Bonaire – The Dutch Caribbean Paradise

Located south of Aruba and 50 miles East of Venezuela, Bonaire is a small island in the Dutch Caribbean. It is part of the ABC islands – Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao. Bonaire is the smallest of the three, and the least developed when it comes to tourism, which is why it makes for a perfect travel destination for those who enjoy getting away from crowds.

WHY GO THERE

Turquoise blue water, picture perfect sunsets, Dutch Caribbean architecture, landscapes that vary from lush green hills to barren desserts doted with giant cactus, and not to forget some of the best dive sites in the world. If you enjoy nature, this is the place to be.

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WHERE TO GO

Kralendijk is the capital and the main city in Bonaire. It is located less than 10 minutes from Flamingo International Airport. With colorful buildings, downtown Kralendijk is a charming area with a cruise port (operating 6 months of the year), gift shops, restaurants and central amenities like tourist office, post office, police station, city hall. Surrounding residential neighborhoods and streets have theme names after musical instruments, names of countries, etc. making the city easy to navigate without many signs or even traffic lights.

Rincon is the only other city on the island. Once a town inhabited by the salt slaves who worked on the island, now Rincon is mostly a quiet residential area.

WHERE TO STAY

While there are a few dive resorts and small hotels in the area, you will not find any brand-name chain hotels or upscale all-inclusive resorts. The most beautiful hotel is Harbor Village Beach Club. Nestled on a private, four-acre peninsula, the charming Caribbean Bohemian style retreat feels more like a private estate than a hotel. Private villas and suites are surrounded by a burst of colorful flowers, yellow stucco facade, red terra cotta roofs, and golden tiled floors. Palm trees draw shade on to hammocks and beach lounges, while guests swim in the turquoise warm waters of the Caribbean. On the other side of the resort is a small harbor with a few dozen yachts and sailboats that would marvel any spot in the Italian Riviera.

At Harbour Village Beach Club, diving adventures are just steps away with Great Adventures Bonaire, the PADI five-star Instructor Development Center offering instruction courses for all levels, retail shop, a full range of services and daily boat dives from the Harbour Village dock. On site amenities include swimming pools, gym, spa and restaurant. Designed in the style of an antique Spanish ship with a dining deck located on a jetty extending over the water, La Balandra Restaurant and Bar offers diners a feeling of cruising while they enjoy daily fresh catch cooked with fusion flavors, paired with an extensive wine list.

Bonaire food

WHAT TO EAT

The restaurant scene in Bonaire is very eclectic. You can find authentic Italian, French, Indonesia, Cuban and Senegalese restaurants within walking distance of each other. Since immigrants from all over the world populate the island, there is a strong “international” culture blended in with Dutch and Caribbean. Here are some highly recommended restaurants:

At Sea – Rated #1 few years in a row, this cozy 1912 Bonairian house turned restaurant is run by a young French couple that share a passion for quality ingredients and breathtaking presentation. Each element of the plate is cooked to perfection and brought out as edible pieces of art. Enjoy daily changing menu served al fresco or inside the house.

Ingridients – Located at Buddy Dive Resort, Ingredients is a place to really treat oneself. Cool ocean breeze passes through the entire restaurant, as diners enjoy picture perfect sunsets. Diners can nibble on small plates of marinated olives, ham crostini, tuna tartare and tasty flatbread pizzas. Order the “pasta with cheese special” not listed on the menu and the server will cook tagliatelle tableside inside a 2 feet block of Italian cheese. It is a must try!

Bistro de Paris – The French food at this happening bistro located next to the harbor is some of the best you will find outside of Europe. Delicacies such as bouillabaisse Provençal, grilled tartine of snails, Foie gras, and frog legs are cooked to order by the French owner/ chef. Adjacent is an open air bar where locals hang out throughout the week.

Spice Beach Club – After a relaxing time at the beach, soak your feet in the sand, as you enjoy cocktails, typical Dutch snacks, and fresh salads. Spice Beach is a place where people come to enjoy the view, take a swim and chill through the afternoon.

Bonaire spice beach

Capriccio – This Italian restaurant in city center offers the largest wine selection on the island. It is go-to spot for homemade pasta, pizza and gelato in a relatively formal setting. Capriccio is also one of the handful of restaurants open on Sundays.

WHERE TO HAVE FUN

Twizy Tours – The coolest way to explore the tiny island of Bonaire is aboard a self-driven electric vehicle. Road Runner Bonaire offers tours of the North and South, which begin in the capital Kralendijk. South tour proceeds along the coast passing by famous diver spots, Cargill salt hills, slave houses, Atlantic Beach and Jibe City. On the way, you can stop to take photos, swim, dive, windsurf or kite board.

roadrunner bonaire

Washington Slagbaai National Park – A fifth of the island of Bonaire is a nationally protected nature sanctuary where visitors can spend an entire day hiking, walking, snorkeling, diving, swimming and bird watching. Expect to see more secluded beaches, caves, tall cactuses, giant windmills, goats, iguanas and hundreds of elegant pink flamingo parties. The geology of the coral island is also very visible inside the park, forming interesting patterns and colors, making it a photographer’s paradise.

Flamingos Bonaire

Rancho Washikemba – Horseback ride through a private ranch passing through cactus trees, dessert landscapes, open fields, and along the coast. Take a break at a secluded lagoon where you can go swimming with your horse. Rancho Washikemba offers horseback riding lessons, tours and parties and since horses are not native to the island, this is the only official, fully licensed and certified horseback riding ranch on Bonaire.

The Windsurf Place – Take a windsurfing lesson with one of the oldest companies on the island. Here you can rent gear and lockers, eat lunch, and practice on your own or with an instructor. The waters are warm, shallow and picturesque, resembling a vast swimming pool.

dive city Bonaire

Buddy Dive Resort – Beginner and expert snorkelers and divers will enjoy watching the underwater Coral Restoration project at Buddy Diver. Help plant, cut, and clean the coral farm, while enjoying a swim in the Caribbean waters. The dive shop offers classroom training, certifications and personal instructors. It’s a great way to give back your time and skills while on vacation.

Bonaire coral

Klein Bonaire – An undeveloped little island makes for a perfect day out. Pack your picnic and beach gear for trip to Bonaire’s west coast. Water taxis and dive boats transport passengers who want to swim, snorkel, or explore the beautiful beaches and clear blue waters. Some natives claim this is their favorite spot to getaway.

Mangazina di Rei – Visit this cultural center in Rincon to get a feel for Bonaire’s history. Aside from the nice views of the valley, you will also find a museum, gift shop, live music and interactive tours.

Bonaire culture

WHAT TO BUY

Sea Salt Bonaire – After driving around for a few minutes you know the island relies heavily on the production of salt as one of its exports. Run by a Dutch guy nicknamed “The Saltman”, this tiny shop off the main square sells everything made of salt. Boxes, tubs, salt mills, grinders, loose salt and bags of colored bath salt are available for personal consumption, gifts and souvenirs. You will also find Bonaire Sea Salt at most local restaurants.

saltman

Elements – Here you will find handmade dichroic glass jewelry designed by South African, Charlene Bosch while her Italian husband, Gabriele Tixi manages the store. Shop from a vast collection of glass bracelets, earrings, pendants and household gifts. Themes of designs included Africa collection, Ocean collection Sunset collection and many more. Each piece is beautifully done and no two pieces looked alike.

elements Bonaire

Flying Over The Great Blue Hole in Belize

The Blue Hole located off the coast of Belize in Central America is the largest ocean sinkhole in the world, created by a collapsed underground cavern, hence giving the appearance of a dark blue circle amidst the turquoise sea. The Blue Hole measures 1,000 ft in diameter and 412 feet in depth. It is located approximately 60 miles east from Belize City and in March of 1996 it was declared a World Heritage Site and later declared a National Monument in February of 1999.

aerial view of great blue hole Belize

Although cruises and snorkeling boats circle the Blue Hole daily, the best way to see it is from the air. Only an aerial view does justice to the vast magnitude and deep colors that make this one of the wonders of the world.

aerial view of Belize City

Astrum Helicopters offers tours and adventures over the Blue Hole and other destinations in Belize. My adventure began once we boarded a private helicopter near Hopkins, a small fishing village. Most of their tours meet at the Cisco Base Heliport in Belize City, but hotel pick ups are also available. Starting at the 3 atolls in Belize which are part of the largest Barrier Reef system in the Western Hemisphere, stretching for more than 185 miles along the coast of Belize, we headed southeast of Belize City and enjoyed magnificent views of the blue-green coral reefs. Even from the height of the chopper, water underneath looked crystal clear as if we were snorkeling just above the surface.  The view was simply breathtaking and photos don’t do enough justice!

chopper ride over the blue hole in Belize

We flew over Turneffe Islands, Island at Snake Pt. and the Northern Bogue, covering a few atolls, 200 mangrove covered cayas, and a diverse exotic aquatic life. We gently moved into the open tranquil Caribbean Sea under sunny skies, heading towards the Lighthouse Reef Atoll, beyond the barrier en route to the Great Blue Hole.

view from chopper over the blue hole in Belize

The Blue Hole soared under us surrounded by hard corals that borders it with only two small channels. The dazzling colors of the ocean ranged in every shade of blue. Our experienced pilot circled over the impressive phenomenon a few times, but this was one spectacle I couldn’t take my eyes off.

view from chopper over the blue hole in Belize

A smooth ride back took us over a few more islands surrounded by white sandy beach, over Belize City and to the airport. The hour and a half long tour is perhaps one of the most memorable experiences of my lifetime. If you visit Belize and have to pick only one thing to do, my recommendation is to get abroad Astrum Helicopters and tour the Great Blue Hole.

The best national parks in Brazil

Natural landscapes, beautiful cascades, majestic waterfalls, diverse vegetation and fauna of various species are some of the charms that tourists can find in the national parks of Brazil. Here are the best ones as claimed by Brazil Ministry of Tourism. Continue reading “The best national parks in Brazil”

Divers welcome

It is not a well-known fact but the secret is out. Roatan, Honduras is home to the second largest coral reef in the world. The entire 33-mile wide island is surrounded by a shallow reef with thousands of marine life that divers and snorkelers can enjoy. The reefs begin in as little as 20 to 40 feet of water with delightful drop offs up to 100+ feet.

View from the patio at Turquoise Bay

While most divers head to Australia, Roatan is a relatively inexpensive destination to consider in Latin America. Roatan is the largest and the most developed amongst the Bay Islands. From southeast US, it is only a 3-hour direct flight. Many charter flights operate from Canada and Europe that bring in groups of divers every week.

If you are a novice when it comes to the open seas, it’s easy to get lessons and be certified within a couple of days. The Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort located at the East End of the island has one of the largest dive centers. Here you can train in the private swimming pool overlooking pristine, secluded beaches and then head out with capable and certified instructors. Subway Watersports take divers in groups of up to 10 people for day and night time dives to private dive spots. Here you will find amazing pristine dive sites with drop offs, canyons and the Caribbean’s biggest variety of coral and sponges.

Learn to dive in the resort's pool

After a therapeutic day of enjoying the underwater world, you can return to the comforts of resort. Turquoise Bay is perhaps the most upscale accommodation for divers one can find in the entire Caribbean. It is located right on the beach and offers a lot of privacy. The rooms are simple but spacious. Many of them have balconies overlooking the calm blue waters.

The one restaurant at the resort serves scrumptious buffet style meals. The menu has influences of English and Central American cuisines. A good variety of seafood, meats and vegetables are served that would satisfy the palate of any diver. Also, unlimited food and drink packages are offered on their web site.

Enjoy fine dining all inclusive packages

Guests can enjoy swimming pool, internet access, lush gardens, beach hammock and kayaks at their own leisure. It is a great place to unwind and reflect on the sea creature you spotted during the day. Due to it’s remote location, the night sky as seen from the resort is spectacular. If you are a star gazer, make sure to bring your telescopes along. Turquoise Bay was featured in World’s Best Diving Resorts in 2011.

Beautiful sunset & night skies