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Bonaire, Leeward Antilles

Bonaire, Leeward Antilles

Bonaire is a world-class snorkeling and diving destination renowned for its thrilling shore diving sites and open water attractions. Explore the island and its pristine waters to encounter diverse marine life, fascinating shipwrecks, and a unique culture.

Geography of Bonaire

Stretching 24 miles (39 km) long and covering a total area of 112 square miles (290 sq km), Bonaire is the second largest parcel of land in the Leeward Antilles chain of islands. It is situated 50 miles (80 km) north of Venezuela and 30 miles (48 km) east of Curaçao. More specifically, this quaint paradise lies 86 miles (129 km) east of Aruba, making it one of three islands comprising what is known as the ABC islands.

Bonaire is located just outside the Caribbean hurricane belt, keeping its terrain largely untouched by violent storms. According to geologists, the island was formed fairly recently from a coral reef that was naturally brought up to the surface and perished. This process is also believed to have caused the natural fringing of Bonaire’s reef system. Blessed with pristine waters and an astonishing array of marine life, the mainland, as well as its daughter island Klein Bonaire, are ringed with surreal dive sites that will have any underwater explorer coming back for more.

Attractions of Bonaire

Known for its pioneering and successful efforts in nature preservation, Bonaire has managed to balance development with conservation. Its capital, Kralendijk, lies at the heart of the island and is a hub for cultural immersion. In addition to being famous for its many animal sanctuaries, Bonaire dive sites are among the best diving destinations in the Carribbean.

North of Kralendijk

The north of Kralendijk is home to many accessible diving sites. You can also find museums, cultural parks, and various animal sanctuaries on this side of Bonaire.

Bari Reef

Bari Reef has the most diverse reef ecosystem in the Caribbean, housing over 400 species of marine life. The sheer number of flora and fauna present in the area is reason enough to brave the 130-foot (almost 40-meter) dive where you’ll encounter different sponges, corals, lobsters, flounders, barracudas, and more. With good visibility, moderate currents, and easy access to the gentle slope, Bari Reef is great for divers of all levels.

Rappel

Inaccessible via shore entry, the Rappel dive site got its name from the old practice of scaling down a steep 65-foot (19.8-meter) wall to explore its waters. Vertical limestones and lava rocks can be found in the magnificent cliff which descends 35 feet (10.6 meters) underwater before hitting a sizable ledge. At the end of the flat surface, the reef continues to drop about 100 feet (30 meters) into the sea. Both shallow and deep sections of the Rappel are covered with colorful corals of different species. Thanks to the absence of a sandy seabed, visibility is always exquisite, allowing divers to appreciate the sight of seahorses, manta rays, filefishes, and other macro life.

One Thousand Steps

If there’s a Bonaire diving destination worth taking a thousand steps for, this particular dive site is definitely it. In reality, you’d only have to survive 64 steps on a limestone staircase to get to its glistening shoreline, but it might actually feel like a thousand on your way back up. Nonetheless, One Thousand Steps does not disappoint with its clear turquoise waters and unbelievable reef. A rainbow of corals serve as home to a variety of fish, including parrotfish, squirrelfish, and schools of blue tangs, enticing underwater photographers to take the plunge.

The reef is also the permanent residence of a handful of hawksbill turtles and moray eels, as well as an occasional route for passing whale sharks. Its depth ranges from 20 to 100 feet (six to 30 meters), making it perfect for snorkelers, novice divers, and experienced adventurers.

Karpata

Karpata earned its right to fame through its outstanding visibility and picturesque panoramic views. Because the site is in the way of mild to moderate currents, the area is constantly showered with nutrients that contribute to the impressive growth of a variety of soft and hard corals and sponges. Divers who venture 20 to 100 feet (six to 30 meters) below sea level are rewarded with encounters with various sea creatures like Spanish hogfish, French angelfish, and blue tang. But what really sets Karpata apart from its neighboring dive sites is the unique spectacle of ship anchors embedded in corals.

South of Kralendijk

Aside from its magnificent dive sites, the south of Kralendijk boasts numerous beaches and is the perfect spot for kiteboarding.

Hilma Hooker

Once used for smuggling drugs, the Hilma Hooker now lies at the bottom of the sea. The 236-foot (71.9-meter) Dutch freighter sunk off the southeastern coast of Bonaire after months of detention due to suspected illegal activities. It rolled over to its starboard side and disappeared from the surface to form a majestic reef 60 to 100 feet (18 to 30 meters) below sea level, and is now home to corals, tarpons, barracudas, and more. Visibility usually exceeds 100 feet, allowing explorers to admire the vessel in its full glory from all angles. SCUBA divers of all levels can enjoy navigating around its deck space, but penetration should be left to those with advanced skills and wreck experience.

Salt Pier

Salt Pier takes you to depths ranging from 20 to 55 feet (six to 16.7 meters), where a maze of sponge-covered pillars await novice and advanced divers. Unlike most Bonaire scuba diving destinations, the focus is on encrusted manmade structures rather than a coral reef. Experiencing the beauty of Salt Pier requires a bit of luck, as exploring its waters is allowed only when there are no ships docked on the site. Those who are fortunate enough to time their visit well are given the opportunity to admire its colorful posts up-close and encounter queen angelfish, barracudas, schooling grunt, and green sea turtles.

Willemstoren Lighthouse

Due to its exposed location on the southernmost tip of the island, the Willemstoren Lighthouse is a challenging dive suitable only for experienced SCUBA divers when conditions are calm. Limited access and strong currents present explorers with rough entry. Huge sea fans, gorgonians, and elkhorn corals are among the first few lifeforms to greet you on this 30 to 125-foot (nine to 38-meter) descent, with the addition of eagle rays, green morays, and triggerfish circling the perimeter.

Klein Bonaire

Klein Bonaire, or “Little Bonaire”, is a small uninhabited island about a mile away from the mainland. Expect to uncover marine marvels and sunken treasures in this little slice of heaven.

The Forest

An astonishing volume of fern-like black corals gives The Forest its name. Each layer of this 15 to 130-foot (4.5 to 39.6-meter) dive site is a spectacle that could stand on its own, starting with a display of assorted sponges and polyps like purple stovepipes, elephant ear sponges, gorgonian fans, and plumes. As you near its sandy bottom, more species of corals are introduced, and the number of black corals increases.

At 30 feet (nine meters), a stream of sea turtles can be seen on the perpendicular wall, while an underwater cave can be spotted once you hit 75 feet (22.8 meters) below sea level. Aside from its marvelous views, what makes The Forest truly exciting is the chance to experience an interactive dive. Its resident French angelfish are accustomed to being fed and willingly approach divers expecting a treat.

White Hole

White Hole is the most famous dive site in Bonaire’s “wild side”. This underwater amphitheater lies 15 to 100 feet (4.5 to 30 meters) below sea level and features a football-sized sandy pit completely surrounded by towering hard corals and sponges. In fact, some of its purple stovepipes are taller than the average person! The breathtaking reef wall also doesn’t fall short on offering graceful sights, as strong currents make sea fans sway gently in the direction of the surge. You’d need advanced skills and a guide to navigate through this part of the wild side where you’ll likely encounter tarpon, nurse sharks, and green sea turtles.

Marine Life

  • Blue Tangs - Blue tangs are social fish that are usually seen in pairs or among a group of different species. When threatened, they play dead by lying motionless on their side until their predator passes.
  • Butterfly Fishes - These sea creatures are a marvel to look at because of their vibrant colors and elaborate markings. Be careful, though, as they move fast so it’s best not to startle them.
  • French Angelfishes - French angelfishes in Bonaire have grown used to interacting with divers. You can spot them easily because of their distinct black ovoid body covered with yellow rims.
  • Eagle Rays - These sea creatures cruise gracefully from one point to the next using their wing-like pectoral fins. Similar to how no two fingerprints are the same, the white spots found on the backs of each eagle ray is unique.
  • Triggerfishes - Triggerfishes are visually pleasing creatures that come in blue, yellow, black, white, and gray. They are very territorial and aggressive, so it’s better to steer clear of them.

Other Attractions

  • Mount Brandaris - This mountain is the highest point in all of Bonaire. Towering at 790 feet (240 meters), standing on top of this colossal natural structure will give you a view of the entire island.
  • Kaya Grandi - While Bonaire is sought-after for its fairytale dive sites, Kaya Grandi proves that the island also has something to offer when it comes to architecture. Filled with colorful colonial-style buildings, this shopping district definitely deserves a spot in your itinerary.
  • Washington Slagbaai National Park - The park is a mecca for birdwatchers as the 13,500-acre desert oasis houses 203 types of birds. Hikers and trekkers of all skill levels are sure to enjoy this destination as it offers unique trails, including one up a volcanic hill.
  • Butterfly Garden Bonaire - This tourist attraction offers a nice change of pace after plunging into the waters of the Caribbean. It houses countless butterfly species and has an open-air luncheonette that serves irresistible delicacies.

How to Get There

Travelling to Bonaire is fairly straightforward, especially if you’re coming from Europe, Latin America, North America, or the Caribbean.

By Air
Flamingo International Airport, also called Bonaire International Airport, receives local and international carriers. Multiple airlines in North America and Europe offer direct flights to the island, while connecting flights are required if you’re coming from Latin America, the Caribbean, or anywhere else in the world.

By Sea
There are no ferry services available to take you to Bonaire. Unless you have your own boat, the only way to get to the island is by air. Although Kralendijk is a popular stop among a variety of cruise lines, you probably won’t be given a lot of time to explore.

Gettig Around
There are a variety of rental services available in Bonaire. Depending on what mode of transportation you prefer, car, motorcycle, scooter, and bike rentals are readily at your disposal. Getting around via taxi is also an option. To get to Klein Bonaire from the mainland, you can catch a ride on a water taxi from the provider of your choice.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Bonaire is anytime between May and October, when the crowds are fewer and hotel prices are at bargain rates. Weather is sunny all year round, with an average temperature reading of 82°F (28°C). Diving is great no matter what time of the year you visit, but generally its south end is calmest from February to April.

Required Trainings & Certifications

In order to maximize your diving experience in Bonaire, you’d have to secure an Open Water Diver certification. You can get this before packing up for your big trip, or take it in one of the Bonaire dive centers. For beginners, short courses are also available.

Miscellaneous Information

Currency
Though it is a part of the Netherlands, the official currency of Bonaire is the US dollar, primarily to accommodate tourism and trade more efficiently.

Language
While the official language of the island is Dutch, English and Spanish are widely spoken by workers in Bonaire. Papiamentu, an indigenous Creole language, is also used by many locals.

Time Zone
Bonaire follows Atlantic Standard Time, meaning the island falls behind by four hours relative to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC - 04:00).

Driving Side
Bonaire follows international road signs and sticks to driving on the right side of the road. In rural areas, speed limits are capped off at 37 mph (60 kmph), while urban areas enforce a speed limit of 24 mph (40 kmph).

Calling Code
You can call Bonaire by dialing your country’s exit code, followed by ‘599’ and the local number.

ISO 3166 code
ISO 3166-2:BQ is the official entry for Bonaire.

Internet TLD
.bq is the designated Internet country code top-level domain for Bonaire, but is currently not in use.