Bon bini a Bonaire! As I tried to suss what language the welcome banner at Flamingo International Airport read (answer: Papiamentu, one of the languages spoken on Bonaire alongside Dutch, English, and a dash of Spanish — and yes, the airport is truly named after the island’s much loved and long-legged pink birds), I watched an endless string of dive gear bags spin past on the baggage carousel. I flipped through my passport to admire the latest addition, and smiled when I saw what stared back at me — another flamingo, this one stamped in blue ink.
I was certainly in the Caribbean now.
But Bonaire’s not quite your typical Caribbean island. As a certified scuba addict, I’ve been itching to visit this diving paradise for years, but I found that most of my friends and many of my social media followers, who chimed in when I announced the trip, didn’t know where or what Bonaire was (neither did Jason Bigg’s wife’s Instagram followers, who left some pretty entertaining questions and comments on her posts from when she was on the island).
Let’s start with the where. Nestled alongside Aruba and Curacao in the Dutch Caribbean, Bonaire is the middle child of the ABC islands and a member of the former Netherland Antilles. It’s not too far off the coast of Venezuela, though direct flights from Newark, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and Amsterdam make it an easy hop from the USA and even Europe.
But what is Bonaire? It’s an island of a mere 112 square miles, and just 60,000 annual visitors (of which over 80% arrive specifically to dive, according to some sources). It’s an island with just 1 stop light but 86 marked dive sites, the majority of which are famously accessible from the shore. Think striking desert instead of lush tropics, local charm in place of corporate chains, and dive sites crowded with fish rather than beaches crowded with people.
First stop: Divi Flamingo, a popular dive resort in Kralendijk, Bonaire’s capital. Accommodation in Bonaire is again, different than what you’d find in many Caribbean hotspots. There are no big corporate all-inclusives or chain hotels here — rather, you can choose from a few colorful dive resorts (like Divi Flamingo), a handful of laid-back boutique hotels (like Bamboo Bali), or an array of beautifully designed villas (like Piet Boon Bonaire). Overall, where to stay in Bonaire seems like a less important question than it might be on other islands — after all, most guests spend the majority of their time underwater.
Water I could not have been more thrilled to wake up to each morning for the next week. Especially alongside my two best blogger buds, Angie and Kristin, and my new friend (their old one!) Steph. Angie I’d last seen in Jacksonville, and Kristin I’d last seen in Nashville, but the three of us hadn’t been together in one place since we all went to Miami two years prior. It’s not easy to get three bouncing travel bloggers in one place! But finally, we had made it happen — talk about a girl’s diving week dream team.
Divi Flamingo is one of the more comprehensive resorts on the island, with two freshwater pools, an onsite gym and spa, a small casino, a full service dive shop and pier, and onsite yoga classes every Thursday. We might have missed the official instruction, but we made up for it with a poolside synchronized yoga session all our own.
We loved that Divi Flamingo was literally a five minute walk into town, meaning we had a short commute to kick off our trip at Taste of Bonaire, a monthly event featuring lots of food, live music, and local artists showing off their wares. Also within strolling distance? La Cantina, a Latin American eatery that would be our first introduction to just how impressive the culinary scene in Bonaire really is.
The next evening, the deliciousness continued with dinner at Chibi Chibi, one of our resorts two oceanfront eateries. In addition to coconut shrimp with Caribbean chutney and West Indian-spiced chicken curry, the restaurant served up a pretty gorgeous sunset view.
Later in the week, we’d hop up to another staple of the Bonaire dive scene — Buddy Dive Resort. Like Divi Flamingo, Buddy Dive had a fantastic house reef as well as daily boat dives and a tank drive-in for shore divers on the go.
It also had Ingidiënts, a truly special Mediterranean restaurant with gorgeous ocean views and a menu filled with classics. A well deserved treat after long days of diving!
I was blindsided by how well we ate in Bonaire. I wouldn’t necessarily arrive on any small Caribbean island expecting to be blown away by the restaurant scene, but especially not one as deliciously underdeveloped as this. Yet Capriccio had some of the best pastas I’ve ever had in my life (it’s also crazy gorgeous inside, and I’m kicking myself for not having a picture), just one of many meals that I found myself daydreaming about long after I left the island.
Another dinner spot with a stunner for a setting? Sebastian’s, where if you get lucky and request early enough you might score a table over the ocean on the restaurant’s private dock. Yet no matter where you sit, you’ll be treated to an ever-changing menu of fresh and local ingredients — and if you’re as lucky as me, the world’s loveliest dining (and diving!) companions.
I swear, I looked forward to this trip from the first email I that landed in my inbox proposing it. I absolutely adore these girls and getting to explore a new island with them was a dream come true. We vowed to make it annual.
But if your style is more barefoot with a beer than sandled with a wine spritzer, fear not — Bonaire’s more than got you covered, too. For us, it was fun to get gussied up after long active days of diving and exploring the island, but the majority of the island’s eateries are your typical Caribbean laid-back cool. Our favorite? Kite City, a food truck serving up seafood and sangria, red bean bags and raw fish. We found ourselves here twice in just one short week — that’s what a treat it was.
Now, what’s that you say? It’s a breach of the laws of the universe to write a blog post about Bonaire without including underwater photos? Well, I do see your point, and far be it from me to violate those rules. It wouldn’t really be right to show you all these places to eat and stay without a nod to the thing that draws so many here like a magnet: the island’s prolific underwater world.
Stay tuned for many posts coming up about Bonaire above and below the surface. But for now, a little preview of some of the new friends I made around the island…
Had you ever heard of Bonaire before this post? Have you been? Let me know in the comments below!
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.