Bonaire

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(3 REVIEWS)

 

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

 

Hilma Hooker:

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.

 

Salt Pier:

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:

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.

Old Blue

Next to Karpata is Old Blue, which has huge plate corals. You can get deep very easily here.

 

Bari Reef:

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".


Klein Bonaire: 

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.

 

Non-Diving Activites

 

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.

 

Find out more

 

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The Bluewater Travel overview and the two existing reviews are right on target for this destination. I have gone to Bonaire for two weeks in early June for the past 5 years. Compared to all the other Caribbean locations I have dove, Bonaire is by far the most convenient for diving when you want to dive and for ease of tank fills. Every year I discover something new despites frequenting the same dive sites. I just wanted to add a few tips to the previous reviews.

Mosquitos
Though not very aggressive the mosquitos on Bonaire can be thick when the wind blows over Lac Bay and there is the threat of Dengue Fever from them. Buy a Mosquito Zapper Racket at the supermarket and then bring it home as a souvenier rather than a T-shirt or leave it for the next guest.

Tanks and Tailgates
Don't leave a tank alone standing on the truck's tailgate......I know this from personal experience.

Donkeys and Lizards
Though tempting don't feed either it just puts them in harms way by making them a nuisance.

On the Wing
Check out the tops of the cactus for green and yellow native parrots. Look out over the salt ponds for flamingos.

Giant Green Morays
On my last trip we had the pleasure of seeing giant green morays hunting the reef at night which we had not seen in the previous 4 years. Their population was though to have been devasted by a form of dysentery. Some believe Hurricane Omar 2008 elimated the source of the infecfon when it destroyed an over the water bar with a failing septic system. Bonaire has been working on it's infrastructure for better waste management with the support of the local community. I will say over the past 5 years I have seen more red algae on the reef including on Kline Bonaire so I am glad they are being proactive as the tourism on Bonaire grows more and more.

Coral Spawning
It is possible to see coral spawning between September and October. STINAPA tries to give their best prediction of when the event will occur. Go to www.tourismbonaire.com to review their past and future predictions.

Fluorescence Dive
Last year I went on a Fluorescence Night Dive with Buddy dive's photo shop on site. I believe they still offer it one or two nights per week for $50. The dive is from their dock and you get the blue light and yellow barrier filter to place over your mask. It added a whole new dimension to what you can see on a night dive and when I got home I bought the equipment for personal use from Bluewater Photo and Video. With a little additional equipment you can also photograph and video fluorescence.

Geo Cashing
Another top side activity to do during surface intervals.

Food
Though Bonaire offers fine international dining don't skip the food trucks/carts. Be sure to get a burger on kite beach from Cactus Blue. Sometimes the owner Hagen has lionfish burgers available . You too can hunt lionfish but only with a guide designated by STINAPA. In town you will see a few nights per week food carts selling grilled chicken, pork chops, and ribs with french fries. Don't just reach for ketchup but go for the white garlic sause.

Reminder
Do NOT leave valueables in your rental truck. Every year we have seen broken glass in the parking lot at Karpota indicating someone rolled up their windows and locked the door, a give away something good is inside! Buy a few cheap polarized sunglasses from Walmart before leaving the states and leave them on the dash. If they get stolen not a big loss and consider it a donation to spare a needy islander or visitor cataracts in the Caribean sun.

Visited on 06/2013 - Submitted on 03/03/2014
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Bonaire is perfect for divers who like to run their own timetables. With so much shore diving, when you dive is up to you. Boat dives to Klein Bonaire and also on the East side (which without a boat is difficult) are also fun to throw into the mix, but most of our diving has been from the shore. Navigation is not difficult, and generally there is little current. Shore entries are usually fairly easy and the book Bonaire Shore Diving Made Easy is a must have. Bonaire is suitable for all levels of divers.

For the photographer, both macro and wide angle is readily available with the Hilma Hooker and Salt Pier being among the better dives for wide angle. Macro can be found on every dive, unlike the elusive frogfish. Bari reef and nearby dives (Aquarium) is my favorite dive site with over 350 species found there!

Most dive packages include a rental truck for getting around and lodging runs the gamut from rental apartments to all inclusive resorts. The restaurants tend to be pricey, but good. Two large grocery stores offer a cheaper alternative which pairs nicely with the many in room kitchenettes that can be found.

Bonaire is really a diver's island, with few frills, but there are topside activities such as kayaking the mangroves, visiting the donkey sanctuary or even trying wind surfing! I can't wait to go back.

Visited on 06/2013 - Submitted on 03/01/2014
Mammoth Lakes, CA
United States
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The Bluewater description on this site is absolutely accurate. Bonaire is just amazing for diving! Our most recent visit in April 2013 found calm seas and 80 plus visibility at all sites. It's the perfect place for beginning divers to gain experience while still entertaining more advanced divers with frogfish, sea horse and eagle rays as well as the usual Caribbean fish and inverts. We saw lots of turtles, barracuda, and one manta that made several shore passes near Buddy Dive and Kallis. The Hilma Hooker will interest wreck enthusiasts and Salt Pier is a fun night dive with lots of fish life around the towering structure. There's lots of wide angle or macro ops for photographers and the topside salt works are a great surface interval. You will see the big white mounds and heavy equipment operation with acres of salt ponds. Not far away are the slave hut sites with the original quarters and colorful markers for more topside photos. I was also enthralled with the pink flamingos that populate the inland water ponds near the airport and at Slagbaai Park.

Bonaire has accommodations for everyone's preferences. You can choose an all inclusive resort and be pampered a bit; or, you can find delightful cottages a bit cheaper where you have facilities to prepare your own meals. There are lots of good restaurants around town and also markets for shopping. My sister got fresh catch from local fisherman for dinner! Most dive packages include a dive truck making it convenient to shop and shore dive anywhere you want. There's always an accessible site with good conditions. Unlimited fill stations are included at many of the resorts for shore diving.

Our favorite sites were Small Wall and Karpata, and anyplace on Klein Bonaire! Karpata is a bit deeper with a great old anchor embedded in the reef and can be reached from shore or boat. Small Wall had free swimming eels that we followed for great video pics. Klein has more variety and a bit more clarity than the main island, but requires a short boat trip. You can arrange any type of diving to fit your budget and interests. That's the best thing about diving in Bonaire!

Visited on 04/2013 - Submitted on 01/28/2014