Adorned with crystal clear blue water and a laid back vibe, Bonaire in the Caribbean is one of the most famous islands for scuba diving and an absolute gem of an island to spend time on.
I had planned to spend a week here, which turned into two weeks as I came during the Coronavirus and flights to every corner of the world were affected. I ended up staying another week which was totally fine for me! In that time, I got to pretty much experience all of the restaurants the island has to offer and explored as much as possible! More on this later in the post!
Bonaire island, called simply Bonaire, is located in the Caribbean Sea about 50 miles north of the Venezuelan coast. It’s a close neighbor to Curacao and Aruba, 30 miles and 86 miles east of Aruba, respectively. The three are sometimes called the ABC islands because of their close proximity.
Bonaire’s capital city and main port is called Kralendijk, which comes from the Dutch for “coral reef.” Kralendijk is on the central-western coast of the island. Rincon, the island’s other major town, is located in the northern part of Bonaire. It’s just south of the Washington Slagbaai National Park, a nature sanctuary that covers the entire northern tip of Bonaire.
I visited Bonaire during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. I arrived on March 16, 2020 and I was actually on the last flight to the island for inbound flights. They closed all inbound flights from international destinations as well as from other islands!
During my entire stay here, there was no COVID-19 cases and it stayed that way. I think the island of 20,000 really wanted to do all they could to avoid getting the virus as it’s not equipped to deal with such a problem.
Our flights back to Europe were canceled numerous times and ultimately, we were rebooked on a flight 5 days after our initial departure. The last flight off the island before they closed the airport completely was March 28, 2020. After this date, we would be island residents until the foreseeable future. We were fully ready to stay until May, but after a conversation with KLM, they told us we should be prepared to stay until at least June. That would have meant over 10 weeks on the island! Ultimately, we didn’t feel like staying in paradise for 10+ weeks, even though there was no COVID cases. Probably will regret this decision in the future!
Getting to Bonaire
Bonaire is the smallest and least visited island of the Dutch Antilles with Curacao and Aruba welcoming many more tourists per year. Bonaire is also the least built up and it really does a good job maintaining its chilled out vibe that caters to serious scuba divers.
To get to Bonaire, you’ll have to fly from the below countries into Flamingo International Airport. Yes, the name of Bonaire’s airport is Flamingo airport!
- Various cities in the US including Miami, New York, Houston, Atlanta
From Europe, you can take daily flights to Bonaire from Amsterdam on KLM Airways as well as TUI.
From the US, the big three airlines (United, Delta, American) all make flights to Bonaire on a frequent basis.
Curacao to Bonaire
I had spent time in Curacao before visiting Bonaire so I took the inter island flight between the two countries.
From Curacao, there are numerous airlines that make the short 30 minute flight between the islands. EZ Air has the best airplanes from what I observed and was the one I ended up going with. There are numerous flights per day and the cost is about $75 USD for a one way flight.
Once you arrive in Bonaire, you’ll have to clear immigration regardless of where you come from as it’s not part of the Schengen. Even from Curacao, you need to show your passport.
Renting a car in Bonaire
There is no public transportation whatsoever in Bonaire. I didn’t see one bus the entire time I was here. It’s home to only 20,000 people so you can imagine there really isn’t much of a need for a bus system.
With that said, if you plan on doing any diving, or really anything at all, you’ll want to rent a car of some sort.
For diving, Bonaire is famous for its shore diving (more on that later), and the name of the game is to rent your own truck. With your own truck, you can load it up with your own tanks, equipment and drive to the dive sites at your own leisure.
There are numerous car rental agencies on the island including the big commercial ones like Budget, Avis, etc. as well as many locally run shops. For the most part, the cost of rentals were roughly the same regardless of where you rented from.
The cost of a 4×4 truck is about $80-$100 per day depending on whether you can drive manual or automatic. If you’re not keen to dive, you should just rent a regular car nonetheless and the cost of these were roughly $40-60 a day which includes all insurance.
Some of the locally run car rental shops will waive the excessive deposit that some of the bigger companies charge. AB Car Rental didn’t charge any deposits which was nice.
As I was stranded on Bonaire for an extra week, I decided to rent a car with a smaller shop by shopping around. I really enjoyed my experience with the guys at Voyager Car Rental who hooked up a car for the week at a very good price. I managed to bargain the price down a bit but didn’t want to get too aggressive as the coronavirus meant that they would see zero dollars for months.
Where to eat in Bonaire
There are no shortage of delicious food options in Bonaire to satisfy your post dive cravings. Bonaire is not a cheap island by any means so don’t expect prices you’d find in SE Asia or diving in Mexico.
At restaurants, expect to pay about $15-25 for a main and this isn’t even for a fancy restaurant. Food trucks are the way to go if you want to save money. They are abundant along the beach south of the airport. You can get delicious meals (primarily burgers and sandwiches) for $10-$15.
Mezze is a restaurant on the waterfront that serves delicious Mediterranean and Middle East inspired dishes. It doesn’t seem to have a specific country it is trying to emulate but just various dishes from all over the region. The hummus with meat was delicious, as well as the Turkish kebabs.
They are also the only place on the island where you can smoke shisha! I had to do it because it is one of my favorite things to do with diving, but at $18 per shisha, it is a farcry from the good stuff I had in Egypt.
It Rains Fishes
This is a must visit for some solid local dishes and an overall great vibe. I had a chicken curry here that was on point especially after I asked for some spicy chilies.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, they have live music night where the performer also operates the Cactus Blue food truck (more on that below).
Between Two Buns
This is an absolute staple on Bonaire. It is a sandwich and smoothie spot. Their sandwiches are absolutely delicious and there are so many different options. It’s not exactly cheap for sandwiches but the quality is great as you’d expect with the Dutch influence on the island.
Their fruit smoothies are also amazing. They’re open very early and makes for a perfect breakfast if you’re staying near. We ended up coming here at least 5x during our 2 week stay on the island.
This is a locally run BBQ spot that is only open on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays. They are famous for their ribs and other grilled meats. We got a bunch of their ribs and it was tasty. As of 2020, they are $6 for a serving of ribs which is perhaps the best deal on the island.
Cactus Blue Food Truck
As I mentioned earlier, the food truck scene in Bonaire is strong. The food trucks are all located on the southern part of the island nearby to the dive sites on the beach. They are perfect for a post dive meal. Literally I would surface from my dive, place my order, and unload my equipment.
Cactus Blue is one of the best trucks on the island and is famous for their lionfish burgers&wraps. They are the only place on the island that serves lionfish. Their burgers are also incredibly tasty. I’m pretty sure they grind the patties themselves and it is a delicious mix. We came here a few times before they closed due to the coronavirus!
Kite City Food Truck
Another food truck that was the source of many of our meals during the coronavirus! This is run by two super chilled Portuguese guys that are avid kiters as you’d expect from the name. It’s located on Te Amo beach so you can grab the food and enjoy it on the beach.
They also slang delicious burgers as well as lots of seafood offerings including tuna. I had their tuna served three ways and it was just what I needed after eating burgers upon burgers.
Stoked Food Truck
This was definitely one of the highlights of my stay on Bonaire. Some Dutch guys bought a double decker bus and converted it into a food truck. The bottom floor is a kitchen while the upper deck offers a seating area with just breathtaking views of Te Amo beach.
We ate here so many times for lunch because the food was delicious and how can you beat the view? We even came here for dinner after many restaurants closed because of Covid-19. This place literally saved us!
They have delicious sandwiches including the pulled rib and spicy mango bacon burger.
Diving in Bonaire
The island has 63 official dive sites, with an additional 26 sites on Klein Bonaire. Of those, 54 are shore-diving sites, which means they can be accessed from the beach instead of by boat. Divers who take the plunge will see some of the 57 species of coral and more than 350 species of fish that live off the coast of Bonaire.
Many hotels offer dive packages with their room rentals to make it easy for tourists to book excursions. Local guides lead private and group tours, which are recommended for all newcomers to the island. Shore sites accessible by land are marked by yellow stones, with yellow buoys marking site moorings.
Marine and Conservation fee
All the water around the big island and Klein Bonaire is protected as part of the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP). Any visitor who wants to participate in water activities must buy a nature tag, which helps pay for maintenance and conservation efforts. Tags can be purchased at dive shops, hotel front desks and at the Kralendijk Tourism Office. Fees vary, but as of 2019, these tags cost $10 to $25.
How diving works
Bonaire is the unofficial shore diving capital of the world. If you’re into DIY diving with no divemasters telling you what to do, then Bonaire is definitely your spot. Everything goes at your speed and you decide which dive sites you want to go to!
- Once you have your pickup truck, visit the many dive shops on the island
- Pick up tanks, air or nitrox, as many as you feel like you can dive through in a day
- Pick the dive sites you want to visit and go
- Park your truck right next to the dive site
- Load up your gear and go dive
- Once you’re finished, drop off the empty tanks back at the dive shop
Diving conditions in Bonaire
Diving conditions in Bonaire are extremely ideal for all divers. It’s all shore diving with a sloping descent. All you do is swim to the buoy marker, descend, swim in one direction or the other, and turn back after 20-30 minutes.
There is hardly any current in Bonaire so any diver will be able to get through it! You don’t need to be a divemaster to get through it! Although I do recommend you have at least 20+ dives before doing all this on your own. If you’re two freshly minted open water students, I wouldn’t recommend diving this all on your own.
Diving with Dive Friends
There are a few dive shops on Bonaire but we ultimately settled on Dive Friends. They are one of the biggest on the island and just happened to have a location right next to our apartment which made diving an absolute joy as we could just grab tanks and dive from the comfort of our apartment.
Dive Friends also has 8 different locations all over the island. This means, we could take tanks from the location next to our apartment, and refill the tanks at another location nearby to the dive sites we wanted to visit.
Boat Dives in Bonaire
If shore diving is not your thing, don’t worry there are plenty of boat dives that are offered. Dive Friends has a two boat dive in the morning, as well as a 1 dive in the afternoon. These boat dives will visit sites based on what the clients want.
We went on two days of boat diving and requested Klein Bonaire on both days. Klein Bonaire is the little island west of the main island and is home to some great dive sites. It’s also only accessible by boat so why bother visiting dive sites you can go by car when you have a boat?
Prices of diving in Bonaire
As the diving in Bonaire is completely DIY and shore diving, the prices are very cheap because you’re essentially only paying for tanks.
At dive friends the prices are the following:
- 1 tank Air – $18
- 2 tank or greater Air – $35
- 1 tank Nitrox – $20
- 2 tank of greater Nitrox – $38
This means if are at least two tanks a day, you are paying $35 for air or $38 for Nitrox. So if you dive 4 tanks a day, you pay the same price. They also offer discounts if you are diving for multiple days. For example, the 6 day unlimited nitrox package was $200 which is a nice discount.
Dive sites of Bonaire
As mentioned before, there are 63 official dive sites in Bonaire. They are all officially marked as well meaning every map you see of Bonaire will have the same numbers assigned to the same dive sight.
Once you get to the dive site, you’ll see the name written on a piece of rock. You can miss this quite easily but if you have Google Maps, you can put the name of the dive site as well and it will show you exactly where it is on a map (as well as the corresponding number).
We tried doing new dives every day to mix it up and get a feel of the island. To be honest, most of it is the same and you’ll see largely the same topography and marine life in these different sites. Without further ado, these are my favorite dive sites of Bonaire!
Helma Hooker – #43
Originally named the Midsland and launched in 1951, the Hilma Hooker is a 72-meter long cargo ship that was sunk off the southern coast of Bonaire in 1984.
This was actually the first dive site we visited and what an inaugural dive it was! We swam about 50 from the shore before descending. We swam through beautiful coral gardens before slowly seeing the mysterious dark silhouette of the ship approaching in the distance. It’s huge!
The ship looked closed off for an easy penetration, unlike that of the huge SS Thistlegorn in Ras Mohammed. I didn’t see any openings and could hardly see inside the boat at all. However it turns out that you can penetrate the wreck if you have the wreck diving experience.
Karpata – #9
As far as coral reefs go, Karpata is my favorite in the area. It’s the dive site furthest north before you enter the national park.
It’s a dive site that showcases just how healthy and vibrant Bonaire’s marine ecosystem is. It’s similar to all the other dive sites in the island with the coral gardens starting around 7m and slowly sloping down to the sandy bottom at 35m. It’s flush with beautiful soft and hard corals reminding me of the topography of Little Cayman.
We saw schools of triggerfish being beautiful and abundant. Angelfish, parrotfish and even the odd drumfish were in the mix. Tarpon, and the odd barracuda were seen out in the blue as well as a baby turtle. This site is a must visit!
Bari Reef – #30
Another dive site that really showcases the biodiversity of Bonaire is the Bari Reef. It is actually the house reef adjacent to where we were staying at the Den Laman condos. This made it easy for us to dive this site whenever we wanted to.
We did see an amazing seahorse while we were here though that took up most of our time!
1000 steps is another must visit famous dive site of Bonaire. It’s not actually 1000 steps, but rather only 72 steps. It seems like a challenge, but it is quite easy to go up and down these steps. There is also an amazing beach that many non-divers and snorkelers frequent. If nothing else, stop here and take some photos of the stunning views!
Perhaps the most well known and famous dive site in Bonaire, this is an absolute must visit. The Salt Pier is exactly what it sounds like, a pier developed decades ago to transport the large salt mining operations of Cargill.
It’s also the perfect place for a night dive as you can find moral eels openly swimming.
This is another great dive site in the north. In fact, I’d say the better dive sites are all up north. After 1000 steps, the road will turn into a one way with Karpata being the last dive site. If you’re planning two morning dives, then make sure to do something before you hit Karpata because if you do Karpata first, the only road you can take is the road going back to the main town.
Oil slick is the perfect dive to do before Karpata. It has a ladder where you can descend into the water, or if you fancy a little bit of adrenaline, the giant stride from the cliff. It’s only about 1.5m so it’s not that scary but it can look intimidating!
Klein Bonaire, or small Bonaire is the island located right off the coast of the main island. You can only come here by boat so if you plan on doing boat dives, I’d recommend asking to visit the dive sites here. They are similar to the dive sites on the mainland but perhaps even more coral heavy!
Diving on the East Side of Bonaire
All of the shore diving in Bonaire is done from the west side. That’s because this is the calmer bay facing side which makes it super easy to get in and out of the water. However, if you want to see the big fish like sharks, mantas etc, then you will have to dive on the east side.
The east side is only accessible by boat as it’s much more wild. To dive on the east side, you must book a boat dive with East Coast Divers. I really wanted to dive on the east side so to mix up the diving because there really isn’t any big fish to see on the west side (besides the odd eagle ray or turtle). Unfortunately, because of the coronavirus, they were already closed down.
Best beaches in Bonaire
Bonaire is not known for its beaches. It’s an island for shore diving which means you may have some sandy beach but it can’t be that much because you’ll have coral beds near to land. The entire island is surrounded by coral reefs and most of the beaches on the island are filled with coral shells.
However, the water color here is absolutely stunning and there are a handful of places to go that have sandy beaches. However, don’t expect anything like the Maldives!
Te Amo Beach
Te Amo beach is located right near to the airport. It’s the only sandy beach that I know of on the west coast of the island. It’s well known and frequented as it has spectacular views of the sunset. It’s also where the Kite City and Stoked food trucks are so you can grab a bite to eat and enjoy the beach here.
This is not really a beach but rather the bay for all the windsurfers. It’s located on the southeast side of the island and it is absolutely stunning. The bay is shallow so you can see the bright turquoise colors all around.
Kitesurfing In Bonaire
If you’re keen to kitesurf, Bonaire is probably one of the more beautiful places to do it. The water is super clear, the wind is consistent, and the water is calm. The kitesurfers beach is located on the southwest part of the island by dive site #56 – Red Beryl.
There are multiple kite schools here that will take good are of you and the prices are quite reasonable. I’ve only kitesurfed in Dakhla, Morocco before but this was high on my list especially during the coronavirus lockdown. Sadly, all the schools closed before I could experience them!
Windsurfing in BOnaire
All of Bonaire’s windsurfing takes place in Lac Bay on the islands southeast. This bay as I’ve mentioned above has some of the most stunning turquoise water you’ll find in Bonaire. The bay is entirely for windsurfing. I figured kitesurfing would also be in the bay because it is just a stunning backdrop but apparently the windsurfers forced the kiters out of the bay many years ago. That’s why you will only find the kite schools on the west side of the island on the beach.
I didn’t do any windsurfing here but I did come to this beach multiple times to lay out. It’s a sandy beach with stunning water. Because it is a windsurfer’s paradise, it’s always breezy so you’ll never get too hot while laying out!
Where to stay in Bonaire?
There are countless places and options to stay in Bonaire. However, as Bonaire is primarily geared as a diver’s island, don’t expect to see many super fancy resorts. The only all inclusive resorts you’ll see here are dive focused. If you want the traditional resort-like stuff, you’re better off in Curacao and Aruba. Come here for diving!
We stayed at an Airbnb north of the main city of Kralendijk for the majority of our time. They had a dive friends on site which made it very easy to grab tanks and go diving.
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