TRAVEL NOTES FOR BONAIRE - JANUARY 2010
Bonaire is a small island located in the Caribbean, off the coast of Venezuela. It is sometimes said to be part of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire Curacao) and it offers excellent diving and a relaxed island life.
Diving in Bonaire is easy and the underwater views are colorful and teaming with sealife. There are many dives sites to choose from, and they vary from easy to more advanced dives on the eastern coast. Most of the dive sites are shore dives along the western coast of the island, and they are easily accessible by car. Dive sites are marked along the road with painted Yellow rocks so you know exactly where to pull over, gear up and walk right in.
Boat dives can also be arranged through one of the many dive operators on Bonaire if you wish. Boat dives take you off the main island of Bonaire and often visit the uninhabited island named Klein Bonaire which is just a few minutes away from the mainland. There you will be able to dive some of sites that are not accessible from the shore of Bonaire.
One of the best aspects of diving in Bonaire is that it is very easy to self-serve yourself and dive on your own schedule. No dive guides prodding you along and no time limits other than those set by your dive computer. This is also one reason why underwater photography is very good in Bonaire...take as much time as you want to get the picture and enjoy the sights.
The northern dive sites such as 1000 Steps, and Karpata, are excellent dives, and they are located in or near the Bonaire Karpata marine reserve. These areas are among the most pristine sites and really should not be missed. They offer a good opportunity to find sea turtles and colorful Filefish, among many other creatures to see. These sites can be a little difficult to access because most of them require walking down a rocky ledge to get to the water, but at most sites there is a clear path to follow which works easiest. At 1000 steps you descend a rather large staircase that feels like 1000 steps when you have your dive gear on you back. But the dive is well worth the extra leg effort
To get to these northern sites you need to drive about 15 minutes north of the Kralendijk, along a narrow winding road which follows the radio towers and brings you along the western Bonaire coast. There are little inlet parking areas along the road marked by yellow rocks, where you can park your car and gear up.
You will probably be warned to leave your car unlocked and don't leave anything in it when you are diving the northern sites. There is a bit of a petty theft problem in this area if you are not careful. We had been told this before, but it was on our third trip to Bonaire that it finally happened to us. Our car was thefted in Karpata during a sunset dive. It's not fun driving home with no pants and no sunglasses.
The road back from Karpata gives you scenic views of mountains, deserts, and donkeys, and it also brings you along the Indian cave paintings park (name?) where you can see some really different and unusual landscape scenery. Bonaire is very interesting with it's diverse topography.
The southern dive sites team with schools of young fish as well as the chance to dive a double reef system. Another interesting dive site in this area is the Hilma Hooker wreck. It is a ship that was sunk intentionally and it is crusted in coral. The top of the ship lies about 50 feet down and the bottom is about 100 feet. Some very large resident Tarpons can be seen hanging out here and there are some good photo ops near the back propeller. Another few southern dive sites to mention were Tory's Reef and Margate bay. We saw our only seahorse on the Margate Bay dive. Earlier in the day we were told by some other divers that they had an encounter with a group of dolphins at this same dive site. As you continue down the road to the south you eventually reach the slave huts, flamingo sanctuary, and lighthouse. There are some great above water photo ops along this road. As you reach the southern tip of the island, you see crashing waves up against a rocky coral beach, with bursts of water shooting 10 or 15 feet into the air.
The east coast also has some diving, but I can not speak from experience on that. The waters are a lot more treacherous on the east coast and not as diver friendly as the west coast. There are opportunities to see larger marine life on the east coast, but it should not be attempted by novices and without careful consideration.
There are too many dive shops to mention. Go with whoever is best for your location. But is you are traveling on a budget, it's best to just go with a regular local dive shop rather than an expensive resort dive-package.
For a small island, Bonaire has a lot of hotel options that range in price from budget minded to expensive. There are also a myriad of condo and house rentals available for those who want to be more independent. In my journeys to Bonaire I have come to the conclusion that it is harder to find a bad place to stay than a good place.
The Plaza Resort is one of the biggest resorts on Bonaire, and because it is very close to the airport, it is very convenient. They rent cars right on premises and they also have a casino. The prices at Plaza Resort are expensive, but if you don't mind paying the price, they have a very good dive operation and the rooms are big and air conditioned. I only mention the Plaza because we have stayed there before, but there are many other good hotels & resorts to consider before booking. Captain Don's Habitat, Divi, Sand Dollar, Buddy Dive are some of the others to name a few.
In Jan 2010 we stayed at the BonaireFun Apartments / Tropicana Apartments located right next to the Kralendijk. The deal included an apartment with a kitchen, a rental car and a unlimited dive package with the Bonaire Dive Friends dive shop. This was a very affordable package, and we even cooked a few dinners at the condo after we shopped at the super market in town. The apartments are not on the water, but they are very close to lots of great food and shopping in town. At night the apartments are very quiet... which is good for all of us who are getting up early for diving in the morning.
Bonaire has a lot of places to eat. Most of the food is very good. Some of the places are excellent. The majority of the food is continental combined with local flavors. But you should to be aware that some restaurants can be not so good, so it's worth checking the reviews before picking a restaurant to go splurge.
Restaurants we liked:
Bistro de Paris: This was a great dinner for us. If you like french food, this place is the place to go.
It Rains Fishes: Good seafood and interesting menu. Views of the water and upbeat atmosphere.
BBQ at SUPERMARKET: On saturday afternoons they do a BBQ cookout right behind the supermarket in the Kralendijk. For around $8 US you get chicken, pork, beef, rice, and a drink.
We did NOT like:
Zeezicht Restaurant... nice view and terrible food and service.
Each time I traveled to Bonaire the best flights were on Saturday. There are a few other flights that make connections in Bonaire during other days of the week, but Saturday is the main arrival/ departure day. There are a lot of air carriers that fly to Flamingo Int'l Airport (BON). Once you arrive in Bonaire it is very easy to get around. Renting a car is very easy, and there are also motor bikes and bicycles that can be rented. Most of the hotels provide transfers if needed to and from the airport.