What comes to mind when you think of Bonaire? Often billed as the shore diving capital of the world, this small, arid island in the Netherland Antilles lives up to that reputation and much, much more.
Getting to Bonaire couldn’t be easier. Direct flights operate from Houston twice a week – from muggy humid Houston to beautiful breezy Bonaire in four quick hours with United. There are also direct flights to Bonaire from Atlanta and Newark. If you are coming from Europe, KLM and TUI fly daily from Amsterdam directly to Bonaire. Coming by Cruise Ship is also an option — but that won’t leave you much time to see everything this beautiful little piece of the world has to offer. The best thing about traveling to Bonaire is that you are pretty much guaranteed to be on a plane full of divers who are all sharing tips, dive sites, and excitedly chatting about the awesome underwater fun up ahead.
Where is Bonaire?
Bonaire is an island in the Leeward Antilles, located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. Technically, when you go to Bonaire you are going to a municipality of Holland. This means that the population of the island speaks Dutch and Papamiento, and you can find every Dutch amenity you can think of in the islands homes and supermarkets. The plugs are European so make sure to bring converters if traveling from the Americas. Bonaire also uses USD — get there and start shopping and diving! Bonaire is outside of the hurricane belt in the Caribbean, so you can expect warm and sunny weather anytime you go. The arid climate leads to little sediment run off which means Bonaire has excellent visibility and diving no matter what time of year you go!
How to Dive Bonaire
Bonaire is billed as the shore diving capital of the world, and it will only take you one day of diving to find out why. But don’t be fooled, there is much more diving to Bonaire than just walking in from the shore.
Self Guided Shore Dives:
This is by far the most popular way to dive in Bonaire. Purchase an unlimited tank fill package, rent a truck, get a map, and drive yourself to almost 100 dive sites around the island and dive at your own pace, leisure, and time. No need to book a guide, follow fins, or be confined to someone else’s air usage for your bottom time! You can dive your favorite sites over and over, or spend your vacation exploring new places and doing drift dives. Buddy Dive, one of the largest dive resorts on the island, offers packages that include your tanks, your room, your rental car, and daily breakfast from $812 per person per week! Self guided shore diving is recommended for advanced divers who are comfortable with dive planning and underwater navigation. Make sure you pay the national park entrance fee to Stinapa Park before embarking on any dive sites.
Guided Shore Dives:
For a more personalized experience, guided shore diving is the way to go. VIP Diving is an outstanding dive center offering 5 star service and courses! From beginning to end, they are your personal dive butlers. Whatever time you would like to start your day, they will pick you up from your accommodation and take you to their stellar dive center to talk about gear and all of the different dive sites. The expert guides will recommend what sites will be best according to the days weather conditions and off you go! Underwater, their expert eyes will find everything from caribbean reef squid to huge scorpionfish to chainlink moray eels.
During the surface interval, VIP Diving will find a delicious and local place for lunch, then take you on a driving tour around the entire island to see flamingos, villages, and learn about the history of this exotic island. After another dive in the afternoon, one that may very well last over 100 minutes depending on air consumption, they will take you back home and handle all of your gear back at the shop. It is truly a luxurious diving experience and having expert guides take you around their dive sites will open your eyes up to nudibranchs and various other critters that you might not be able to see on your own! If you are a first time visitor to the island, or a seasoned pro, you cannot go wrong with VIP Diving. Notable dive sites include Tolo, Karpata, Something Special, 1000 Steps, and Salt Pier.
Boat Dives and Klein Bonaire:
Most of Bonaire’s dive sites are accessible by shore with the exception being Lac Bay and Klein Bonaire. Klein Bonaire is a muck divers paradise and only a short boat ride from shore. If you prefer boat diving, are diving with a large group, or don’t feel comfortable navigating dive sites alone, then boat diving with might be for you! Buddy Dive offers guided boat dives to many locations inaccessible by shore. Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited small island off the coast of Bonaire that offers pristine reefs, arguably more so than the shore accessible sites due to less dive traffic. Boat dives are a little more restrictive as far as bottom time and pace — dives are generally shorter and you might have a group of over 10 on one dive. Dive sites Munk’s Garden and Hands Off are beautiful wall dives with spectacular marine life. Muck diving is famous around Klein Bonaire, be on the lookout for frogfish and seahorses! Klein Bonaire is the perfect place to go night diving! Be on the lookout for huge octopus and stingrays out to hunt.
East Coast Diving:
East Coast Diving is undoubtedly the best kept secret in Bonaire. Sure, the shore diving is spectacular and Klein Bonaire is pristine, but it is East Coast Diving that will leave you speechless. East Coast Diving offers no-frills access to jaw dropping dive sites such as Turtle City and White Hole. They are the only operator that serves these sites and a trip to Bonaire is not complete without spending a morning in their custom built military RIB dive boat. East Coast offers tanks and nothing else — bring your own gear and weights to the boat if you want to dive. Turtle City is one of the best dive sites in the world, one of only three places worldwide where hundreds of green sea turtles come to nap every day after feasting on sea grass all night.
You are guaranteed to see turtles, and I was treated to about 60 on one dive!. At White Hole, previously a cave that collapsed into a nice sand patch, hundreds of giant tarpon come to seek shelter from the unforgiving East Side currents. Waving sea fans, manta rays, huge moray eels and untouched coral bommies are all things you will find at East Coast. This diving is better suited for more advanced divers, but once you see it once, you will never want to miss out on this diving again! If I can recommend ONE thing from Bonaire, it is do NOT leave without diving the East Coast. East Coast Diving requires some planning ahead, check with the winds and currents and go when the wind is blowing on the West away from Lac Bay – when the kitesurfing is closed, go dive the East Coast.
Marine Life and Dive Sites:
Bonaire is the only place in the world where you can see chainlink moray eels! Thousands of green sea turtles call Bonaire home as well as eagle rays, manta rays, huge tarpon, frogfish, seahorses, and caribbean reef squid. Keep your eye out for invasive lionfish and join in a local lionfish hunt to protect the reefs! No matter if you are a fan of big fish, soft corals, or muck diving, Bonaire has marine life to please every diver! Don’t miss the iconic dive sites Tolo, Karpata, 1000 Steps, Salt Pier, and Hilma Hooker. Ostracods, marine creatures that are extremely bioluminescent, light up the ocean a week after every full moon. Register for a night dive during ostracod week at any dive center and prepare to feel like you are in outer space.
Want to give back during your time in Bonaire? Take the PADI Coral Conservation Specialty at many dive shops around the island including Buddy Dive and Great Adventures. You will get to see some intricate coral growing structures and do your part in learning how corals grow and go on a dive to clean and cultivate the structures. They are making giant strides in restoring coastal Elkhorn Coral populations with over 9000 coral fragments in nurseries around the island and 8000 transplanted. Being part of an expedition restoring corals to reefs is a rewarding experience fit for any diver. Learn more at Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire (CRF Bonaire).
Where to Stay?
Bonaire offers a plethora of options when it comes to island living. Bespoke beachfront villas, ultra luxury hotels, and budget dive accommodation can be found all over the island.
Dutch architect Piet Boon has built world class villas all around Bonaire that are inspired by the island breeze. Villa 72&Sunny offers three large bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms and plenty of living space. Head to the local grocery store to stock up on local and Dutch specialties and enjoy homecooked breakfast before heading out for a long day diving. With a fully stocked kitchen, flat screen TV’s, and a beautiful swimming pool – the jawdropping views at Piet Boon’s luxury villas will have you dreaming of Bonaire for months to come.
For those searching for a high end luxury resort, look no further than Harbour Village. Harbour Village offers a full range of services including an on-site dive shop, Great Adventures. With a private beach, full spa, and amazing food choices including La Balandra, you never need to leave Harbour Village to experience all the luxuries Bonaire offers.
Bellafonte Bonaire is fit for the king — literally! This is where Dutch royalty come to stay when they visit this magical island. Regardless if you are celebrating your honeymoon or just a special occasion, the Penthouse Suite at Bellafonte Bonaire will treat you like royalty. A private chef will cook you an exquisite private meal on your patio with panoramic views. Look out over the newly renovated pier as you enjoy fresh island fruits and Dutch breakfast specialties. The Penthouse suite comes with two private rooms, a fully stocked kitchen, and views that will take your breath away.
Where to Eat?
For such a small island, Bonaire has some of the best restaurants in the Caribbean. Treat yourself to a beautiful meal featuring fresh caught lionfish at ingridients located at Buddy Dive. For a quick meal between dives, Between to Buns offers amazing and huge sandwiches — don’t forget the milkshake. When it comes to fine dining, Bonaire has no shortage of options. From the chef’s tasting menu at At Sea, exquisite french cuisine at Bistro de Paris, to inventive modern flavors at La Cantina — you will be well fed everywhere you turn in Bonaire. After dinner, check out the Bonaire Blond brewery and taste a flight of local island beers.
No diving – no problem!
The mantra of Bonaire is eat-dive-sleep-repeat, but non-divers have plenty to do on the island. Many of Bonaire’s dive sites double as snorkeling sites as well! For some fun in the sun, head to Washington Slagbaii National Park and check out some of the thousands of pink flamingos that call Bonaire home. There are tons of mountain biking trails and cold inland pools for snorkeling dotted throughout the park. Lac Bay and Sorobon Beach Resort offer windsurfing, yoga, massages, and a place to relax and hang out with stunning views. Sea turtles graze on grass right next to the shore, all visible from the bar at Lac Bay with a cool pina colada in hand. Relax with a professional massage at Harbour Village and try your hand at freediving with local world famous instructor Carlos Coste.
Bonaire is a hidden gem in the Caribbean that should not be missed. Even non-divers will find plenty to do on the island, and those willing to explore the underwater world will be rewarded beyond their wildest dreams. From boat diving to windsurfing, Bonaire does it all, and will leave you dreaming of their turquoise waters for many months to come.
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