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.
I hadn’t heard about it until your photo of the week post about it, and still no so little! I’m not a diver, so maybe that’s why? It sounds amazing though.
It seems most people haven’t! Which is kind of fun for me… I like getting to introduce people to new places 🙂
Yes! Bonaire is at the top of my Next-Caribbean-Island-to-Visit-ASAP list! I’m so excited for your posts. You make me want to book the trip immediately. I wonder if it would be a good spot for PADI certification check-out dives…
Absolutely, it would! Stay tuned for posts about the many diving operators we checked out!
Wow, that picture of the tables on the rock pier in the sea!
Bonair looks amazing, and, having not been diving since I met you over a year ago in Koh Tao, even those last sneak peaks of the dive spots have got me itching for flippers.
Excited for the next post!
Ah, Jade, sounds like time to get back in the ocean 🙂 Maybe this series will be your inspiration!
Aww we have a little sign that says Bon Bini. We got it when we went to the Caribbean with my husband’s family- a few years back. I can’t remember which island it was from now though (we didn’t go to Bonair).
Maybe Aruba? I’m pretty sure they use the phrase too!
I giggle every time I hear the name of this island because in my Illinois hometown, Bon-Aire was this super divey liquor store, which is hilarious that is has the name of a gorgeous Caribbean island!
Looks pretty amazing…I know you don’t snorkel, but is it a good option there?
Ha ha — that IS funny. Where in Illinois are you from? My family is from Decatur. We did go on a snorkeling trip here — stay tuned!
My college BFF is from Decatur! I’m from Moline, up in the Quad Cities. Small world 🙂
It is indeed! 🙂
I hadn’t heard of Bonaire, but WOW!
Woo hoo, that’s the reaction I’m looking for 😀 Thanks Katie!
Next time you go you must eat at At Sea fine dining but very reasonable. Dinner for two about $100 but you would spend over t$200 for similar in the US. Also look for the food truck guy (sorry forgot the name) he serves lion fish for lunch till he runs out. Dive Friends Bonaire are the best.
Coming up Roatan July 2016
Actually, I did eat at At Sea! Sadly I don’t have any pictures but I’ll be mentioning it in an upcoming post about my friend’s island Bachelorette Party (we are there for dinner to kick off the night.) So much fun!
Lionfish are not indigenous to the Caribbean, and since they have no natural predators there they now exist in MASSIVE numbers and are killing off other varieties of fish with their venomous spines. Many fishermen are now making money specifically going after them, and many restaurants around the Caribbean are learning to cook them in an effort to organically fix the problem. I’ve heard they’re delicious!
I am visiting Bonaire in March (among other Caribbean locations; going on a cruise!) I will do my best to eat my share of lionfish, and I encourage everyone else to do the same!
That’s awesome Charlie! Eating lionfish is definitely a great way to help!
I had, I had! I’m so happy to finally see your Bonaire coverage and even more swoon-y over your awesome dive shots! That turtle, tho!!!!
Ha ha had to give some breathing room, couldn’t compete with you and Angie’s amazing coverage right away 😉
Totally gotta admit when you were mentioning Bonaire in previous posts I was going “…where?”. But man, can I just go there now? I’m an above water girl but it just looks so so so beautiful. (Did I mention I’m dying to be anywhere with a beach and sunshine during this bleh US winter?! haha)
Bonaire may be a divers’ paradise, but there will be posts coming up dedicated to all you can do above the surface, too! Stay tuned 🙂
I hadn’t heard about Bonaire before this post (or maybe you mentioned it before but I didn’t put much thought into it?), definitely remembering it now! Though I’m not into diving, I can see myself having a good time there.
Your photos are really nice!
I have a whole post coming up dedicated to Bonaire for Non-Divers 🙂 Stay tuned!
Hello Alex! Sure I know about Bonaire and it became one of my dream diving destination. Paradise of shore diving! 🙂 I have a question for you. Since you went there and had an amazing time, can you tell me if you can rent your equipment and then go diving without driving? Or can I rent my equipment and then join a group from a rental shop for example? it would be very useful to know this because I dont drive.
Thks for your time 🙂
Yes to both. You can rent equipment anywhere. We particularly like the folks over at GOOODDIVE (yes three O’s) – super friendly, very reasonable prices. They, like all dive operations on the island, have a boat though you really don’t need one. I mention this because as spectacular as the diving on Bonaire is, the diving at Klein Bonaire is even better but you have to take a 20 min boat ride to get there. Dive Friends has five locations up and down the island and all have great diving right out the door of the shop as well as rentals – great if you have a truck and are doing a lot of diving. You also could stay at one of the dive resorts like Buddy’s or Divi and never leave the resort grounds. Leave your room, wander down to breakfast, wander over to the dive shop to get tanks, jump in the water, dive, come back for lunch, dive, dinner, night dive – repeat. You could probably dive the same spot for a week and not get bored though it’s also a challenge to see how many different spots you can get to. The most awesome part (other than the clear, warm water and food?) You are on nobody’s schedule – since it is shore diving, you dive when you want to, as often as you want to.
I love Bonaire. We have been there six times and are planning a trip back this November. To a answer Amelia’s question. Just stay at a dive resort and you can boat dive at least twice a day.
I love this island and I love the diving there!
Hey Jen! Wow, sounds like Bonaire gets a lot of repeat visitors 🙂 I can see why!
As many have chimed in, yes, it’s definitely possible 🙂 I’ll be writing a whole post about one of my favorite dive ops on the island called VIP Diving — they drive you to all the best shore diving spots and lead the dive. They’re great!
Excellent news! 🙂 Thks to all of you!
I’ve been to Bonaire!! I lived in Curacao and went there for a long weekend trip. A really lovely place with really lovely sea life and food! Your post did it justice and some.
Thanks Ann! Curacao is the last of the ABC islands now that I’ve yet to visit. Someday 🙂
It is an annual event for us (me, my wife, my son and sometimes my sister-in-law). It is different. If you took a 112 sq mile chunk of southern Arizona and dropped it into the Caribbean you’d be pretty close. Desert, cactus, donkeys and the not-so-Arizonalike iguanas and parrots. Two things I’d like to point out. There are a handful of beaches that a non-diver would find pleasant, the rest only a diver would love. There is also not a ton to do for non-divers. Kite surfing, hiking (in the heat), paddle board, maybe an ATV ride somewhere – really, it’s a diver’s paradise, but not much for non-divers. Pretty good for snorkeling too I suppose.
You could not possibly find all the outstanding places to eat in a week in Bonaire. We’ve been there for two weeks at a time for the last 4 years, and still find new places. Three more that are certainly worth a look are: It Rains Fishes – Excellent dining experience but you will need reservations! If you get a bit homesick, you can find the best burger on the island at Zazu bar, right next to the Bistro de Paris at the Eden beach resort. You might also get lucky and be able to sample a lionfish burger here – possibly at Kite City too. Finally for good seafood, quick service and reasonable prices, stop in at Eddie’s at the Sand Dollar resort – though we’ve only been there for lunch. These are three places that we always plan into our trip.
Hey Arthur, thanks for sharing! I’ll be writing a whole post about the non-diving activities we enjoyed, which I think could keep even those who don’t scuba entertained for a week. I heard a lot of great things about It Rains Fishes and hope to try it when I return!
Your underwater shots make me so jealous! Can’t wait to read your take on our adventures =)
Writing these posts is making miss you ladies something fierce! Wah! Need some Angie time on the docket…
Those underwater pictures are phenomenal!!! I had heard of Bonaire before you mentioned it, but I don’t know anyone who has ever been there. Now thanks to your photos, I have another destination to drool over. It looks like you ladies had an absolute blast!
We did! It definitely got me on a Caribbean kick — there are so many more islands I want to explore now after our many evening chats about the others these ladies have been to.
We are heading to Bonaire for two weeks in February and we are SO excited! My husband is a diver but I am not so any suggestions for on-land activities/events/eateries would be appreciated! Loved your pics!!!
I actually have a whole post on that topic coming up! Stay tuned 🙂 You’re going to have a great trip!
We fell in love with the island after out first visit in ’07 after a roundtrip thru Equador. We returned in 2011 and since then we visit Bonaire every year. It’s the combination of the laid back attitude, beautiful dive spots, great restaurants why we return ervery year. We’re already planning for 2016. And during our last trip we made some new friends so al the more reason to return.
Sounds like Bonaire gets a ton of repeat visitors. I guess their slogan is true — once a visitor, always a friend 🙂
An island in the sun where they speak Dutch, how could I not have checked it out already? 🙂 Your pictures look beautiful! How do you always accomplish those brightly coloured shots? I can’t wait for your other Bonaire posts!
My eyes just go to the color 🙂 And stay tuned — plenty coming up!
Hi! I just wanted to tell you we love the post!!
Happy you explored our island and you enjoyed it so much!!
And above all we love the picture of our bus on the airport!!
What a beautiful bus you have 🙂 It caught my eye as soon as I walked out the door of the airport. Thanks for the kind words!
I have! And I even have a post about it.
I got my open water here a couple years ago and have been back at least 5 times. Haven’t been there in a while though.
I do however think Bonaire spoiled me with their underwater world because everything else hasn’t as beautiful as Bonaire.
Glad you liked it!
Marlies, Magnificent Escape
That’s amazing Marlies, I hope I too can someday say I’m a six time visitor to Bonaire 🙂
I had never heard of Bonaire before! Am I ever glad that I know about it now though – snorkelling, here I come! 🙂
Yay! I love being the one to get to introduce new places to people 🙂 What an honor, especially with an island as gorgeous as this.
OMG Alex your underwater friends!! Can’t believe that’s just the sneak peek!
I hadn’t heard of Bonaire before you started mentioning it awhile back but you are really selling it to me in this post. I love the idea of shore dives (can you do shore snorkels too?) and the food looks AMAZE. Also it must be said…first photo in the post on the left with the pink background — perfection.
Shore snorkels are definitely do-able, as are many of the snorkeling sunset cruises and other tours (I’ll be writing about a few of them we did!) I think it’s an amazing destination for the fiercely independent traveler because I just can’t think of another Caribbean island where you can have such amazing adventures at so much your own whim. Once you do the National Park briefing and get your permits, you can pop some tanks in the trunk and dive when and where ever you damn well please! Add in hidden beaches, surreal landscapes, secret caves, hiking and biking opportunities (none really clogged by mass tourism) and you’ve got yourself a pretty special spot.
Love your photos! Looks like such a fun week. And your bathing suit top is so cute! Where is it from?
Target! Or as it’s known around my house, the happiest place on Earth… 😉
I have been dying to get to the ABC’s for so long, I’m really hoping that in the next 12-18 months I’ll be able to. Is there also good snorkeling for those who don’t dive?
There does seem to be! We only went on one specific snorkeling excursion, but I hear it’s amazing and I’m not surprised considering the clear water and abundance of shallow reefs.
Wow, that looks amazing! Bonaire hasn’t been on my list so far but it definitely is now!
That’s awesome to hear, Sarah. I definitely plan to return!
My dad is from Bonaire, haven’t been there in over 12 years. Your pictures are amazing. Can’t wait to go back next October. I am so proud of this tiny island, and I am happy that people like you make posts about it, to kind of promote it to the world. Thank you!
You’re so welcome Elisa. I think this would be a very cool place to call home. I’m fascinated by people who grow up on small islands like this!
A tip for anyone traveling to Bonaire….besides this wonderful article with lots of information you can also download the Bonaire App!!! It is FOR FREE, has lots of information about Bonaire, restaurants, events, dive sites, beaches, shops, hotels etc etc. And best of all……comes in dutch, english, spanish and german!!
Thanks for the kind words about my post, Yvonne. Stay tuned for many more!
Wow! A fun place to visit. I haven’t heard about Bonaire, worth googling. Really a great place to dive.
It is indeed. But it’s also got a lot more going for it, too. Stay tuned for posts about what non-divers can enjoy on the island, too!
Just a couple of corrections and comments. Bonaire is at the end of the ABC islands. Curacao is “nestled” in the middle. There are zero traffic lights on the island, but many traffic circles. The eateries you mentioned are all good, but the best eats on the island are at Wil’s Restaurant right downtown. Divi Flamingo is a good place to stay if you want boat diving, but for shore diving (which is what most come to Bonaire to do) there are many more selections and they usually include a rental truck.
Hey Karen, the post says nestled alongside Aruba and Curacao, which is accurate 🙂 I read that there was one stoplight on the island, but clearly you can’t believe everything you find on the internet. Thanks for the heads up!
Heard of it, but hadn’t thought about it for a while, until your post reminded me what an amazing place this is! Gorgeous colours, great pics. You’ve represented the island well, and I’ll certainly move it up on my list of places to visit. 🙂
As I’m from The Netherlands, I’d definitely heard of Bonaire before, but I never knew it was so pretty! This post makes me want to go there as soon as possible and I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts about the island. Also, I’ve been reading your blog for a few weeks now and you’re definitely one of my favourite bloggers! I really like your writing style and your pictures are gorgeous!
Aw, thank you so much Jeanine! You’re too sweet. Glad I could give you a little taste of Bonaire!
I’m happy that I’m only catching up on your posts now because it means I don’t have to wait for the diving post 😉
I agree. I’d never heard of this island either until it popped up on your facebook and in your posts. But that is the case with many Caribbean Islands I think, there are so many small ones I just don’t know.
The diving resort looks positively heavenly though!
Indeed, and those are the ones that interest me! I’m itching to check out islands like Saba and Dominica. Hopefully soon!
I love Bonaire for the freedom it gives when it comes to diving. If I am not mistaken, I haven’t seen in your post about the diving vacation formula : pickup rental – flat rental – unlimited tank and weight supply 24/24. For a “backpacker” style traveller, it is quite convenient and most of the flats to rent can be found in the south of Kralendijt far away from the well organised resorts. One last little thing if I may, Carlos Coste, one of the worldwide references in freediving has a facility there, Deep sea freediving school. Merci de tes infos et compliments pour tes voyages!
Hey Alex! I’ve made many references to the unlimited tank rental service available in Bonaire in my coverage. And yes, apartments are a great alternative to resorts in most parts of the world — I linked to one of my favorites villas (as well as a boutique hotel) to show different accommodation options available in Bonaire. It’s a great island no matter where you stay!
Hi,i’m new to reading your blog and i’ve always wanted to travel the world. Reading this blog only makes me want to do it more when i’m older. Especially after being introduced places like Bonaire (thanks to you). Would i ever visit Bonaire or a place like it? 100% yes. Everytime i see photos like these makes me concerntrate on the beauty of the sunsets, food, views and all other things that i could probabaly google search. But i think the beauty of travelling is not seeing these places through a screen that makes me only imagine the places and surroundings in my head. The beauty of being able to travel is that it lets you see and explore the depths of these places with your own eyes. And thanks to your blog it’s made a dream of mine become more of a goal that i know i will one day achieve.
That’s lovely to hear, Ashton. Sounds like you have been bit by the travel bug! Hope you’ll continue to join us here in Wanderland!