The least developed and least populated of the ABC islands, Bonaire has a special appeal to devotees of the sea, whose treasures are unsurpassed in the Caribbean. Surrounding the island are coral reefs harbouring over a thousand different species of marine creatures.
Bonaire is outside the hurricane belt, so storms have not damaged the reef, while with little rain and no run-off, visibility of 30 metres or more is assured all year around. Ranked as one of the three top dive spots in the world, and number one in the Caribbean (followed by Grand Cayman Island and Cozumel), Bonaire is a leader in the movement for preservation of underwater resources and the whole island is a protected marine park.
Two areas have been designated marine reserves, with no diving allowed; along Playa Frans, north to Boca Slogbaai, and west of Karpata. Lac Bay is also a protected area because of its mangroves and seagrass beds. Stringent laws passed in 1971 ban spearfishing and the removal of any marine life from Bonaire’s waters. It is a serious offence to disturb the natural life of the coral reefs, and the local diving schools have set up permanent anchors in their dive spots to avoid doing any unwarranted damage. With about 600 dives a day, conservation is essential. You are requested not to touch the coral or other underwater life, such as sea horses; not to feed the fish, as it is not natural and encourages the more aggressive species; not to drop litter, particularly plastic which does not decompose and can be harmful to sea creatures, and not to kick up sand with your fins as it can choke and kill the coral. Advanced buoyancy courses are available free of charge and are highly recommended for divers to train you to keep horizontal along the reef and limit fin damage to coral. Several sea turtles can be seen around Bonaire but they are rare. If you see one, in the water or on a beach, report the sighting to the Sea Turtle Club Bonaire, c/o Tom van Eijck (Project Manager), Sunset Beach Hotel, T5300 or contact the Bonaire Marine Park, T8444.
On the east side of the island there is a shelf and a drop-off about 12 metres from the shore down to a 30 metre-coral shelf and then another drop down to the ocean floor. The sea is rather rough for most of the year although it sometimes calms down in October or November. Along the west side of the island there are numerous dive sites of varying depths with wrecks as well as reefs. The most frequently dived sites include, Calabas Reef, Pink Beach, Salt City, Angel City and the Town Pier. There are also several sites for boat dives off Klein Bonaire, just one and a half kilometres from Kralendijk. The Bonaire Marine Park Guide is recommended and can be obtained from dive shops or from the environmental group, STINAPA.
Snorkelling is recommended at Nukove, Boca Slagbaai, Playa Funchi, Playa Benge, Windsock Steep and Klein Bonaire. Dive boats usually take snorkellers along when dive sites are close to shore, about US$12 for two-hour trip with divers on one tank. A guided snorkel programme has been started, offering training and marine education with experienced guides. Ask the Tourist Office for its brochure.
Most visitors are tempted to take at least the one-day ‘resort’ or crash diving course. This enables you to decide if you’d like to continue, but one day will not make a diver of anyone. The main schools are (Peter Hughes) Dive Bonaire (T8285, F8238, at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort), Buddy Dive Resort (PO Box 231, T5080, F7080), Habitat Dive Center (T8290, F8240, PO Box 88), Dive Inn Bonaire (PO Box 362, T8761, F8513, at the Sunset Beach Hotel, and next to the Sunset Inn), Sand Dollar Dive and Photo at the Sand Dollar Beach Club (T5252, F8760, also has photo shop), Great Adventures Bonaire (PO Box 312, T7500, F7507) at the Harbour Village Beach Resort, with instruction in several languages, Bon Bini Divers at the Coral Regency Resort (PO Box 380, T5425, F4425). Blue Divers (T6860), next to Palm Studios, has been recommended, Swiss and Belgian owned, English, German, Dutch, French and Spanish spoken, shore diving and equipment rental, excellent guided dives with Bonairian Franklin Winklaar, who has been diving the reef for over 20 years, helping the likes of the late Jacques Cousteau.
Prices are competitive, ranging from US$25-50 for a two-tank dive if you have your own equipment. Add a 10 percent service charge on most diving. All packages include tank, air, weights and belt; equipment rental varies, US$6-11 for a BC jacket, US$6-11 for a regulator, US$6-7 for mask, snorkel and fins. Camera and other equipment rental widely available (Jerry Schnabel and Susan Swygert run Photo Tours, T5390, F4089). All dive operations are well equipped and well staffed with a good safety record. If booking a package deal check whether their week-long dive packages include nightly night dives, or only one a week. For less experienced divers it is worth choosing a dive boat which keeps staff on board while the leader is underwater, in case you get into difficulties. We have received reports that in the case of reasonably experienced divers, some dive masters do not always get into the water but stay on board. Shore diving is available nearly everywhere.
There is a US$10 per person levy for maintenance of the marine park which has to be paid only once a year.