Bonaire is a Caribbean island east of Central America and north of Venezuela. The island is part of the ABC Islands together with Aruba and Curaçao. It is a mostly flat, riverless coral island renowned for its dive spots. Politically, Bonaire is a "special municipality" fully integrated in the Netherlands proper but does not have the same laws. Bonaire uses the US dollar as its currency.
The climate is tropical marine with little seasonal temperature variation. Temperature is moderated by constant trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean, with averages of 28°C (82°F). Bonaire sits outside the Carribean hurricane belt. "Rainy" season lasts from the last week of October to the end of January, but it is still relatively dry. During rainy season, late night and early morning rains are common, usually clearing shortly after sunrise.
Water temperatures average 26°C (80°F).
The total land area of the island is 285km2 (110mi2). The southern portion of the island is flat with few hills, sparse vegetation and negligible natural resources other than white coral beaches and salt. The northern part of the island is a rugged and arid national park. The southern tip of the island is a series of giant water filled salt pans for sea salt production and an off limits flamingo sanctuary.
The official languages are Dutch and Papiamento, the latter of which is the traditional language spoken by the locals. Many locals also speak Spanish, and employees at hotels, dive shops and restaurants will almost always also speak English.
There is one international airport, Flamingo International Airport (BON). There are a few direct flights from major hubs, and many connecting via the regional hub of Curaçao. Flights change over time; a frequently updated guide is Insider’s Guide to Finding Flights to Bonaire from North America.
Airlines Serving Bonaire and their flights include:
- KLM offers five weekly flights from Amsterdam to Bonaire (sometimes via Aruba).
- United Airlines operates weekly non-stop flights from Newark (EWR) on Saturday morning (Saturday afternoon return), and from Houston (IAH) on Saturday afternoon (Sunday morning return).
- Delta Airlines offers weekly flights from Atlanta (ATL) on Saturday mornings (Saturday afternoon return), and sometimes Sunday mornings (Sunday afternoon retuns).
Charter airlines include Tiara Air.
Departure Fee for all international destinations is USD $33.40 per person, payable in cash or debit/credit card at the airport prior to check-in. MasterCard, Visa, Discover, Maestro, are all accepted, but American Express is not.
There are no passenger ferries operating to or from Curaçao or Venezuela. Cruise ships do increasingly visit Bonaire, especially "in season" (winter). Some shops and restaurants may remain open extra hours to cater to their passengers.
You can also use different Bonaire Water Taxis including and the Seacow Watertaxi.
Private boat moorage is available. Dive operators operate boats to many dive sites including those located off the small uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire. Some boat operators also specialize in snorkel tours and there are regularly scheduled passenger boats to Klein Bonaire. Some include the Woodwind, Bonaire Pirate Cruising [dead link], Oscarina, Bowalie and more.
Driving is on the right, and the island does not have any stoplights. Maximum speed in urban areas is 40 km/h (25 mph), and outside of town it is 60 km/h (35 mph).
Automobiles can be shipped to Bonaire and rental cars are available at the airport and at selected hotels. Reservations are strongly suggested as, especially during peak times, all vehicles may be rented. You can drive around the entire island in a couple of hours!
There is an informal bus system on the island that utilizes vans. There are a small number of medium sized tour buses on the island as well.
The island has a small fleet of cabs to service cruise ships and the airport. Rates are not set and should be negotiated beforehand.
Bicycle rentals are available.
Scooters, motorcycles, golf carts, are also available for rent.
- Lizards, birds, corals, reef fish, sea turtles
- Historic Slave Shelters
- Fort Orange built 1639
- Washington-Slagbaai National Park
- Indian Rock art
- Salt flats
- Mangrove forests
- Soroban beach, popular with windsurfers
Bonaire is renowned among divers as one of the top shore-diving locations in the world. The reef along the western side of the island has been protected for years and is in excellent condition, offering visitors the opportunity to literally wade in from the beach in front of their hotel and experience an amazing underwater world. The eastern side of the island is exposed to the Atlantic Ocean and is significantly rougher, so diving opportunities are limited to guided dives on all but the calmest days.
Dive sites are located along the entire eastern coast, generally marked by a painted yellow rock and/or a mooring in the water. Dive shops are everywhere and will rent gear, and most have drive-thru tank rentals where you can pick up tanks for the day and return used tanks. The reef is fairly shallow, with depths from 10 meters to 40 meters (30 feet - 130 feet).
Before diving all divers must review the national marine park rules and pay a $25 per person fee (as of January 2016), good for one year. The fee for snorkelers is $10, also good for one year. The fee can be paid in cash at any dive shop, and you will be issued a dive tag that you must carry with you while diving.
Beyond usual scuba diving gear, the following rules and recommendations apply.
Marine park rules include no gloves, no chemical glow sticks, and no spear fishing (except special lionfish courses; see below). On the other hand (or foot, rather), booties are strongly recommended, due to walking on rough terrain during shore entry, and dive knives are allowed.
For most people, a 3 mm wetsuit (full) is suitable year-round; a 2 mm wetsuit or shorty is ok for more warm-blooded divers. A dive skin is recommended for snorkelers, and may also be worn under a wetsuit.
A waterproof bag or box is useful if shore diving, to keep keys and billfold (and phone, if you want to risk it), as these should not be left in the car. A few cheap zipper plastic bags should be sufficient for keys and money/cards, though not phones. A thin billfold helps to carry cash and cards, though a rubber band or binder clip is fine, and they can also be stored loose.
The main attraction is shore diving: rent a truck, fill your tanks, load up your gear, drive to a site, and start diving! Obviously this requires experience and a buddy to be done safely; you can hire a Dive Master to come along if inexperienced or for more challenging dives.
There are a number of special activities available, including:
- Coral Restoration with the Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire (at Buddy Dive, Harbour Village Resort, and Wannadive):
- Lionfish Hunting, which is only allowed with a special gun, under supervision. Lionfish are an invasive species, and it is ecologically responsible to kill them (and tasty to eat them!).
Always dive with a buddy and stay within your ability and training.
Do not leave any valuables in your car while diving as break-ins are common. Preferably leave valuables in the hotel safe, especially wallets and phones, and bring a minimum with you: just keys and a bit of cash, and take in a waterproof bag.
Other water activities
- Sea Kayaking
- Mountain biking
- Cave exploring
- Bird watching
Since 2011 the island's currency has been the US dollar.
There are a few shops on Bonaire:
- 3 bookstores
- 3 department stores/hardware/household goods
- 1 electronic/appliance store
- 3 different flower shops
- Jewelry: Atlantis, Litmans and a few more typical for cruise ports.
- 3 hospitals/pharmacies
- Around 23 souvenir/clothes shops
Bonaire has many restaurants and quite varied cuisine given the overall island population. "Aki ta Bende Kuminda Krioyo" will inform a visitor that local-style food is available, generally heavy on soups, stews, fried foods and fish. Traditional foods that may be found on the menu include conch, cacti, wahoo and rock lobster. Much of the fish is caught locally by line fishermen in season. Though traditionally eaten, iguana is not generally served in restaurants.
Bonaire has little in fast food, though there is the "smallest KFC franchise outlet in the world" in a shopping plaza by Kralendijk and a Subway sub shop. Check out "Swiss Chalet", a local favorite serving Fondu. Bobbejan's is an extremely popular weekend-only barbeque joint. Other cuisines common on the islands are Argentine, Italian, Indonesian, Suriname, and lots and lots of Chinese. Island-made ice cream is available in many places, with Lovers Ice Cream being a local favorite. Arrive before noon, as they often sell out.
Almost all eateries are open for limited hours during the day, and many close briefly during siesta time between 2-3PM. Call or check ahead to determine if a restaurant is open for lunch, dinner, both, or only open on weekends. Some are closed certain days of the week, such as Sunday.
Despite the small size of the island, Bonaire has a lot of possibilities when looking for places to stay, from large resorts to small privately owned houses which you can rent on a daily basis. Along the coast you have multiple places that combine a dive school with cabañas where you can sleep for a moderate price. Most of the accommodations on the island are relatively small, averaging 15 rooms or less.
Several mid-size apartment complex devoted to tourists exist. These tend to be a bit more upscale than the smaller accommodations. There are several larger, more resort like places as well. These are still somewhat small, with only the Plaza Resort Bonaire and Captain Don's Habitat having over 100 rooms.
- 1 Buddy Dive Resort, Kaya Gob Nicolas Debrot #85, ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: email@example.com. This resort is among the most popular with scuba divers, putting everything a diver will need right outside their door. There is a "drive thru" tank refill station, several resort dive boats, car & gear rentals, and numerous lodging packages available that include dive options. Scuba diving off of the resort's pier is easy and rewarding. In-between dives there are two pools and two restaurant/bars: Blennies Restaurant is more casual, while Ingridients Restaurant offers upscale dining. $175.
- 2 Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino, J.A. Abraham Blvd 40, Kralendijk (Exit the airport and turn right onto the main island road. At the first intersection, turn left, then take a sharp right turn at the end of the road. Continue until you see resort entrance on your left.), ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Intimate and informal, with 129 rooms and studios, all air-conditioned, with a private patio or balcony, two swimming pools, on-site casino and its own natural beach. On-site PADI five-star dive center with custom dive boats, gear storage, a fully equipped dive shop. The capital town of Kralendijk is a 5-minute walk away. US $130-300.
- 3 Eden Beach Resort, Bulevar Gob. N. Debrot # 73, ☎ , toll-free: , e-mail: email@example.com. This resort is located on one of the few sand beaches in Bonaire and has its own on-site dive operator. Other resort amenities include a spa and an onsite restaurant/bar that is open from 7AM-11PM daily (midnight on Friday & Saturday). $150.
- 4 Lizard Inn, Kaya Amerika 14, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Small and cozy B&B, owned by Dutch immigrants, good for the ones with a small budget. 70 usd.
- Plaza Resort Bonaire, J.A. Abraham Boulevard 80, Kralendijk (Less than five minutes' drive from the airport), toll-free: , e-mail: email@example.com. A dive resort that offers spacious air-conditioned villas and suites with views of the lagoon, marina, or ocean. On-site PADI dive center available including snorkeling and windsurfing. US $190-300.
- 5 Summer Dreams Ocean Club, EEG Blvd (First hotel south of the airport), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. This smaller resort is a nice, upscale alternative to the big dive resorts to the north. The resort offers about a dozen rooms, right on the water, and a tiny beach with easy access for diving or snorkeling. Rooms are relatively spacious and offer air-conditioning, TV, rain shower, and a small refrigerator. Outdoor amenities include a small infinity pool, deck, outdoor day-beds with ocean views, and a group of the island's iguanas that come begging during mealtimes. Visitors concerned about plane noise due to the proximity to the aiport shouldn't need to worry as there are only a small number of flights each day. The restaurant is open from 8:30AM-10PM and attracts a fair number of non-guests, with excellent (if pricey) food. Lunch and dinner are fixed-price multi-course meals for $30-$50, while a simple Dutch breakfast is served in the morning for $19.50. There is also a full bar. $200.
- Sun Rentals Bonaire, Kaya Grandi 65, Kralendijk, toll-free: , e-mail: email@example.com. Sun Rentals Bonaire offers a wide range of vacation villas and apartments as well as free dive tank delivery right at your doorstep. US $99-300.
There is little serious crime on Bonaire; however, 911 can be used for emergencies. Secure your bicycles and scooters. Never leave anything of value in your car while diving as break-ins are common.
Tap water on the island is perfectly safe for drinking, although bottled water is readily available for those who want it.