Bonaire, the small Dutch Caribbean island most people have never heard of, unless you are a diver.

When my friends and I were on a dive trip in Belize, we met a fantastic woman who happened to be from this small, beautiful island, that I had never heard of.  One year later, after researching and seeing just how beautiful this place was, we decided we should visit this diver’s mecca.

In researching more about the island, I discovered Bonaire is part of the Netherland Antilles, together with Aruba and Curaçao, it forms the group of islands known as the ABC islands.  It is a small Dutch Caribbean island about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela. 

Papiamentu is the local language. Most residents also speak Dutch, Spanish, and English.  Also, while plenty of islands in the world have their own currency, Bonaire, does not. It uses the US dollar as its official currency.  In fact, it was only on New Year’s Day 2011 that the island officially adopted it as their proper currency.  

Arriving in Bonaire

Coming from Seattle, the flight took almost 10 hours, but it was well worth it.  Deplaning from the second leg of our flight, we were immediately hit with the Caribbean 85 degree heat and humidity.  It was perfect!

Once through customs, we located our luggage and we were picked up by the friendly folks from the Buddy Dive Resort, and we were off to our home for the next week. 

On the way to the resort, I loved seeing the signs displaying a donkey crossing.  I’m a fan of uncommon crossing signs.  Donkey’s have been residents on the island for hundreds of years and many roam freely.

Buddy Dive is located on the waterfront north of town, just a couple of steps from the amazingly crystal clear ocean and it’s dive sites.  

Anyone who visits will quickly find out that Bonaire is a leader in nature conservation, and takes ocean conservation seriously. The Bonaire National Marine Park has been protecting the coral reefs surrounding Bonaire since 1979, which is why the reefs of Bonaire are some of the healthiest in the Caribbean. 

All divers are required to attend a thorough orientation before their first dive on the island, purchase a marine park tag before entering the water ($15 for divers and $10 for non-divers), and attach the tag to an item of dive gear that you will have with you in the water. They also require a check-out dive as part of the briefing process, which gives each diver a chance to check their buoyancy so that damage to the reef is minimized or eliminated.

Where to dive in Bonaire

We did our check out dive right off the Buddy Dive dock and got acquainted with the fantastically warm Caribbean water.

Following our check-out dive at Buddy’s Reef, we decided to grab our rental van, fill up our tanks, and explore the island to find our next dive site.  

Did I mention Bonaire Marine’s Park offers a total of 86 dive sites?!  Driving around the island, there is a new dive site every 100 yards, and most of them are shore dives.  It’s like nothing I have ever seen before. 

You can dive almost anywhere in Bonaire, but the marked sites will (usually) have an easy entry into the water with your gear and have some parking.

 

Here’s our dive site list for the week.  You’ll notice that some sites we did more than once, because they were that good!

  1. Buddy’s Reef
  2. Alice in Wonderland
  3. Hilma Hooker (ship wreck at 100 ft)
  4. Salt Pier
  5. Karpata
  6. Red Slave (attempted but current decided otherwise)
  7. Tori’s Reef
  8. Buddy’s Reef
  9. Petrie’s Piller
  10. Hilma Hooker
  11. The Lake
  12. Buddy’s Reef (night dive)
  13. 1000 steps
  14. Salt Pier
  15. Bari Reef

While all of the dive sites were amazing, if I had to choose a top three, my favorite dive sites were 1000 steps, Salt Pier, and the Hilma Hooker.

Other things to do and see in Bonaire

On our last day in Bonaire, since we couldn’t dive, we explored the north end of the island and the Washington-Slagbaai National Park.  This park is 13,500 acres and an excellent introduction to the landscape and vegetation of Bonaire covering almost one-fifth of the island a nature sanctuary for parrots, iguanas and many other species of birds and reptiles. It was beautiful.  

Make sure to plan plenty of time to travel the park if you take the long loop.  We found flamingos all over the island, which matched the pink salt flats perfectly.  It’s no wonder the national bird is the pink flamingo.  Fun fact, the salt pans of Bonaire cover one tenth of the island’s surface and produce 360,000 to 500.000 tons of Bonaire salt every year.  Absolutely beautiful!

We will be back Bonaire!

After spending a week on this amazing island, and diving some of the most beautiful coral reefs I have ever seen, my husband and I fell in love with this island.  We decided that it is now a lifetime goal of ours to dive every site Bonaire.

Check out my video summary of Bonaire and it’s beauty: 

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48 Comments

  • Reply jessica January 19, 2017 at 7:20 am

    You’re right. I had never heard of it! Would you say that people who are not divers would also really enjoy spending a week or so on the island or is it more just focused around that one activity?

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:23 am

      While it is mainly focused on diving, there are definitely plenty of other activities both on the water and on land. A lot of the dive sites can be snorkeled as well. Obviously the diving is a lot deeper, but the visibility is great, so there is still a ton to see. Worth it!!!

  • Reply Ro from The Travel Captain January 19, 2017 at 7:30 am

    Thank you for sharing! Love learning about new islands and dive spots. AND especially the fact that they’re big on preservation! great youtobe video. what camera did you use for the underwater shoots if you don’t mind me asking?

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:26 am

      Thank you so much! I love putting together the dive videos from my adventures. I mainly use my iphone for some still shots, but my GoPro Hero 4 Silver for the video and the diving. It’s so small and convenient with great video quality. I also can take still shots from the videos as well. Never travel without it. 🙂

  • Reply Rimsha January 19, 2017 at 7:36 am

    I definitely hadn’t heard of it before but it’s now on my bucket list. Looks like such a beautiful place, I can’t wait to see it in real life one day!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:26 am

      Definitely worth a visit! Now I need to check out Aruba and Curacao as well to check off the other parts of the ABC islands.

  • Reply Violeta January 19, 2017 at 10:18 am

    The Washington-Slagbaai National Park looks amazing! I’d love to see those flamingos and the landscapes. Perhaps I’d try diving, as well, since there are such good chances to see so many beautiful underwater things.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:22 am

      Diving brings in a whole other world. It’s amazing and definitely worth a try. I am mostly a cold water diver, so it’s wonderful when I get to dive warm water and see all the differences. The flamingos were a beautiful addition to the landscape. Such an amazingly magical place.

  • Reply Maria January 19, 2017 at 1:16 pm

    Wow, what a diving paradise! I know Caribbean is awesome for diving, but this island seems like a true gem! I really liked the video – soo beautiful! Underwater world is unlike anything else! I must put it on my travel goal list 🙂

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:20 am

      This was unlike anywhere I have ever seen before. Definitely worth visiting. No wetsuits required. I’m use to cold water diving in dry suits, so this was heaven.

  • Reply Penny January 19, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    I’ve never heard of Bonaire before and I would attribute it to my bad geography. Definitely staring this on Google maps so that I have reference for future travel plans!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:19 am

      It’s definitely worth a visit. Such a small island with so much character and beauty!

  • Reply Bonita January 19, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    The photos are nice! The rocky terrain though… I wish we had a close up pic of dead sea.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:18 am

      The rocky terrain is what makes it amazing! Bonaire is not in the dead sea, but closer to Venezuela. Take a look at the dive video in the post. The desert terrain on the island adds to it’s beauty.

  • Reply Ioanna January 19, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    Oh, wow! What a place! I’m not a diver, but I think I would not be bored there at all – just walking around the island would be enough 🙂

    Thanks for the lovely little bits of facts about the island 🙂

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:16 am

      While the island is a divers mecca, there is a lot of other non-diving activities as well. I want to go back to check out more as well.

  • Reply Naomi January 19, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    It looks so amazing but I have never been. I find the prices (even for Dutch people) so absurd high, I wish tickets were more affordable, I’d love to go explore more of this part of the Netherlands

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:14 am

      We found that the restaurants were expensive, but there were ways around it. We cooked in a lot too.

  • Reply Aubrie January 20, 2017 at 2:20 am

    This place looks amazing! I’ve actually only been snorkeling before. I am not a very strong swimmer so I’m a little scared to try out scuba diving. :/

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 20, 2017 at 5:13 am

      We had a friend that was with us that cannot scuba dive. He was actually able to snorkel along with us at most of the sites. Obviously he couldn’t get as deep as we did, but the visibility was amazing! 🙂 You actually don’t have to be a strong swimmer to dive. It’s mainly kicking, but the fins help. Don’t know until you try. I’m all about doing things that are outside of my comfort zone.

  • Reply Theresa January 21, 2017 at 9:19 am

    Oh, man, this is absolutely beautiful. And great to see from the other comments that there’s tons of non-diving stuff to do, as well as snorkeling. Great photos!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com January 23, 2017 at 1:17 am

      Thank you! I can’t wait to go back. Non-divers can have just as much fun as divers for sure. 🙂

  • Reply Kavey at Kavey Eats February 26, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Bonaire looks beautiful! I’m not a diver but I think I’d still really enjoy the conservation park areas, and that coastline looks stunning.

  • Reply danik February 26, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Wow. This island looks so beautiful. Not a diver myself but my partner is and I am sure she will jump at the chance of coming to this island 🙂

  • Reply Kate @ Love From Scotland February 26, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    How stunning! What a beautiful place to dive. Do they do newbie courses there?

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com February 26, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      They do actually! There were a couple of people getting certified while we were there. 🙂

  • Reply Christina February 27, 2017 at 6:38 am

    Yes you’re right I’ve never heard of Bonaire. It looks lovely and I know someone who is a keen diver who would probably kill to go!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:40 am

      OMG, they definitely have to check it out. It’s amazing, relaxing, and there’s so much to explore both above and below the water’s surface.

  • Reply Swati & Sam (The tales of a traveler ) February 27, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Wowww looks like a stunning island. 86 dive sites is awesome and such cute names of each sites, I have never heard about the place but that makes me more curious to research some more. I am not a fan of diving but my husband is I would love to visit this island and donkey crossing sign – that’s adorable 🙂

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:55 am

      Haha, thank you! It is an amazing island. Your husband would love it! I loved the signs too! 🙂 There is also a donkey sanctuary on the island. I never got to visit. Next time!!!

  • Reply Eric || The Bucket List Project February 27, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    so weird that this Dutch Colony uses USD but that is good for us I guess! haha.

    Looks like a beautiful place but is it really worth the expense if you don’t dive at all? Wouldn’t it be just better to go to A or C and leave B to the divers?

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:52 am

      Fun fact – Until January 2011, the three islands used the Netherlands Antillean guilder; after that all three Dutch Netherland islands switched to the US dollar, rather than the euro (which is used in the European Netherlands) or the Caribbean guilder (which is being adopted by the other two former Antillean islands of Curaçao and Sint Maarten). Either way, I don’t complain, it is so much easier! One of our friends who doesn’t dive was able to snorkel along most of the sites we dived. There is also a lot to do above water too. I haven’t been to Aruba or Curacao yet, but am hoping to go soon to compare. 🙂

  • Reply Sandy N Vyjay February 28, 2017 at 5:36 am

    Bonaire is indeed an unknown gem. A real revelation and a veritable paradise for divers. I think it looks like a great place evern for non-diverse as the island seems like an idyllic place to just commune with nature and recharge and rejuvenate.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:39 am

      You are so right! It’s like taking a step back in time and just a great place to relax. I could easily spend a month there and be a happy camper.

  • Reply Anne February 28, 2017 at 7:45 am

    I really like the idea of driving round and stopping where you want to dive. Is there a detailed description of each site as you would get from a divemaster or did you take along a guide?

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:38 am

      There are detailed dive maps at dive shops and online. I actually bought a book of bonaire dive sites, which is extremely detailed. 🙂 It’s impossible to get turned around while diving any of the dive sites if you’re not too super good with navigation. Keep the shore to one side and open water to the other.

  • Reply Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie February 28, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    I’ve heard of Bonaire because I have a good friend who is a diver and has been to Bonaire. It’s great to learn about how seriously they take their conservation efforts. I was just reading an article about how many beach hotels are making it their new cause to save the coral reefs off their shores. Seems like they could look to Bonaire for inspiration and methods.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:34 am

      That is so true! I would love to look further into that and see what they are doing. It’s so good to hear that they are trying.

  • Reply Anita Hendrieka March 1, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    I heard about this place a few years ago and totally forgot about it! I have been wanting to travel there for ages now. Looks like such a beautiful place for a relaxing holiday I think!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      OMG, you definitely need to! It was such an amazing little island. I can’t wait to go back.

  • Reply Isadora Koller March 8, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    This best thing in these islands that almost nobody ever heard of is the chance you have in visiting an almost untouched place and have contact with nature in its more natural way, I just love it!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 20, 2017 at 3:14 am

      It’s truly an awesome experience. I love untouched beauty, and it’s hard to come by these days.

  • Reply Kat March 8, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    You’re right, I’d never heard of Bonaire, but it sounds like it’s worth the 10 (or 12 hours from SF) hour flight.
    I’m so glad that they have been taking reef conservation so seriously for such a long time. In Australia we have the Great Barrier Reef and every year Marine Biologists and Scientists seem to come out with new findings that we’re damaging it more and more and every year the government ignores it. It’s awful considering that we’re ruining the natural habitat of so many living things.
    Are you a very experienced diver? Just wondering if a total beginner would be able to dive in Bonaire.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 20, 2017 at 3:17 am

      It is definitely worth the trip. I have 170 dives, and a lot of those dives are from cold water/dry suit dives. My husband on the other hand, only dives warm water and was relatively new to diving when we traveled to Bonaire. He went from 7 dives to 22 dives by the end of our trip. 🙂 It’s totally diveable by divers of all experience levels.

  • Reply Kristof March 8, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    So jealous on your trip! Bonaire is well known in Belgium and Holland for its idyllic beaches and ocean, but it’s such a long travel it’s hardly reachable for us. Would love to visit one day though!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 20, 2017 at 3:33 am

      It is a long trip for me as well, but worth the trip. The dive sites were amazing and I can’t wait to dive the rest of them.

  • Reply Caitlin Stewart March 11, 2017 at 3:15 am

    I can’t believe a place this beautiful can be so unknown! How were the hotels? Diving is something I’m so interested in. They have classes in Lake Tahoe to get certified, but I haven’t done it yet!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 20, 2017 at 3:27 am

      You should definitely get certified. It opens up a whole new world. The hotels were great. They don’t have typical hotels like you would see elsewhere. It’s more bed and breakfast style. Juliana’s is highly recommended.

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