Bonaire

Photo © marlis

Travel Guide Caribbean Bonaire

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Introduction

Bonaire is an island in the Caribbean and the capital is Kralendijk. At the 10th of October 2010, the island of Bonaire acquired the status of extraordinary municipality of the Netherlands, just like Sint Eustatius and Saba. The Netherlands Antilles were dissolved as a separate state and that state as such no longer exists.

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Brief History

Bonaire's earliest known inhabitants were the Caquetio Indians, a branch of the Arawak who came by canoe from Venezuela in about AD 1000. Archeological remains of Caquetio culture have been found at certain sites northeast of Kralendijk and near Lac Bay. In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda arrived in Curaçao and a neighboring island that was almost certainly Bonaire. Ojeda was accompanied by Amerigo Vespucci and Juan de la Cosa.

In 1526, Juan de Ampies was appointed Spanish commander of the ABC Islands. The Spanish inhabitants lived mostly in the inland town of Rincon which was safe from pirate attack.Bonaire was conquered by the Dutch in March 1636. The Dutch built Fort Oranje in 1639.While Curaçao emerged as a center of the slave trade, Bonaire became a plantation of the Dutch West India Company. During the Napoleonic Wars, the Netherlands lost control of Bonaire twice, once from 1800–1803 and again from 1807–1816. During these intervals, the British had control of the neighboring island of Curaçao and of Bonaire. The ABC islands were returned to the Netherlands under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. During the period of British rule, a large number of white traders settled on Bonaire, and they built the settlement of Playa (Kralendijk) in 1810.

On 10 October 2010 the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved, making Bonaire a public body of the Netherlands.

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Geography

Bonaire has a land area of 288 km², while Klein Bonaire is a further 6 km². Bonaire's population is about 15,000 inhabitants.The island is ringed by a coral reef which is easily accessible from the shore along the western and southern sides. Furthermore, the entire coastline of the island has been declared a marine sanctuary, preserving local fish life. The coral reef around uninhabited Klein Bonaire is particularly well preserved, and it draws divers, snorkelers, and boaters. The highest point of Bonaire, the mountainous Brandaris, 240 metres high, located within this preserve, has a complete view of the island.

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Sights and Activities

Flamingo Sanctuary

Flamingo/Bonaire

Flamingo/Bonaire

© All Rights Reserved marlis

Although officially the Flamingo Sanctuary is off-limits to tourists, visitors with a strong pair of binoculars can see these beautiful creatures enjoying their everyday life in relative quietness and peace. Other flamingo-viewing spots which are open to the public are for exampl enear the Willemstoren lighthouse at the southern tip of Bonaire.

Washington-Slagbaai National Park

Another example of nature is this national park which covers the northwest portion and almost 20% of the island. Washington-Slagbaai National Park is a magnificent place to explore.

Salina Martijs

Salina Martijs

© All Rights Reserved marlis


Although roads are rough this place deserves a visit. Most of the park contains tropical desert, and there is an abundance of cacti and birds. There are flamingos in the lowlands and parrots can be seen as well. Other animals include the large bright green iguanas among other reptile species.

Other Sights and Activities

  • Bonaire Museum
  • Fort Orange - Fort Oranje was built in 1639 to defend Bonaire's main harbor. The commander of the island lived here until 1837 when his new home was built next door. The fort never saw action. The cannons are old English cannons that date between 1808 and 1812. Over the years, the building (fort or lighthouse) has been used as a government center and warehouse for government goods, as a prison, police and fire station. The fort building was restored in 1999, and is now the courthouse.
  • Fort Orange lighthouse - A wooden lighthouse was built around 1868, and replaced by a stone structure in 1932. It is an active lighthouse with a white flash every 2 seconds. The 1932 lighthouse is a square tapered-pyramidal stone tower. The light station now serves as the harbor master's office. Located on the site of a seventeenth century fort adjoining the cruise ship docks at Kralendijk, on the west side of the island. The fort is open for tours, but it is a very small fort and apparently only really of interest for the lighthouse.
  • Indian Rock Art
  • Mangrove Forest
  • Wildlife
  • WIndsurfing - Windsurfers make a strong group of island tourists, as the east side of the island (facing the Caribbean Sea) has the large waves and wind gusts needed for windsurfing. Lac Bay, in the south east, is shallow, yet windy, and hence is considered an excellent place for intermediate sailors to improve their skills.

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Events and Festivals

Bonaire Carnival

Late February/early March sees the most colorful and spectacular festival of the island’s calendar and is one of the best times of the year to visit Bonaire. No matter where you go, it is virtually impossible to escape the party atmosphere and the beat of the Caribbean drum once it’s in full-swing. The most elaborate and hedonistic celebrations tend occur on the streets of Kralendijk where everybody puts on crazy costumes and does away with their inhibitions. The dancing, drink and downright debauchery goes on for days with music, fireworks and huge parades.

Simadan Festival

A folk festival held in April, the celebration was originally a harvest event. Originally farmers, with the assistance of friends and family, would head to the fields to rake in the crop. It remains a family-orientated day with lavish feasts thrown, which tend to include signature dishes such as goat soup, giambo (okra soup) and repa (pancakes). The wapa, a traditional dance which involves rows of people moving simultaneously, is a highlight and sees most townsfolk join in.

Bonaire Dive Festival

Bonaire has hosted this dive festival every June since 1997, which focuses primarily on conservation. Non-profit organization CORAL (Coral Reef Alliance) hold the event annually in order to raise awareness of the preservation of marine beauty. The two-week event includes seminars, environmental awareness projects, underwater dives and cocktail parties.

Bonaire Heineken Jazz Festival

Held every July, Bonaire’s jazz fest has been running since 2005. The main event takes place on Saturday night, while many other concerts and activities are held across the area. Each year, hundreds of visitors and established musicians head to the island for a number of workshops and interactive events help to promote jazz and music among the young population.

Bonaire International Sailing Regatta

An annual sailing event every October, the Bonaire regatta includes a variety of boat races along the coast. Vessels from around the world come to compete, while numerous windsurfing and freestyle competitions take place. After sunset, attention turns back to the shoreline, notably the Sea Promenade, Wilhelmina Park and Kralendijk, where jovial, usually booze-fueled, social events go on late into the evening.

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Weather

The island of Bonaire has a very pleasant and constant climate. This means warm and humid weather yearround but with almost constant sea breezes cooling things of a bit. Temperatures average around 30 °C during the day, cooling of somewhat to 23 °C at night. Most rain falls between October and February but compared to the islands more north in the Caribbean it doesn't rain that much. July and August are high season and therefore the drier months of March to June are the best time for a visit.

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Getting there

Plane

Flamingo International Airport or Bonaire International Airport (BON) is where all international flights and flight from other islands of the Netherlands Antilles arrive and depart. TUI Netherlands (website in Dutch) and KLM fly there from Amsterdam. The latter has connections onwards to both Quito and Guayaquil in Ecuador. Other services include those to Houston, Miami, New York, Atlanta and Cartagena in Colombia. Finally, there are some seasonal flights to Paramaribo and Caracas and connections to Aruba.

By Boat

There are not currently any passenger ferries operating to or from Curaçao or Venezuela. Cruise ships do increasingly visit Bonaire, especially "in season" (winter). Some shops and restaurants may remain open extra hours to cater to their passengers.

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Getting Around

By Car

Rental cars are available at the airport and at many hotels. Reservations are strongly suggested as, especially during peak times, all vehicles may be rented. You can drive around the entire island in a couple of hours!

By Bus

There is an informal bus system on the island that utilizes vans. There are a small number of medium sized tour buses on the island as well.

By Boat

Uou can use different Bonaire Water Taxis including and the Seacow Watertaxi.

Private boat moorage is available. Dive operators operate boats to many dive sites including those located off the small uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire. Some boat operators also specialize in snorkel tours and there are regularly scheduled passenger boats to Klein Bonaire. Some include the Woodwind, Bonaire Pirate Cruising, Oscarina, Bowalie and more.

Other options

Bicycle rentals are available. Scooters, motorcycles, golf carts, are also available for rent.

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Red Tape

Countries eligible for a visa-free entry are most countries in North and South America (not Bolivia), Caribbean (but not Haïti, Dominican Republic and Cuba), Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Japan.

Other countries required obtaining a visa, which is valid for Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and the Caribbean Netherlands and allows multiple entry for a maximum period of 90 days within 180 days. The maximum uninterrupted stay in one of the individual countries is 30 days. The visa is not valid for the European part of the Netherlands.

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Money

See also Money Matters

The Antillean Guilder (Naf) is the official currency for Bonaire. It is also known as the Florin or Gulden and is subdivided into 100 cents. Note denominations are 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 250 NaF. Coin denominations are 5, 2.5, 1, 0.5, 0.25, 0.1, 0.05, and 0.01 cents.
The Guilder is fixed to the US dollar at an exchange rate of 1.79:1.

In November 2008, it was decided to introduce the US dollar on Bonaire, just like for Sint Eustatius and Saba. This transition is scheduled for January, 2011. From that time, The US Dollar, or "greenback", will be the national currency of Bonaire. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.

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Language

Dutch is the official language of Bonaire, as it is part of the Netherlands. The most widely spoken language is the creole language Papiamentu.

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Eat

Bonaire has many restaurants and quite varied cuisine given the overall island population. "Aki ta Bende Kuminda Krioyo" will inform a visitor that local-style food is available, generally heavy on soups, stews, fried foods and fish. Traditional foods that may be found on the menu include conch, cacti, wahoo and rock lobster. Much of the fish is caught locally by line fishermen in season. Though traditionally eaten, iguana is not generally served in restaurants.

Bonaire has little in fast food, though there is the "smallest KFC franchise outlet in the world" in a shopping plaza by Kralendijk and a Subway sub shop. Check out "Swiss Chalet", a local favorite serving Fondu. Bobbejan's is an extremely popular weekend-only barbeque joint. Other cuisines common on the islands are Argentine, Italian, Indonesian, Suriname, and lots and lots of Chinese. Island-made ice cream is available in many places, with Lovers Ice Cream being a local favorite. Arrive before noon, as they often sell out.

Almost all eateries are open for limited hours during the day, and many close briefly during siesta time between 2-3PM. Call or check ahead to determine if a restaurant is open for lunch, dinner, both, or only open on weekends. Some are closed certain days of the week, such as Sunday.

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Sleep

Despite the small size of the island, Bonaire has a lot of possibilities when looking for places to stay, from large resorts to small privately owned houses which you can rent on a daily basis. Along the coast you have multiple places that combine a dive school with cabañas where you can sleep for a moderate price. Most of the accommodations on the island are relatively small, averaging 15 rooms or less.

Several mid-size apartment complex devoted to tourists exist. These tend to be a bit more upscale than the smaller accommodations. There are several larger, more resort like places as well. These are still somewhat small, with only the Plaza Resort Bonaire and Captain Don's Habitat having over 100 rooms.

Due to flights from the US often being scheduled on Saturdays, some resorts have a weekly schedule, with an end-of-week party Friday night, such as the BBQ at Buddy Dive Resort.

  • Beaches Ocean View Apartments, EEG Boulevard 5, ☎ +599 795 3815, e-mail: info@beaches-bonaire.com. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 11:00. Four studio apartments that can accommodate 2 persons each. The apartments have comfortable box spring beds, an equipped kitchenette, a bathroom with rain shower and a private porch. $110-125.
  • Buddy Dive Resort, Kaya Gob Nicolas Debrot #85, ☎ +599 717 5080, toll-free: +1-866-GO-BUDDY (46-28339), e-mail: info@buddydive.com. This resort is among the most popular with scuba divers, putting everything a diver will need right outside their door. There is a "drive thru" tank refill station, several resort dive boats, car & gear rentals, and numerous lodging packages available that include dive options. Scuba diving off of the resort's pier is easy and rewarding. In-between dives there are two pools and two restaurant/bars: Blennies Restaurant is more casual, while Ingridients Restaurant offers upscale dining. $175.
  • Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino, J.A. Abraham Blvd 40, Kralendijk (Exit the airport and turn right onto the main island road. At the first intersection, turn left, then take a sharp right turn at the end of the road. Continue until you see resort entrance on your left.), ☎ +599 717-8285, toll-free: +1-800-367-3484, e-mail: reservations@diviflamingo.com. Intimate and informal, with 129 rooms and studios, all air-conditioned, with a private patio or balcony, two swimming pools, on-site casino and its own natural beach. On-site PADI five-star dive center with custom dive boats, gear storage, a fully equipped dive shop. The capital town of Kralendijk is a 5-minute walk away. US $130-300.
  • Eden Beach Resort, Bulevar Gob. N. Debrot # 73, ☎ +599 717-6720, toll-free: +1-855-228-4644, e-mail: info@edenbeach.com. This resort is located on one of the few sand beaches in Bonaire and has its own on-site dive operator. Other resort amenities include a spa and an onsite restaurant/bar that is open from 7AM-11PM daily (midnight on Friday & Saturday). $150.
  • Lizard Inn, Kaya Amerika 14, ☎ +599 786-0277, e-mail: info@lizardinnbonaire.com. Small and cozy B&B, owned by Dutch immigrants, good for the ones with a small budget. 70 usd.
  • Plaza Resort Bonaire, J.A. Abraham Boulevard 80, Kralendijk (Less than five minutes' drive from the airport), toll-free: +1-800-766-6016, e-mail: usa@plazaresortbonaire.com. A dive resort that offers spacious air-conditioned villas and suites with views of the lagoon, marina, or ocean. On-site PADI dive center available including snorkeling and windsurfing. US $190-300.
  • Summer Dreams Ocean Club, EEG Blvd (First hotel south of the airport), ☎ +599 782 2048, e-mail: info@summerdreams.nl. This smaller resort is a nice, upscale alternative to the big dive resorts to the north. The resort offers about a dozen rooms, right on the water, and a tiny beach with easy access for diving or snorkeling. Rooms are relatively spacious and offer air-conditioning, TV, rain shower, and a small refrigerator. Outdoor amenities include a small infinity pool, deck, outdoor day-beds with ocean views, and a group of the island's iguanas that come begging during mealtimes. Visitors concerned about plane noise due to the proximity to the airport shouldn't need to worry as there are only a small number of flights each day. The restaurant is open from 8:30AM-10PM and attracts a fair number of non-guests, with excellent (if pricey) food. Lunch and dinner are fixed-price multi-course meals for $30-$50, while a simple Dutch breakfast is served in the morning for $19.50. There is also a full bar. $200.
  • Sun Rentals Bonaire, Kaya Grandi 65, Kralendijk, toll-free: +1-866-464-1786, e-mail: info@sunrentalsbonaire.com. Sun Rentals Bonaire offers a wide range of vacation villas and apartments as well as free dive tank delivery right at your doorstep. US $99-300.

View our map of accommodation in Bonaire

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Health

See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Bonaire. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Bonaire) where that disease is widely prevalent.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Bonaire. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

There is little serious crime on Bonaire, however 911 can be used for emergencies. Secure your bicycles and scooters.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Quick Facts

Bonaire flag

Map of Bonaire

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Population
12.877 [1]
Coordinates
  • Latitude: 12.2018902
  • Longitude: -68.2623822

Contributors

as well as greatgrandmaR (4%), Herr Bert (<1%), travelnetwork (<1%), chiel.bakker (<1%)

Bonaire Travel Helpers

  • prrrtpieptoet

    I am a Padi Dive Master and have spent 4 holidays on Bonaire. Bonaire is a special municipality of The Netherlands and I am a Dutch citizen, meaning I live in the Netherlands.

    Ask prrrtpieptoet a question about Bonaire

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