By now, you guys have heard me extolling the brilliance of Bonaire’s abundance of shore dives, and the ease with which divers can rent a truck, pop by a tank drive-through, and spend the day exploring on a whim. While I think that freedom is one of the greatest things about Bonaire, you guys have brought up some valid questions in the comments of my previous posts — namely, what about people who aren’t necessarily ready to dive without a guide? What about those that don’t drive?
Enter VIP Diving. Ranked as Bonaire’s number one dive school on Tripadvisor, VIP might just be the slickest dive operation I’ve ever laid eyes on. A meticulously organized equipment room. A chic classroom and sparkling onsite teaching pool. An organic herb garden for fresh mojito mint, watered by the runoff from the shop’s air conditioning system. Guys, it was basically a spa in there. And you know how I feel about spas.
VIP Diving focuses primarily on guided shore dives in which your own personal “dive butler” will set up your gear, escort you to the island’s best dive sites based on your preferences and current conditions, and make sure not a single seahorse escapes your sight underwater. They can also charter vessels for days of boat diving and offer a full range of dive courses and certifications — I can’t think of a better place to get your PADI!
Once our own dive butler Steven was successful in peeling us away from the gorgeous new resort we were ready to move into — er, the dive shop — we piled into his pickup truck and headed towards the island’s south shore. VIP’s owner, Bas, had already given us the lowdown not to leave any valuables in the car while you’re shore diving, so we were traveling light. When Steven asked us what we were in the mood to see, we pretty much told him we trusted his expertise (well, after everyone was done laughing at my request to see a whale shark…) and he seemed pleased with that answer. We pulled up not at one of the island’s many many official dive sites but instead an unmarked stretch of ocean road. “This looks good,” he declared.
Never not talking — photo courtesy of Kristin
And then we were in. As a photographer shooting without a strobe, I love the time that shore diving allows in the shallows, where I get the best lighting and some of my favorite photos.
That said, my favorite find of the dive was one I didn’t capture on camera — a pea-sized baby trunkfish just slaying in the cuteness department! I also cheering into my regulator when I stumbled upon this juvenile spotted drum, one of my favorite fish in the ocean. And his creeper friend hiding behind him.
The dive almost made we wonder why Bonaire even bothers pointing out specific dive sites, when you can hop in anywhere and find all this. As we began to slowly ascend, I heard kitesurfers whizzing across the surface — this truly is an ocean-lover’s playground.
Another benefit to diving VIP: once we popped out of the water, we were pretty darn far from our ride. But no stress! While we soaked up some sun on the shore, Steven dropped his gear and jogged down to the truck, valiantly returning to load up our tanks and escort us onward. After a quick chat about where to enjoy our lunch and surface interval, we were off again towards Lac Bay.
I loved that having Steven in the driver’s seat meant we basically got a bonus tour guide. When we approached the island’s iconic slave huts, he asked if we’d seen them yet — when we responded we hadn’t, he pulled the truck over. Constructed in the 1800’s, the huts functioned as camps for slaves working in the island’s salt industry. Each weekend, the slaves would walk seven hours back to Rincon to spend time with their families before returning again on Sunday. Though a full grown adult can barely stand upright inside these tiny huts, they used to sleep as many as six men per night.
I appreciate that Bonaire hasn’t tried to erase these bright reminders of a dark chapter in its history — they are an important reminder of the past. Today, they mark popular dive sites, a look forward to the island’s bright future as a capital of ocean conservation.
We also made a brief stop at one of the island’s obelisks, also a marker of the island’s all important salt production industry. These structures functioned as navigational shore markers to help guide ships towards Bonaire. As someone who normally has my nose pressed against the glass on any road trip, I was so immensely appreciative of these little stops that allowed us to check out sights we might have otherwise only seen on postcards.
I would have happily dove all week with VIP Diving — in fact, I might do just that whenever I return to Bonaire! They really hit all the marks of things that matter to me as a customer in terms of service, style, and sustainability. But don’t worry, we don’t have to move on just yet — I’ve got one more VIP Dive to share with y’all, from my favorite dive site in all of Bonaire.
What’s the best dive operation you’ve ever encountered?
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.