Bonaire’s main raison d’etre is diving. Therefore, accommodations are designed with divers in mind. There are all levels of motels, hotels, condos, bungalows and villas for rent, within easy access to shore diving. Most of these are within the town of Kralendijk on the western shore. This is also where the dive operations are located.
All accommodations have some sort of set-up for rinsing and storing dive gear. Most will supply only one roll of toilet paper and one or two garbage bags. Bathroom towels are provided but not beach towels. Facecloths are often not included, soap and shampoo almost never. Virtually all have wifi internet. Theft is generally not a problem.
Most divers rent trucks. Most trucks accommodate four people plus a rack for dive tanks in the back. Almost all are standard transmission. Rental agencies charge an extra fee for an extra registered driver – but an extra driver is useful should the four of you not always want to do the same thing at the same time! Cars are also available but rent these with caution as they can be easily damaged by dive gear. In addition, if you visit Washington-Slagbaai Park (which you should…), cars have trouble with the bumpy roads.
Do not leave valuables in your trucks. Do not leave anything in them that you would be unhappy to lose. Flip-flops, t-shirts, shorts, etc. are not a problem. When you are at a dive site, leave the truck unlocked with the windows down, and take the key with you.
There are many excellent restaurants catering to all manner of tastes.
There are several food markets in Bonaire, with a large one in the centre of Kralendijk, and a new, large, modern one near the airport. Food is mainly labelled in Dutch but staff all speak English. All grocery stores have liquor on site.
Shore Dive Sites
Sites are generally not sandy, but rather a mixture of large and small dead coral pieces plus boulders which can cause insecure footing. There may be spiny urchins. Therefore dive boots are highly recommended.
At the start of the dive, evaluate the area to choose the best route to reach a sandy bottom on which to stand. Don your fins in waist-deep water.
There is often strong surge at the entries, but this can be highly variable from site to site and day to day. An entry that may seem too difficult one day will often be extremely easy on another – and the next site down the road may be quite different.
Exits are the same in reverse. Don’t remove your fins until you are at the point at which you want to walk in to shore. As you look towards the shore, pay attention to undertow – when the water in front of you moves backwards toward the sea, be prepared for a wave about to hit you from behind. Once you get the rhythm, it is easily manageable.
Virtually all sites along the west coast are suitable for beginner to intermediate divers. North shore sites (in the National Park) are intermediate, and east side sites are advanced.
Almost every site has a buoy anchored in the sand just before the reef. Orient to the shore – the look of your parked trucks and surrounding landmarks – then swim to the buoy. Check the current direction (it is usually very mild) and swim into it, keeping track of your time from that point. When you decide to turn around, swim for approximately the same amount of time or slightly less, then turn in to the beach, keeping an eye out for the buoy. It is quite acceptable to surface to check your bearings as there is very minimal boat traffic. Personal surface marker buoys are generally not required.
While a 3 mm wet suit can be comfortable for one dive, most repetitive divers wear 5 mm suits, especially when doing several dives a day. Gloves are not allowed… and authorities monitor this closely.
Many divers complain of sore feet and blisters from boots rubbing as dives add up. A pair of socks worn inside the boots helps a lot.
Boots and gear can get a bit “ripe” with day after day of diving. Put a shot of detergent in your boots. Wear your wet suit into the shower, shampoo your hair, and let the soap run into your wet suit. Rinse and hang.
Your head burns. Your neck burns. The backs of your hands burn. It is just part of diving in the tropical sun. Wear a hat and put it in your BCD pocket when you dive. Many divers now sport a thin lycra hood in wild, modern colours, available on the island. They protect you from the sun and make it easy to spot your friends!
If you are new to underwater photography, Bonaire is a great place to practice because your time is your own. Most new photographers are surprised to see that their photos all turn out “too blue”. If you recall, this is because you lose the oranges and reds by the time you reach 15 feet: this is easily corrected by putting a red filter on your camera, an inexpensive addition for most set-ups.
Mosquitoes and Sand Fleas
Be prepared for them in the evenings (and remember all restaurants are open air). Pack insect repellent. Bonaire stores all sell 40-50% DEET. Many individuals are not bothered by bites, but some develop red, raised, itchy reactions. If you know you are a reactor, bring some antihistamine cream or a stronger anti-inflammatory prescription.
There are a few Bonaire sites that are only accessible by boat, including all the wall diving off Klein Bonaire, the small uninhabited island to the west. There are several boat operations that go to the island.
Washington-Slagbaai Park: There are dive sites in the national park, but even if you don’t intend to dive there, the drive through is worth the trip to experience the roads, the flamingos, the beautifully different landscape of the east shore, and the cacti. Bring water and snacks as there are no food services. Allow approximately 3 hours for the circuit. There are washrooms and a museum at the entry/exit. You purchase an entry ticket with your dive fee, which allows you into the park without further payment.
Sorbonne: eastside windsurfing available to try, with a nice beach restaurant, and a nice beach
Mangrove kayaking and snorkeling
Flights to Bonaire can be frustrating because of length and connection difficulties. Although most of the time everything goes smoothly, it is advisable to allow yourself an extra day on the return trip, should there be delays.
Have fun! There is no other place like it!