Bonaire is one of my favorite islands in the Caribbean for shore diving. Bonaire is located in the southwestern region of the Caribbean, very close to Venezuela. The region is also referred to as the Lesser Antilles. It’s also part of an island grouping called the ABC islands which includes Aruba and Curacao. The ABC island are part of the Netherlands, although they remain outside of the European Union. Aruba and Curacao are autonomous, self-governing constituent countries of the Netherlands and Bonaire is a special municipality of the Netherlands.
Scuba diving is possible year-round since Bonaire is located outside of the hurricane belt. Average air temperature is around 82°F with the highest recorded temperature of 97°F and lowest temperature of 67°F. Ocean temperatures fluctuate around the island between 78°F and 86°F depending on season.
In my opinion, the reefs surrounding Bonaire hosts the highest density of marine life in the Caribbean. This is most likely due to the establishment of The Bonaire National Marine Park in 1979. The Marine Park covers the entire coastline of Bonaire down to a depth of 200ft. Due to public-private partnerships and local awareness the reefs and ecosystem are highly protected.
I’ve been to Bonaire three times to dive. Each time I visit, I see something I’ve never observed before underwater. During my first visit to Bonaire, I watched a Moray Eel hunt and capture its prey along the house reef during a night dive. I observed the Eel for about 20-30 minutes before it cause its prey, a small Damselfish.
One of the most famous dive sites on Bonaire is the Salt Pier. The Salt Pier is accessible by boat dive or by shore dives. Both access points are situated for fantastic diving. However, I enjoy diving from shore because you can see a lot more marine life as you dive underneath the pier and during your safety stop. Scuba diving off a boat forces you to conduct your safety stop in the blue or open ocean.
Whether you are learning how to dive for the first time or continuing your dive education. Bonaire is a great place for scuba diving training and/or certification. The seas surrounding the island are generally calm with little to no current on many sites. Reefs are quite easy to navigate and it’s pretty hard to get lost underwater. During my second visit, I trained to become SDI Solo Diver. Training was intense and Bonaire was a perfect place to accomplish this level of underwater skill.
Off the coast and underwater in Bonaire, you’ll never know what you’ll come across during a dive. During my last visit, I saw a few lovely Spotted Eagle Rays swimming along the reef. The video above was taken near Klein Bonaire, a small uninhabited islet off the western coast of Bonaire. Klein Bonaire is only accessible by boat.
Where to Stay: I personally do not like to stay at the same hotel consecutively. I’ve lodged at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino, Buddy Dive Resort, and Captain Don’s Habitat. All are good resort hotels with full diving services and excellent house reefs.
Language: Dutch is the official language. Most locals (75%) speak Papiamento which is recognized by the Dutch government. Bonaire is a polyglot society, with most of Bonaire’s population able to converse in at least two languages: Papiamento, Dutch, English and/or Spanish.
Currency: Bonaire uses the US Dollar instead of the Euro. However, Euro’s and Netherland Antillean Guilder’s are widely accepted.
Getting Around: I highly advised you rent a truck if planning to shore dive. Renting a small pickup truck is simple and navigating the island is easy. You can rent a truck at the airport or at most hotels. You do not need to possess an international driver’s license. Hotels and/or rental operators provide free maps of the island which includes dive site locations. Dive sites are marked by number on yellow stones along the road.
Diving: The reef system is quite easy to navigate from shore. Therefore, dive guides are not really needed on the south side of the island. Waters in the northern part are a bit rougher, so a guide is recommended. I used Bas Diving during my last visit.
Marine Park Permit: There is a small marine park fee around $25. The marine park fee is good for multiple visit to the island within one year. Permits can be obtained at most resorts, hotels, and dive shops on the island.
Safety: Bonaire is quite safe. However, if you are shore diving, it’s recommended that you do not leave anything of value in the truck like expensive sun glasses and clothes. Leaving extra tanks and hotel towels will be fine.
Things to do Besides Scuba Diving: Snorkeling, windsurfing, shopping and dining in Kralendijk, birdwatching at Washington Slagbaai National Park, and visit the Bonaire Museum of National History.