Great diving requires great visibility. More often than not, to find the best visibility, you usually have to go offshore to get away from pollution and runoff and to find deeper water. But, there are a few islands where shore diving is as good or better than many deep water sites. Bonaire is one of them, and it should be on your top ten list for diving. Bonaire provides easy access to water, an abundance of marine life, and gives the most avid diver the ability to dive as much as they can stand.
Bonaire is a small, relatively flat island located among the leeward islands in the Southern Caribbean. Along with Aruba and Curacao, these three islands make up the "ABC islands" near western Venezuela. They are unlike other islands found in the Caribbean because they lie outside the hurricane belt and are not affected by these seasonal storms.
With tropical weather, little temperature variation, and a "rainy" season that lasts from the late October to the end of January, Bonaire has much to offer those wanting to spend their day diving in the turquoise blue water and nights just hanging out and enjoying the company of their fellow divers. Even during the rainy season, it is still relatively dry with late night or early morning showers which clear quickly.
With little vegetation or natural resources, Bonaire terrain consists mainly of white sandy beaches and salt. There are only a few hills on this otherwise flat island as well, but the highest point, which is located in the Washington / Slagbaai National Park, is Mount Brandaris. This hill is only 787 ft high but offers a 360-degree view around the island.
Bonaire’s dive sites are as abundant and diverse as any diver could want. Most sites are just offshore offering depths from about 30 to 130 ft and beyond as the landscape slopes out to sea. The reefs around Bonaire include diverse Caribbean corals and sponges as well as creole wrasse, boga, sponges, and orange cup corals, painting the underwater landscape with many shades of purple, orange, and yellow.
With over 80 named shore dive sites, there are more diving opportunities than anyone could possibly make even staying two weeks straight. If you can find access to the water, there is bound to be a dive site just a short distance away.
For those really wanting to dive and dive a lot, there is one thing to do, rent a truck. Trucks are cheap and big enough to throw dive gear and tanks in the back and head out. As you drive down any coastal road, all you have to do is look for a specific feature lining the road. These are large painted rocks which designate dive entry points, and there is one after another along the roads to the north and south.
Please note, because the coral reefs found around Bonaire are protected as a national marine park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, each diver is required to pay a $25 admission fee which is collected upon arrival.
Here are just a few of my favorite dive sites around Bonaire:
Sites located in Washington Slagbaai National Park
These are a little off the beaten path and take a little more effort to get to but they are also more isolated offering a more remote diving experience.
- Boka Bartol - This site offers more opportunities than most to encounter larger species of fish. The shallows offer large, unusual coral formations, while the sandy seafloor provides the perfect habitat for rays and garden eels.
- Playa Benge - Here divers will be rewarded with some of the most pristine coral reefs found on the island. This site, like Boka Bartol, is also home to many of the larger fish species.
- Playa Funchi - In the shallows of Playa Funchi, divers should look for sand tilefish, peacock flounders, and other marine life that make the sand their home. Looking further out, divers will see numerous horse-eye jacks in deeper water.
- Bisé Morto - Deep-water pelagics such as whale sharks, manta rays, and even humpback whales have been spotted here so it is a favorite amongst dive enthusiasts.
- Wayaka - Wayaca is a relatively new dive site and is visited by larger species of marine animals.
Other Shore Dive Sites
- Nukove - Here divers will find some of the most pristine coral formations found on Bonaire.
- Karpata - Karpata offers divers a chance to see sea fans, sponges, and elkhorn coral gardens everywhere. It is also not uncommon to see turtles lingering in the shallows.
- Carel's Vision - Similar to Nukove, Carel's Vision provides expansive views with an abundance of marine life.
- Angel City - Part of a string of southern sites that feature a double reef that offers some of the most stunning coral formations and vibrant schools of tropical fish around the island.
- Hilma Hooker - The Hilma Hooker is a shipwreck resting from 55 to 100 feet underwater. This ship was detained for drug smuggling and sank in 1984. Now, it offers divers a fascinating experience with giant tarpon lurking nearby.
- Salt Pier - Salt Pier is a large pier that extends out more than 120 feet out to sea, to the north and south, forming a giant T. Below the water’s surface, the pier’s three-foot-diameter columns creates what appears to be an underwater forest providing surfaces for many varieties of corals and sponges to grow. The coral, sponges, and fish present a bold, bright montage of colors.
- 1000 Steps - Here divers will find some outstanding formations of star coral. These have grown into high rising pagoda-like features providing homes to many reef creatures including sergeant majors, hawksbill turtles, and manta rays.
- Town Pier - Near the center of Kralendijk is Town Pier. This site offers extravagant displays of small, colorful and bizarre marine animals. The is a perfect night dive, because of the lights emanating from the pier at night. Here divers will find concrete pilings covered with colonies of Orange Cup Corals. Taking a closer look, divers will find assorted blennies, tube worms, and crustaceans such as flamboyant gaudy clown crab and cryptic teardrop crabs. Around the base of the pilings, juvenile angelfish, butterflyfish, and spotted drums, as well as numerous small spotted, chain and golden tail morays, call the pilings home.
Non Diving Activities
Bonaire offers much for non-divers as well. Make sure and check some of these sites out when you aren't diving to take in as much of the culture and sites as you can.
- Historical cannons - located across the street from the old Hospital, these historical cannons are from a British ship that ran aground in 1829 near Fort Oranje.
- Flamingos - You will definitely want to keep your eyes open for Flamingos when visiting Bonaire. They're numerous and after several days you might even think they're everywhere. But seeing them close up or in-flight is another matter entirely.
- Washington Slagbaai National Park - located on the north side of the island, Washington Slagbaai National Park is an ecological preserve. Admission inside the park is $5 per adult, $1 for children under 15, with no entrances permitted after 3:00 p.m. There are two dirt roads leading through the park: a 15 mile route, taking 1.5 to 2 hours to traverse, and a 22 mile route advertised to take just 2.5 hours to complete, without stopping along the way.
- Iguanas (wild) - You can see iguanas easily at the Washington / Slagbaai National Park. There are a few places with iguanas in this park. They are used to tourists and they are not afraid at all so you can approach them very easily.
- Slave Huts - The dwarf-sized stone huts were built in the mid-19th century, as residences for the slaves who worked in the salt mines. The slaves' permanent homes (and families) were in Rincon, so every Friday afternoon, they would take a seven-hour hike to the other end of the island to spend a day at home, returning each Sunday.
- Rock Paintings - On Bonaire, you can admire petroglyphs of Caquetio Indians – a tribe of the Arawak – at 30 different spots, both above and below ground.
- Donkey Sanctuary - In 1993 husband and wife Dutch Nationals, established a donkey sanctuary on Bonaire for sick, wounded and orphaned donkeys. Today the primary objective of the facility is to offer a sheltered, protected life to all the donkeys of Bonaire.
When to Go:
Bonaire offers lots of sunshine and temperatures that hover in the mid-80s (F) year-round. More importantly, since Bonaire is outside of the hurricane belt, extreme weather events are rarely an issue.
Off season is the best time to travel to Bonaire. This is when there are fewer people which is from May to October when there are pleasant temperatures and cheaper hotels as well. High season on the other hands brings higher prices but also coincides with colder weather in much of the rest of the world so it when more people come to bask in the sun.
Direct flights are available from the US, Europe, and Canada. You can also take connecting flights from Mexico.
Bonaire is a beautiful island that offers divers a more diverse set of diving experiences than most other dive destinations. This is one island you do not want to miss.
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