February 28 – March 26, 2014
Bonaire is a small island in the southern Caribbean – just off the northern coast of Venezuela. It is the “B” in the ABC Islands – the others being Aruba and Curacao. Bonaire is the easternmost of the islands.
Bonaire’s history was discussed with that of Aruba and Curacao on our ABC Islands page.
Bonaire continues to develop while maintaining awareness of what makes them special. They established the first nature sanctuary in the Netherland Antilles in 1969 – the STINAPA Bonaire, or Stitching Nationale Parken Bonaire. Their mission is “to protect and manage its natural, cultural and historical resources, while allowing ecologically sustainable use for the benefit of future generations.” This sanctuary has two arms – the Bonaire National Marine Park and the Washington Slaagbaai National Park.
The marine park surrounds the entire island from the high water mark to 200 feet of depth, and they enforce efforts to protect their marine environment. There is no anchoring anywhere around the island. Visiting boats can rent one of 42 moorings off Kralendijk or go in the Harbour Village Marina. There is no spear fishing. All divers and snorkelers pay a fee to support the marine park. The underwater environment suggests that their efforts are succeeding.
Washington Slagbaai National Park is comprised of approximately 14,000 acres (20% of Bonaire’s land) on the northwest part of the island. It is a rugged area that appears inhospitable to life other than cactus and lizards. There is also some scrub brush and a few goats.
Bonaire is a very dry island. It gets 20.5 inches of rain annually, and most of that falls from October through February. Their soil is very dry and blows around with the winds. They import virtually all of their food from Venezuela. Very little grows here.
Bonaire is comprised of two islands – the main island of Bonaire and the smaller Klein Bonaire. Bonaire island is 111 square miles, and Klein Bonaire is less than 3 square miles. Klein Bonaire is two miles to the west of Bonaire. Both islands are surrounded by shallow coral reefs, and there are few sandy beaches. There are two towns on Bonaire. The capital, Kralendijk, is on the west coast. Rincon is inland. Klein Bonaire is uninhabited. The highest point on Bonaire is 784 feet.
Only 5% of Bonaire’s land is developed. The remaining 95% is cactus and thorny scrub.
Bonaire’s current population is around 17,000. They are mostly Catholic.
The official language of Bonaire is Dutch; however, that is the primary language of only 8.8% of the population. The local Creole Papiamentu is the main language of 74.7%. Spanish is the primary language for 11.8%, English for 2.8%, and other languages for 1.8%. Most speak four languages – Dutch, Papiamentu, Spanish, and English.
Bonaire’s economy is highly dependent on tourism. Most of their tourism dollars come from divers and snorkelers; however, increasing numbers of windsurfers and kite surfers also travel to Bonaire. They still have traditional industry such as salt mining, textiles, and rice farming. And they have more modern industry such as oil transshipment and radio communications. But tourism is the core of their economy.
Our time in Bonaire
Dive, dive, dive
We have long wanted to dive Bonaire, and we finally did – a lot! The moorings that are available for visiting boats are right at the edge of the reef. One can dinghy up or down the coast to different dive sites (we did) and tie up to dive moorings maintained by the marine park. And you can make the short trip across to Klein Bonaire (we did). There are 61 dive moorings on Bonaire and 26 on Klein Bonaire. Or one can dive right off their boat (we did). It is all very nice diving.
The reef is nice, but it is not as colorful as some others. However, the fish are plentiful. We saw everything from tiny blennies to 40 pound tarpon. There is an absence of sharks here, and that may appeal to some divers. However, we cannot but wonder why they are not here. We enjoy seeing most sharks while diving. But we were not deprived of underwater critters to look at.
We have two batteries for our old underwater digital camera (we have finally retired our Nikonos film cameras – sadly). Neither battery would hold a charge. We tried to buy new batteries, but we could not find them. So what to do? Buy a new camera!! This was an unplanned expense, but we could not imagine diving here without a camera.
This system is a big step up from a ‘point-and-shoot’ camera, but it is not an SLR. It has its limitations. But it has been great fun to have while here in this aquarium.
One camera for two divers? So far we are sharing every other dive. Time will tell how this influences domestic tranquility.
We also spent some time touring around the island seeing the sights.
Slaves worked the salt pans on the southwest part of the island. Small huts were built around 1850 to house the men on site. These huts are too small for most men to stand up, and six to eight would sleep in each small hut. But at least the huts provided some protection from the elements.
We saw many wild donkeys and goats, but we went to the Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire (www.donkeysanctuary.com) for an up-close-and-personal experience. What fun! There is a nursery with moms and babies, and the remainder of their 400 donkeys roams the many acre sanctuary. One can drive through the sanctuary and feed carrots to the donkeys from the car. They follow the car and stick their heads inside if they can. Shameless beggars but very cute.
We watched the windsurfers at Lac Bay on the east shore. This is always a good windsurfing spot, and it was really blowing the day we were there. Bud tried windsurfing years ago with limited success, but Nita has never tried it. But she wants to.
Rincon is the second town on the island. It is small and laid back. We did not see many signs of life there other than a few men sitting around drinking beer. There was so little going on there that we had trouble finding a place to eat lunch. We would not think it worth a visit except that one must go through Rincon to reach the entrance to Washington Slagbaai National Park.
Washington Slagbaai National Park
The park has a one-way dirt road through it, and only trucks or SUV-type vehicles with good clearance are allowed in. Vehicles need lots of clearance to pass over this rugged road, and standard cars are turned away. The road offers two options – the short route which usually takes about 1 ½ hours to drive and the long route that takes about 2 ½ hours. We took the long route.
We followed the trail/road up the northeast coast of the island where the wind was howling and the seas were crashing. It was a spectacular sight. We went around the top of the island where there is an abandoned light house and research station. Then we traveled down the northwest coast where the sea calms enough for dive sites, but we did not have dive gear with us.
We had heard that at one of the dive sites, Playa Funchi, there are iguanas so accustomed to people that they greet you in the parking area. Sure enough. Bud shared his granola bar with one.
And we finally saw some flamingos. We had been a few places where they are known to hang out, but we did not see any until Boka Slagbaai in the park. Pretty.
The park is rugged, but it is also beautiful. We were pleased to see that Bonaire is preserving this area.
We had planned to spend ten or twelve days in Bonaire. We stayed for almost a month. Part of our delay was because we were enjoying the diving, and we did not want to rush on. Then the winds came up. We had big winds for about ten days that kept us in place. We thought that Bonaire was a great place to wait out a weather delay.
We both grew to like Bonaire a lot. We like the diving and the laid back lifestyle. This has been a very good stop. But now we will move on to Curacao.
Or return to our Caribbean page