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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.