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Bonaire

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Did You Know … ?

  • For three centuries, Bonaire provided salt for most of the Caribbean; the mines are still active.
  • Hotel Zeebad is a converted World War II internment camp for German POWs and Dutch and British Nazi sympathizers.
  • Bonaire has no rivers.
  • Because it has thousands of flamingoes, Bonaire welcomes visitors at Flamingo Airport; its terminal and tower are pink.
  • Bonaire had no military men in World War II, but the most casualties of Caribbean nations; most were lost on merchant ships sunk by German U-boats.

A diver’s paradise

When they first step foot on Bonaire and throughout their stay, visitors are likely to hear “Bon bini” (“Welcome”) or “Kon ta bai?” (“How are you?”). Friendly greeters are speaking Papiamento, the local Creole, but Dutch is the official language.

Bonaire is the smallest of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao); all are Dutch, but only Bonaire and Curacao are part of the island group called the Netherlands Antilles.

Unlike most Caribbean islands, Bonaire does not have an array of beautiful white sandy beaches. Many are narrow and consist of coral mixed with sand, which makes walking uncomfortable. On the other hand, such beaches offer relaxation free of hawkers trying to sell something.

What the island does have is 86 dive sites that give Bonaire status as one of the world’s top five dive destinations and lure divers back multiple times; the sites feature more than 1,000 marine species. Bonaire offers other water sports, too, including world class windsurfing because of the constant trade winds and kayaking in protected lagoons or the open ocean. The windswept postures of the divi-divi trees show the effects of the warm, dry and breezy climate.

The island lacks a selection of upscale hotels and world class restaurants, but guests find plenty of bars and smaller cafes that offer good food and conversation. Bonaire is not a shopping destination, either. The Harbourside Shopping Mall in the capital city, Kralendijk, contains small boutiques.

Bonaire is vigorous in protecting its natural resources. Its environmental restrictions are the gold standard by which other nations measure their own progress. The island has a history, too: Slave huts and hand-dug saltpans are grim reminders of centuries of slavery.

Above all, however, Bonaire is a quiet and peaceful place for a relaxing vacation. Most restaurants and bars close at midnight, and there’s little in the way of entertainment. For those who are stressed by daily pressures, overwork and too little sleep, it’s a place to unwind and recharge the psychic batteries. Because the island lies outside the hurricane belt, it can be visited all year without worrying on that account.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Dive at La Dania’s Leap, a spot known for the former practice of leaping 15 feet from a cliff (now forbidden). Reached only by boat, it is one of the few wall dives with beautiful canyons and sandy bottoms. Another favorite dive site is named 1,000 Steps.
  • Take advantage of the constant trade winds and enjoy world class windsurfing at Lac Bay (also called Lac Cay and Lac Cai). Waves can be large.
  • Explore the island by horseback — more enjoyable than a guided trip by car.
  • Or challenge your stamina and skills by renting a mountain bike for a day’s exploration.
  • If you are a sailing enthusiast, there are many boating facilities offering a range of choices, especially the marina just outside of Kralendijk.
  • Seek out local reggae and calypso steel bands in restaurants and also on the streets. Two discos are available and two limited casinos.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Watch thousands of flamingos as they move across the white salt flats at Pekelmeer. But access is strictly controlled.
  • Hire a car to explore the island. It can be seen in one day, but it’s better to visit the north end of the island one day and the south end the other. Bring along lunch because you won’t find any restaurants.
  • Active tennis players can find courts at the Divi Beach Resort, the Harbour Village Resort, Sand Dollar Condominium Resort and Sunset Beach Hotel.
  • Atlantis Bay on the western side of the island is a good place for beginner and intermediate windsurfers. Practice your skills there.
  • Enjoy some of the finest snorkeling anywhere.
  • Charter a sailboat and go to uninhabited Klein Bonaire for lunch on deck or a shore picnic. Then sail around the tiny island, which is just a half mile from Bonaire.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Like the locals, have dinner at the Green Parrot Club and the Sand Dollar Beach Club, or dine at the Chibi Chibi Club at the Divi Flamingo and watch the fish. But don’t feed them.
  • Visit Washington Slagbaai National Park where you’ll find lots of cacti, inlets and hills. It’s a habitat for iguanas and lizards, as well as the endangered lora, which is a Caribbean parrot and slightly larger than a parakeet.
  • Visit several small museums that display local crafts or history; call to check hours or to set an appointment for a personal tour.
  • Fishing is easy and fish are plentiful throughout the islands. Local boats with guides will find the best spots for your interests.
  • The Bonaire National Marine Park is situated on a spectacular coral reef and is highly protected by the government. It is well worth a visit, including listening to lectures by the guides.
  • Take a walking tour of the capital city, Kralendijk. Enjoy its unique and diverse architecture, and the lively fresh fruit and vegetable market.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Tourism Corporation Bonaire at www.tourismbonaire.com