Quaint, colorful Dutch architecture, friendly people and easy 24-hour diving all combine to make Bonaire one of those rare destinations that nitrogen junkies return to year after year. In the time that it takes you to say “Bon Bini” — the local term for “Welcome” — you'll fall in love with this island located just north of Venezuela.
Make just one dive underwater and you'll know why the island is a favorite among divers. The majority of Bonaire's pristine reefs, protected as a marine park for more than 30 years, are accessible from shore. The leeward side is the calmest, though the sites farther north or south of the capital city of Kralendijk are more challenging. Typically, Bonaire's small beaches continue under the water in sandy plains dotted with a few corals that slope down to 30 feet. The reef drops off gradually to another sandy plain at about 140 feet. Dive resorts make tanks available 24 hours a day for shore diving among the island's 60-plus dive sites. Get a rental truck, fill it with tanks and dive gear, and pick a site.
If you prefer, most sites can be accessed by boat, and dive operators also offer daily two-tank dives at Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited island off Kralendijk that boasts nearly two dozen dive sites of its own.
Some of the best dives on Bonaire require neither a boat nor a car — they're found right off the dock of some of the island's resorts. If you're a guest, you can suit up and wade in any time the mood strikes. La Machaca, the house reef at Capt. Don's Habitat, is named after the small fishing boat that rests in 40 feet of water. Divi Flamingo's Calabas Reef has a small boat to explore at about 70 feet. At Plaza Resort, drop down on 18th Palm to find small terraces of scattered coral heads, tube sponges and elephant ear sponges. Bari Reef, off Sand Dollar Resort, is a gently sloping terrace renowned for its prolific fish life. Buddy Dive Resort's house reef features a slope that starts in about 30 feet of water and drops off to a sand bottom at 100. Just off Harbour Resort's beach, the Our Confidence is a wooden-hulled freighter that's home to turtles and eels.
Weather: Bonaire is an arid, sunny island swept by constant trade winds. Daytime temps rarely rise above 85 in summer, or fall below 75 in winter.
Average Water Temp: Averages 80 in summer, but may drop to mid-70s in winter.
Average Visibility: Ranges from 50 to 100 feet.
Entry Documents: A passport is required, as well as a return or continuing ticket.