Our Affair With Bonaire
If you love water sports or diving then Bonaire, in the Caribbean Netherlands, is the place to visit. It’s also outside of the hurricane belt, which makes it a blessing for sailors. The west coast is a diver’s paradise; the windy south and east coasts are a haven for kiteboarders and windsurfers, while snorkellers will have a great time just about anywhere in the warm Caribbean Sea that surrounds the island.
On Two Drifters, Skipper is in his element, as he’s been expanding his PADI diving skills and is now a qualified PADI Rescue Diver and Wreck Diver and never short of an excuse to go diving! However, if like me your water baby skills are somewhat limited, then you have to go off in search of other adventures on this small island. And it certainly packs a punch in diversity.
The capital, Kralendijk, is charming and compact with a relaxed cosmopolitan vibe. Within a stone’s throw, there’s a variety of restaurants ranging from French, Italian and Caribbean to Chinese, Cuban and Colombian. Not to mention cafés selling the best ice-creams we have ever tasted; they also know how to make a very good latte!
An early morning or evening stroll with Molly down the waterfront promenade is delightful. The pavement is shared with walkers, runners and people just watching the world sail past. Walking back from a bar one evening, we stopped and chatted to one local couple sitting on a bench who had a full tea-service with them and were enjoying an after-dinner cuppa – complete with tea pot, taking in the view of the moon over the sea. Just so civilised!
In all the months, we’ve been cruising the Caribbean, this is the one island that has stood out for its friendly residents. People pass in the street and call out a cheery ‘Bon Dia’ in the morning or ‘Bon Tardi’ in the afternoon. They are always so helpful with any questions we have – especially as the local language of Papiamentu is a little difficult to get to grips with as it’s a combination of many European and Indian dialects.
The island of Bonaire and its uninhabited little sister, Klein Bonaire, are Marine Protected Areas, and to preserve the coral reef, there is a veto on anchoring. Instead there are a good quantity of heavy duty mooring buoys scattered around. 42 of which are placed in a long line from the main marina down to the centre of Kralendijk and aimed at boats wishing to stay overnight at the cost of US$10 per night, which is very reasonable. The rest of the buoys are scattered around the islands at prime diving and snorkelling spots and are available free-of-charge for a couple of hours enabling dive boats, dinghies and sail boats to enjoy a different vista above and below water.
The underwater world is what attracts many to Bonaire. There are almost 500 named dive sites; diverse in range and suitable for beginners to those seeking advanced strong current dives, deep dives and wreck dives. But the reason that Bonaire stands out is how accessible most dive sites are by road, allowing qualified divers to rent the kit and head off for a dive without the need for boat rental or guide.
Skipper has been underwater almost more than on top of it these last few weeks and has seen seahorses, big colour changing octopi, fighting lobsters and a myriad of colourful reef fish. Also, due to the marine park protection scheme, and in particular the ban on anchoring, the coral reefs are the best he has seen in the Caribbean with large fan and stag coral, colossal brain coral and brightly coloured sponges covering every inch of the sea bed. With so many dive sites, it is also entirely possible to be the only dive party on your chosen site.
Bruce the Truck…surrounded by cactus trees
Back on land, hiring a car is the best way to see the island. Leave Kralendijk and within a few miles south, you would think you are on the moon with the amazing colours and appearance of the Salt Pans. Head inland, and it’s more like the Wild West with an arid, rocky, desert-like landscape, full of cactus trees and dusty tracks. A complete contrast yet again.
The colour contrast of the salt pans
Circumnavigate the 112-square mile island and spot the bright yellow stones, which mark the dive and snorkel sites, accessible from the road. It’s wise to rent a pick-up truck here as the roads are rocky and just dust tracks in places. If you visit the Washington Slagbaai National Park, then a truck or 4×4 is essential as there’s plenty of off-roading. Our truck was called Bruce and he was pretty robust, even if his suspension was more than a little loose at times!
The National Park is full of geological history, dating back over a million years ago. Drive round one of two loops (one of which is longer by 10km) to see the rugged coastline, blowholes, ancient stone walls and lighthouse. Admire the views, the birds, Iguanas and the plethora of cactus trees that dominate the landscape. Dive, swim or snorkel off the west coast, or even jump off a 15-metre cliff as Skipper decided he had to do!
Bonaire’s most famous export is salt. Pink and white multihued salt pans dominate the south of the island. The pinkness is due to the salt-loving organisms that produce carotenoids which live in the briny water. During evaporation, the density of the bacteria increases and the salt pan gets pinker. It’s certainly a colourful and unusual sight to see.
Pink dominates the landscape from the salt pans to the flamingos
No stay in Bonaire is complete without a glimpse of a wild donkey or one of the infamous flamingos. And with approximately 18,000 flamingos on the island, they are hard to miss, although not always easy to photograph with their head out of the water! Collectively called a flamboyance of flamingos; the term suits them well as they stand around, often on one leg, preening and feeding and generally wanting to show off their deep pink good looks and long necks and legs.
We’ve been here for over a month, and have quickly relaxed into Bonaire’s charming vibe. Twice a week, we take an early morning yoga class on the terrace of a local hotel. We arrive by dinghy and to the backdrop sounds of the ocean, we stretch and flex.
If you get the chance to sail, cruise or fly to this wonderful island, you will not be disappointed. We have loved every moment and are already planning a return visit!
© Two Drifters Travel