Bonaire is thirty miles from Curacao; 50 miles north of Venezuela and 86 miles east of Aruba, outside of the Caribbean hurricane belt. Its highest elevation is Brandaris Hill, 784 feet. Yearly average temperature is 82°F ; water temperature of 80°FC; rainfall of 22 inches; humidity of 76%. Sunny, all year round.
Among the first to land on Bonaire were two Spaniards, Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci. However, they soon realized that there was neither gold nor sufficient rainfall to encourage large-scale agricultural production, so Spain saw very little reason to develop the colony. By 1515, Bonaire had been mostly depopulated.
In 1526, Juan de Ampues, governor of Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba, began to raise cattle on the island. He brought in a number of Caiquetios natives and some Indians from Venezuela as laborers, and within a few years cows, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, and horses were being raised on the island. Valued only for their hides, the animals needed little tending and were generally let loose to wander freely around the island. Before long they greatly outnumbered the human inhabitants, and today the island counts substantial populations of donkeys and goats among its wildlife.
Over the next few centuries, few of the island's inhabitants were to arrive willingly. Bonaire's next immigrants were mostly convicts from the Spanish colonies in South America. For much of the next 300 years, even after the island was ceded to the Dutch, Bonaire remained a notorious penal colony.
In 1633, the Dutch, having lost the island of St. Maarten to the Spanish, retaliated by capturing Curacao, Bonaire, and Aruba. While Curacao emerged as a center of the slave trade, Bonaire became a plantation of the Dutch West India Company. A small number of African slaves were put to work cultivating dyewood and maize and harvesting solar salt around Blue Pan. They were joined by the few remaining Indians and convicts. Slave quarters, rising no higher than a man's waist and built entirely of stone, still stand in the area around Rincon and along the saltpans as a grim reminder of Bonaire's repressive past.
The island is 24 miles long and 5 miles wide, and only 112 square miles of land mass; virtually barren of flowers, palm trees, or, for that matter, much greenery at all. But Bonaire is where divers, snorkelers and scuba divers go to witness what they heard heaven is like. Few people besides these fervent divers have ever even heard of this island, much less know where it is. But Bonaire is a place that actually doubles your visual world, adding an entire new physical plane--underwater. As unattractive as she might be above the waterline, it is resplendent and sensual below. The visibility within Bonaire's clear turquoise water is extraordinary. And the living reefs and walls around the island tower and teem with a magnificent variety of coral, sponge, creature and fish species; due mostly to the fact that the water around Bonaire is an official marine park. Spear fishing was banned years ago as was shell and coral collecting. And this makes snorkeling here a truly unforgettable experience!
Most of the 14,000 residents speak English, plus Dutch, some Spanish and a dialect called Papiamento, a blend of Dutch and Spanish. Dutch ex-pats and a working class of largely Venezuelan and Colombian immigrants comprise most of the population. There is little crime to speak of, no language barrier, and the population, regardless of nationality, is well educated and middle-class.
U.S. currency and traveler's checks are accepted everywhere.
GETTING TO BONAIRE
International Airport bills itself as the "Doorstep to Paradise."
Every day hundreds of guests (usually divers from all over the world) fly into the island from nearby islands like Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten. Check their website for arrival and departure information.
WHEELCHAIR and SCOOTER USERS: Most of Bonaire is wheelchair and scooter friendly. All sidewalks in the capital, Kralendijk are wheelchair accessible. The cruise terminal handles wheelchairs capably. The Divi Flamingo Resort (on Bonaire, has five accessible sea-diving boats, which have specially trained staff members to assist people with disabilities. The resort also overhauled its eight disability-accessible rooms (out of 129) to make them more compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Many of the others are steadily improving their accommodations for the mobility disabled.
For additional information contact Michael Gaynor (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Tourism Corporation Bonaire.
CRUISE SHIP DOCKING: Kralendijk (pronounced: "crawl-in-dike," means "coral dike"), Bonaire's capital, is known locally as Playa, but that doesn't mean it has a beach—there is no sand to speak of in the town. Instead, it is a miniscule waterfront city, that resembles a façade-like movie set -- a few rows of terraced red tile-roofed buildings along the waterfront, with virtually nothing of interest behind. Within the two or three waterfront blocks are a few low-rise buildings painted in pretty pastel colors and a handful of narrow streets. Here, the town consists of the island's government buildings and some shops, hotels, restaurants and bars. There's not much to do or see on Kralendijk, other than shop or dine at the restaurants. The town's couple of historical buildings and small cultural museum won't take more than an hour or two of your time in Kralendijk to explore.
When your cruise ship docks in Kralendijk, you're actually in town and within walking distance of all the town's attractions. There is no cruise terminal. Your cruise ship will tie up at one of two piers--North or South Pier. If you are in the mood to get your feet on solid ground again, there is Wilhelmina Park, a pleasant place to relax under big, shady trees and enjoy the cool breezes as you gaze across the water at Klein Bonaire. The park has a monument to Queen Wilhelmina, and a plaque commemorating the time in the 1940s when Eleanor Roosevelt visited American troops stationed on Bonaire. Around town you will come upon Dutch colonial houses, the Museo Boneriano and Fort Oranje which will give you a glimpse into the island's past. The small Fort Oranje was erected to guard against attacks. It housed the island's commander until 1837, when it became a government depot and then a prison. Later, in 1868, a small lighthouse was built near Fort Oranje.
Main street Waterfront flea market
If you get tired of people-watching at Wilhelmina Square you can shop at Harborside Mall. There are a few dozen restaurants along the waterfront promenade. Supermarkets include Cultimara (in downtown Kralendijk) or Warehouse (located on the way to the airport from town). Near the Town Pier, Venezuelan merchants have a Roman-style covered pavilion where you can find fresh produce, especially fish, fruit and vegetables.
Off the coast of Kralendijk lies the uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire, a diving and snorkeling paradise. It can be reached by water taxi, a 10-minute boat ride away. This little sister island to Bonaire was purchased from its owners and given to the people of the island to remain in perpetuity as an undeveloped area. The funds to purchase the island came from both public and private sources. The island has a number of dive and snorkel sites that will be preserved for the enjoyment and pleasure for generations to come.
Taxis line up every time a cruise ship arrives, but if you're staying in Kralendijk you can get around fine with just your two feet. If you are headed out of town, taxis cost from $5 for nearby destinations to $20 or more if you're headed across the island. It might be cheaper to rent a car, as rates begin at about $35 a day. Rental agencies are in the airport near Kralendijk. Fares are fixed, but agree to a fare beforehand.
Sightseeing Tours by taxi go for around $25 per hour for up to 4 people.
US, Canadian, and European driver licenses are valid for use on the island. Be careful of the goats, donkeys and pedestrians that roam the island's roads. All traffic keeps to the right, and international highway signs are used. Speed limit is 40 km per hour (25 mph) in town and 60 km to 80 km per hour (38-50 mph) in the countryside.
WHAT TO SEE
Bonaire is a small island with only a few tour companies, mostly all used by the cruise ships. But there are a few independent local taxi tour companies on the island. When 2-3 ships are in, the island is overcrowded. Unless you know what you are doing and where you are going, it will be frustrating getting around-- so it is wise to plan ahead. If you are not taking the ship's excursion, book your taxi before you get here. Here are some of the sights to see on a taxi tour:
This is one of the numerous, popular dive and snorkel sites of Bonaire. Situated on the northern side of the island, a cliff face drops off into the sea. But the handy stairs allow you easy access to the water. Gear up at the parking area on the street and make the easy walk down the stairs to the beach and into the water. 1000 Steps can be reached either by boat or car. There's actually only 67 steps to get down to the beach -- but it may feel like 1000 when you make your way up with all your gear after a dive.
Alta Mira: Visitors and locals alike often overlook this spot. Alta Mira Unjo is charming area that has stone benches and walls where you can sit and enjoy the constant trade winds and breathtaking view. From this point visitors can see both the windward and leeward side of Bonaire in one panoramic sweep. Look for the sign on the north side of the road leading to Rincon. The bumpy ride is worth taking!
The Land House Karpata was the main house of a plantation that grew aloe and divi divi trees. It was restored and used as a research center for a number of years. Presently, the complex is being used for a substance abuse treatment center.
Flamingos on Salt Lake at Goto Mee
Enjoy Bonaire’s turquoise waters along the coast. Heading north, stop for a picnic at Gotomeer, Bonaire's land-locked saltwater lake, with a possible sneak peak of the flamingos in the lake below. If you are looking for a "Kodak Moment," you'll find it here. Goto Meer is a favorite among Bonaire's abundant (and skittish) flamingo population, which gathers on this salt lake to consume the brine shrimp, brine fly and larvae which endows these great birds with their rosy hue. Like Salina Slagbaai, another of the salt ponds of Bonaire's Washington-Slagbaai National Park, Goto Meer becomes a veritable sea of pink during the January-July breeding season. This beautiful viewing spot looks over the lake towards the National Park. This is also a good place to take pictures of the flamingos as they often feed or sleep close to the road. Did you know? A group of flamingos is called a "pat" or a colony. Flamingo hatchlings are grey, but turn pink as they get older due to their diet of brine shrimp at the salt ponds.
Washington National Park
The island, dry and laden with cactus, is never-the-less tropical, with more than 340 species of flora. Stunning Washington National Park is where many species of birds can be seen. This 13,500 acre park occupies a substantial portion of the island's northern tip and is filled with the fascinating flora and fauna of semi-arid Bonaire. In its own way Washington-Slagbaai is as much a gem as Bonaire's more celebrated Marine Park, with more than a hundred species of birds, a startling variety and diversity of terrain and wildlife.
Located on the sheltered leeward coast of Washington-Slagbaai National Park, Nukove is one of the island's most pleasant diving and snorkeling sites. Park visitors need only wade offshore to encounter brilliant, swirling schools of reef fish, including parrotfish and blue tangs . To relax, there is an intimate and inviting little white sand beach.
Be amazed at the oasis of lush vegetation at Dos Pos. The name means two wells and is located on the road from Goto Lake to Rincon. Note the fruit plantation and how many fruit trees can be identified.
Northwest of Kralendijk is Bonaire's oldest village, Rincon, first settled by the Spanish. Many of Bonaire's cultural events take place in and around Rincon. On the first Saturday of each month, a local market is set up where visitors can sample local food and purchase souvenirs created by many of the talented artists of the island. When the Spanish founded Rincon, around the turn of the fifteenth century, they laid their foundations slightly inland to escape the roving eyes and ship-board cannons of passing buccaneers. Slaves from Africa, brought over by the Spanish, were also housed here. Today the town is an entrancing collage of pastel cottages. The Saint Peter's Day celebration is held here June 28.The village of Rincon provides a great stopping place for refreshments and local treats.
A leisurely walk around Rincon, will tell you that it has the highest goat population on the island! The people are very friendly here and some of the homes are very old. Stop for a cold drink and see the many birds feeding in the gardens.
Later stop at Onima to see the Indian Petroglyphs in a limestone cave which served as both shelter and artist's canvas for the island's Caiquetio inhabitants. There are a number of locations where primitive rock drawings can be found. The most visible are located opposite Boka Onima. The drawings, whose ages are yet to be determined remain undeciphered, were thought to be made by the Caiqueto Indians, an Arawak Indian tribe. The drawings are similar to ones found in caves in South American.
Another scenic overlook, Seru Largo (long hill) is just north of the barrio of Nort Saliña. Daytime visitors are treated to a view of Kralendijk, Klein Bonaire and the major resort area. This is one of the best spots for photographers from where, Klein Bonaire, Kralendijk, Lac Bay, the salt company, and more can be seen.
The Donkey Sanctuary is a non-profit foundation, founded in order to improve the living conditions of the donkeys on Bonaire. The Donkey Sanctuary is a nice park for the whole family to enjoy. On arrival at the park, you will be greeted by the wonderful animals who toiled alongside the slaves in the misery of the salt pans. The Donkey Sanctuary takes care of donkeys that are old, orphaned or injured (usually by cars). If you stop by, you can feed and pet the donkeys, and your donation will help care for them. In the old days, donkeys were used to haul the salt to the ships to be exported abroad. Today, donkeys wander the island freely, though food and water is scarce. The Donkey Help Foundation helps orphaned donkeys and donkeys needing medical attention, and strives to improve the lives of all donkeys on Bonaire. You can visit the Donkey Sanctuary Tuesdays thru Sundays from 10:00AM to 4:00PM..
Cargill Salt Company: Bonaire did have one precious commodity in great abundance--salt, which was a necessary ingredient for preserving meat and fish before refrigeration. Today, it has a market for use in water softeners, and of course, our Northerners know it is used to help make their lives easier navigating the slippery road conditions in winter.
Salt production has been a major industry on Bonaire for more than 350
years and Cargill, Inc. has been operating the salt production since 1997. These wonderful mountains of white salt crystals can be
seen on the southern part of the island. Bonaire affectionately refers to
them as the Bonairean Alps. Salt container ships line up at the pier,
loading their valuable cargo which is shipped all over the world.
So find a comfortable seat on a dune by the salt flats and watch the salt being loaded by conveyer belt onto a freighter. The salt is loaded at a rate of 2,000 tons per hour. Fallen salt crystals can be found and kept as a souvenir. On the inland side of the island, before you reach the salt hills, you will see several shallow bogs. These bogs range in color from green, to brownish, to near pink.
These are the salt pans where sea water is released from the sea. The water evaporates, leaving salt behind. The different colors represent the stages of evaporation with the pinkish one being the final stage. The four obelisks were erected near the Salt Lake to help ships find their way in to the dock to load up on the spice.
Cargill also maintains Pink Beach as a resource for all of Bonaire and its visitors to relax, dive and snorkel. Pink Beach is the longest beach on the island and so named because the crushed coral washed on shore by the waves was pulverized into the fine pink sand. It is very popular for swimming and sunning. Snorkeling and diving are possible here, however you need to swim out a fair distance from shore. This beach was featured on the cover of Caribbean Travel and Life magazine as one of the best in the Caribbean.
(Lac Bay is packed when the cruise ships come)
Lac Bay is a windsurfer's paradise, with steady winds and smooth, clear, and conveniently shallow waters. Although Lac Bay is located on the windward side of Bonaire, its encircling arms protect the waters within and create a range of conditions that are as ideal for beginners as for intrepid windsurfing virtuosi. Windsurf equipment and kayaks are available for rent here. Lessons for beginners and advanced windsurfers also can be arranged.
This is a popular spot among locals and visitors, especially on weekends when there is music and local food. At Lac-Cai the sea is shallow and calm, which makes it a great place for kids and adults alike. Lac-Cai also is a great place to kayak through the mangroves while observing the birds in that area
Bonaire's highly-regarded naturalist (clothing optional) resort turns away sightseers, but day trippers can get an all over tan for a US $15 day entry fee. Sorobon Beach also has some of the best protected windsurfing in the Caribbean.
This historical lighthouse marks the southernmost point of the island. The lighthouse keeper's residence, awaiting restoration, can be seen next to the impressive tower. Originally, all of Bonaire's beacons were tended manually. Today, they are automatic and fueled by solar power.
CLICK FOR DIVING & SNORKELING MAP HERE
Why is Bonaire a world-class favorite dive adventure destination?
(1) Over 60 dive sites around Bonaire and over 26 around Klein Bonaire with wrecks, reefs, walls, shore dives and a protected underwater park (since 1979).
(2) All dive sites are marked bymooring buoys. Some sites are retired for several years in order to remain healthy.
(3) The visibility often reaches 130 feet and averages 60--100 feet.
(4) Abundance of sea life of every size and color imaginable! Over 500 species of colorful tropical fish. Over 120 types of coral. All flourishing within a protected marine environment.
In the early 1960s, Bonaire enacted legislation to protect its parks and other natural resources. Today the island protects sea turtle eggs and nests, and it bans spear fishing. It is also illegal to break coral, sell it, or take it for any reason from the sea. In 1980, Bonaire established the Bonaire Marine Park to further protect its fish and coral reefs. The attention to preservation allows Bonaire to reign as one of the most serene, intact nature retreats in the Caribbean.NOTE: Before you pay your $10 annual Park Fee, you will go through about a half-hour presentation/orientation about the Park and dive sites, as well as the park Rules. It's a very informative presentation and well worth the time to absorb as much as possible. One of the best pieces of information you'll come away with is a comprehensive map of the island and the dive sites. There are so many sites, that when you plan your day of shore diving, it is best to ask more about each site. With a rental car and buddy the majority of the sites are easily accessible from shore. Save your boat trips for Klein Bonaire and sites not easily accessible from shore--roughly six sites are boat only. Clear, warm water, and the abundance of a great variety of sea life surrounds Bonaire. Much can be experienced by shore diving. A spectacular, dynamic, marine drama constantly unfolding—shape, motion, color and texture.
TIPS WHEN YOU VISIT BONAIRE: