The island of Bonaire is known for diving and, even though we’ve been to the Caribbean upwards of 30 or 40 times, we don’t dive so we’d never been to Bonaire. But, this year, we wanted to check it out and see what the island had to offer.
Known as one of the top spots in the world for diving, Bonaire is a paradise for those seeking to explore the colorful kaleidoscope that lives below the sea. For years, we’ve wondered if the “B” in the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) was worth a visit for non-divers.
The answer – if you like a relaxed island with 22 quiet beaches, turquoise waters, fabulous resorts, and so many activities you can’t fit them all in during your visit – then, yes, Bonaire is a true resort vacation destination – above and below the water.
A Bonaire resort vacation
We believe that the perfect resort vacation should include a fabulous hotel, some beach time, a bit of island exploration, a few local activities, and, of course, some island flavors in the form of food and drinks. Here’s how we put our Bonaire resort vacation together.
Bonaire: Where to stay
Bonaire has a wide selection of hotel options, ranging from locations offering an intimate retreat to world-class resorts with full amenities. For our Bonaire resort vacation getaway, we stayed at the upper end of the luxury scale with a visit to the Harbour Village Beach Club.
Situated on a private beach of powder white sand, Harbour Village Beach Club is the definition of beach resort vacation with luxury rooms and suites, a great restaurant and bar overlooking the water, a spa, marina, an attentive staff, and a long, private beach.
Our stay at Harbor Village Resort was fabulous – learn more about Harbour Village Resort and check out the photos »
Bonaire: Things to do
While it was quite tempting to laze away under the blue skies and warm Caribbean sun, we also wanted to fully experience Bonaire while on the island, so we pulled ourselves out of our beach chairs and headed out for a few cool adventures.
There’s no shortage of things to do on Bonaire – hiking, biking, horseback riding, sailing, snorkeling, canoeing, and, of course, diving.
Swimming with horses at Rancho Washikemba
Neither of us had ever ridden a horse before (yeah, who would have figured), so we decided a first time horse riding experience on a Caribbean island was a good place to start.
What a fabulous morning with the folks at Rancho Washikemba! Experiencing Bonaire on horseback, including a swim through Lagoon Bay while on your horse, was simply amazing. Learn more about horseback riding and swimming with horses in Bonaire with Rancho Washikemba »
Watching the Bonaire sun set with Compass Bonaire
Always a fan of sailing, we next headed to Compass Bonaire for an afternoon sail and sunset dinner cruise.
Captain Wim and his crew entertain guests with an open bar, snorkeling, a delicious BBQ dinner and a beautiful Bonaire sunset. A sail with Compass Bonaire is not to be missed while visiting the island!
Exploring the island
After a leisurely breakfast, we set out on a drive to explore Bonaire.
To the north of the capital city of Kralendijk is a winding road along the coastline with numerous spots to park and take a short hike down to the water.
The clear waters provide ample opportunity to view a vast assortment of the colorful fish in the warm Caribbean.
At the northern end of the island is Washington Slagbaai National Park and Brandaris, the highest peak on Bonaire at 241m / 784 ft, which provides beautiful views of the island. With multiple trails for hiking and mountain biking, Washington Slagbaai National Park has a wide variety of terrain ranging from flat roads near the coast to steep, rugged hills. Not for the faint of heart or out-of-shape, the temperatures can get very hot in the exposed environment and require lots of water and sunscreen.
Thousands of donkeys roam freely on the island of Bonaire. Originally brought to the island by the Spaniards in the 17 century to perform labor, the donkeys must fare for themselves, which can be difficult with many facing starvation, dehydration and the threat of being hit by cars.
When driving in Bonaire, be sure and use caution as you may round a curve only to find a couple of donkeys standing in the road. If you stop and roll down the window, don’t be surprised if they stick their head in the car – many are very accustomed to people, others are much more shy and may run to hide.
Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire has rescued over 600 donkeys and a visit to the sanctuary, which is located south of the airport, is a great way to spend a few hours up close with the donkeys, along with iguanas and tortoises. The sanctuary is open daily and can be toured by car, scooter, bike or on foot.
In addition to donkeys, iguanas, goats, and other animals that call the island home can be seen scurrying across the road, so stay alert and keep your speed low when driving.
On east side of the island at Bara di Karta, several hiking and biking trails offer the chance to explore the rugged side of Bonaire. Like other trails on the island, the trails are very exposed and can take a toll in the hot sun, so early mornings with a good amount of water and sunscreen are a must.
Flamingos can be spotted around the island and, on the south side of the island, The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is one of only four areas in the world where flamingos breed.
Near the salt pans, the water appears pink from the many brine shrimp in the water. The brine shrimp are the flamingo’s meal of choice and are what give flamingos their pink color.
The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is home to thousand flamingos, but unfortunately most of them cannot be seen from the road and the sanctuary is not open to the public. However, a few wandering flamingos may make their way to viewing distance on occasion.
Further down the road from the salt pans, are several groups of small, structures – one set yellow, one white, pinkish/red. We couldn’t figure out what these little buildings were for – they are near the sea turtle breeding beaches, so we thought maybe they’d built them for that.
When we returned to the hotel that evening, we asked the bartender, and he had one of the staff that had lived on the island his entire life tell us the history. The structures were slave houses. Five or ten people would call this “home” while they worked at the salt pans. Once a week, they would be allowed to walk to home to Rincon, about 35 km away, to see their families. The slaves, the majority of them government “owned”, were freed on 30 September 1862.
Just a bit further down the road at the southern end of the island stands a beautiful lighthouse, Willemstoren, also known as Lacre Punt Light, which was built in 1837.
Visiting Klein Bonaire
Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited island just off the west side of Bonaire and home to many snorkeling and diving sites. Klein Bonaire is about 800 meters / 1/2 mile from Bonaire at its closest point and can be accessed via boat, water taxi, sailing tours or kayak. As part of the Bonaire National Marine Park, Klein Bonaire is protected and subject to the park’s fees, rules and usage regulations.
Bonaire: Know before you go
Languages: The official language is Dutch. English and Spanish are widely spoken on the island.
Climate: Bonaire’s average temperature is 83º F /30º C, with the trade winds keeping it quite comfortable. The average water temperature is 80° F. Located so close to the equator, the sun is very strong and sunscreen with a high SPF should be worn and reapplied frequently.
Currency: The U.S. dollar is Bonaire’s official currency.
Electricity: 127 volt, 50 cycle.
Rental cars and driving: Multiple car rental companies are located at the airport. Driving in Bonaire is on the right side of the road.