The quiet island of Bonaire is known for its excellent diving and snorkeling. Travel to Bonaire for the life beneath the waves, not on the beaches above them, and don’t expect glitzy hotels and raging nightlife. For the most part, Bonaire remains unspoiled, a back-to-nature escape the way the Caribbean used to be.
Bonaire Basic Travel Information
Location: Part of the Netherlands; Bonaire, St.
Eustatius and Saba form the Dutch Caribbean. Located 30 miles east of Curacao
Size: 112 square miles
Language: Dutch (official), Papiamentu, English and Spanish
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish
Area Code: 599
Tipping: 15 to 20 percent is customary for restaurants. Tip taxi drivers 10 percent.
Weather: Average year-round temperature is 82 degrees, with cooling trade winds in the summer. The rainy season is Nov.-Jan. Bonaire is outside the Caribbean hurricane belt.
Airport: Flamingo International Airport (Book Flights)
Bonaire Activities and Attractions
Bonaire is known for its excellent scuba diving and snorkeling, which is some of the best in the Caribbean, if not the world. The island’s entire coastline, including the small neighboring island of Klein Bonaire, is preserved as a marine sanctuary.
As you snorkel or dive, you’ll want to keep an eye out for elkhorn and staghorn coral as well as tropical fish. Bonaire also has over 170 different species of birds. Washington-Slagbaai National Park, which covers almost a fifth of the island, has rugged dirt roads for four-wheeling, good spots for snorkeling and diving, and hiking trails.
Although the sands of Pink Beach are a lovely, rosy hue, don’t come here looking for the gorgeous stretches of soft, white sand found elsewhere in the Caribbean. Visitors may want to take a day trip out to Klein Bonaire, which has a number of pristine white strands around the island that are nice for picnicking and offer excellent snorkeling.
Bonaire Hotels and Resorts
The hotels on this low-key island tend to be fairly relaxed. Captain Don’s Habitat opened 30 years ago and has a variety of dive packages, plus several on-site dining and entertainment options. A more luxurious choice, the Harbour Village Beach Club (Book Now), offers dive packages, plus it has tennis courts and a fitness center, hosts weddings and provides entertainment for kids. The Divi Flamingo Beach Resort ((Book Now) is a popular all-inclusive resort with a casino.
Bonaire Restaurants and Cuisine
If you want to sample local dishes, look for the sign "Aki ta Bende Kuminda Krioyo," which means "local food sold here)." Most restaurants are in the various resorts or near the town center.
Specialties include polenta, known as funchi; conch, or karko; and a hot sauce called pika siboyo. Pick up a copy of the Bonaire Dining Guide after you’ve arrived on the island for more information.
Bonaire Culture and History
When Spanish explorers arrived in 1499, Bonaire was inhabited by the Caiquetios, a band of the Arawak Indians. The Spaniards enslaved the island’s inhabitants and sent them to the island of Hispaniola. In 1633, the Dutch took possession of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba, and Bonaire became a center for salt production, introducing slaves from Africa to do the hard labor. After slavery was abolished, Bonaire’s economy languished. Today much of the economy relies on tourism. Like most of the Caribbean, Bonaire is a melting pot of influences from Africa, Europe, the northern Caribbean, and the U.S.
Bonaire Events and Festivals
Bonaire's festivals include Maskarada in early January, which combines Bonaire traditions with a Caribbean carnival, and Simadan in March and April, which celebrates the sorghum harvest with dancing and music.
Nightlife is fairly quiet on Bonaire, consisting of gambling at casinos such as at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino, slide shows at Captain Don’s Habitat, night dives and dinner cruises.