The joke goes that when you tell someone you’re going to Bonaire, there’s a good chance they’ll reply “Bon-where?”
Indeed, this small Caribbean island near Venezuela is off the radar of many travellers, despite being part of the ABCs with neighbouring Aruba and Curacao. That’s good news for those who make the trip to this arid, windswept spot as it’s well away from the crowds and feels like a hidden gem, a throwback to what the Caribbean was like before mass tourism arrived.
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Avid divers have been coming to Bonaire for decades, as the Dutch-ruled island is one of the world’s top diving and snorkeling destinations thanks to its clear water, bountiful coral reefs and marine life like turtles, sharks and rays.
There’s just as much action on the water as below due to constant winds that are perfect for sports like windsurfing and kiting, and while the desert-like surroundings aren’t as lush as other Caribbean islands there are still some awe-inspiring Bonaire beaches and rugged national parks that are prime for exploring.
From flamingo spotting to high-octane blokarting to sunset sails, here are 10 of the best things to do in Bonaire.
1) Wander around colourful Kralendijk Bonaire
Bonaire’s colorful capital is the first stop for most visitors, as it’s just a few minutes away from the airport and also where the cruise ships dock.
The rainbow-hued streets are the epitome of charming, with boutiques, bars, local handicrafts and souvenir shops found along Kaya Grandi.
Colonial architecture is on display throughout Kralendijk’s compact centre, and a historical walking tour highlights landmarks like monuments, churches and grand homes dating back to the 1800s, as well as Fort Oranje which is marked by a sunshine-yellow lighthouse and old English cannons.
Once the sun goes down, all of the action happens at the great bars and restaurants situated on the waterfront along Kaya J. N. E. Craane, and locals love the vibe and craft cocktails at nearby Tiki & Co.
2) See the pink lakes and the Bonaire salt flats
Taking a road trip to the southern tip of the island is a must-do during a Bonaire trip, where a unique topography awaits. In Pekelmeer–which means ‘salt lake’ in Dutch–there’s a vast landscape of brilliant white salt flats, harvested by Cargill Salt Works.
While the mounds themselves are quite impressive, the surrounding pink lakes are the real reason worth making the trip here. The unique natural phenomenon is due to an abundance of tiny rosy brine shrimp that live in the water, which are responsible for the vibrant hue which is a stark contrast to the surrounding white salt and turquoise Caribbean Sea.
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Other highlights of the drive include the towering Willemstoren Lighthouse, the Donkey Sanctuary, brightly-painted obelisks which were once used as shore markers to guide ships, and slave huts that housed salt workers.
Globe Guide tip: Rent a truck or 4X4 if you do a southern road trip since the narrow highways lead to a lot of flat tires.
3) Spot flamingos
Another one of the top Bonaire things to do is finding a fluorescent flock of flamingos, and there are a few places around the country to see them up close.
One of the best spots is near the salt flats and mangroves, at the Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary. It’s one of only four places on the planet where the beautiful birds breed, as they’re drawn to the shrimp in the water, and feeding on them is what gives the Caribbean flamingos their vibrant feathers.
There are more than 10-thousand birds here, and since it’s a protected area visitors must stay on the road and are encouraged to bring binoculars for a closer look. It’s also possible to spot frigate birds, herons and ospreys in the refuge, making Pekelmeer one of the best spots for birding.
Other places around Bonaire where it’s possible to see flamingos are Lac Bay, Gotomeer and Goto Lake which is just west of the village of Rincón.
4) Go diving in Bonaire
The Bonaire dive sites are world class, making the island a bucket list-worthy spot for exploring the underwater world.
Nearly 60 species of coral and 350 fish species have been recorded in these waters, which are home to the likes of nurse sharks, turtles, seahorses and parrot fish. With 63 official dive sites in Bonaire and another 26 on neighbouring Klein Bonaire, there’s a variety for all skill levels including many that can be done right from shore.
In fact, those who stay at a dive resort like the Divi Flamingo don’t even have to leave the property, since the PADI 5-Star dive operation Divi Dive Bonaire is located right on site.
Dives can be done right from the resort, and they offer certification classes, equipment rental and storage, guided boat and shore diving excursions and night dives.
Some of the best Bonaire diving sites are:
- Hilma Hooker: A famous wreck dive where corals developed on the site of a ship that sank back in 1984, with a depth of 25-100 feet.
- Bari Reef: One of the top dive sites in the Caribbean for fish diversity, with more than 300 different species sighted here.
- 1000 steps: This spot got its name from the 79 steps that lead down to a scenic beach, since it can feel like a thousand steps for divers having to carry their heavy gear back up to the parking lot after. Highlights include star coral formations, handbill turtles, manta rays and even whale sharks.
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5) Try wind sports
Consistent trade winds make Bonaire one of the best places in the world for sports like wind surfing, kiteboarding and foil boarding, and most of the action is at Sorobon Beach at Lac Bay.
Jibe City is based there and rents out foils, sails, wings and stand up paddleboards, offers lessons, and also has a bar and restaurant overlooking the water that’s perfect for watching all the action.
6) Get a thrill with Bonaire Landsailing Adventures
Imagine sailing on a go cart, and that’s pretty much what landsailing is. Also known as blokarting, this high-octane activity is popular in places like New Zealand and has made its way to the Caribbean thanks to a couple of Kiwi expats.
Bonaire Landsailing Adventures has a dedicated course in a conservation area a short drive from Kralendijk, where the wind consistently blows in one direction. No experience is necessary, and after a short orientation detailing how to steer and adjust speed, guests are literally off to the races at speeds of about 30 to 40 km/hr.
Landsailing only uses the power of wind so no motors are necessary as guests whiz around the track for about 45 minutes, putting their newfound skills to the test as they zip around the course while enjoying views of the Caribbean Sea and even stray donkeys.
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Ages 8 and up are welcome to tackle the course on their own, and tandem ride options are available for little ones. Landsailing is also fully accessible for those in wheelchairs, as no lower body movement is required to operate a blokart. Click here to book
7) Relax on the best beaches in Bonaire
While Bonaire doesn’t have many long swaths of sparkling sand, there are still a few spots to soak up the sun.
One of them is the Ocean Oasis Beach Club, a shabby chic escape about 10 minutes south of Kralendijk with luxe loungers, cabanas, a restaurant and DJs performing at night.
Some of the other top beaches on Bonaire are No Name Beach on Klein Bonaire, Wayaka II and Boka Kokolishi in Washington Slagbaai National Park.
8) Drive through Washington Slagbaai National Park
Incredible beaches, a dramatic coastline and opportunities for wildlife spotting make a day trip through Washington Slagbaai National Park one of the best things to do in Bonaire.
This 14,000 acre area on the northern tip of the island is the only Bonaire national park, where two driving routes wind past pristine bays, centuries-old lighthouses, limestone cliffs and the country’s highest peak, Mount Brandaris.
It takes two to three hours to drive through the park, and a 4X4 is required due to the challenging roads. Otherwise, book a guided tour like this full-day trip which includes a guide, snorkel stops and hotel pick up/drop-off. Click here to book
There are more than a dozen well-marked stops along the way where visitors can spot flamingos, relax on a secluded stretch of sand, go hiking, snorkeling and even cliff jumping.
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9) Explore Rincón
While Kralendijk gets most of the attention, Rincón was actually Bonaire’s first village and is worth a stop to see the colourful, vibrantly painted buildings and homes. The village was originally settled by the Spanish in the 1500s, and murals and street art provide photo-worthy backdrops at every turn.
This quiet, meticulously clean village has more than a dozen watering holes since most of the locals gather at the bars here after a long day of work, and it’s also home to The Cadushy Distillery which is perhaps best known for making cactus vodka.
Visitors are welcome to tour the property and learn about the production process, which includes award-winning rum, gin, whiskey and liqueurs dedicated to the surrounding Caribbean islands. Cadushy Distillery is open every day except Sunday, and admission is free.
10) Sail on a catamaran
One of the best things to do in Bonaire is head out on a boat to see the island from a different perspective, which often includes stops at snorkel spots, beaches or sunset sailing.
Epic Water Taxi operates trips over to Klein Bonaire for $20 per person. The ride takes just a few minutes, and guests are dropped off on the uninhabited island to lounge in the sun and swim in the crystal-clear water.
The water taxi departs at 10 AM, 12 PM and 2 PM from the harbour in Kralendijk and return trips are at 12:30 PM, 2:30 PM and 4:30 PM (schedules may vary on cruise ship days).
For an elevated experience, book one of Epic Tours’ catamaran trips that sail along the coastline. There’s a kite surf safari for those looking to do a downwinder, a sail and dive trip, brunch sailings and the popular Chill & Grill Sunset Sail where guests get to snorkel in two different spots then dine on a gourmet, multi-course meal served as the sun sets over the water. Click here to book
Where to stay: The best all-inclusive in Bonaire
The Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino is a fantastic base for exploring Bonaire, thanks to its excellent location with downtown Kralendijk on its doorstep and the idyllic Calabas Reef out front.
The resort boasts two swimming pools, and more than 100 rooms including some with balconies overlooking the shimmering Caribbean Sea. It’s like a mini village thanks to amenities including a spa, dive centre, daily activities like sunset yoga, a car rental centre, two sandy beaches and a casino.
Divi Flamingo has three beachfront restaurants, and two bars that are perfect for happy hour. Perks include free on-site parking, and there’s also an all-inclusive plan option.
Pricing starts at $145/night, or $1,070 per person for weeklong stay with transfers, daily breakfast, unlimited shore diving and 11 boat dives.
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Globe Guide explored Bonaire as a guest of Divi Flaming Beach Resort and Tourism Bonaire. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles
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