There are so many fun things to do in Bonaire, a jewel of the southern Caribbean. Have you heard of Bonaire before? Even though it’s a popular destination for cruises, many people don’t know that this beautiful Caribbean island exists. While it isn’t a very big island, it’s a really wonderful destination that deserves special attention.
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If you’re a fan of scuba diving or snorkeling, you absolutely need to visit Bonaire ASAP. Love outdoor adventures and activities? Bonaire has got plenty of opportunities for those, too. Even if you aren’t into anything too adventurous, there’s something for everyone in Bonaire. I’m going to show you the best Bonaire attractions and points of interest for a memorable tropical holiday.
First, I’ll tell you some history and facts about Bonaire. Then, you’ll be able to browse some of the best places to stay in Bonaire. There aren’t too many big chain hotels or resorts in Bonaire. You’ll want to look at some cute boutique hotels, small resorts, and vacation rentals. Then, I’ll tell you all about the best things to do in Bonaire. This is your essential Bonaire travel guide that will help you plan an awesome vacation there.
Fun Facts About Bonaire
Bonaire is an island in the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. You might have heard of the Caribbean’s “ABC” islands before: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. These islands are about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela and lie outside of the main hurricane zone in the Caribbean. This means that it’s unlikely that you’ll experience a hurricane in the ABC islands, making them an attractive choice during the Caribbean’s hurricane season (May to November).
A Brief History of Bonaire
Bonaire used to be a part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010. Now, Bonaire is considered to be a special municipality within the Netherlands. It is one of the BES islands along with Sint Eustatius and Saba. The current population of Bonaire sits at around 18,000.
Bon Bini! That means “welcome” in Papiamentu, a Creole language that’s spoken in Bonaire, Aruba, and Curacao. The language has roots in West Africa and came about after the Portuguese colonization of the island. It combines Portuguese vocabulary and West African language structures and allowed people to communicate with one another. It spread throughout the general population during the slave trade.
The official language of Bonaire is Dutch and it is used for most government transactions. Papiamentu is widely spoken among the locals. However, English and Spanish are both common as well. You’ll be able to get by with English, Spanish, or Dutch, but I suggest learning a few words in Papiamentu as well.
The currency of Bonaire is the US dollar. So, it’s really easy for those from the USA to travel to Bonaire as there’s no currency exchange required. Plus, it’s not too bad for Canadians either as we’re used to using US dollars when traveling across the border.
Where to Stay in Bonaire
There are lots of beautiful hotels and properties in Bonaire that will give you a memorable, boutique experience. I suggest checking out the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort Bonaire or the One Ocean Boutique Apartments & Suites.
Getting Around Bonaire
Renting a car in Bonaire is the best way to get around the island on your own. You can drive from place to place with ease at your own pace. I suggest picking up a car at the Bonaire International Airport or in Kralendijk where you’ll likely be staying.
I recommend comparing car rental prices for the best rates with Discover Cars, my preferred company to find and book rental cars. If you’re thinking about driving at the Washington Slagbaai National Park, consider renting a 4×4 as the dirt roads can be a bit rocky and uneven.
Things to Do in Bonaire: Go Snorkeling or Diving
Out of all the best things to do in Bonaire, many people travel to this southern Caribbean island for the snorkeling and diving opportunities. Out of all the places to go snorkeling in the Caribbean, I’d wager to say it is the best spot. It’s definitely in the top worldwide destinations for scuba diving and snorkeling, too.
Nature conservation is at the utmost importance in Bonaire. It’s one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable destinations you can visit for this very reason. 100% of the waters surrounding Bonaire and Klein Bonaire are protected, as well as 20% of the land. Taking anything from the national park, as well as taking sand, shell or corals is forbidden. Please use reef safe sunscreen when you go in the water, whether you’re enjoying Bonaire’s beaches or going scuba diving.
Bonaire National Marine Park
The Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP) is the oldest marine reserve in the world, established in 1979. The journey to protect these waters and the creatures in them began with turtle protection in 1961. Then, Bonaire prohibited spear fishing in 1971 and offered protection for all coral (living or dead) in 1975.
The BNMP includes all of the waters surrounding Bonaire and Klein Bonaire for an area spanning 27 km² (6672 acres). This includes all of the fish, creatures, coral reef, sea grass, and mangroves. There are 86 public dive sites in total with a strict no anchoring policy to protect the coral reef. You can access these dive sites from boat and many of these are great dive and snorkeling sites from the shore.
Snorkeling at Klein Bonaire
Our snorkeling tour in Bonaire went straight to Klein Bonaire because it’s one of the best places to snorkel and scuba dive in the Caribbean. Klein Bonaire is a only a short distance from the coast of Bonaire, only 800 meters away at its closest point. It’s Dutch for “Little Bonaire”.
Klein Bonaire is a paradise for divers and snorkelers alike. It is surrounded by brilliant coral reefs that are home to many fish and sea creatures. The island itself was purchased by the government in 1999. It’s now managed by the Bonaire National Marine Park. Even though it is unusual for land to be part of a national marine park, it is an important turtle nesting site.
There’s a really high chance that you’ll be able to see turtles when you go snorkeling or scuba diving there. We saw a few turtles ourselves, and it was one of my most magical snorkeling experiences ever (and I’ve been snorkeling more than few times in my days!).
This snorkeling tour in Bonaire will take you to two different snorkeling sites at Klein Bonaire with snacks in between. It starts later in the afternoon so you can be out on the catamaran to see the sunset. Going snorkeling is one of the best things to do in Bonaire, especially if you love spotting wildlife on your travels.
Looking for something a little more private? You can charter your own private sail and snorkel safari in Bonaire. You’ll be able to sail, snorkel, swim, and relax in the sunshine on your own private yacht. You can even customize your Bonaire itinerary with the captain to spend the day exactly as you like it.
Washington Slagbaai National Park
It’s easy to spend an entire day at Washington Slagbaai National Park in Bonaire. Here’s a great tour where you’ll spend the whole day there. Go off-roading in a 4×4 to isolated beaches and blowholes at this ecological reserve. You can do some wildlife viewing, go for a hike, and even sprinkle some snorkeling into your day.
Washington Slagbaai National Park is the first nature sanctuary in Bonaire, established in 1969. It’s located in the northern third of the island and it is a natural habitat for many species of plants and animals. Lots of bird and reptiles live at the park, including iguanas, parrots, and flamingos. The beaches at Washington Slagbaai National Park are important nesting grounds for turtles.
Hiking at Washington Slagbaai National Park
There are three hiking trails at Washington Slagbaai National Park to explore: the Lagadishi Walking Trail, the Subi Brandaris Trail, and the Kasikunda Climbing Trail. These have varying levels of difficulty. Be sure to bring proper hiking shoes and plenty of water as you’ll be beneath the heat of the sun.
The Lagadishi Walking Trail is an easier jaunt that takes about two hours. You’ll see salt flats, sand dunes, mangroves, and beach views. The Subi Brandaris Trail is a moderately difficult 45 minute hike to the top of Brandaris, the highest peak on Bonaire. Lastly, the Kasikunda Climbing Trail is a difficult trek with uneven terrain to the top of a volcanic peak.
Points of Interest at Bonaire’s National Park
There are many points of interest that you can see at Washington Slagbaai National Park on one of two driving routes. You can take the shorter driving route if you’re looking to get to the Subi Brandaris Trail to climb Brandaris. It also leads to the coastline to Bonaire’s most northern point.
The longer driving route around the national park leads to various natural attractions. You can visit beaches like Playa Chikitu (a gorgeous cove), Playa Funchi (a rocky beach, great for snorkeling), and Boka Kokolishi (a black sand beach). Boka Bartol and Wayaka are amazing dive sites at the national park. Plus, you can also visit the most northern lighthouse, Seru Bentana.
Explore Kralendijk, Bonaire’s Capital City and Main Port
Kralendijk is the charming capital city and main port of Bonaire. It’s the main shopping area in Bonaire, and there are lots of restaurants and cafes, too. Wandering around Kralendijk is one of the top things to do in Bonaire on a cruise because it’s right next to the cruise port.
GoGreen is a restaurant specializing in vegetarian and vegan cuisine if you’re looking for veggie options. Peanuts Bonaire is a fresh market cafe with vegan and gluten-free options always available. Here are more things to do in Bonaire’s capital city.
Kaya Grandi, the Main Street in Kralendijk
If you’re looking for things to do in Bonaire from a cruise ship, many people get off the ship and wander around Kralendijk. If you decide to walk around town, you’ll surely stumble upon Kaya Grandi. It’s the main shopping street in town.
All of the buildings are brightly painted and there are many styles of architecture from the 1800s and 1900s. You certainly won’t find any big brand name stores here. All of the shops are independently owned, so there was the opportunity to find some unique items. With so many Caribbean islands catering to chain stores and big brand jewelry shops, Bonaire is a breath of fresh air.
Bonaire Art and Craft Market
For even more unique shopping opportunities, check out the Bonaire Art and Craft Market. The market is always open when there is a cruise ship in port, mostly throughout the winter months. You’ll have to take a look at their website for opening hours during other times.
Justin and I wandered around the market and we found many locally produced and handmade items by Bonaire residents, with an emphasis on local specialties. There were handmade glass necklaces by artist, Charlene Bosch of Elements Bonaire. There were many pieces of jewelry made out of Dichroic Glass. I bought a necklace that is two different shades of blue that sparkle in the sunlight, which reminds me of the beautiful ocean all around Bonaire.
We also purchased some sea salt and bath salts from a stand owned by Maria Lopez. Bonaire harvests its own salt and we were able to purchase Bonairean bath & scrub salts, as well as edible coarse sea salt. Since returning home, I’ve used the various scented baths salts for a relaxing aromatherapy experience at home.
Plasa Machi Mimi and the Market
Plasa Machi Mimi is an interesting yellow building that’s right along the waterfront at the cruise port. Every Friday, there is a vegetable market there with traders traveling from Venezuela to sell their fresh produce.
It’s an intriguing building, and you might be able to stop by the fresh produce market if you’re visiting on a Friday. Check it out if you’re in the Bonaire cruise port, even if you’re simply interested in old buildings.
Beautiful Beaches in Bonaire
There are over 22 beaches in Bonaire. If you love going to the beach, you can easily visit a different beach every day throughout your stay. Some beaches in Bonaire are white sand beaches, and others have a darker color of shade due to crushed up coral and shells. Here are a few Bonaire beaches you should add to your Bonaire itinerary, especially if you’re looking to try new activities.
Lac Bay is a vast expanse of white sand beaches that’s perfect for lounging on a beach towel in the sunshine. Sorobon Beach is one of the best beaches at Lac Bay for its soft white sand and sparkling turquoise waters.
Lac Bay is famous for even more reasons beyond the beautiful beaches. It’s the Caribbean capital of windsurfing. You can rent windsurfing gear and book some lessons at Lac Bay, whether you’re a beginner or more advanced.
You can also go kayaking through the mangroves at Lac Bay. Take the Clear Bottom Kayak Tour in the Mangroves for this incredible experience. It’s one of the top preserved mangrove forests in the Caribbean. You’ll kayak on a glass bottom kayak through crystal clear waters. You’ll be able to see three different species of mangrove trees. Plus, you’ll also have the chance to go snorkeling at Lac Bay as part of the tour.
Lac Bay is part of the Bonaire National Marine Park. All guides are certified to ensure that there isn’t any damage to this delicate landscape.
Eden Beach is at the Eden Beach Resort where you can enjoy the beach for a small fee. It’s the most popular white sandy beach in Kralendijk, and it’s one of the top things to do in Bonaire on a cruise. Eden Beach is one of the busier beaches in Bonaire as it’s near the cruise port, but very convenient for cruisers. It’s also near the water taxi stop to Klein Bonaire.
If you’re looking for a lively and fun place to spend the afternoon, check out Eden Beach and its restaurant/bar, the Spice Beach Club. You can also rent water sport gear and snorkeling equipment here, too. With no shortage of beach loungers and palm trees, Eden Beach is a one stop shop if you have a day in Bonaire from a cruise ship.
Atlantis Beach is on the southwestern coast of the island near the salt flats and the flamingo sanctuary. While you can try windsurfing at Lac Bay, Atlantis Beach is the home of kitesurfing. With kitesurfing, you are attached to the board and to the sail, so it might be a little easier to try than windsurfing if you’re new to either activity.
If you’re a beginner or you’ve tried it before, you might be intrigued to book this Private Two Hour Kitesurfing Lesson. It comes with all of the equipment you’ll need, plus a private instructor for one-on-one attention.
Bermuda isn’t the only place in the world with pink sand beaches! Pink Beach in Bermuda also has pink sand created naturally from the crushed sea shells of microscopic sea creatures called foraminifera.
This pink sand beach is relatively narrow and doesn’t have the softest sand for lounging. However, it’s a great place to go snorkeling in Bonaire from the beach, and it’s also a fantastic place for a picnic.
Amazing Bonaire Attractions
If you don’t have a rental car, you can schedule an island tour to visit multiple places in one sightseeing trip. You’ll get a great overview of the entire island. Check out this Bonaire sightseeing tour. It’s a 3.5 hour excursion in an air conditioned mini-van from Kralendijk to various landmarks like the salt flats, a museum in Rincon, and the flamingo sanctuary at Goto Lake.
If you’re planning to take your own trip around the island in a rental car, here are the top Bonaire points of interest to include in your journey.
Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire
The Donkey Sanctuary in Bonaire is a fantastic place to spend a few hours and lend your support. About 400 donkeys live at the Bonaire Donkey Sanctuary and they are provided with food, water, and medical care as well as a happy life.
Donkeys are not native to the island of Bonaire. They were brought over by the Spaniards in the 17th century to assist with manual labor and farming. With the increase of modern technology, many people abandoned their donkeys and let them roam freely around the island.
As Bonaire is such a dry and hot island, many of the donkeys die of hunger or dehydration. Thankfully, the Bonaire Donkey Sanctuary has been able to rescue many of these donkeys and provide them with the chance to have fulfilling and healthy lives.
I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Bonaire’s Donkey Sanctuary yet, but I have visited the Donkey Sanctuary near Cork, Ireland, as well as the Donkey Sanctuary of Canada back home. I’ve supported and volunteered at the Donkey Sanctuary in Guelph, Ontario, too. It’s such a rewarding and memorable place to viist. I highly recommend going to a donkey sanctuary on your travels.
The Willemstoren Lighthouse was built in 1837, and it’s the most famous lighthouse on the southern tip of the island. It’s a great place to snap a few photos and admire the architecture. Unfortunately, the lighthouse isn’t open to the public. It’s worth a visit if you’re venturing to the southern portion of the island as it’s one of Bonaire’s most iconic attractions.
Salt Flats of Pekelmeer
The Salt Flats of Pelekmeer is one of the best places to go sightseeing in Bonaire. It’s on the southern end of the island as it has a very low elevation. The shallow lagoons there were modified over hundreds of years for the optimal salt cultivation and production. It’s really interesting to gaze out to the massive mounds of white salt towering over the pink salt pans below.
Pekelmeer Saltworks is also an Important Bird Area in Bonaire. A large region is designated as a Flamingo Breeding Reserve. This nesting site is essential for their survival. It might not be the best place in Bonaire to see flamingos as they can be quite elusive. Bring a pair of binoculars for the best chance to spot them.
Goto Lake (Goto Meer) for Flamingos
Flamingos also live at Goto Lake (Gotomeer) up towards the Washington Slagbaai National Park. You’ll have a better chance of spotting flamingos here. Gotomeer is a shallow, saline lagoon just south of the national park.
Gotomeer is one of two flamingo breeding sites in Bonaire. It’s also a wetland of international importance as it is home to many breeding birds and migrant shorebirds. Goto Lake is an excellent place to go birdwatching in Bonaire, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to spot at least a flamingo or two.
Rincon, the Oldest Village in Bonaire
For a dose of history in Bonaire, make a stop at Rincon, the oldest settlement in Bonaire. Stop at the Bonaire Heritage Foundation to pick up a self-guided walking tour brochure or you can also arrange for a guided tour with a local.
Stop by the Cadushy Distillery in Rincon to taste a truly unique beverage to Bonaire. They produce the Cactus Liqueur Cadushy of Bonaire Liqueur. With a trip to the distillery, you’ll be able to drink a cactus, sample the products, or relax while sipping on the cocktail of the day. They also have a different liqueur named for every Dutch Caribbean island.
Seru Largu is the most popular lookout point in Bonaire. It’s an observation deck on a mountain plateau with sweeping panoramic views of Bonaire. There’s a short, steep drive to the very top, but the scenery is worth the detour.
If you’re staying in Bonaire for a little while, make the trip to Seru Largu at sunset for one of the best places to watch the sunset in Bonaire.
Bonaire Botanical Garden
I love visiting gardens when I travel, and the one you’ll find in Bonaire is unlike many others. The Bonaire Botanical Garden near Rincon specializes in native plants in a desert terrain. You’ll find lots of cacti, medicinal plants, and organic herb gardens.
Take an hour and a half tour around the Bonaire Botanical Garden, which ends with a complimentary cup of fresh herbal tea using ingredients from the garden itself.
More Things to Do in Bonaire
Looking for more outdoor adventures and activities besides snorkeling, diving, or visiting the above attractions? There are lots of opportunities to try new sports and activities. Here are a few more fun things to do in Bonaire.
Explore the Caves in Bonaire
When you drive around Bonaire, you’ll notice that portions of the island have a rocky, volcanic landscape. You can explore some of these caves, but I would definitely do this with a local guide. Locals know all of the best spots, plus they’ll know what is safe to visit (and what isn’t). On this Bonaire Cave Tour, you’ll visit three caves with a local guide.
Landsailing in Bonaire
Have you ever heard of landsailing? Chances are that you’ve never gone sailing on the sand before. Well, here’s your chance! After a brief, 10 minute lesson to learn how to sail a blokart (it doesn’t take long to learn how to do this), you’ll be racing around in no time on the landsailing beach track.
It’s a great activity for kids, too. There are shadow blokarts with a “side car” so you can let your kids come along for the ride, too. You’re able to completely control the speed to go as slow or fast as you’d like. Embark on Bonaire Landsailing Adventures when you travel to Bonaire.