|Bonaire Dive Site List
Bonaire has over 80 great dive sites of all shapes and sizes for all levels. Those close to shore marked out along the shore by bright yellow marker stones. The main dive sites are listed below!
Despite Bonaire’s relatively low rainfall, it is teeming with life. Bonaire’s resultant vegetation, especially in the flatter areas, is reminiscent of Arizona in the U.S.A. with its tall cacti and bushes. The locals make a tasty soup out of the cactus (with the thorns removed, thankfully!). Birdlife is highly varied due to the surprisingly large number of different environments that exist: there are large salt flats and lagoons, rocky coastlines, desert areas, grasslands and Savannah, plus freshwater dams all attracting different species. Bonaire also has iguanas (being the somewhat smaller relatives of Godzilla) and, rather interestingly, donkeys that roam freely across the island. The Donkey Sanctuary is helping to look after these peculiar reminders of Bonaire’s history. Arguably the best place to see Bonaire’s wildlife is in the Washington/Slagbaai National Park. If you are a keen birdwatcher, you should visit the Birds of Bonaire website where you can see Bonaire’s surprisingly varied and beautiful birdlife and all the info on how you can get to see them.
Itinerant visitors: Bonaire has a large number of itinerant visitors. There are 90 migrant species from North America, 25 from South America and 25 sea birds. Bonaire is a stepping stone between continents for many birds and gives them a chance for a safe place to rest before they continue their migration.
Permanent resident birds of Bonaire are an interesting bunch. Whilst outnumbered by their migrant visitors, they make up for it in their individuality of colours, shapes and sizes making honks, screeches, squawks and songs to match. Here is a brief summary of those you can expect to see all year round whilst in Bonaire:
- The Greater Flamingo: Bonaire has the largest natural flamingo sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere. There are 7,000 of them at any one time on Bonaire and a number of them come, every day, from the Venezuelan mainland some 100 kilometers away in order to breed and tend to their young. They are not difficult to spot. They also like to gather and breed in large groups so when you spot one you are likely to see many others. Populations are concentrated at Pelkemeer (the exclusive breeding ground of the Southern Caribbean Flamingo) on the salt flats in the South and at Gotomeer in the North. Flamingos’ nests are about 2 feet (65cm) across and about 1 foot (32cm) high. The nests taper at the top and hold one egg. When the eggs hatch there are as many as 2500 hungry chicks clamouring for food. There is not enough food on Bonaire alone to feed all the flamingos so a number of adults (numbering a few hundred) leave in the morning and the late afternoon, bound for the mainland. Chicks can fly after about 3 months and fly with the adults to Venezuela. Chicks remain there for 4 to 5 years until they reach sexual maturity and return to Bonaire to breed.
- The Bananaquit (locally known as the chibichibi): It has a black body and a bright yellow chest with noticeable white eyebrows. They are cheeky and will eagerly hop around your sugar bowl – hence they are also known as the sugar bird. These are by far the most common birds in Bonaire.
- The Ground Dove (totolika): Often see these sparrow-sized birds bobbing about in gardens and have a distinctive chestnut patch on their wings. Breeds throughout the year and produces a clutch of two white eggs.
- The Tropical Mockingbird ( chubichubi): By far the best singer in Bonaire and closely related to the American Mockingbird. Its colour ranges from a white to a dark grey and builds a nest of thorny branches and twigs with an inside lining of dry stems and grass. It produces a clutch of about 3 eggs that are green with small grey-violet spots. It is highly territorial.
- The Black-Faced Grassquit (Moffi): Looks much like a finch.
- The Caribbean Parakeet (prickichi): Bright green in colour with a yellow head and neck, often seen in pairs.
- The Yellow Warbler: Often seen in small group by the edge of ponds and lagoons and are easy to spot as they are bright yellow.
- The Orange Trupial: Striking bird with a black head, startling eyes, black wings & tail with a white stripe and a deep yellow chest. Might see it standing atop a cactus having a look around.
- The Yellow Oriole: Those of you familiar with Orioles will recognise this species easily, despite it being yellow like several other birds in Bonaire.
- Shore Birds: A good variety of these, mostly on the beaches of the West Coast below the airport. You can expect to see sandpipers, plovers, turnstones, sanderlings and the occasional oystercatcher. Where waters are deeper you can expect to see snowy egrets, reddish egrets, green herons and tri-coloured herons, blackwinged stilts, yellowlegs, dowitchers and terns.
- The Caracara: All other birds keep a close eye on this one. It is a bird of prey and you may be able to get close, if you are quiet, and see it strutting about like a chicken in the Washington/Slagbaai National Park.
- The Pearly-Eyed Thrasher: Endemic species that has excellent tree camouflage but will break cover if you offer it some breadcrumbs. Mainly in the wooded areas of the Washington/Slagbaai National Park.
One respectful request is to avoid the temptation to approach the flamingos or try to get very close. They come to Bonaire to find peace and safety and they will easily be startled. Remain in your cars, please, when travelling near their breeding grounds in Pelkemeer. You can get closer to them up in Gotomeer so aim to take your close-up camera shots there.
If you saw the film Godzilla, you already know what iguanas look like. Fortunately the ones on Bonaire are much smaller, but no less impressive. Though fearsome looking, they are rather shy, retiring creatures and tend not to cavort about in front of the camera; during they day they often lie well-camouflaged and motionless in trees and are difficult to spot.
Bonaireans by circumstance have always had an intimate relationship with the sea dating back to the Caquetio Arawak Indians nearly three thousand years ago, arriving in their dugout canoes. In more recent centuries Bonaireans relied on their seafaring skills for vital trade links with neighbouring islands and further afield. Like with the Arawaks the sea was vital as a daily source of food. Bonaireans became skilled boatbuilders all through the 19th Century and their distinctive designs were seen trading the length and breadth of the Caribbean. Bonaire is great for watersports, ranging from the timeless pleasure of hoisting a sail and relaxing to the ultra-modern world of windsurfing & kitesurfing with state-of-the-art composite boards and the very latest in sail technology. You can go fishing too, as people have done off Bonaire for thousands of years with the chance to catch big game fish such as wahoo, tuna, marlin and sailfish. Sailing in Bonaire is embodied in the Annual Regatta which is held in October. It is now a National Holiday and its origins are both fascinating and amusing.
The story goes that back in 1967 Captain Don (as he is affectionately known) was challenged by a local character – called Cowboy – that Ebo (Hubert Domacasse) could beat him in a sailing race around Klein Bonaire. Captain Don, as his name would suggest, was no stranger to the sea and asked what Cowboy would wager. “10 cases of Amstel(beer)!!” and Captain Don looked at Ebo across the bar – and the bet was on. By the end of the night the bar was full and the stakes had gone up to 27 cases of Amstel. What were the rules? “There are no rules!” Cowboy replied. Seeing the potential disaster here, Captain Don & Ebo drew up a list of rules that have hardly changed to this day:
- Go round the island (Klein Bonaire) clockwise
- No guns
- Start with your mains up and on anchor
- Any sails in any combination are allowed
- Finish line is at the starting rowboat which is to be left at anchor.
- First one back to the rowboat wins!
- Anything else goes!
Ebo won. His intimate knowledge of the waters proved to be the deciding factor. The annual race is a piece of Bonairean history. In 1992, on the 25th anniversary of the race, Amstel produced 27 specially-marked cases commemorating the event. So, if you’re in Bonaire in October, you will have the chance to see this historic race take place. And 27 cases of Amstel beer change hands. Today there are a number of sailing charters available doing everything from day cruises to intimate dinner and snorkel trips.
Over on the East Coast of Bonaire at Lac Bay some of the best conditions for windsurfing in the entire Caribbean can be found whether you are a beginner or an expert. There’s no worries about being blown out to sea as there is a constant side onshore wind. The water in Lac Bay is also shallow. Every windsurfer’s dream spot! Windsurfing operators offer instruction plus the rental of the most up-to-date surf equipment. Once you arrive it is not surprising to see why windsurfers from around the world rate this particular part of the Caribbean very highly.
Kite surfing has also taken root here for the same reasons – and you will see them in numbers too. When you’re not windsurfing there are a number of restaurants and bars to relax in plus other watersports like sea-kayaking in which to indulge, where you can explore around Lac Bay and the surrounding mangroves. For detailed information on windsurfing in Bonaire, check out the Bonaire Information Site Guide to Windsurfing.
Touring can be split into two sections: touring the South of the island and touring the North. The two areas are scenically quite different, and are taken in turn below.
Touring The South…
Heading south out of Kralendijk and past the airport keeping to the coast you will soon reach the salt pans (shown right). These have been used intermittently for centuries and more recently by Cargill Salt for salt production. The salt mountains are almost surreal – giant, sparkling white, symmetrical hills lined up towards the seaside loading point at Waf Di Saliña. Beneath them lie the salt pans which often turn pink in colour due to the bacteria and algae in them. Truly bizarre and makes for some memorably different photos. The salt company has carefully tailored its operations not to disturb the breeding grounds of the next attraction – the Greater Flamingo.
On the salt pans you may well see flamingos feeding (shown left). At Pelkemeer towards the southern tip of Bonaire where the water is less saline the flamingos tend to drink and bathe. In the entire salt pan area 135 acres form the Flamingo Sanctuary, the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, and this is the exclusive breeding ground of the entire Southern Caribbean flamingo population. Avoid the temptation to approach them in the sanctuary. They are sensitive to intruders when especially they are breeding and disturbing them in any way is strictly prohibited.
On the coastline you can see another accumulation of curious-looking objects. These ones are man-made and consist of a series of stone obelisks (shown right) and a neat group of small, stone houses. In previous centuries these buildings housed the slaves and the salt company’s overseer (or ‘bomba’ as he was known) working the salt pans. The obelisks were used as marker points for ships to guide them to the salt loading point and were colour-coded so that the ship could mark its position (Bonaire being so flat in the south, discernible land features were virtually non-existent). The big house belonged to the overseer.
At the very southern tip of Bonaire you will see the Willemstoren Lighthouse built in 1837 (shown left) – Bonaire’s oldest and, apart from the obelisks, the only other discernible land feature from the sea in this part of the island. After the lighthouse you head east towards Lac Bay where there’s a hotel and a couple of bars & restaurants. This is the windsurfing and sea-kayaking capital of Bonaire. It’s also an excellent place to snorkel and check out the marine life contained in the giant aquarium that forms Lac Bay. Out of Lac Bay and back towards Kralendijk you pass through the village of Nikiboko where you can stop off for a cool drink.
Touring the North is a different kettle of fish altogether. Firstly, you can see as you head north out of Kralendijk that there actually some hills up in the distance! Its makes a big change from the flat-as-a-pancake South. Keeping to the coastline, you head towards Gotomeer (shown right), a neat lagoon surrounded by mangroves and green vegetation. Gotomeer is the other area where flamingos gather on Bonaire. The road runs close to the lagoon’s edge and you can get a good snapshot of flamingos from your car window; the birds tend to be more relaxed here and not quite so skittish as in their breeding grounds in the South. The pink birds against a green backdrop makes for startling photos. You will see on your journey alot of Bonaire’s typical savannah-like vegetation consisting of short grasses, large cacti and thorn bushes. In this seemingly harsh environment there are many bird species that make their home. You may also find the odd wandering donkey. This is quite normal, but do be careful as they are not familiar with the highway code!
Back down the road and a quick turn to the left sends you towards the historical settlement of Rincón (shown left). This small town was the first ‘settlement’ in Bonaire and dates back to 1527. There is a small crest just before the town and makes for an ideal photo opportunity looking down the road into the settlement. Rincón has a number of pleasant walkways and cycle paths and has a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere. It is the cultural centre of Bonaire.
East of Rincón on a side road there are a number of Arawak Indian rock carvings & paintings (shown right). These date back at least 500 years and are a reminder that Bonaire was inhabited long before Europeans “discovered” the island. In fact there is evidence of Arawak colonisation as far back as 1300 BC. These carvings are the only remaining testament to the considerable Caquetio Arawak Indian “pre-european” history.
Northwest of Rincón lies the Washington/Slagbaai National Park (shown left) which celebrates its 40th Anniversary in 2009. The park entrance is at the end of the road that heads north out of Rincón. The park spans 13,500 acres and covers virtually all the top Northwest segment of the island. It is an excellent bird sanctuary and there are tens of local and itinerant bird species as well as lazy, elusive iguanas. The route through the park is rugged, so drive carefully.
Back into Rincón and out the other side takes you towards the East Coast at Boka Olivia. The road swings down through the village of Noord Saliña and finally back into Kralendijk (shown right). The town is busier than Rincón and like many towns in the Caribbean with Dutch heritage it is neat and efficient, well signposted and well organised. Buildings are typically painted in bright colours like orange and yellow with
The Donkey sanctuary is a non-profit organisation whose aim is to provide badly needed care for the donkeys left on Bonaire in the wild (approx. 200) in addition to the 92 in our Sanctuary. Donkeys are very much a part of Bonaire’s history; they were essential for transporting goods, especially salt, before motorised vehicles were introduced. They are now no longer needed but, in turn, need our help. They need adequate supplies of food, water, shelter and medical attention. With your donations (there is no entrance fee) the Donkey Sanctuary can help them to grow old in peace. Donkeys don’t have as much road sense as you do and you may find the odd one roaming about, so please look out for them when you are driving around. Still, every week a donkey is struck – so please be careful.
Please pay attention and respect the
‘Caution Donkeys’ sign
Bonaire has long been environmentally conscious. Environmental protection was embodied in the establishment over 20 years ago of Bonaire’s National Marine Park which extends around the whole of the island. The Sea Turtle Club Bonaire is active in protecting turtles and their habitats in and outside the Marine Park. The laws governing the Park are enforced; even those who consider themselves aware may find they have broken the rules detailed below at one time or another – ignorance is not an excuse in Bonaire, so please read them.The rules and codes of conduct of the Park cover three broad areas: diving & snorkelling, boat activity restrictions and fishing restrictions. The basic regulations are outlined below:
Diving & Snorkelling Regulations
- Admission Ticket: You must get an admission ticket to dive in the Park. Dive operators issue these.
- It is forbidden to remove anything, living or dead, from the Park (with the exception of garbage).
- Please do not touch the reefs or coral formations. Exercise good buoyancy control in order not to cause accidental accidental damage with arms, flippers or gear. Do not disturb the sand on the bottom as silting up the reefs can choke and kill them or destroy the delicate habitats of sand dwellers.
- Feed the fish and handle marine life only under expert guidance – feeding them the wrong food can be harmful and can upset the reef ecosystem balance. Handling the wrong creature can be potentially harmful to you or the creature you handle.
- Anchoring: Basically, you can’t, regardless of whether the bottom is sandy or not. The only exception to this is between the Customs Pier and the marina in Playa and Boats of 12 ft (4m) or less may use a stone anchor – only then with the express permission of the Harbour Master.
- Rules of the road: There is a speed limit of 5 knots when travelling within 230ft (75m) of the shore. Stay in the Blue Water beyond mooring buoys. Stay at least 150 ft (50m) from any moored boats. Watch out for divers & snorkellers and stay well away from any surface disturbance or bubbles.
- Use of Public Moorings: They are marked yellow (white spars are not moorings) and they’re free. Use them at “off-peak” times – before 9am, from noon till 2pm and after 4pm. Your boat must be less than 38ft (11.6m) to use the public moorings. One boat or three inflatables (inflatables no more than 12ft or 3.6m in length) to a mooring. You must use a scope line as long as your vessel when using these moorings. 2 hours on the mooring only. Overnight use of moorings is prohibited.
- Garbage: Keep your refuse with you. Do not throw it overboard.
- Turtles: are completely protected as are their eggs and nests. The Sea Turtle Club Bonaire actively protects both the turtles and their habitats. You cannot catch or kill turtles or offer for sale, buy, trade or give a gift of turtle meat or any other part of a turtle. It is prohibited to take turtle eggs or disturb turtle nests.
- Conch: To take conch you must have a permit from the Bonaire Government.
- Line fishing (Linja/Hengels): is permitted, though you may not fish from dive moorings or in front of dive operations.
- Throwing nets (Trai): are permitted though you must be careful not to damage any corals when using these. If your net gets tangled you must remove it completely without damaging any corals.
- Net fishing (Redas): is permitted but the mesh size may not be smaller than 3 cm for the top 2/5ths of the net or 2 cm for the lower 3/5ths of the net. Nets must be checked by the Marine Park before you lay them out. You may not fish with nets within 65 ft (20m) of the piers in Kralendijk.
- Spearfishing: A very unpopular device indeed on and around Bonaire. You may not spearfish under any circumstances whatsoever. You may not transport spearguns over land or water in Bonaire. You must check the speargun into the Customs Office on your arrival and it will be returned on your departure. Failure to do this may result in the Park Rangers confiscating your speargun. Permanently.
- Handspearing: is prohibited.
In 2009 the park celebrates its 40th anniversary. This wildlife preserve is the first of its kind in the Netherland Antilles and covers some 13,500 acres. The park is open daily from 8am-5pm although the gates are closed to entrants from 3pm. There are two routes you can follow: the “short” route which is 15 miles (24km) long and takes about 1-2 hours or the “long” route which is 22 miles (35km) long and takes between 2-3 hours. The routes are rugged and force you to drive slowly enough to appreciate the terrain and the wildlife.
What to look out for…
The first stop after leaving the gate is Saliña Matijs (shown right). When it is dry the pan evaporates leaving a hard salt crust. A few miles further on a side road leads to Playa Chikitu – an excellent beach for sunbathing, but the currents make it dangerous for swimming. A little bit further on you’ll find Poos di Mangel on the left towards Boka Bartol and is a popular watering hole for a number of bird species. You may well see a number of black-necked stilts and yellow warblers.
A few miles further down the road you reach Seru Bantana (Window Hill) where the rocks have formed a natural window looking out to sea (shown left). Beyond this by the sea is Malmok Lighthouse right next to Bonaire’s most northern point. Further down the route you will see Mount Brandaris, Bonaire’s highest point, standing 241m high directly ahead of you. Take a right at the fork and you will head to one of the best snorkelling beaches in Bonaire – Playa Funchi. Flamingos are also quite common at the saliña (salt flat) behind the beach.
If you turn left at the fork, the road leads to Bronswinkel Well where hundreds of birds come to drink. Among them you will find Blue pigeons, yellow breasts, stilts, gray kingbirds and the odd screeching parakeet. In the less densely vegetated areas of the park you will see the large, tall cacti, reminiscent of those in the arid Southwest United States. Further down the road between Playa Funchi and Wayaka you may, if you are vigilant, to see another of the peculiar attractions of the park – the giant iguana lizards. Past Saliña Wakaya the road leads down to Boca Slagbaai which is an excellent spot for a rest, swim, picnic and a snorkel.
Iguanas (shown left) tend to rest, well-camouflaged, up in the trees. They can keep absolutely still for long periods of time so spotting one up in the branches requires a little effort. They are bigger than you might expect, especially if you are imagining a glorified house lizard (as seen in many Caribbean households). They can be up to 3-4 feet (1-1.5m) long and carry a good bit of weight too. Docile and slow-moving though they may seem, they are the model of economy. If they need to make a quick getaway, up goes the tail and , rather like a Citrôen’s hydraulic suspension, their legs straighten up and these large creatures race over the ground with an alarming turn of pace. Their thick, reptile skin is clearly visible and their tails have black rings. Luckily within the confines of the Washington/Slagbaai National Park they lose their inherent shyness and are not too bothered by the odd visitor. When you are only used to the fast, darting movements of small lizards, the slow, deliberate gaze of these magnificent creatures is memorable.
What is remarkable about the Washington/Slagbaai National Park is the number of small ecosystems that it contains. It is vitally important to many resident and itinerant bird species, including the Greater Flamingo. Habitat destruction is a major concern in wildlife preservation and the park shows how many animals rely on fragile ecosystems. It is one of the best examples of its kind in the Caribbean and its 40th Anniversary comes at a time when environmental issues in the region need an example to follow. This park demonstrates how the limited natural resources of small developing islands can be used intelligently and responsibly. Donations are always greatly appreciated.