On Bonaire, the daily routine goes like this: Wake up when you want, then dive when and where you want. Ringed by a sloping reef just a few kicks from shore, Bonaire's dive sites are marked by yellow stones on the coastal road along the leeward coast. All you have to do is find one, pull off the road and wade in. As great as the shore diving is, you're not limited to it. You can take a boat to many of the sites or to uninhabited Klein Bonaire (both islands fall under the protection of the Bonaire National Marine Park). Want more? Bonaire offers an array of outdoor adventures. Use this guide as a jumping-off point to five perfect days in Bonaire.
Day 1 : North of Kralendijk
Bonaire's rugged northernmost coast in Washington Slagbaai National Park offers pristine diving, but most divers prefer sites that are closer to Kralendijk. It's a scenic drive, with stunning vistas from rocky cliffs. The road is one way after 1,000 Steps, so you can pack a lunch, dive early in the morning and then explore Washington Slagbaai in the afternoon.
1,000 Steps • Park It: At the entrance for the radio towers, there's a small parking lot just across the street from the winding staircase (there are actually only about 64 steps) that leads down to the cove. Get In: The easiest entry is from a small sandy patch south of the small bay. Dive It: On the reef slope, you'll find small shoals of reef fish like parrotfish, doctorfish and gray angels, healthy purple tube sponges and numerous cleaning stations. Depths range from 15 feet to more than 130.
Karpata • Park It: Located just before the restricted reserve in the northwest corner of the island, Karpata's parking lot overlooks the site. Get In: There are fewer steps (about 50) carved into the cliff at Karpata than at 1,000 Steps. You'll wade in next to the concrete pier, and follow it until you can float out to the reef. Dive It: This site features wall-like formations--unusual for Bonaire--with rolling slopes and sand chutes that lead down to 120 feet. The reef is shingled at 60 feet with sheet coral, and squadrons of chromis are usually found here. Karpata has become very popular because turtles are commonly spotted.
Surface Interval: Washington Slagbaai
Washington Slagbaai National Park covers more than one-fifth of Bonaire's surface, and offers great views, hiking and biking trails, a beach populated by iguanas, excellent bird-watching and several dive sites. It takes at least 90 minutes to drive through the park (many of the roads are little more than rutted dirt tracks), so allow plenty of time if you want to explore it (maps are available at the visitor's center), including Mount Brandaris, at 723 feet the highest point on Bonaire, and Gotomeer, a landlocked saltwater lake where large numbers of flamingos gather. Because of the time needed to drive the park, you can't enter after 2:45 p.m. (www.washingtonparkbonaire.org)
Day 2 : North of Kralendijk
You'll experience Bonaire's wild northwestern coast when you dive these sites, but because they're located south of where the road turns one way, it's an easy ride back to Kralendijk--or you could drive farther north to Rincon, a sleepy village that is at the intersection of roads in and out of Washington Slagbaai.
Witches Hut/Weber's Joy • Park It: Park across the street from the stone path. Get In: An easy entry down a stone path that leads to the water's edge. Sometimes there's a strong surface current and challenging surf. Dive It: You'll find stony corals that look like oversized pillows and giant mushrooms in relatively shallow depths. Look for good-sized green morays hiding underneath coral ledges and cleaner shrimp on purple-tipped anemones. Depths range from 25 feet to 125.
Jeff Davis Memorial • Park It: Park across the street from the path. Get In: A short walk down a hiking path to a rocky beach. You can either leave your gear on the ledge, hop down, and then gear up and swim out or make your entry at the sandy patch to the right. Like Witches Hut, there can be a fairly stiff surface current running. Dive It: The shallows feature hordes of chromis. You can follow some sand chutes to the bottom at 125 feet, but the best stuff, including barracudas, is in the 45- to 75-foot range.
Surface Interval: Rincon
Rincon is a place where herds of goats wander from one corner to another across quiet streets, dogs sleep outside the small grocery store and small stands of people stand in the shade to chat. If you've already visited the national park, you passed through Rincon, but this quiet town is worth a longer stay. Stop in at the Rose Inn on Kaya Guyaba for something to eat and drink. Other highlights: The Lourdes Grotto and Catholic Church. Soldachi Tours offers walking tours on market days. (www.infobonaire.com/rincon/tour.html)
Day 3 : South of Kralendijk
The sites just south of Kralendijk include the island's biggest wreck and, in some areas, an interesting double reef system. Many of the dive sites here are popular because they are so close together--if one is already being dived by more than one group, you can drive just a bit farther and find one not as crowded.
Angel City • Park It: The yellow rock at this site is at the turn-off for parking. Get In: An easy shore entry, but it's a slightly long swim out to the drop-off. Dive It: One of the best examples of the double reef system, Angel City is between Alice in Wonderland and the Hilma Hooker. Head down the reef to where the sand appears in about 60 feet of water; swim across to the outer reef, which falls away into the blue. The site gets its name from the ubiquitous angelfish found here, but there's plenty more to see.
Hilma Hooker • Park It: The parking lot is adjacent to the beach. Get In: Go early in the morning to avoid the crowds at this very popular site. Dive It: The 235-foot Hilma Hooker is Bonaire's biggest wreck, a steel-hulled freighter resting on its starboard side. There are three buoys on the wreck--one is on the reef at 20 feet, one on the bow at 80 feet, and the third on the stern at 65 feet. As long as the water is calm, snorkel out to one of them and then drop down on the wreck. The purple tube sponges on the bridge are prolific; look for sergeant majors guarding their eggs here.
Surface Interval: Kralendijk
Take a stroll around Bonaire's quaint capital, Kralendijk, which features colonial Dutch Caribbean architecture and historical buildings around Wilhelmina Park, particularly the Customs House and the Old Fort close to the Town Pier. Looking for nightlife? Dance, talk and enjoy a cold Amstel at Karel's Beach Bar (www.karelsbeachbar.com) or City Cafe (www.citybonaire.com/index.htm), both located in the center of Kralendijk. Check out Bonaire's outdoor market by the old pier in Kralendijk, where fruits and vegetables are sold by Venezuelans. Visit the island's museum, Museo Boneriano, which is housed in a beautiful building more than 100 years old. Enjoy yummy homemade ice cream at Colombo's at Harbourside Mall or at Lover's Ice Cream at Sand Dollar Resort. Need more? Visit www.infobonaire.com/otheractivities.html.
Day 4 : South of Kralendijk
Diving the southernmost sites on Bonaire's west coast can be a little challenging because of the current, especially near the island's tip. The Red and White Slave Huts, a somber reminder of the island's salt trade, mark the entry point to the dive sites there.
White Slave • Park It: The parking is south of the white cement huts. Get In: The beach is coral rubble, so watch your footing. The swim to the drop-off is a bit long; make sure you have enough air for the way back in case you encounter current. Dive It: The drop-off starts in about 30 feet of water, and then slopes down to 125. Coral and sponges thrive on the slope, including huge purple tube sponges. Butterflyfish, triggers and angels flit about the reef in about 50 feet of water.
Red Slave • Park It: Turn at the yellow BNMP rock and park near the huts. Get In: The bottom is rocky at the entry point, so you'll want to get underwater fairly quickly. The current can be very strong. Dive It: A sandy plain swarms with razorfish and sennets; at the drop-off at about 40 feet, currents have shaped barrel sponges into flat discs. Large schools of fish, including French grunts and yellow goatfish, are found between 50 and 85 feet. Keep an eye out for turtles.
Surface Interval: Salt Ponds & Willemstoren Lighthouse
If your operator plans your Klein Bonaire trip as a full-day affair, you'll picnic on Playa Neme, a nice sandy beach with easy snorkeling available in the shallows. But if you head back to the mainland, think about spending the rest of the afternoon on the island's southern end. There, you can view the salt ponds and the Pekelmeer flamingo sanctuary. Just a bit farther, past the Red Slave Huts, Willemstoren Lighthouse marks the southernmost tip of the island and the point where Bonaire's windward and leeward coasts meet.
Day 5 : Klein Bonaire
You'll need to board a boat to dive Klein Bonaire, a small, uninhabited island located three-quarters of a mile off Bonaire's west coast, but the trip pays off as these pristine sites are legendary. Most of the island is a protected reserve and sea turtle hatchery, though beach lovers can spend some time on Playa Neme off the northwest coast.
Ebo's Special • Get In: Boat dive, northwest coast. Skill Level: Novice to advanced. Dive It: There's practically no shallow terrace on the northwest corner of Klein, just a continual downward slope. At about 60 feet, look for a small cave along the slope where you might find a sleeping nurse shark. If you've got a keen eye for fish behavior, you'll encounter cleaning stations where chromis and parrotfish hang out. Turtles are frequently sighted; most nesting activity takes place between June and September. This site, which is also known as Jerry's Jam, starts in water as shallow as 20 feet and drops down to 120.
Sharon's Serenity • Get In: Boat dive, southwest coast. Skill Level: Novice to advanced. Dive It: Beginners can find lots to explore on the calm, shallow shelf that is loaded with marine life, including reef tropicals like angelfish and sergeant majors. But more advanced divers will be seduced deeper: the reef drops off, with massive domes of mountainous star corals giving way to terraces of plate and star corals. There's a great variety of fish life here, including aggregations of bogas, yellow goatfish and midnight parrotfish. Depths range from 30 feet to more than 130, so keep an eye on your computer.
Surface Interval: Landsailing or Mountain Biking
Prefer high-energy surface intervals to laid-back ones? Blokart landsailing (a Blokart is a highly maneuverable, lightweight landsailing vehicle--think go-cart with a sail) is offered by Landsailing Bonaire on the east coast of the island, off the main road to Rincon (www.landsailingbonaire.com). Mountain biking has become a popular way to explore Bonaire, and bikes that are specially outfitted for off-road exploring are available for rental (www.infobonaire.com/cycling.html). Interested in cave exploration? Your resort can hook you up with a guide who lead you through both dry and wet caves. Lac Bay also offers a variety of watersports, including kiteboarding and windsurfing (see "Lac Bay Excursions").
House Reefs of Bonaire
Some of the best dives on Bonaire require neither a boat nor a car--they are found right off the dock of your waterfront dive resort.
Plaza Resort/ 18th Palm: Walk in off the small sand beach, swim to the buoy, then drop down to find small terraces of scattered coral heads, tube sponges, elephant ear sponge and gardens of anemones.
Sand Dollar Condominiums/Bari Reef: According to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), Bari offers the most diverse collection of fish species in the entire Caribbean, 361 in all.
Capt. Don's Habitat/La Machaca: Named after the small fishing boat that rests in 40 feet of water, this is a nice, easy photography site, perfect for capturing cleaner shrimp, anemones and lettuce sea slugs.
Buddy Dive Resort/Buddy's Reef: The reef slope starts in about 30 feet of water and drops off to a sand bottom at 100. This is a great place to find cleaning stations.
Divi Flamingo/Calabas Reef: Only 20 feet from the dock, this reef offers depths from 20 to 100 feet. There's a small boat at about 70 feet that attracts cleaner shrimp and nudibranchs.
Harbour Village/Our Confidence: Marked by a buoy just off the resort's sand beach, the Our Confidence is a postcard-perfect wreck sitting at a 45-degree list to starboard on a rock and sand bottom.
While divers flock to the calm, western side of the island, windsurfers, kayakers and kiteboarders head east to Lac Bay--eight square kilometers of a lagoon protected by the island's park system. Breezes are steady year-round, strong enough for windsurfing (www.bonairewindsurfing.com).
The Mangrove Info and Kayak Center in Kaminda Lac, on the dirt road to Cai on Lac Bay, offers kayak tours in the mangrove forest. Trips last either one or two hours, and require moderate strength (www.mangrovecenter.com). Kiteboarding is offered by Kiteboarding Bonaire (www.kiteboardingbonaire.com) at several locations, including the southwest part of the island, but beginners learn on Lac Bay.
On Sunday afternoons, Lac Bay is the place for local food, music and dancing, cold, cheap beer and conversation with local Bonaireans.
Bonaire Advertiser Directory
Bonaire Advertiser Directory
Temperatures hover between 75 and 85 degrees, depending on the season. Onshore trade winds keep humidity at bay.
Water temps average 80 degrees in summer and mid-70s in winter.
60 to 100 feet or greater, depending on currents and plankton.
A valid passport is required. Continental offers Saturday-only nonstop flights from Newark (EWR) to Bonaire (BON). There is one-stop service (via San Juan, Montego Bay, Aruba or Curaçao) from many U.S. gateways. Before your first dive, you will be required to make an orientation dive and purchase a $25 marine park dive tag. Departure tax is $20.
www.scubadiving.com/travel/caribbeanatlantic/bonaire, Bonaire Tourism Corporation, www.infobonaire.com, and Bonaire Marine Park, www.bmp.org.