The first time I ever left the country was to visit Bonaire. I remember standing in line at the town hall in my hometown, waiting to get my photo taken for my first passport. Who knew it would spark such a strong desire in me to see the world and be immersed in different cultures. Nine countries later and many more to go, I still that same feeling of awe that I did when visiting Bonaire every time I travel.
I went to Bonaire with my dive group to take a 2 week navigation and underwater photography class, but was able to experience so much above the surface as well. Between the flamingos, the cave paintings, the beautiful reefs and the tropical climate, there really is something for everyone here..
Incase you’ve never heard of it, Bonaire is an island off the coast of Venezuela and is the 3rd of the ABC islands, made up my Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba. The island is populated with a combination of majority dutch and Papiamento people (of African descent), as well as some tourists and transplants. The official languages of Bonaire are Dutch and Papiamento, however English is widely used as the U.S. dollar is their main form of currency. The buildings are brightly colored and sprinkled between swaying palm trees, and the people are extremely friendly making it feel like you’re really in Paradise.
The Must See’s of Bonaire
The salt pier is exactly what it sounds like; a pier built to deliver salt onto ships for deportation. Incase you didn’t know, Bonaire is big into exporting industrial salt, and on the drive out to the pier you’ll see how exactly this is done. Bodies of water are sectioned off, using the heat of the sun to evaporate the water, leaving a high concentration of salt. As this process progresses, the water turns a milky pink before the salt is harvested and piled high, ready to be loaded onto ships. You will also see the historic slave cabins, still standing on the side of the road and giving you a look into Bonaire’s history. The flamingo reservation is located out here as well, and your likely to see a few of them hanging around the salt pools.
While the drive alone is interesting, this was by far my favorite dive spot. Swimming between the enormous pillars with the light wavering through the pier above, it is shallow enough to still see the magnificent colors of the coral. As you swim further and the depth increases, you have the chance to see everything from sea turtles to cuttlefish, to barracuda and more.
I never thought sitting in the bed of a truck with a bag of carrots while a dozen donkeys slobber all over you from every angle would be enjoyable, but my god it was. The donkey sanctuary is exactly what it sounds like, and it is one of my favorite parts of Bonaire. Apart from the cost of carrots the sanctuary is free to visit, and you will get as much joy out of it as the donkeys do.
Cave Paintings (Petroglyphs)
A short hike out through the cactus covered tundra of Bonaire, you will find numerous caves in the cliffside. Inside of these you’re able to see red cave paintings (called petroglyphs) dating back to 1500 AD. These are believed to have been painted by the Caiquetio people who took shelter here, and are protected by iron bars to preserve this slice of history. On the walk back make sure to keep your eyes on the cliffs; you’ll probably see one of the many native goats roaming around from above.
What to Eat
As a major tourist area, food can get pretty pricey on the island. We stayed at Captain Don’s Habitat, where a beautiful breakfast spread was included and you were usually accompanied by some watermelon-loving marine iguanas while you ate. To keep costs down, we cooked most of our food in the villa, and even brought some big ticket items (think, a whole turkey) with us to Bonaire.
I was also lucky enough to be with a professor who had formed a relationship with one of the Bonaire natives, and we joined them for dinner one night to test out the local delicacies. Goat stew was served as the main course with a side of Funchi (a cornmeal side dish). If you’ve never had goat, it’s rather boney but the meat itself is pretty good. Dessert was fruity ice cream from a local stand.
Other than that, you can’t go wrong with seafood here. I was lucky enough to try barracuda – something usually avoided due to high mercury levels. When in Bonaire, right? Overall I wasn’t a fan, but I’m glad I got to try it! Other than fish, fresh fruit is a must and fairly inexpensive.
Good to Know’s
Check for Scorpions
Since we were diving daily, we would take off our water shoes on the porch of the villa and leave them to dry. One warning we from the locals on arrival was to check your shoes and bed for scorpions before slipping into either. As a creature that likes to hide out in dark, cool areas, you can only imagine these things would make the perfect hangout for a scorpion. I never encountered a scorpion while there (thank god) but did hear a few stories of tourists who had not listened and were not so lucky.
Beware the Pica Pica
If you’re going to be in the water often like I was, I’d recommend chatting with the locals first. The Pica Pica jellyfish is a well known pest, surfacing in swarms days after a full moon. Being stung by one of these guys is not only painful but causes itching and irritation, and for some could potentially be deadly. Wetsuits will help, but because the offspring are so small it’s possible the could get into your wetsuit or hit exposed areas. Some recommend using vaseline to keep them off your skin, and if stung use vinegar to neutralize. If you’re there during this time, do yourself a favor and stay out of the water for a day or two.
Overall, if you have the chance to visit Bonaire I’d highly recommend it. Planning ahead and looking for low cost / free excursions will help keep costs down, as well as preparing food at your hotel instead of going out to eat for every meal. Even if you spend your days on the island reading books on the beach, you’re guaranteed to love the beautiful island.
Have you been to Bonaire before? What was your favorite part? Share in the comments below!