"Our time in Bonaire was one of the most satisfying and restful of our family dive adventures with Global Dive Expeditions.

The hotel accommodations were superb, and the restaurant was enlivened by a colony of tame iguanas.

The island tours of the salt mines, flamingo marshes, and highlands (fresh goat, anyone?) were a well-planned complement to the underwater experiences.

There is truly something for everyone in Bonaire."

— Richard and Anne Marie Harris, Founding Members since 2005.

Bonaire

Destination Review: Bonaire Diving

First Thoughts

OK, everybody knows Bonaire and there have been enough re-run dive magazine articles on it for the past 20 years to choke a donkey. But there are a few things that everybody knows about like a very successful marine park but a lot that only the locals do. Bonaire is a cool enough place to live in fact, we did.

If you want an all around great Caribbean destination, Bonaire is it. Deemed the divers paradise, it lives up to its name in its own laid back way. Shore diving is easy and safe (though we don’t recommend leaving anything in your vehicle, there have been thefts) from over 60 dive sites on the leeward side of the island. It is the easiest diving you’ll ever do.
One of things often missed by shore divers is the sand flats. Most divers simply kick out to the buoy from shore or drop down just below the surface and don’t even look until they reach the drop off. But here is where we have found some of the most fascinating creatures. Sometimes it takes us 30 minutes just to get to the drop off as we watch sailfin blennies, pike blennies, squid, snake eels and jawfish on the way out to the dive site marker buoys. Shore diving in Bonaire gives you total freedom to do your thing your way. However, boat diving, of course is available with the longest possible run being about 30 minutes with calm seas most every day of the year and no possibility of sand in your regulator!

Why We Think Bonaire Rocks or Doesn’t

After 9/11, we went down and lived in Bonaire. We hung out, dived every day, lived the island life, met really cool people and REALLY explored the island and its diving. We’d gear up each morning in our kitchen and go out for the early AM dive, come back and have breakfast on the patio and then put gear into the truck and roll out for the day. We’d stop along the way at the grocery store and stop by the local fish guys place on the way home to pick up some wahoo or mahi to throw on the grill. We’d drive back roads and stop off in the small towns. We dove the seldom dived sites and sites with no names. Did you know that Bonaire has interesting cave diving (and snorkeling), great mangrove snorkeling and cool diving on the windward side of the island where you can see pelagics like sharks. Yeah, we didn’t either.

Bonaire has a small population of just 15,000 inhabitants giving a quiet island feel. But that doesn’t mean there’s no adventure!!

Washington Slagbaai National Park in the north of Bonaire is a great way to spend a day. You can do some great birding, photograph flamingoes to your hearts content and even shore dive up there. Just south of the park is the town of Rincon and other small villages where you can find wonderful local cuisine including goat or chicken stew or a good iguana soup. The east side of the island which is its windward side is completely different. It offers a different type of diving during the calm season (summer) with possibilities of larger pelagics including sharks and turtles. Often people say there are no big fish in Bonaire and for the most part it’s true. However, I spotted my first whale shark just 30 feet offshore of Karpata dive site.

On the southeast and southwest side of Bonaire the adventure continues with the opportunity to enjoy world class kite sailing as well as land sailing.

Things that Rock

  • A marine park that produces results
  • Some nice beaches
  • Great kite surfing
  • A GREAT beginner diver destination yet with diving for all levels
  • Slaagbai National Park in the north, easy to rent a car and cruise.
  • Mountain biking
  • The worlds easiest shore diving
  • Great combination of European, South American and Bonairian feel laid back.
  • Having local cuisine like goat and iguana stew…got to try it!
  • Picturesque, quaint town of Kralendijk
  • Diving with Erwin and Ebby

Things that Don’t

  • Bonaire is usually dead after 10:00PM. If you want nightlife, it’s not for you.
  • Petty theft from divers has become common
  • Lazy attitude from some divemasters
  • Very little pelagic life or big fish at least on the west side.

The Diving

Bonaire is boomerang shaped with all but a couple of dive sites situation on the west or leeward side of the island. Most of the sites sit within a hundred yards from shore making diving easy from shore or by day boat. The tiny island of Klein Bonaire itself boasts 26 dive sites accessible only by boat. Klein got nuked by a hurricane a few years ago but is bouncing back. The sites on the east by near Lac Bay are only diveable during the calm season. I have dived here by kayak out from Lac Bay.

If you are a cave diver, there are caves to dive on the island but you need to find a local cave diver to take you. It is not yet commercially available and is kept fairly quiet. Diving the Salt Pier is a must and the signature night dive the Town Pier is just bouncing back after much of the life encrusting the columns getting thrashed in a storm.

Bonaire Marine Park

It became a National Marine Park in 1979 and is truly leading the way. It may not be perfect and the locals still fish in the park and there is a notable absence of large grouper or any sharks. But many Caribbean nations or areas around the world for that matter – would do well to follow the precedence set by Bonaire. The rules are reasonable as are the fees (unlike Cocos Island or Galapagos) and the park has remained in good condition now for the past 30 years. It is administered by STINAPA and you can check out the website at www.bmp.org. The park extends from the high water mark to a depth of 200 ft. It has a long history of marine protection beginning with turtle protection in 1961, the prohibition of spear fishing in 1971 and the protection of corals dead or alive in 1975. All you have to do is look at how good the reefs look in Bonaire and compare that to the Caribbean wide degradation we are seeing. 50% of the coral has been lost in the last 20 years in the Caribbean but not in Bonaire.
Because of the marine park, Bonaire continues to enjoy great biodiversity for Caribbean waters and fairly healthy fish populations.

Land Based or Live aboard in Bonaire?
No such thing as a live aboard on Bonaire. With all dive sites within about 100 yards of shore it wouldn’t make sense. Your choice on Bonaire is shore or day boat diving or a combo of the two.

Our Favorite Things to Do Out of the Water

We believe in Surf and Turf checking out the best of underwater AND on land. It just so happens that most of the worlds best SCUBA diving destinations have other amazing things going for them in addition to kick ass diving. Don’t miss it.

  • Kite surfing Lac Bay
  • Driving south and hanging out on the beach at sunset
  • mountain bike the island roads/trails or up in Slagbaai National Park
  • going to a small town, local restaurant for dinner
  • check out the flamingos at the Salt Ponds
  • get home made ice cream at Lover’s

Bonaire Seasonality

Water temperature in Bonaire varies little from 78-83 so there’s no need to avoid a cold time of year. Rainy season is in the fall mainly around the October time frame. Most of our trips to Bonaire have been in the November-February time frame and rarely have we encountered poor weather. It technically lies outside the hurricane belt but has seen occasional storms that have wreaked some havoc on the island and the surrounding reefs.

Bonaire underwater visibility

Visibility in the waters of Bonaire rarely drops below 60 feet and often exceeds 80, making it one of the more consistent Caribbean destinations.

Overall

Bonaire is so much more than the trite and rehashed magazine articles of the last 20 years. Yes, it has easy diving. Yes, it has some of the best shore diving in the world. Yes, it has pretty reefs. But it’s more, much more than that. It has something for the most inexperienced or most experienced divers you just may have to look beyond those articles. Use this as a guide. Talk to the locals. Make some friends and see the complete Bonaire that most people miss.

Sharkman and Mantagirl give Bonaire

Two Fins UP

Interested in traveling to Bonaire?  We are here to help by sharing our global expertise.  Create your own personalized diving adventure by requesting a risk free quote.  It’s easy and there’s no obligation.  Or, if you already know what you want, you can make a reservation.

Or, join us on a Guided Diving Adventure.

REQUEST A RISK FREE QUOTE OR MAKE A RESERVATION

 

Destination Guide Bonaire Extras! Making Travel Easy & Fun in Bonaire

PASSPORT AND HEALTH REQUIREMENTS

Passport

A valid passport or certified birth certificate and photo ID is required to enter and exit Bonaire for US and Canadian citizens. All other nationals must have a valid passport. Please make sure that your passport is valid for three months from the date of entry into the country and that you have enough space for entry/exit stamps. If you do not hold a valid passport, apply as soon as possible as it may take some time to receive. Always keep a copy of the face page of your passport located in a separate place than your passport. This safety tip also applies to your diving certification card. It is necessary to hold a return or ongoing ticket.

Visa/Departure Tax

No visa is required to enter Bonaire for US or Canadian citizens. As of this writing in 2010, departure tax of US$35 per person applies for all international departures.

Health

Bonaire is a healthy island and no special immunizations are required. A good source for any additional information is the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Call their 24 hour recorded Travelers Health Hotline at 404-332-4559, or toll-free information at 888-232-3228. The CDC also is on line at http:/www.cdc.gov.

 

Food

When traveling to foreign countries, take general common sense precautions with food. There are no restrictions on any food to avoid on Bonaire. Many of the food on the island is actually flown in from The Netherlands. Water on the island is distilled and purified seawater and is safe from the tap at resorts. If you have any concerns about drinking water, bottled water is always the safest bet.

GENERAL TRAVEL INFORMATION

Baggage Restrictions

There are no weird restrictions on Bonaire. Large jets fly into the island as well as puddle jumpers so just check with your airline

 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION ON BONAIRE

Electricity/Water

Electricity to all the main centers is 110 volt with American standard wall sockets. Water is completely safe to drink as it is distilled and purified seawater.

Tipping

We believe that tipping should be an individual decision based on your personal experience with staff and their service. Most dive masters expect to be tipped on Bonaire and we recommend a minimum of $10/diver/day. Also, always tip your bartender!

Telephone

Bonaire has modern telecommunication systems locally and internationally. You may dial from your room long distance using AT&T or MCI. A connection fee may apply so please check the in-room charge sheet for possible charges.

Fax

Fax service is available at most resorts for a fee. Email is also available on a per minute basis at most resorts (some are complimentary) and there are cyber cafes in Kralendijk.

Time Zones

Bonaire’s time varies with the time of year as they do not recognize daylight savings. Therefore from April to October, Bonaire is on EST (same as New York). From October to April, the time is one hour ahead of Eastern time.

Climate

The yearly average temperature on Bonaire is 82 degrees with 22 of rainfall mainly during the winter months. Average water temperature is 80 degrees!

Population

The population of Bonaire is currently around 15,000 inhabitants.

Language

While the official language of the island is Dutch, Papiamentu is the language spoken most frequently. Papiamentu is a combination of Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese, African and Indian. English is also widely spoken.

Economy

Tourism has become a main source of income for Bonaire as the dive industry flourishes there due to the marine park that keeps the reefs pristine. Salt is still also produced on the island.

Currency

The local currency is the Netherlands Antillean guilder of Nafl. Exchange as of June 2010 is 1 USD to 1.78 ANG

 

Bonaire-COUNTRY IN PROFILE

Bonaire is one of the ABC islands which include Aruba and Curacao. These islands comprise the Dutch Antilles and are Dutch owned. The island is located 80 km north of Venezuela and 45km east of Curacao at the southern end of the Caribbean sea, outside the hurricane zone. Bonaire, is nick-named the Flamingo Island owing to its population of 5,000-6,000 flamingos. Its unspoiled scenery and world-class diving are regularly ranked among the top 10 of the world’s dive destinations.

The northern section of the boomerang-shaped island is a combination of colorful hills and cactus-filled deserts. Many hills provide views of the terraces formed by the coral reefs which descend to the great plain in the south. The south is flat except for the hills of salt which serve as home and breeding grounds for the island’s flamingos.

BRIEF HISTORY OF BONAIRE

The name Bonaire comes from and Arawak Indian word, Bojnaj which means low-country. The island was inhabited by the friendly Arawaks when Spanish seafarer Americo Vespucci arrived in 1499.

From 1527-1633 Bonaire was established as a Spanish colony until the Dutch took control and created a military stronghold. During the Dutch rule the island’s main economy was salt mining. In order to supply the needed manpower for the salt industry, slaves were imported from Africa and other neighboring islands. Many of the old slave houses are still standing on the southwest corner of the island near the dive sites of  white slave and red slave.

For a short period beginning in the early 1800’s the British occupied the island but in 1816 the Dutch regained control. Finally in 1863 slavery was outlawed and in 1951 the Netherlands Antilles were granted self-rule.

 

 

Adventure

Beach

As mentioned Harbour Village has one of the nicest beaches on the island. It’s easy to spend the day in the beach chair under the sun here!

Snorkeling

Right off the beach there is great snorkeling though it is not particularly a beautiful reef. It is rubble just off the beach in which you will find some great fish life, octopus, frogfish and sea horses. Over in front of the restaurant you will find schools of fish along with yellowheaded jawfish in the sand. If you swim just across the channel of the harbour you will come to a dive site called Something Special where you will find a nice reef system to snorkel on.

Bars and Restaurants

Before 9/11 Harbour Village offered five different places to eat but I don’t think that was sustainable. Now they serve at La Balandra which is designed to look like an old ship out next to the beach. It’s a great spot for meals and also serves as the bar. There is also a steak house on the property and a small area for breakfast near the swimming pool.

Food is good though often with groups it is slow getting out of the kitchen. The hotel accommodates us with beach dinners as well and are very willing to set up special events.

Spa

The spa is located in the back of the resort on the second floor and has its own cascade pool to give a relaxing effect. They are a full treatment spa offering various packages. It’s not often I am able to fit in spa treatments into my busy diving day so while I can say my guests enjoy the spa, I can’t give a first hand account!

Getting There – Bonaire

Even though Bonaire is at the bottom of the Caribbean, it’s still just a couple of flights away.

The major US carriers operate to Bonaire so let’s check em out by Airline: Your final destination airport is Bonaire’s Flamingo Airport (BON)

  1. Delta
    1. 1 weekly non-stop flight from Atlanta
    2. 1 weekly non-stop flight from JFK (during the high season)
  2. Continental
    1. 1 weekly non-stop flight from Newark
    2. 1 weekly non-stop flight from Houston (2 flights during the high season)
  3. Insel Air
    1. This new airline services Bonaire either non-stop from Miami or with one stop in Curacao.
  4. American Airlines
    1. American flies from Miami to Curacao and then you can catch the Insel, Divi Divi or DAE flight. (We DO NOT recommend this as DAE and Divi are known for delays and bag losses- Yes, I know it’s only a 20 minute flight HOW can they lose bags….but they do….often!)

Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy Easy

Harbour Village Dive Operation

Divemasters on Bonaire are somewhat insidious so there’s always a lot of swapping around. You’ll meet divemasters year after year at different resorts. During my last trip to Bonaire in 2008, the divemasters were definitely burned out but we made our own fun. I’m sure new blood has taken over.

Facility & Operation

The resort has a nice dive shop and they are completely sufficient to teach. There are lockers to keep your things and you just throw them on the boat at the end of the dock. They have large rinse tanks for gear after the dives as well.

They have a couple of dive boats which run well and fast and are easy to get on and off of. However, their larger boat has a capacity for too many divers (I think about 20) so we were happy that the resort wasn’t full of divers on our last trip. Normally we have a private boat but due to the numbers of divers we were happy to share with the few other divers there.

The diving on Bonaire is so easy that it would be pretty tough to screw up an operation here. All of the 86 dive sites have moorings so you just drive up, tie up, brief and go. It runs very smoothly.

Bonaire is a word synonymous with diving. It’s shallow reefs accessible both by boat and by shore make it one of the easiest places to dive in the world. If you are a new diver, it’s the perfect place to start and grow your experience and if you are an experienced divers there are layers upon layers of wonders that await. There are little known caves and challenging diving on the windward side of the island. There is technical diving training and new ecosystems below recreational dive limits that can open up new delights. Bonaire is never-ending in its offerings.

There are no liveaboard dive boats here and as long as you plan to dive just on Bonaire and Klein Bonaire, it’s certainly not necessary. You can rent a condo and a car and dive on your own, book yourself into a full service dive resort or options inbetween  The choice is yours.

At the upscale end of diving on Bonaire, I have used both Plaza Resort and Harbour Village. Let me tell you the story of Harbour Village. I booked my first group into Harbour Village in the late fall of 2000. We had a great trip and rebooked again for November 2001. Six weeks before our scheduled trip, the planes hit the towers in NYC and tourism as we knew it collapsed. Harbour Village used this opportunity to close its doors. However, unlike many businesses that used 9/11 as an excuse to file bankruptcy and run away with clients money, Harbour Village returned all of our deposits. I was impressed and knew that I would use them in the future.

Meanwhile, we took our business over to Plaza Resort and were very happy with their operation for a number of years. A couple of years ago, theft at the resort became rampant and it was rumored to be an inside job at the hotel. About the same time, the manager of the dive operation left and when he did, many of our favorite divemasters and captains departed for other resorts. This was a signal to us that it was time to look around again at Bonaire. Harbour Village had reopened its doors and in 2008 we returned for a very happy week at the resort with a large group of divers. The only thing that wasn’t up to snuff was a lack of enthusiasm in our divemasters. However, we have enough enthusiasm with our diving family to cover it!

From www.harbourvillage.com

On the island of Bonaire in the Caribbean, accommodations available from the Harbour Village Beach Club offer the best of what the island has to offer. Located on the beach, along the marina or the lush courtyards, these luxurious rooms and suites offer beautiful appointments and unique décor.

Each Bonaire Beach villa is just a few steps away from the private beach. The beachfront suites offer a wet bar with mini-fridge and microwave, while the Premier suites offer full kitchens. Both accommodations come with separate sitting areas, and double hammocks on private lanais or terraces.

With these privileges, anyone will surely enjoy their well-appointed Caribbean Beach Villa accommodations during their stay on Bonaire Island.

Overall Feel of Harbour Village

The feel of the resort is more European than Caribbean. It’s not a thatched hut style hotel but more modern with soft king beds, mini fridges and well appointed bathrooms. It sits on one of the few private beaches on the island and definitely one of the nicest. There are plenty of beach chairs and blue water to keep you happy and fun snorkeling and diving right off the beach. They even have their own ship wreck in less than 60 of water. Jump off the boat pier with your tank and come up at the restaurant on the other side of the resort!

Resort Spec Highlights

  1. On site dive operation
  2. Full service spa
  3. Fully equipped fitness center
  4. Beach restaurant and steak house available
  5. White sand beach
  6. Four levels of accommodation plus beach villas

 

Beach

As mentioned Harbour Village has one of the nicest beaches on the island. It’s easy to spend the day in the beach chair under the sun here!

Snorkeling

Right off the beach there is great snorkeling though it is not particularly a beautiful reef. It is rubble just off the beach in which you will find some great fish life, octopus, frogfish and sea horses. Over in front of the restaurant you will find schools of fish along with yellowheaded jawfish in the sand. If you swim just across the channel of the harbour you will come to a dive site called Something Special where you will find a nice reef system to snorkel on.

Bars and Restaurants

Before 9/11 Harbour Village offered five different places to eat but I don’t think that was sustainable. Now they serve at La Balandra which is designed to look like an old ship out next to the beach. It’s a great spot for meals and also serves as the bar. There is also a steak house on the property and a small area for breakfast near the swimming pool.

Food is good though often with groups it is slow getting out of the kitchen. The hotel accommodates us with beach dinners as well and are very willing to set up special events.

Spa

The spa is located in the back of the resort on the second floor and has its own cascade pool to give a relaxing effect. They are a full treatment spa offering various packages. It’s not often I am able to fit in spa treatments into my busy diving day so while I can say my guests enjoy the spa, I can’t give a first hand account!

Accommodations

Guest Rooms

There are two levels of guest rooms at the resort, one with courtyard view and one with marina view. The rooms are generally the same, just the view is different. The rooms have a separate living area to the bedroom and plenty of space.

The rooms are very nice but you don’t get the feeling you are on the water in a tropical location. If you can, upgrade to the beachfront suites. There are two types of suites, one and two bedroom. They face the water and have very nice balconies or patios (on the ground floor) with hammocks.

The resort is small so none of the rooms will have you walking all over the place. If you are a late night party person you might prefer the rooms nearer the bar so the noise at the dive center doesn’t wake you in the morning and if you are a morning person you might prefer the rooms away from the bar area.

Overall

I do like the European style of the resort since really on Bonaire there are no true caribbean style accommodations. It is the most upscale hotel on the island, has a great beach and nice diving and snorkeling at the resort. It’s just a short drive or shuttle to the main part of town and not too far from Lovers Ice Cream Shop!!