Bonaire, a little piece of the Caribbean that’s not about beaches!
Vacations on Bonaire
Bonaire is in what used to be known as the Netherlands Antilles, just north of the coast of western Venezuela, South America. The only Caribbean islands in the vicinity are Aruba and Curaçao but ferries don’t operate between them.
If you’re looking for Caribbean beaches, go elsewhere! Next door to Aruba, for example. Bonaire is for divers, snorkelers and board surfers!
Another small, flat, tropical island in the south Caribbean, Bonaire used to belong to the Netherlands Antilles group of islands (along with Aruba and Curaçao) but since 2010 has been a special municipality of the Netherlands.
Bonaire is a few miles off the north coast of Venezuela. Barely 24 miles (38 kms) long and roughly 5 miles (8kms) wide, it is on our Best Budget Caribbean Island list but only as a budget dive destination.
There is little else happening on the island and local cuisine is basically quite dull and overpriced.
Bonaire’s biggest downside is its lack of sizzling soft white sand. The shores are mostly encrusted with toe-stubbing, sole-jabbing coral chunks and lurking sea urchins that are absurdly painful, while the waters of the east coast are brutal and unrelenting. However, there are one or two possibilities for desperate dive wives and offspring.
Lac Bay’s Sorobon beach is on the southeast coast but is well sheltered by a barrier reef, about 100m of soft white sand but with all necessary facilities for a comfortable day. The bay has shade trees and shallow (about 2ft/. 6m deep), calm waters that are great for smaller kids while adults can kayak, board surf, watch the kite surfers or float at ease in the clear and balmy sea.
Klein (little) Bonaire island just west of the main island offers probably the closest experience to a traditional Caribbean beach, No Name Beach, a brilliant strip of white bordered by equally stunning turquoise waters turbulent with fish, but sadly the beach is devoid of other vital utilities such as shade, cold beers, restrooms or any other facility. Water taxis make round trips there three or four times a day and charge about $20 return.
North of Kralendijk town there’s a 100m (360ft) stretch of OK sand called Eden Beach which has a reasonable selection of facilities including bar and dive shop and a lot of marine action very nearby, so this is a fine swim/snorkel destination.
A little further up the coast is another beach offering fine snorkeling, swimming and diving, though it has no facilities, a fair amount of coral chunks lying around and 75 steps down to reach it, in spite of which it’s called 1, 000 steps Beach.
In the far north of Bonaire a couple of beaches can be found in Washington-Slagbaai National Park, the best being Boka Slagbaai, an ancient harbour with excellent snorkeling and all the facilities a demanding beach person could ask for excepting proper accommodation.
The other interesting, beautiful beaches in the park are Boka Cocolishi, a black sand beach with purplish waters, and Playa Chikitu, a cove backed by sand dunes. Both are isolated and dramatic but neither beach is safe for swimming.
Topless sunbathing and public nudity are forbidden throughout the island.
Things to Do
Dog Snappers looking for trouble around Bonaire. See dive photos. Snap. Original Photo by actor212.
Apart from diving you could…
• windsurf/kite surf/kids swimming, on the windy east coast in sheltered, boat-free, 8 sq. km Lac Bay where the water is shallow (2ft/. 6m) and warm, the onshore wind is steady, the beach smallish but sandy and lessons for old and young, snacks and 2 excellent surf shops.
There are two windsurfing seasons on Bonaire. The higher winds blow from mid December through August, and lighter winds from September to mid December. However it is during this latter period that the island celebrates Regatta Week every October during which there are sailing and windsurfing races. Bonaire also hosts professional board surfing contests during the windy season.
• snorkelling. Some recommended snorkel sites are
a) Lac Bay in the southeast, shallow, protected and well provided with facilities. More
b) the airport – park by the yellow building opposite the airport. There’s easy beach entry there and plenty of quick action.
c) Andrea I and II.
d) Hidden Beach near Slave where the reef is close to the shore.
e) in front of the Bonaire Dive Friends pier.
• do a scuba course (kids too! ).
• there’re a couple of decent beaches north of Kralendijk and a good sandy beach in Lac Bay called Sorobon with shallow waters and steady onshore winds for kite/board surfing.
• go fishing. Match wits with the elusive bonefish around the island or take a charter boat sport fishing off the coast where sailfish, marlin, tuna and tarpon are the most likely to be caught, or possibly wahoo, dorado and other edible species.
• try kayaking on easy-peasy craft around Bonaire’s mangroves, in Lac Bay or more professional paddling in ocean-going kayaks.
• horseback riding. Bonaire’s countryside is known for its varied cacti, extensive mangroves, kunukus – which are local farms – and unusual rock formations. You may also see some wildlife, in the shape of iguanas, flamingos, goats, and donkeys (yes, wild donkeys).
The countryside surrounding many of the riding trails resembles a desert landscape with candle and prickly pear cactus. Local farms often have goats, grow aloe and sorghum, which is a grain and looks similar to a corn stalk.
A malfunctioning rental jeep. A rental vehicle, probably a truck, is essential on Bonaire for shore dives, snorkeling, windsurfing and so on. Check it thoroughly before leaving! Photo by Cliff Hellis.
• cycle tours, solo or with a group. Bikes can be rented in Kralendijk. Biking is a popular way to explore Bonaire and local bike rental companies also run tours through the outback following many miles of paths using orange painted stone markers, and through Washington/Slagbaai National Park.
• wildlife appears in the shape of iguanas lazing prehistorically about, parrots squawking in the desert shrubbery and flamingoes fish for shrimp in Washington-Slagbaai National Park up north.
• sights: salt works in the south are an oddity, as are still growing cactus fences. There’s a decent viewpoint from the island’s northerly hill, Brandaris, at 241m high, though you’ll have to walk, bike or 4WD there as there are no proper roads.
After a hard days diving Kralendijk town is a fine place to wind down, stroll in peace, watch the sunset and of course exchange war stories with everybody else, since they’re all divers too. But don’t forget to bring some good books with you, just in case. . .
Bonaire has a good reputation among the Caribbean islands as being safe and untroubled.
Bonaire is a small island but has a large range of sleeping possibilities, from large resorts to small privately owned apartments or villas that can be rented on a daily basis. Bungalows on the beach, sea view cottages or comfortable rooms ranging from five star to budget are available.
There are no camping facilities on Bonaire.
Many dive schools have reasonably priced cabanas for customers. Several mid-size, tourist apartment complexes exist, as well as bigger deluxe resorts along the coast.
Many visitors love the slightly dilapidated Sorobon Beach Resort Hotel on peaceful Lac Bay, as do sand flies in the ‘wet’ season and mosquitoes, because little is done to deter the little biters. The main complaint by guests is that the management are dedicated windsurfers and have little knowledge (or interest? ) about the hotel business!
Colourful Kralendijk town and surrounds. Pleasant and peaceful but don’t expect dynamite nights. The legal drinking age is 18. Photo by Bgabel.
Bonaire food in fundamentally dull and overpriced so foodies beware. Traditionally it involves fish, soups, and fried foods, but many typical international cuisines are also on offer, including Chinese, Italian, Swiss fondue and some limited US fast food from KFC and Subway. Restaurants may have irregular opening hours and many close from 2pm-3pm.
Tipping is similar to the USA. Some places add a 10-15% service charge automatically, so if in doubt, ask.
In taxis a 10% tip is appreciated while good service by dive shops could deserve a 10% gratuity.
The high season is mid December – April, when it’s slightly cooler and less humid than the rest of the year, though generally the thermometer gets stuck around 27C (81F) but water temperature is a bit cooler too at 26C (79F) as opposed to summertime (28C (82F).
The rainy season is October-January but rain generally falls in showers at night; if it arrives in the daytime it’ll be short and heavy, though clouds may hang around and spoil the sunshine.
ABC (the Dutch islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) lies outside the hurricane belt so there’s little chance of getting hit by a disruptive storm. Taking a holiday there in the summer/fall should be OK and prices will be be lower.
Bonaire has a taxi fleet that mainly targets cruise ship passengers. They run on fixed rates. e. g. airport to Buddy Dive Resort $13; Lac Bay Resort $20.
There’s also a primitive island bus system involving vans.
Divers who expect to do a lot of shore dives should rent an appropriate vehicle (pickup truck? ) well in advance as there is a limited supply at busy times. Both regular and international driving licences are accepted.