No. 3 was Cayman Islands Every living creature in Bonaire’s waters has been protected for nearly three decades by the island’s pioneering marine park authority, Stichting Nationale Parken Bonaire (STINAPA). The first time you wade in off the island’s west coast, you’ll appreciate what this powerful authority with the unwieldy name has accomplished. Bonaire’s reefs are so jammed with life that it’s easy even for beginners to notice behavior on the reef. Just south of the Caribbean’s hurricane belt, the island’s unique position just north of Venezuela also helps account for its spectacularly healthy marine environment. Fish and coral embryos travel on the ocean’s surface for hundreds of miles from South America and settle on the reef. Though you’ll end up in the same place, lucky for you your journey to this little Caribbean gem will be a bit easier. More.
Just a few miles off the coast of Venezuela in the south Caribbean, Bonaire’s small island is surrounded by a barrier reef/Marine Park that displays superbly colourful soft coral and puts the island firmly in the top five dive spots in the Caribbean and number one for shore dives.
In addition, due to the brilliant (literally! ) and stable climate in the southern Caribe, Bonaire is diveable 12 months a year, and is relatively cheap since many shore dives are on the cards and simple, low cost accommodation is readily available.
Cheap and open-for-business all year, with excellent coral and easy dives, Bonaire is a scuba no-brainer, and not too shabby for snorkeling or wind surfing either. But remember, this is not really an island for lazing on shore, exploring local culture or inland adventure. If that’s what you want you’re on the wrong island!
ps All who use the waters of the Bonaire National Marine Park must pay a Nature Fee of $10. 00 per year ($25. 00 for scuba divers).
Shore dives galore. Have wheels, will drive-dive.
Bonaire has 86 dive sites, 60 of which are shore dives clearly marked by yellow stones on the shore. Visibility is excellent and generally in the region of 30m (100ft) with water temperatures ranging between 25C – 29C. Note that entering the water for shore dives can be slippery so newbies or adults with kids might stick to resort or boat dives.
A few Bonaire basics
a) All divers must do a checkout dive to obtain a STINAPA badge which grants access to the marine preserve that surrounds the island; this can be done in a very short water session or as part of a refresher/checkout guided dive. The latter is a good way to get oriented to the scene and setup in Bonaire, even if you’re an experienced diver.
b) One of the big treats in Bonaire is the ability to drive to any of the dozens of marked dive spots, suit up, and jump in. My (admittedly incomplete) experience suggests that the shore dives are on par with costlier boat-access dives, so my suggestion is to avoid making any commitments to boat dives until you’ve gotten in the water and gotten a feel for the place. It is conceivable that once you have done your checkout dive to get the STINAPA badge, you can have no interaction with the Dive Center other than to pick up tanks and/or to store your gear.
c) If you’re on a budget or are in Bonaire solo, you may need to hang around the Dive Center or join some classes/group dives to make friends who have vehicles and will carpool/dive with you. In quieter times, this can be a small challenge.
d) One other realization I had was that the snorkeling right in front of the Bonaire Dive Friends pier is outstanding and offered access to many of the same fish seen on dives.
Thanks to MRMinSF for that.
An unusually attractive Moray Eel, well camouflaged. Photo by actor212.
Klein (Little) Bonaire is an uninhabited island a mile off the west coast that provides some particularly special dives and shelters west coast mainland dives, but Klein is only accessible by boat.
divinwithtal, 2012: Beautiful dive spots, well controlled, healthy reef only a short trip from the island. The dive freedom in Bonaire is wonderful, but it is well worth the boat ride out to Klein
Therese R, 2012: I really enjoyed the trip to Klein Bonaire. At the No Name Beach the sandy was so white that it was blinding me. But under the water you can see the whole beauty: fishes and corals in all colours. It’s so amazing.
legimpresn: snorkeling and diving in Bonaire in general is like snorkeling in an aquarium, but seriously, Klein Bonaire is amazingly beautiful. You can take the water taxi (but there are no facilities on this uninhabited island marine preserve – so you’ll have to take water, food, everything with you). We opted to take a boat trip instead with Woodwind, which we’d highly recommend. .
Terri11556 2012: my goal to swim in a school of fish was accomplished in my first dive. Clear water, amazing visibility, great dive boat operation from the divi dive resort and tons of fish. . . Octopus, tarpon, big eyes snapper, porcupine fish, cowfish. . . Awesome.
westernwilson 2012: I am deeply grateful that the entire coast of Bonaire, with its complex shore reef system, was preserved as a marine park lo these many years ago, and is watched over by Stinaapa, the local conservation organization. While I did see reef fishing going on, the populations are in reasonable shape, even after a large, destructive hurricane. Snorkel paradise!
A reef squid in unconvincing camouflage. Photo by actor212.
A very flatfish. Photo by actor212.
Bad news from Keetoe 2012
The once beautiful full-of-life reefs of Bonaire are now about 50% destroyed apparently for a variety of reasons. From ‘WBD’ (White Band Disease) and abnormal hurricane activity since 2005 which have done significant damage.
I was last diving on Bonaire in 1984 and the reefs and animal life were stunning. Now there is evidence of severe problems at all of the 13 dive sites I visited (including some on Kline Bonaire). I’m a long time, globally experienced diver-photographer and was hard put to find decent subjects. (Oh yes, some macro critters if that’s of interest. ) Not just the cancerous-looking coral heads and bone-white Elkhorn coral skeletal remains strewn over the ocean floor, but the lack of sea life also.
No large animals were encountered at all. No sharks, no dolphins, no large turtles, no mantas, none of the big groupers I remembered. Really sad and unfortunately it may never recover. There are groups such as the Coral Restoration Foundation (the hotel adds a dollar donation to your bill) and other organizations trying to save the reefs but success so far is minimal.
A Longlure Frog Fish. Me, I’m not getting it. Photo by Captain Kim.