The vast majority of the world’s great dive sites are accessed by boat. That’s all good and fun, but had to admit I’m the kind of freewheelin’ girl who prefers to don scuba gear on my own schedule, and not necessarily be tied down to a dive shop’s pier departure time. This is part of what makes Bonaire one of the most unique dive destinations in the world, and the reason it was at the top of my Caribbean bucket list — it’s an island surrounded by shore diving sites, and they’re not just a consolation prize to those who missed the boat. They’re the main attraction.
That means you can rent a car and spin through one of the island’s adorable tank drive throughs on your way to any number of dive sites or, if you’re staying at one of the island’s popular dive resorts like we were, you can simply wake up, walk a few steps out your front door, and drop into your resorts house reef whenever you please.
Bonaire is crazy serious about protecting its national treasure. The Bonaire National Marine Park, managed by STINAPA, was first established in 1979. They continue to trailblaze when it comes to protecting the marine environment, from being among the first to permanently moor dive site to leading the way on introducing marine park fees for divers and snorkelers.
In order to get the all clear to dive, we had to sit through a thorough briefing, pay a $25 annual marine park fee, and affix our shiny STINAPA tags to our dive gear. You can also pay $10 for a one day marine park fee (but who wants to dive for just one day?) or $10 for an annual non-diving marine park fee. Bonus, the $25 fee includes free entry to Washington Slagbaai National Park! All in all, a small price to pay to protect paradise.
Our first dive of the trip was off the Divi Flamingo dock at Calabas Reef, known for its spectacular night diving. I’m not a big fan of night diving but one of my favorite little details about Bonaire was walking through Kralendijk in the evening and seeing the sea lit up from below with night divers’ torches. It makes me smile just to think about.
We were diving Calabas Reef during the day, but I was thrilled to have the sun’s bright light illuminating the gentle slope with coral from 20-100 feet. Yup, this is what Bonaire is all about.
This was my first dive ever with my shiny Canon PowerShot G7X, so I was still figuring out all the ins and outs of a new camera. But I was spoiled for subjects to shoot — there were so many cuties in the shallows! I loved this trunkfish, and the trumpetfish that followed.
There were so many trumpetfish in Bonaire, I swear I saw one the length of my arm. I made it a goal for the week to get a really great shot of one.
this was a good start!
Later that afternoon, we’d hop on the resorts boat for a second dive of the day. Now, I did just bang on about shore diving quite a bit, but Bonaire does offer boat diving too. The main reason is to access the dive sites around Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited island fringed by gorgeous beaches and reefs. On this particular day, the winds were a little high, so we headed to Bachelor’s Beach instead — a site which shore divers can also access from the beach.
Even boat diving from the resorts in Bonaire is a little less of a hassle to organize than traditional boat dives — after all, it’s just a short stroll from hotel room porch to pier, and it seemed like there was a lot of leeway regarding hopping on the boat at the last minute.
We didn’t see quite as many creatures at this site, but I happily camped out with the few I did encounter and enjoyed watching them go about their little fish lives for as long as they’d have me.
It didn’t take long before blogger instincts took over, and we started trading cameras back and forth to capture underwater profile pictures — in my case, a well timed hair flip.
After a morning where the only other divers I saw were my buddies, I didn’t love sharing the dive with so many others from the boat. Frankly, this was my least favorite dive of the trip, though I might be biased by the jellyfish stings, acquired during my safety stop, that left me looking like this. My first jellyfish attack — a whopper right to the face.
While it was a little scary and a lot painful at the time, nature is nature and I now have a great story to tell around the rinse tank.
Thanks for the cool GoPro shot, Angie!
Later in the week, when we moved over to Buddy Dive Resort, we celebrated with an afternoon boat dive to Klein Bonaire. As mentioned, rumor has it the sites here are the whole reason boat dives bother to exist on the leeward side of the island. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to check out Buddy Dive’s house reef, as I would have loved to have compared it to the one at Divi Flamingo, but this was a pretty great alternative.
One nice thing about boat diving? It makes for some entertaining entries!
Our destination was Carl’s Hill, on the northwest tip of Klein Bonaire. Any dive site named after an underwater photographer — in this case Carl Roessler — is good for me! The sheer drop of coral from 20-70 feet made this into a gorgeous wall dive with an abundance of life to discover along the way.
Can I just get a general rah rah for Bonaire for taking such great care of this precious ecosystem? These dives made me a believer that whatever they are doing is working well. Having traveled to so many parts of the world where the reefs are little more than a coral graveyard and you see more divers in the water than fish, it was refreshing to arrive and find a thriving world underwater.
Whether you’re finning around your dive resort’s house reef or hopping a ride on their boat, it’s pretty hard to have a bad time diving in Bonaire — assuming the jellies don’t try to french kiss you, that is.
Stay tuned for more on diving in Bonaire, including the shore diving adventures that are the island’s claim to fame as well as a wild day of boat diving off the rarely visited East Coast.
Divers, what do you say? Are you more into shore dives or boat ones, or does it not matter as long as you’re underwater?
All underwater photos in this post were taken with the Canon PowerShot G7X and its Canon Waterproof Housing. See a full list of my photography gear here. Many thanks to Bonaire Tourism for hosting me. As always, you receive my honest thoughts, full opinions and poorly written jokes regardless of who is footing the bill.
We’ve got a nice mix of shore dive and boat dive sites on Oahu – it just depends on the flavor of the day. Most of the really cool stuff is deeper down, and we’re sitting basically on a big cinder cone with a gradual slope, so you need a boat for those. But there are plenty of great reefs, especially up on the North Shore, that you can walk off the beach and swim right up to. I do like the convenience there – you’re not on anyone else’s schedule.
That sounds blissful! I’ve only ever done two boat dives on Oahu, but I’d love to return and check out the shore diving scene…
These are some of your best dive shots yet. What a difference a bad a$$ camera makes, right? LOVE it all—they look like you took them with a DSLR and lighting rig =)
Thanks girl! The only problem is the more fancy my cameras get the more meticulous and time consuming my editing process becomes 🙂 I think I made my way through an entire season of Orphan Black while editing these…
Nice post with gorgeous photos, little by little you’re convincing me to visit Bonaire for the next trip! 🙂
Maybe by the time this series is through you’ll be booking a flight 😉
I’ve had Bonaire on my bucket list as a snorkeler for a long time but now that I’m a diver it’s moved up fast!
My only hesitation is that with shore diving I’m thinking you need to be pretty experienced since it’s just you and a buddy.
Maybe there are dive masters to hire to guide me 🙂
Indeed there are! Stay tuned for details on our guided shore diving experiences with one of the best dive shops I’ve ever dove with!
Look forward to it. You are a travel angel 🙂
Incredible underwater photos! I especially love that black and yellow (angelfish?) that’s looking right at you. Bonaire just shot to the top of my Caribbean bucket list.
Nice! It’s a really interesting island… I already hope to return someday.
Your photos look incredible 🙂 I will definitely have to visit!
Thank you so much! It was a really fun place to play around with my new underwater camera.
alex i hope you can squeeze in a trip to phi phi island. look forward to a blog of that island from you.
Unfortunately I don’t see any Phi Phi in my immediate future. Perhaps on another Thailand trip!
Bonaire sounds like a paradise for you! I love that they have tank drive through shops! Sorry to hear that you were stung by a jellyfish though. That doesn’t sound too fun 🙁
It wasn’t! But all is well that ends well and I do have a good story to tell, ha ha. I also had three of the world’s best nurses!
WoW this looks so Nice. One tip however klein means Little in dutch so it should be klein Bonaire i think not klien bonaire
Whoops, that was a typo. I’ll take a look and see if I can find it!
Whoah mumma! That dive looks perfect. So sorry to see you got stung to the face, can’t even imagine how painful that must have been! Hope it heals soon xo
Thankfully it was pretty much healed by the next morning! I was thrilled with the speedy recovery — probably thanks to my amazing nurses 🙂
Ahh love this! You mentioned that it’s quite popular for diving, but did you find their were a lot of snorkelers too, Alex?
Definitely — I have photos coming up from a snorkeling cruise we went on 🙂
Wow, I love these photos! I have the same camera but don’t have the underwater housing yet. I’ve actually only done a few shore dives in the past but after seeing how wonderful (and, you’re right, how well-protected) Bonaire is, I might just have to give it a visit.
I looooove our camera! The housing is an amazing investment — I use it for so much more than just diving. Kayaking, paddle boarding, white water rafting… anything where I might get wet 🙂
I love when you go to a place and you can see how well its being protected. There is nothing quite able to put a dampen on paradise than seeing how tourism and lack of protection has ruined a place (how I felt on Ko Phi Phi).
I swear everytime I see your diving entries with amazing reef photos like this I promise myself I’ll do it myself. Let’s hope I can put it on my resolution list for next year.
2016 is your year! I can feel it!
Ouch! That jellyfish sting (and especially placement) sounds very painful. Your pictures turned out amazing though!
Thanks Marni! It definitely didn’t feel nice, but I guess it was like a free lip injection? 😀
I’d say that new camera is a keeper – your underwater pics are spectacular as always!
Thanks Leigh! I’m obsessed with it!
Wow, your new camera definitely takes some great shots! Well, you with your new camera;-). Looks like I’ll have to add Bonaire to my Places to Visit list!
It’s my favorite Caribbean isle 🙂 Definitely put it on the list if you’re a diver!
I can totally understand, with an underwater world looking like that! Added;-)
we are going to Bonaire next weekend and can’t wait! I have to say, your photography is amazing! Did you do any post-processing? I have a Nikon AW-130 and it’s good for 120 feet but my shots turn out green. Does your new camera have housing or is it on its own?
Thank you so much Vikki, you’re too kind! I edit using Adobe Bridge mostly and sometimes Photoshop as well for my favorite images. My camera has an underwater setting that brings out the reds and yes, it has a housing (it’s not waterproof on its own).
Thank you, Alex, for a great detailed post. We are heading to Aruba and Bonaire in July. We dived Curacao last year and it was some of our best diving. Looking forward to both A & B this time. Following you.
John and Susan
That’s awesome to hear because I am considering a trip to Curacao in December! I’ve been wanting to visit for years! Let me know what you think of Bonaire.