Most of the Caribbean vacations I’ve taken were to islands with big beautiful resorts featuring all-inclusive service, crowded beaches, traffic, fighting for deck chairs, and major commercial airline routes. It never occurred to me that a Caribbean island (of which I never heard) could have a close-knit community of friendly small-town folks, delicious cuisine, a variety of activities, and the opportunity to hitchhike a ride with any passing car to get to your destination. That island I came to know and love is called Bonaire.
Bonaire is the ‘B’ of the Dutch Caribbean ABC islands. Aruba and Curacao are the others. Famous for its well protected underwater sites, snorkeling and SCUBA diving reign supreme in Bonaire, says U.S. News & World Report, but there is as much to explore on land as there is in the sea.
Kralendijk is the capital and the main port. It’s a perfect place for window shopping, people watching, or just sipping an iced blended coffee while listening to the surf and seagulls. If you’re in the mood for something with a little more structure, there are walking tours available. I love the brightly colored buildings and the quaint feel.
Where to stay? This depends on your taste or budget.
You won’t find a natural sandy beach on Bonaire, because of the intense protection of its beautiful coral reefs. However, my favorite hotel resort is the Harbour Village Beach Club, which has a man-made, soft sandy surface perfect for walking. It’s paradise – turquoise water, palm trees, lazy hammocks, and cool breezes in a pristine serene setting. Harbour Village Beach Club is oceanfront with a stunning view of Klein Bonaire, a small uninhabited islet with spectacular dive sites. Inhale the beauty and take it all in. I think the view here has healing and rejuvenating properties. We had a surf-side seating directly on the beach for sunset. We dined on amazing BBQ (the cookout is available only once a week). I love the simple yet delicious fare, the vibe and ambiance, along with live entertainment.
The @bellafontebonaire is a collection of 22 beautifully decorated, fully equipped, luxury apartments directly on the water. It too, is paradise – turquoise water, beautiful dock, and garden patios. You can climb off the dock and snorkel without leaving the property. The small number of apartments allows for seclusion and intimacy. The turquoise Caribbean hugging the property is the most brilliant hue of water I’ve seen.
Prefer being closer to the action in downtown Kralendijk? The Terramar Bonaire is the perfect in-city option. Terramar’s best feature is the full length panoramic balcony where you can dine, chill, or read a book. If you don’t want to take advantage of the gourmet kitchen, there are lots of dining out picks, and all places have easy access to the beach. While downtown, don’t forget to check out the museum for a comprehensive tour of Bonaire’s history and culture.
Where to dine? If you love great food with a view like I do, you will have trouble deciding where to eat.
Peace and reflection are on the lunch menu at Sorobon Beach, Wellness & Windsurf Resort. Tucked away on a remote stretch of Lac Bay (offering privacy plus space), Sorobon’s fare is as healthy as it is delicious. I love the shallow water bordering the resort here. As you enjoy your lunch on the beach, you can watch the windsurfers grace the stage.
La Terrazza speaks to the Italian food and wine lover in me. I received the royal treatment being with owner, Gabriele Tixi. La Terrazza bills itself as a casual dining and tapas establishment, however, the dishes are the result of years of cultivating and blending Italian craft with island ingredients. There is no fixed menu and the surprises keep coming until you are content and plump.
Ingridients is located at Buddy Dive Resort, which is a known for its complete dive operations. (That is not a typo in Ingridients. The restaurant is named after chef and founder Ingrid van der Valk.) The waterfront restaurant is committed to locally sourced ingredients to create Mediterranean cuisine-inspired dishes. The menu evolves daily and seasonally – a good reason to make lots of visits. Our dinner included tableside fish and pasta prepped in a huge wheel of parmesan while night divers glowed in the water below us.
Bistro de Paris for lunch is c’est bon! Chef and owner Patrice Rannou created a casual, delicious menu that pairs perfectly with waterfront dining. Insider tip: Happy Hour every day is from 5-7 p.m. at Zazu Bar.
What activities are there to do?
There is landsailing on the beach in Bonaire. Or as they say on the island, “blokarting.” Think three wheels like a little kid’s Big Wheel trike with matching bike-like handlebars and powered by a large sail. Helmets are required and fun is guaranteed thanks to Bonaire Landsailing Adventures.
The Cadushy Distillery is where I had my first ever shot of cactus. The Cadushy of Bonaire Liqueur is made from cactus juice, and the distillery produces a cactus vodka as well as a rum and whiskey. Cheers to the Spirits of Bonaire!
Washington Slagbaai National Park is a must visit place for bird and reptile watching. Feathered friends include flamingos, parrots, and parakeets; scaly friends are iguanas and turtles. The park beaches are used for turtle nesting. The park was founded in 1969 and is 5,643 hectares in size. At every turn, there is something new to see – seascapes, deserts, rocky beach coves to a moonscape. There are three hiking trails, too.
The nonprofit foundation that manages the Bonaire National Marine Park and the Washington Slagbaai National Park on behalf of the island government of Bonaire is Stinapa Bonaire. It is dedicated to the conservation of Bonaire’s natural and historic heritage through the sustainable use of its resources. stinapa.org
Say “Chill and Grill Catamaran Tour” and you know you are in for a good time as the Caribbean is gorgeous from any angle aboard a catamaran. Bonaire’s coast is a shade of blissful blue like nothing else. Put on by Epic Tours, the sunset tour includes snorkeling, drinks, and a lavish BBQ dinner. This is a wonderful way to end your visit to Bonaire.
If you love all kinds of amazing water activities, living at the beach, eating great food, and enjoying super friendly people, then consider Bonaire your destination of choice. If you dislike crowds and cookie-cutter resorts, Bonaire is the place for you. Bonaire is a hidden Caribbean gem that I will return to again and again.
P.S. I had the best Cinco de Mayo meal at El Mundo to kick off my foodie tour in Bonaire.