Bon Bini (welcome) to Bonaire, a small Caribbean island paradise nestled off the northern coast of Venezuela. It is a world renowned diving and snorkeling destination with incredible reef conservation and environmental precautions. Above water, Bonaire is all beach town vibes and smiles. It is one of those places where ‘everyone knows everyone’ and you feel really good about it. There is only one stop light, no large resort chains, and half the island is a conservation National Park. Talk about an ideal place to get away from it all for a while.
As of 2010, Bonaire is considered part ‘B’ of the BES islands and the Caribbean Netherlands along with Sint Eustatius and Saba. It is also part of the ABC islands, but doesn’t get as much attention as its counterpart islands, Aruba and Curacao. Dutch influence is seen all over the Caribbean in spoken language, at the dive shops, and in the white-blonde hair that is absolutely everywhere! The local people are warm and friendly and speak a beautiful Creole language called Papiamentu which is a blend of Spanish, Dutch, English and Portuguese.
This small, still fairly undiscovered island is one of a kind. Whether you desire to spend more time above or below the blanket of turquoise waters is up to you, but one thing is certain – Bonaire will keep you coming back for more. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel at ease, and the second I got there I already knew I wanted to stay much longer than I had planned.
But, if the crystal blue waters, world class diving, and small island vibes haven’t convinced you yet, here are nine reasons to pack your bags for Bonaire right this second!
1. The diving is as good as it gets
With over 85 marked dive sites and 16 registered dive shops, Bonaire is the ideal place to grab a buddy, a pickup truck, and explore the exquisitely conserved reefs in any means possible. If you’re not certified, you can do intro to diving, try a fun dive, or even get your Open Water certification. I had a wonderful diving experience with Wanna Dive, a Dutch-owned, incredibly laid-back, family-style dive shop. Some other options are BuddyDive and Divi Dive. This was my first experience on an island so revolved around diving, and I was blown away with the ‘drive up and dive’ shops or ‘drive through air tanks available’ signs.
2. You can have fresh catch of the day, everyday
And by fresh fish, I mean fresh to death – think juicy ceviche, deep red tuna, and melt in your mouth wahoo (a local white fish). The cuisine on Bonaire is surprisingly delectable and there are many options lining the streets of Kralendijk and beyond. How does waiting for your food next to a coral reef sound? The beachside food truck, Kite City has you covered and serves up fresh tuna burgers, tataki, sashimi, and even lionfish burgers!
Dinner is best done in Kralendijk. Head to Mona Lisa for a laid back, home cooked style fish dish, or grab a Cuban mojito and ceviche dish at Cuba Compagnie, a bustling outdoor restaurant right in the center of town.
3. You’ve never seen anything like the Bonaire Salt Flats
As you drive by, you will see the white, bubbling foam blowing over the flamingo-pink salt pools. You will see the imposing white mountains of salt pyramids come into view beside the pink and turquoise colored salt flats.
These are Bonaire’s salt flats. The flats were created hundreds of years ago and have remained the island’s sole export due to its arid and rugged landscape. The salt was first harvested by African slaves, and is now done by private industry. You can’t actually go into the field, but I snuck in because I had to take a picture – come on, how can you not!
4. You can get a history lesson at the Slave Huts
If you keep heading south past the Salt Flats on the one-way road you will encounter an entirely different scene completely; here you will find high winds, rough and rocky terrain, and the remnants of a dark history of slavery.
The white and orange slave huts were home to the African slaves who were forced to cultivate and harvest the expansive salt flats, one of Bonaire’s most important exports. The tiny huts with thatched roofs provided sleeping quarters for up to six people during the work week, and on Fridays, the slaves walked almost 7 hours to the town of Rincon to spend the weekend with their loved ones.
5. You can visit the ‘windsurf palace of the world’
Lac bay is a natural turquoise lagoon protected from the Caribbean Sea by a barrier reef and surrounded by mangroves. Windsurfer’s flock to this natural Palace for the blazing winds and ideal conditions. Be sure to head for Jibe City, a laid back windsurf center looking out over Lac Bay. This is the place for all your windsurfing (or watching needs). You can rent windsurf equipment, take lessons or just head straight to the bar to chill and enjoy the view.
Next door, you will find Sorobon resort and Wellness Center which is a little fancier, and caters to more to families. You can relax on their private beach, or get active and take a weekly TRX class, or for something really different try SUP Yoga through the mangroves!
6. Half the island is protected by the Slagbaai National Park
Be sure to have an island map before setting off towards the interior town of Rincon and the Slagbaai National Park. Once arriving at the entrance you will have to pay a pretty hefty fee ($25)/person, but the ticket is valid all year. Inside the park lies fences of prickly cactuses, blue-backed lizards scrambling along the rocky roads, cliff faces, five dive and snorkel sites, and salt flats filled with stick-skinny flamingoes.
7. The port-side town of Kralendijk is pretty charming
The colorful capital and port city of Kralendijk means ‘coral reef’ in Dutch. It is the perfect place to spend an afternoon browsing local shops, watching the weekend cruise ships dock, sipping a cocktail, or enjoying the endless fresh fish.
8. You have never seen water this blue
Enough said. The Caribbean is known for its impressive mirage and blankets of crystal blue waters, but Bonaire will really blew you away. Just driving and staring out at the water was enough to keep a smile plastered on my face for days.
9. You can find your very own beach (and treasure) …
Bonaire is filled with so many activities it seems impossible to get everything in, but it is also the ideal place to throw away the to-do list, grab a good book, a good friend, collect a few pink coral shells, and just relax looking out over the Caribbean.
So there you have it – nine reasons to back your bags for Bonaire. This tiny dutch island stole my heart, and I am already planning ways to make my way back to its wild terrain, turquoise waters, and laid back vibes. Bonaire is the perfect place to simply drift away into your own paradise – whatever that may mean for you…
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