Bonaire in a Nutshell
Easy shore diving, low cost, and a strong diving infrastructure make Bonaire a favorite for dive travel.
Intro to Bonaire
Just take a look at the slogan on a Bonaire license plate “Diver's Paradise” and you have a pretty good idea what is in store for you. Bonaire realized long ago that the majority of their tourist's dollars were coming from divers. They have worked hard at protecting their reefs and were one of the pioneers to install permanent moorings. It is not just the healthy reefs that attract divers year after year. Bonaire offers diving freedom that can't be found elsewhere in the Caribbean. Not only are there a number of excellent dive shops that offer boat trips out to the local sites but almost all of Bonaire's main island dive sites can be done from shore, allowing you the unique opportunity to dive the same spot as often as you like. There are a large number of dive sites, which means crowds are generally not an issue.
Overview of areas
North dive sites - these dive sites are part of a fringing reef, with a more gentle slope. They are easier dives in general.
South dive sites - the dive sites on the south have a little more current, and they are a little deeper - usually consisting of a steeper drop-off to white sand.
East side - the east side is usually a washing machine.
Klein Bonaire - this small island boasts better visibility than the mainland, due to the lack of runoff.
Typical Bonaire Dive
Bonaire is most famous for its shore diving. It's easy and predictable, and not too deep (less than 70ft). There are not a lot of currents, nothing big in the water to bite you, and the dive sites are well marked.
The dive sites are easy to locate as they are all cleverly marked with a large yellow rock with the name of the site painted on it. Simply drive down the main road till you see a yellow rock, look up the discription of the site in your dive guide and if it sounds good, go diving! The sites in front of the hotels can be accessed from piers or stairs leading down into the ocean. The other shore dives range from easy access to extreme, but most feature pebbled, coral rubble beaches or rocky shorelines so it is best to use booties and open heeled fins. Do not leave valuables in your rental car unattended while shore diving - people have reported having items stolen out of their cars.
A typical dive day really depends on whether you are doing boat dives, shore dives or a combination of both. Most shops run morning, afternoon and often evening boat trips. Shore diving can be done at any time and with most dive packages you can check out multiple tanks. If you are staying at one of the hotels with a house reef these are accessible at any time and convenient for night dives and in between boat dives. The number of dives you can do in one day is only dependent on your energy and bottom time.
Great underwater video of Bonaire showing eagle ray, tarpon, turtle, jacks and lots of fish.
Bonaire dive rules
All of the dive operators in Bonaire are very protective of Bonaire's reefs. In general, wearing gloves in not allowed. If a divemaster sees you touching or destroying the reef, you are usually warned the 1st time, and removed from the water the 2nd time. You are not allowed to take anything from the water, including seashells - the entire island is a preserve
Bonaire Marine Life & Photography Subjects
Bonaire is not typically known for its larger creatures but there is plenty to keep you occupied with your wide angle lens. Large sponges and sea-fans dominate the reef scape and the salt pier has excellent wide angle opportunities. There are a few shipwrecks and large tarpon are quite common as well as turtles, barracudas and few decent size groupers. You can often find tarpon on night dives using the lights to hunt.
For macro and midrange subjects you'll have plenty to choose from. Angel fish, butterfly fish, seahorses, crabs and shrimp are just a few of the many subjects that you can find. Eels are very common, as are spotted drums, peacock flounders, octopus and fire worms. Lettuce slug nudibranchs and flamingo tongue cowries are two of the best macro subjects.
Another great Bonaire underwater video showing squid, turtle, angelfish, pufferfush, eels, jawfish, filefish, tarpon, trumpetfish.
Best Time To Dive Bonaire, Water Temps And Visibility
Bonaire is usually good to dive year round, and actually has a reputation for having great weather all year round, but hurricane season is between June and November. Although technically below the hurricane belt, they have had their share of odd storms and received significant damage in 2008 from Hurrican Omar. Some divers have said that some shallow reefs sustained damage from the Hurricane, but not the deeper areas.
Bonaire receives very little rain and the average daytime temperatures range from 85 to 95 degrees farenheight (29-33 C).
Visibility averages 40-100 feet (12-30M) but occassionaly drops down less. It can easily be over 100ft (30m) at Klein Bonaire.
Water temperatures range from 80 to 86 F (27 to 30 C). The warmest water is in August / September.
Bonaire top dive sites
The Hilma Hooker is a 236 footlong freighter that has been on the bottom since 1984. She rests on her starboard side on a sandy bottom at about 95 feet. The top of the wreck is in about 65 feet of water. Access is available from boat or shore. It's big wreck, usually with good visibility - and it looks like a boat, not like a hunk of junk.
The Salt Pier offers excellent wide angle opportunities with lots of growth on the pilings and schooling fish under the shadow of the pier. Depth range is 40 to 70 feet. Access is available from boat or shore but if diving from shore you must get prior permission. You should be able to do this through one of the local dive shops but check first in case rules have changed. We believe that currently you must do this site with a registered "guide".
Karpata is a bit harder to dive from shore than many of the other sites but well worth the effort. The reef slopes almost to a vertical wall down to the sand at around 130 feet. The majority of the best diving is in the 30 to 80 feet range. This is a good place to see pelagics out in the blue water. Access is available from boat or shore.
Next to Karpata is Old Blue, which has huge plate corals. You can get deep very easily here.
Bari Reef is located right in front of the Sand Dollar Resort. It is an easy shore dive with steps leading directly into the water from their pier. It is a great mid-day dive or night dive with a lot of great macro subjects.
Alice in Wonderland
This dive site in the south has lots of complex reef structure, lots of variety and good corals in the shallows that you can use as a "deco stop".
Some nice soft corals and sea fans, with healthy reef and Caribbean fishes. Because you must come here by boat, it's less frequently dived. Klein Bonaire offers some of the better diving, and the best visibility. Some people do all of their boat dives here.
Getting to Bonaire
There are often direct flights from Newark, Atlanta and Houston, Texas. These flights depend on demand so they may not be offerered in low season. Bonaire's airport code in BON.
Options for Combination Trips
Aruba and Curacao are very close to Bonaire, hence their collective nickname the "Netherlands ABC Islands". Aruba is a great party island with many casinos, and Curacao is really neat with more of a "real" city and more shopping / shops than Bonaire, to service the cruise ships that visit it.
There is plenty to do on Bonaire, like golf, thorny hiking in a park with lots of cactuses, visiting a nice limestone cave you can snorkel in, and going to the butterfly museum.
Bonaire essential facts
- Money - USD
- Electricity - 127V /50Hertz, some appliances may overheat
- Vaccines - none
- Visa - none needed for many countries, check the list here. You can stay for 3 months.
- Language - English, Dutch and Papiamentu
- Safety - Bonaire is fairly safe, but do not leave valuables unattended in your car or room.
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