Way down in the southernmost reaches of the Caribbean Sea, sitting slightly north of Venezuela, you’ll find a tiny slice of paradise. Bonaire is located just to the east of its more famous neighbors of Aruba and Curaçao, and these three form the group called the ABC Islands. This region is also a fantastic place for land-based vacations for travelers seeking active adventures, a little time to relax, or a nice mix of both.
Like its neighbors, Bonaire, which is a special municipality of the Netherlands, sits below the turbulent hurricane belt, so visitors are less likely to have their vacations ruined by nasty weather. It’s an idyllic part of the world, with daily temperatures at 80 degrees or higher all year. It has a desert-like climate with little rainfall.
As much as some of us would like to keep Bonaire as our own off-the-radar secret, I couldn’t help but want to share some of the special reasons you need to consider checking out this wonderful island for your upcoming travel plans.
Diving And Snorkeling
The island offers a unique landscape much different from the sandy beaches of Aruba. Most of the shoreline is a rugged and coarse mix of crushed shells and coral. It also features some of the best shore diving in the world.
Much of the island’s shore on the leeward side is just a few yards from a beautiful coral reef garden. So this is an excellent destination for beginners and experts alike, who can skip the cumbersome boat rides and simply slip into the warm waters from the shore and be immediately transported to a massive natural aquarium.
Bonaire’s capital is Kralendijk, home to about half of the 23,000 residents on the island. The city features a number of diving outfitters and dive resorts that can set you up for your scuba-focused vacations.
Bonaire National Marine Park
Kralendijk is right across a thin stretch of the Caribbean Sea from Klein Bonaire (which means Little Bonaire in Dutch), and that stretch is a protected area called Bonaire National Marine Park, one of the oldest marine reserves in the world. The reserve is the hot spot for diving and snorkeling.
You can book a snorkel trip by boat or do it yourself by taking a water taxi (about $15 per roundtrip, and they run all day) over to Klein Bonaire to No Name Beach. This little island is uninhabited, but visitors use it for relaxing during the day and as a base for getting into the water to “drift snorkel.” Drift snorkeling is a brilliant way to snorkel because the natural currents let you float easily through the vibrant waters.
It gets deep quickly after you drop over the edge of the reef near the beach, and the sea comes alive with colorful fish, green turtles, and bright coral.
Islanders speak English, Dutch, and Papiamentu, which is a Spanish creole language that also contains a mix of Dutch and Portuguese. “Bon dia” means good day.
The official currency is the U.S. dollar. Kralendijk is the main hub of the island, with a number of restaurants, shops, cafes, and even a fantastic craft brewery right in the city center.
Lionfish is a regional specialty. The invasive fish is caught and used for lionfish burgers, lionfish pizzas, lionfish fritters, and lionfish soups. You can also try popular local favorites, like pastechis (deep-fried pastries filled with meat), kabritu stoba (a hearty goat stew), and sopi kadushi (a soup flavored with seafood, cured meats, and the island’s candle cactus).
Shopping On Kaya Grandi
Plaza Wilhelmina is the center of the city, and you will find a craft and produce market as well as shops, monuments, and a church.
Kaya Grandi is the main street for shopping and restaurants in Kralendijk. Look for local art and jewelry, items made from driftwood, aloe products, sea salt, sweet candies, and Bonaire liqueurs.
Hotels And Resorts Near The Marine Reserve
There are a variety of hotels, resorts, beach clubs, and apartments for vacation rentals along the west side of the island in Kralendijk, right next to the marine reserve. These include the Courtyard by Marriott Bonaire Dive Resort, Divi Flamingo Beach Resort and Casino, and Delfins Beach Resort Bonaire.
La Cantina Cervecería
Craft beer lovers will want to check out La Cantina Cerveceria, which is home to Brewery Bonaire, the island’s first craft brewery. The signature beer is Bonaire Blond. Pop in to escape the sun after a day of adventures and try some of the flavorful creations. The restaurant features a broad menu for lunches and dinners, offering burgers, seafood, and snacks.
History And Sightseeing
Washington Slagbaai National Park
The town of Rincon is on the northern end of Bonaire. This is where you’ll find Washington Slagbaai National Park. The park makes up almost 20 percent of the island, offering hiking trails, hills, serene bays, and cactus fields to explore.
Mangazina Di Rei Cultural Park In Rincon
Mangazina di Rei Cultural Park in Rincon is a museum outlining some of the history and culture of the island and how Bonaire was a Dutch slave plantation beginning in the early 17th century. In fact, the Old Slave Huts can be seen around the island and have been preserved as a reminder of this era. These tiny huts were sleeping quarters for up to six enslaved people who were forced to mine salt around the island.
Other top sights to see on Bonaire include:
- The Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire, which provides shelter and care for orphaned and sick donkeys on the island
- The Perkelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, one of four places in the world where flamingoes breed
- Fort Oranje, which was originally built in the early 17th century and rebuilt and fortified in the early 1800s; the former governor’s house also features a lighthouse and is the oldest building in Bonaire. A designated historical monument, it now serves as the courthouse.