Thursday, August 5, 2021

Bonaire: Secret Caribbean Diving Paradise

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Bonaire Resorts Complement, Rather than Commandeer

Many islands in the Caribbean attract a certain kind of traveler: one with a taste for massive all-inclusive resorts that pack restaurants and pools onto a stretch of beach, so that guests rarely (if ever) leave the property. There is a little-paradise, however, that breaks that mold—with nary an all-inclusive in sight, and very few hotel options with over 90 rooms. Instead, adventurers seek out Bonaire to enjoy the eco-friendly island alongside the locals; scuba diving and snorkeling protected reefs, dining at delicious local restaurants, hitting the all-public beaches to swim in turquoise waters, and visiting protected natural areas like the island’s Flamingo Reserve to spot the pink national bird plus parrots, iguanas, and friendly wild donkeys.

Bonaire – Small and Safe

Bonaire’s safe-to-drive streets and small size make it a destination you can explore top to bottom entirely on your own. Whereas many Caribbean islands relegate visitors to a resort area or a hotel shuttle, this Dutch municipality’s wildlife, shorelines, and hike-worthy national park are a short rental-car drive from anywhere on the island. The “B” of the Dutch-Caribbean ABC islands, Bonaire is a relaxation retreat that’s perfect for anyone who’s raised an eyebrow at the idea of visiting a far-off island paradise only to stay on-resort the whole time.

Natural Beauty & Accessible Dive Sites

Hotels and resorts on Bonaire offer enough comfort and activities to bolster the island’s natural beauty, Dutch-Caribbean downtown, and accessible dive sites, rather than replace them. Very few Bonaire resorts have a beachfront (another reason to head off-resort daily) and instead offer pools. Most visitors come specifically to scuba dive at Bonaire National Marine Park, the oldest marine reserve in the world. Accordingly, many hotels offer dive packages or even entire dive programs.

One such option is the Courtyard Marriott Dive Resort Bonaire, a collection of lagoon-side pastel-colored buildings that look a bit like the setting of a Dr. Seuss book. It’s centrally located, popular among families and couples alike, and especially ideal for scuba diving thanks to its dive packages and on-site dive shop and scuba team, Dive Friends. If you’re not certified, you can sign up for beginner classes here to go shore diving, or to get certified. One of the island’s few sandy beaches (most are coral) is accessible via a free shuttle from the hotel.

When to Visit Bonaire

Like most Caribbean islands, Bonaire’s high season is November through April. I visited in October to enjoy a busy weekend of visitors for the locally beloved Regatta Bonaire weekend, which takes place annually and brings kite-surfers and sailors from near and far. Another consistently busy time of year is Karnaval (Carnival) celebrations of February and March and into early April. An island of just 10,000 residents, Bonaire transforms during festivals and when cruise ships land in port—adding buzz to the sometimes sleepy areas around the main city of Kralendijk, and upping the number of taxis that will be readily available in central areas.

Shaped like a boomerang, Bonaire can be separated into north and south with downtown Kralendijk sandwiched in the middle. North Bonaire is where you’ll find some of the island’s most picturesque neighborhoods and vistas. The red-roofed villas just north of Kralendijk give way to many clifftop viewpoints you’ll spot along the road as you drive up the coast.


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