Most people who are familiar with Bonaire are either avid divers or windsurfers. Or cruise ship passengers. Others who have heard about this small island north of Venezuela reside in the area or in the Netherlands. Together with a handful of other small Caribbean islands, it was part of the Netherlands Antilles until recently. On 10/10/10 Bonaire became an integral part of the Dutch Kingdom, together with Saba and St. Eustatius (Statia), while Curaçao and St. Maarten separated and became new countries.
Almost every day a big cruise ship docks in the beautiful waters of Bonaire © Liesbet Collaert
The tri-island area Bonaire, Curaçao and Aruba is referred to as the ABC-islands, but much more than starting with the first three letters of the alphabet they don’t have in common. Curaçao is big, industrial and diverse, Aruba is very touristy and gears to an American market and Bonaire is most famous for its fantastic diving and environmental approach. It is a watersports paradise, whether you explore underneath the water surface or skim on top …
1000 steps, along the west coast, is one of the 87 dive sites in Bonaire © Liesbet Collaert
Bonaire is very much geared towards divers. There are several dive shops and most hotels offer decent dive packages. All of the 87 dive sites (63 of them -mainly- on Bonaire’s west coast and 24 surrounding Klein Bonaire, which lies about ½ mile west of the big brother) are marked on maps and described in the free Bonaire Dive Guide. Many of the dive spots along the west coast are signposted with a yellow rock and a parking area and don’t require a guide. You just park your rental car, load up your gear and walk in the crystal clear water. To dive around Klein Bonaire, you need to have or rent a boat or join a dive or tour company. If you only want to dive the No Name site, a water taxi brings you to No Name Beach. The fee for divers in Bonaire is US$25 and the badge is valid for a year.
Underwater scenery at Klein Bonaire (just before my camera broke) © Liesbet Collaert
The beauty about many of the dive sites is that they are perfectly fine to snorkel as well, based on their depths. Especially the spots near shore are easily accessible. You just don your gear and take off! Even close to the seawall near the capital Kralendijk and immediately off your sailboat in the mooring field, you’ll be amazed with the quantity, the variety and the colors of the fish. To find healthy coral, you have to venture further afield. The water is immensely clear and beautiful with good visibility most of the time. Snorkel gear is for hire at dive shops or hotels or you can bring your own. The fee for snorkelers is US$10 and this badge is also valid for a year.
Snorkel badges for Bonaire's waters © Liesbet Collaert
Our cruising guide mentions that the sailing up the west coast of Bonaire is one of the best in the entire Caribbean. After slowly sailing downwind for days at 2-4 knots, we were looking forward to some “real sailing” again. And that it was! From the moment we raised the mainsail to “join” the jib and turned the corner to head north, we shot forward, as if someone had hit the accelerator. The wind coming from the salt flats was no joke and we were flying to our destination at 7-8 knots, our senses on high alert. We even had to reef the mainsail and reached Kralendijk in no time. It was fun the hour it lasted!
Fun sailing with both sails up! © Liesbet Collaert
While rounding the southern tip of Bonaire in our 35’ sailing catamaran, we saw a whole fleet of colorful kites dancing in the sky. The southwestern shoreline of Bonaire seems to be the place to take your kite and park your car. The wind over the flats that is so beneficial and fun for sailors is delightful for kiteboarders as well.
Colorful kites off Bonaire's southwest coast © Liesbet Collaert
Lac Bay, on the east coast of Bonaire, even though prohibited for anchoring sailboats and gliding kiteboarders, is a mecca for windsurfers. The unobstructed wind is ever present and the barrier reefs guarantee flat seas. There is ample parking available and a few surf schools to learn the sport or rent gear. This is also a good area for kayaking. A company on the north side of Lac Bay offers tours.
Windsurfing the protected waters of Lac Bay © Liesbet Collaert