Diving in Bonaire
Favorable geography makes Bonaire the shore diving capital of the Caribbean. The island's boomerang shape shelters the west coast from prevailing easterly trade winds and ocean swells, no rivers flow from the arid landscape to mar visibility, currents are mild to non-existent, and reefs begin downward slopes just yards from shore. Hurricanes are extremely rare, as Bonaire sits south of the Caribbean's hurricane belt, and weather and sea conditions have minimal seasonal variation. Humans have also played a role in the island's rise to diving fame. The Bonaire National Marine Park was established in 1979, and the island's entire coastline is protected. All divers must purchase a marine park tag, which funds the park, and are asked to perform an initial checkout dive to fine tune buoyancy before visiting area reefs. There are more than 60 dives sites on the western side of the island, and another 25 on the low-lying, uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire, which lies less than 1,000 yards to the west. A coastal highway gives access to many sites, which are marked by yellow-painted rocks at turn offs and parking areas. A number of rental car agencies offer compact pickup trucks fitted with tank racks, and these are often seen parked all along the coastline. A number of dive resorts are clustered along the shoreline to the north and south of the town's main town, Kralendijk. Resorts offer a combination of shore diving on house reefs and daily boat dives to sections of the coast that cannot be easily reached by land, as well as sites on Klein Bonaire. Many resorts and dive shops offer shore diving packages that provide unlimited tank rentals and air fills.
Physical descriptions of Bonaire's dive sites often seem repetitive, as many sites share similar characteristic. In general, sites begin on a beach, rock-covered shore or low coastal cliff, where near-shore shallows from 10 to 50 yards in width lead to the upper end of a sloping reef at depths of 25 to 30 feet. Some sites have scattered coral heads in the shallows, many have sand or rubble, and a few offer luxuriant coral growths right up to the waterline. From 25 feet downward, slopes are covered in thick growths of hard and soft corals that hold a wide range of tropical fish and other marine life. At depths of around 100 feet, many reefs level out into a deeper sand sledge that extends offshore to a second drop that is beyond the depths of scuba. Not all sites follow this common pattern. On the island's north coast, sites within Washington Slagbaai National Park begin in narrower coves tucked between rocky headlands. Along the island's southern coast, some sites offer sufficient current to stage a drift dive. The wreck of the 230-foot Hilma Hooker is easily reached from shore, and a pair of piers attract marine life. The long-time favorite, Town Pier, now requires a guide for access, while the expansive network of pillars at Salt Pier harbor a diverse array of life. A small number of adventurous divers visit the island's eastern shore when conditions permit. Here, sites such as White Hole offer drop offs, clefts and caverns that attract turtles, rays and schooling fish–plus, one of the best chances to see sharks.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: US and Canadian citizens must have a valid Passport, valid at least three months beyond the planned period of stay. No visa is required for stays shorter than 90 days. EXIT REQUIREMENTS: The departure tax is USD $36.05 per person, which should be included in your international airline ticket taxes, so thre should be nothing to pay at the airport. Domestic departure tax is $9.27 to Curacao, St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius or Aruba and should also be included in your airline ticket taxes.
No vaccinations or preventative medications are required for travel to Bonaire. Check with the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel at cdc.gov
Culture and Customs
Bonaire provides a low-key take on island life. Bonairean culture blends the traditions of Spain, Africa and the Netherlands. Locals who may initially display the discrete reserves of the Dutch quickly prove warm and accommodating of visitors. And despite decades of tourism, the service industry mentality does not dominate the cultural psyche. Cruise ships now call at the Kralendijk waterfront, but divers remain the main source of business for on-island resorts. Nightlife is more likely to mean a sunset dinner at the harbor followed by a stroll to an ice cream shop, or tall tales of underwater adventures shared at a waterfront tiki bar, with a reasonable bedtime in anticipation of tomorrow's adventures. And there are ample adventures to be found. Washington Slagbaai National Park covers the entire northern end of the island, creating an outdoor playground for hiking, mountain biking, birding and day trips to small surf-washed coves hidden within iron shore bluffs. The trade winds that cool the island also power kite boarders, and the sheltered waters of Lac Bay are home to Jibe City, one of the Caribbean's epicenters of windsurfing action. Blue water fishermen don't have to travel far to hook up with trophy catches, kayakers can find shelter in mangrove channels, and sailing charters provide a relaxing way to skim the coastline without venturing into open ocean. An experience unique to Bonaire are the cave snorkel trips that take swimmers into clear pools of fresh water hidden below the island's limestone substrate.
Electricity, Phone and Internet Access
Electricity is 127 volt, 50 cycle. Many dive shops offer stations for charging lights, strobes or delicate equipment.
Most hotels offer WiFi and some local restaurants and bars offer WiFi. Surf-it hotspots are available with a Surf-it prepaid card from Telbo. Calling Bonaire requires dialing 011-599-7 and 6 digit number. Be sure to check with your cell phone carrier to see if they offer an international plan or you will be subject to roaming charges.
Bonaire offers desalinated sea water which is purified and safe to drink. Bottled water is also available for purchase.
Language & Currency
There are 4 main languages spoken in Bonaire, Dutch is the official one used in government and legal transactions, while Papiamentu is used in daily exchanges and spoken by the locals. English and Spanish are also widely spoken.
As of January 1, 2011, the U.S. Dollar became the official currency of Bonaire. Credit cards are normally accepted in most restaurants, bars and stores. It is recommended you contact your credit card company before travel to make sure they know you will be using the card out of the country. ATMs are available which Cirrus, NYCE and other networks.
Bonaire is in the Atlantic Time Zone (AST) and does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Bonaire is 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-4 GMT).
Location, Size and Population
Bonaire is 24 miles long by 3-7 miles wide, approximately 111 square miles. The small island offshore, Klein Bonaire, which is uninhabited is 2.3 square miles. Bonaire is located just 30 miles from Curacao, 50 miles North of Venezuela and 80 miles East of Aruba. Bonaire is located in the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea and outside of the Hurricane Belt. The population of Bonaire is 18,900 (2016).