This past weekend I jetted off to Bonaire. A Caribbean island off the north coast of Venezuela that was formerly a part of the Netherland Antilles, and is now a special municipality under the nation of the Netherlands.
Bonaire is relatively unknown to most I feel, as most people did not even know it existed. It is a relatively small island but is surrounded by lots of protected nature. Most people come here for the world-class diving, unfortunately for me I did not have enough time to dive and then catch my return flight home (that 24 hour rule!). But there are still plenty of other great things to do such as snorkeling, kayaking hiking, windsurfing, or just laying on the beautiful pink sand beaches. One of the things to note is that nearly half the island is protected national park, the north has a large park, while the south side has a smaller salt-water mangrove park.
Not many flights or airlines fly to Bonaire, in fact the only flights to the United States depart either one or twice a week and all either Saturday or Sunday. There are daily flights between Bonaire and Aruba and KLM and TUI Netherlands also flies to Amsterdam.
The best and most cost-effective way to get around is to rent a car. Its cheap, lots of options, and the island is very easy to navigate and drive around. Everyone is on island time and pace and respect each other. Road conditions are not the best, lots of potholes and unpaved roads as well but nonetheless easy to drive. Our automatic Hyundai sedan for 24 hours plus insurance cost us $71. I did see some taxis around town, however I am not aware of any bus or public transport.
There are a variety of hotel/resort options. Plenty of beachfront properties, a few chains, mostly smaller boutique hotels/ lodges or bed and breakfasts. Most properties cater to divers. We opted to stay inland a bit at Red Palm Village, on the east side of the island near the Mangroves National Park. They claim to be “glamping” but its really just a very nice and well-maintained lodge with a beautiful pool area. A small basic but comfortable studio was $95/ night. The staff here are very friendly and welcoming and make you feel right at home. Water, towels, safety box, and AC all provided but thats it. NOTE: there are no walls or doors between bathroom and bedroom, so just keep that in mind if traveling with friends.
Over all I quite enjoyed Bonaire. It is a very easy-going, friendly, relaxing, and beautiful island with lots to do if you like nature and outdoor fun. The nature here is definitely protected, respected and preserved so well-worth checking out. I think I will return for sure when I can take some time off and enjoy the diving around here.
- Arrived at 1:30PM on a Delta flight nonstop from Atlanta (operates Saturdays and Sundays only). Proceeded through immigration and got our rental car.
- One of the main things I wanted to do was a guided afternoon kayak and snorkel tour through the Mangroves which you can only do through the Bonaire Mangroves Center. However, the center and tours are closed on Sundays and not knowing whether our flight would be on time and with a 15 minute drive from the airport we were hesitant to book. Luckily once we got the car, we called and there were two spots left that they were nice enough to hold for us. We bolted through paved and unpaved dirt roads and arrived just in time for the 2:30PM start time. The 2 hour tour costs $42/person not including taxes or park fees. If you have more time on the island or if you get lucky and your flight is early, I highly recommend this activity. The mangroves are beautiful, and you kayak out into Lac Bay’s crystal blue waters, you learn about the delicate ecosystem, and you snorkel through the mangroves and spot some unique marine life. Our guide was brilliant, friendly, and knowledgeable.
- After a wonderful, relaxing and informative adventure through the mangroves we drove 5 minutes from the Mangroves center to our hotel.
- We checked-in, settled for a bit and enjoyed some time on our deck.
- As the sun set we drove about 12 minutes into Kralendijk, the small capital of Bonaire, which is really the downtown area of Bonaire.
- After we parked along the waterfront we walked around town for a bit before arriving at At Sea restaurant for dinner. At Sea has a brilliant atmosphere and tasty food. In general food in Bonaire is expensive, just like most Caribbean destinations, we found prices from nicer seaside restaurants to be similar to hillside local shacks.
- After dinner we walked to The Brewery, for a dessert and some beer.
- Finally, we drove back to the hotel to enjoy some more beverages under the clear starry night by the pool. Star gazing in Bonaire is quite brilliant!
- On Sundays the restaurant at Red Palm Village does not serve breakfast as it serves brunch at 11AM instead. Since we were leaving we kindly asked the chef to prepare a breakfast with whatever he had ready. Chef Danny courteously made us some ham and cheese wraps and it was quite good!
- We then checked-out of the hotel and proceeded for our morning exploration.
- Our morning was spent driving on EEG Boulevard which basically loops around the entire southern end of the island. It is a one lane two way street, so just be a bit alert, but everyone is courteous and either lets you pass or waves thanks as you let them pass! We made many stops along the way.
- Lighthouse Bonaire
- The edges of the Flamingo Sanctuary, we spotted three.
- Yellow Slave Huts: one of two slave house areas (featured image)
- Slave Huts
- Pink Sand Beach, where we watched some windsurfers
- stopped along to see the Cargill Salt Works from a distance as well as its pink sea.
- We then stopped to top off gas downtown before driving off the beaten path (quite literally) to what many locals confirmed is one of the best local bites in town Maiky Snack. Our lunch was delicious and we were basically the only tourists there, but we saw the diverse ethnic mix that make up the local Bonaire population.
- After a hearty local lunch, we drove back to Flamingo International Airport, returned our car and headed home.
Like I said, I really enjoyed my time here. It was a refreshing and relaxing stay and I get in touch with some nature and escape a little from urban life. Driving here is easy, rental was cheap. Lodging options are plenty and range in prices, but for the Caribbean it is affordable. The food was fresh and tasty but just at normal Caribbean prices. I will for sure be back to hangout with my sea turtle buddies on a dive trip in the future!