For those in tune with the salty, harmonic spell of the sea (yes, scuba divers), the Caribbean islands are never far down the wish list of someday destinations. The Bahamas have their tiger sharks dives, the Caymans, incredible coral walls, and many others, mid to advanced level shipwreck diving to challenge and enthrall. And then there’s Bonaire.
A quick look at Google Trends search stats might have you wondering, why Bonaire. It’s an often-visited island for Caribbean cruise ships, but just what are divers saying about the small, tropical island just 50 miles north of Venezuela? A whole lot of positive, if you check out ScubaBoard’s Bonaire forum.
- Lang: Dutch, English
- Currency: USD, dollar
- Time zone: GMT -4 h
- Tel. country code: +599
Bonaire was once part of the Dutch Antilles’ ABC islands; a sibling to fellows, Aruba and Curacao. After the island chain’s dissolution in 2010, Bonaire became a special municipality of the Netherlands and one of their Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT), a status separate from the European Union. Curiously though, currency is in US dollars.
Amidst the many reasons to visit Bonaire — sun, year-round 80’s Fahrenheit (30′s Celcius) air and ocean temperatures, laid back local attitude, more sun — two reasons may stand out for the aquatic-minded traveler. First, Bonaire’s healthy coral reefs. Since 1979, the island’s surrounding waters have been a Marine Protected Area (MPA) under the watchful eye of the Stichting Nationale Parken (STINAPA) authority. To dive Bonaire’s National Marine Park, one pays a nature fee and dons a tag on their BCD in support of area conservation. The other reason, perhaps more well-known, is Bonaire’s named status as the Shore Diving capital of the world, according to many online reviews.
Shore Diving mantra
You won’t find public transportation (vehicle rental is a must) but you will find an abundance of shore diving sites on Bonaire, with heavy representation on the west coast.
The island is blessed with over 60 easily accessible places to dip your fins and stay under as long as your air, or especially popular, Nitrox, supply lasts. Just get yourself an island map, and choose your own adventure from double reef systems, gently sloping coral walls, Himla Hooker wreck, the Salt Pier and many more. It’s 24/7 diving on Bonaire — we’re talking to you, night divers — so load your truck with scuba gear and tanks from your dive resort or rental shop and go.
With mild to medium currents, most shore sites are great for beginner (open water) and intermediate divers. And some island hotels have a house reef with their own surprises. On a February dive this year, we saw a couple of wandering tarpons and coral ‘nursery trees’, part of an important Bonaire coral restoration project, suspended in the shallows at Buddy Dive resort. It’s also not hard to find a private dive guide in a pinch. Ask your hotel reception for tips.
Some resorts on Bonaire offer boat trips too, taking you 15 minutes offshore, for one tank dives. Klein Bonaire, a beautiful islet off of Bonaire, is a popular place for boat dives.
Bonaire is not particularly known for the ‘big fish’ like manta rays and whale sharks, however the east coast, a.k.a. the Wild Side, can lend more oomph to your trip if desired. Due to wave action, divers must access the reef by inflatable boat, like the double-engine RIB of the East Coast Diving company. A back roll off the side, and the swell takes you, so divers of intermediate level or better might enjoy the east side most (and a tip: the water may feel colder here too, depending on the person).
After descent, there’s plenty to see, from stingrays and schools of tarpons, to jetski-sized green and hawksbill turtles (in numbers hard to count), and on one of our dives, a 10-foot nurse shark in a rock hollow. This is also the place to behold magnificent fields of purple sea fans rolling with the current!
For more highlights of Bonaire, read our article on light, portable GoPro dive gear.