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Travel guide Bonaire: A hidden gem in the Caribbean

Travel guide Bonaire: A hidden gem in the Caribbean

About Bonaire

I’ve been wanting to visit Bonaire for years. It is one of the ABC-islands in the Caribbean, the next door neighbor of Aruba and Curacao. This past month we finally got the chance to discover Bonaire for five days and can confirm that it’s true what I’ve always heard about the island, the underwater life there is breathtaking. We also found Bonaire to be very peaceful with no big crowds, no high rise hotels and not that much traffic.

Something that surprised me was the effort Bonaire puts into sustainability and conserving their island’s nature and wildlife. I’ve done some research before our trip, but it was amazing to see how focused the island is on conservation. Some of Bonaire’s efforts are collaborating with the Coral Restoration Foundation to conserve its reef with coral nursery’s and restoration projects. There is also the Sea Turtle conservation Bonaire that preserves the sea turtles. STINAPA is a National Park Management group that protects nature in Bonaire National Marine and Washington Slagbaai Parks. The island puts a lot of attention on protecting their wild flamingos as well as giving them a safe area to live. This is one of the reasons why they have such a high number of flamingos, they even have a no fly zone for planes based on where the flamingos live.

Important before your trip to Bonaire: The sea around Bonaire and Klein Bonaire is part of the Bonaire National Marine Park and is protected by STINAPA. If you’re coming to Bonaire and are planning to visit the Washington Slagbaai park or any beaches in Bonaire you need to pay the nature tag fee which is a fee that is used to preserve the parks, click here for more info.

Getting to Bonaire

Bonaire has only one airport called Flamingo International Airport (absolutely love the name!!). When coming from Europe there are direct flights from Amsterdam with KLM or TUI. For visitors from North America the airlines American Airlines and Delta Airlines have a direct flights.

Traveling between the ABC-islands is definitely ideal. There are direct flights from Curacao to Bonaire and flying from Aruba to Bonaire has a short layover in Curacao. We flew with Divi Divi Air which was the smallest airplane I’ve ever been in. On our flight back there were only 2 other people in the plane!

For more information on flights coming from different areas, check out the Bonaire Tourism website: https://www.tourismbonaire.com/getting-here

Best time to visit Bonaire + COVID

Bonaire is sunny all year long with an average temperature of 82°F (27.8 °C). I normally travel to destinations in low season to avoid the crowds, but Bonaire does not get very crowded unlike Aruba that has peak and low seasons, therefore anytime in the year would be a great time to visit Bonaire.

The COVID regulations are constantly changing depending on where you are flying from. We flew from Aruba and had to do a PCR test + fill in a form when entering. For more information you can check: https://www.bonairecrisis.com/en/

How to get around on the island

I often get the question about public transportation in the ABC-islands, in Bonaire the bus does not have an official schedule and does not drive everywhere. If you plan on exploring most of the island on your own I definitely recommend renting a car as this is the easiest and fastest way to get around. We wanted to explore the entire Island and some of the spots take over an hour to reach, especially to the Washington-Slagbaai National Park.

We rented our car at AB Car Rental. Everything went super smooth and their cars are also able to safely transport diving tanks. We were super happy with our Pick Up Truck with air conditioning as Bonaire can get quite warm.

Where to stay

Kralendijk is the main center and capital of Bonaire, I recommend staying close to this area for all the best restaurants, beaches and night life. We stayed at Bonaire Beach Villas which was only 5 minutes from the airport and had the most beautiful beach views. The area where we stayed in was quiet and our villa was an one minute walk from the beach club called Ocean Oasis Bonaire.

We stayed in villa 2, which can fit up to 12 guest with 6 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms. This villa is perfect for when you’re staying in Bonaire with a large group and there are two other villas right next door if you have a larger group. The villa had a fully functioning kitchen, huge living room space, infinity pool, and Jacuzzi. My favorite part was that all the different bedrooms were stunningly unique and that the villa is situated right at the beach. For the environment, the villas use solar panels and rely on the breeze in Bonaire.

Must visits

Washington-Slagbaai National Park

The Washington Slagbaai National Park is a nature sanctuary situated at the Northwest part of Bonaire. The park is a protected area for diverse species such as flamingos, parrots, iguanas, parrots and many more. The beaches in the park are also essential sea turtle nesting grounds for four different species of sea turtles. We spend half a day exploring the park with tour guide Rolando from Bonaire Tourism. There are two roads, the short road is a short cut where you skip most of the coast and want to visit Wayaka 2 and Boca Slagbaai. When taking the longer road you see more of the park and coast such as Boca Kokolishi and Playa Chikitu. We went for the long road and saw many different animals including iguanas, the warawara bird and a big group of flamingos.

My favorite stops in the park were the entrée were you can enter and read about the timeline of Bonaire’s history, Boka Kokoloshi which has stunning blue waters, Wayaka 2 which a small beach and a great spot for snorkeling and Boca Slagbaai that has incredible views as well as a huge group of flamingos. Plan enough time when visiting the park as there is a lot to see and don’t forget to pay + bring your STINAPA nature tag fee to be able to enter the park. The nature fee helps conserve Bonaire’s parks, for more info click here.

Catamaran Sail

Bonaire is known for its spectacular underwater life so when visiting Bonaire going diving or snorkeling is a must! We choose to do a catamaran sail where we get to visit some beautiful snorkeling spots while relaxing on the boat with food included. We took the Catamaran sail from Epic Tours called Chill & Grill which is 5 hours long and includes a 4-course dinner.

The crew on board was super lovely, always came to check if we needed anything we didn’t even need to get up and could just lay and watch the view while we sailed. One of the crew members is a professional guide who led us into the water to explore the coral reefs and diverse underwater life. I’ve never seen so many different fish and live coral at one snorkeling spot even though I’ve lived in Aruba my whole life.

We enjoyed every minute of the sail, the food was delicious and we loved that the groups on board are kept small which gives you a super spacious feeling. Epic Tours also has other catamaran sailing tours and does private tours too if you wish to visit other spots. I recommend booking in advance and don’t forget your reef safe sunblock and towel.

1000 steps

Don’t let the name scare you, this location actually has only 67 steps and they lead to crystal clear water. This spot is great for snorkeling as it contains beautiful coral and is also known to have sea turtles. You can dive here or simply bring your snorkeling gear and spend the day at the beach. * Make sure not to stand on any of the coral or chase or touch the sea turtles.

Just a minute away (with the car) from 1000 steps is this breathtaking viewpoint next to the road. In the background of the viewpoint you can spot the beach of 1000 steps, make sure to not miss this viewpoint.

Kralendijk

Kralendijk which means coral reef is the capital of Bonaire and is full of lively shops and restaurants. We enjoyed walking around in the day and also at night, grabbing a bite or hopping on the water taxi in this area. This is also the main port of the island and where the cruise ships normally dock. Make sure you don’t miss scrolling around colorful Kralendijk, you can even have dinner on the water.

Underwater cave tour

Bonaire has many caves since the island mainly consists out of fossil coral reefs. After reading about the wet caves in Bonaire where you can snorkel in crystal clear water we took a tour with Hans from Outdoor Bonaire. Preserving the caves on the island are highly important to the ecosystem and therefore visitors are only allowed to enter the caves with a tour guide certified by CARIBBS and not on their own. Outdoor Bonaire is a certified CARIBBS cave guide.

Hans took his time to explain the rules as well as the history of the caves in Bonaire. We visited the wet cave first where we climbed to the bottom of the cave and entered the crystal clear water with our flashlights. It was such an unique experience and beautiful sight, there were even little cave scrimps walking over me and we spotted a rare cave fish. We carefully went further into the cave and Hans even free dived to show us how deep the caves were from below. Afterwards we visited the dry cave where there was a maternity area for the bats.

Bring good footwear and clothes for this tour as you’re going to be doing some climbing and walking. Also bring your swimwear, towel and most importantly you’re not allowed to wear any sunscreen or oils when entering the cave in order to preserve the caves, so make sure you don’t apply any before your cave tour.

Klein Bonaire

Klein Bonaire is a small uninhabited island only a short boat ride away from Bonaire. The name means small Bonaire and the island is a nesting area for sea turtles and home to many different species of animals. Klein Bonaire is a beautiful spot to spend a day or few hours on and its perfect for snorkeling or diving. The government wants to preserve the island and keep it as uninhabited as possible.

You can take the daily Epic Water Taxi at 10.15-10.30 am or 1.15-1.30pm that drops you off at No Name Beach, a white sand beach with different shades of blue water. There are two huts for shade and this is where we spent most of our morning. We brought our snorkeling gear to explore the water in front of the beach and saw many sorts of fish as well as gorgeous coral. You can also jump from the water taxi which drops you off behind the riff that is around Bonaire, they let you put your items on the beach first before dropping you off at the riff, this is included in the ticket price just mention this to the crew of Epic Water Taxi. Don’t forget your water, reef safe sunblock and towels! For more information on the pick up location and return time check out the Epic Water Taxi website here.

Seru Largu

On our way back from The Washington Slagbaai National park to Kralendijk we made sure to stop at this stunning lookout point called Seru Largu which means large hill. Seru Largu is the third highest hill on Bonaire with a height of 123m and is reachable with the car. From up here you can see Klein Bonaire and Kralendijk and there is also a beautiful monument as you can see in the picture. Seru Largu is also a popular spot during New Year’s when the Locals come on the hill to enjoy the view with fireworks.  

Salt Pans

At the South end of Bonaire you can find huge mounds of crystals that are part of Bonaire’s booming salt production. From above, in the plane you can see the different colors of pink and from below you can get views like these right next to the road. Just make sure not to walk or stand in the pink water in front of the salt flats as this is not allowed. Our pictures are taken zoomed in from across the road where these salt flats are located.

Swimming with horses

I absolutely love horses and when we planned to go to Bonaire I discovered that they swim with horses, something I’ve always wanted to do! I always make sure to do some research to check if the horses on tours get treated well and are happy as I don’t often do horse tours. I choose the ride & swim tour at the Horse Ranch Bonaire as their horses are their passion and they focus on safety, the health of the horses and are family owned with many years of experience.

I was welcomed at the ranch by the owner who introduced me to my horse named Topaz. During our ride we saw wild donkeys, flamingos and beautiful mangroves. We arrived at Luc Bay which has beautiful blue waters that are partly shallow which turn into deeper water. Our guide explained how I should lay on the horse when he starts to swim and that when he makes a funny engine sound it means he is ready to swim. He swam a lot faster than I imagined, but I held on and it was amazing! The other horses got to rest in the shade while Topaz was swimming.

I definitely recommend exploring Bonaire by horse, the tour at Horse Ranch Bonaire does not require experience and it’s a great way to see the wildlife. The swimming tour takes 3 hours total including swimming so don’t forget to put on enough reef safe sunblock and bring drinking water for the ride. Make sure to check their website for the age and weight limit of the tours.

Harbour Village Bonaire

Harbour Village Bonaire is a luxury resort with beachfront suites and villas as well as a PADI five-star dive center and has the only private beach in Bonaire. We spend the morning at Harbour Village Bonaire with a day pass which includes towels, use of lounge chairs and a snorkeling set for the day. Our day started with a delicious and fresh breakfast made by at their executive Chef Britt Thomassen at La Balandra Restaurant & Bar which is designed as an antique Spanish ship and has the best views on their beach. While we were enjoying our breakfast we could see fishes swim next to the restaurant, as the resort has beautiful coral which you can discover while snorkeling.

What I absolutely love about Harbour Village Bonaire is that they have a non-profit organization called the Harbour Village Reef Foundation that aims to protect the marine ecosystems with use of education and research. They even have a coral nursery where you can adopt your own coral or watch live from their website. To enjoy Harbour Village Bonaire you can either make reservations for their restaurant, buy a day pass or stay at their villas and suites.

Have you heard of the Caribbean island Bonaire before reading this post? If you haven’t yet, is it now on your list? Big thanks to Bonaire Tourism & Diamond Public Relations for helping us plan the best time in Bonaire!

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