Cruisers love sailing to the Southern Caribbean islands for many reasons. Many of these destinations sit below the hurricane belt, meaning that you’re less likely to face port interruptions or volatile waters (once your ship gets south). Plus, the weather is fantastic, with plenty of hot and sunny weather – with temps around 80 degrees all year.
One of our favorite islands to visit on Southern Caribbean itineraries is Bonaire. This is the B in the ABC Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. They lie off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea and are special municipalities of the Netherlands.
Bonaire owns a distinctly different personality and characteristics that set it apart from the other islands you will see on your Caribbean cruises. Here are our tips, tricks and things to try when you cruise to Bonaire.
Water Lovers’ Paradise
The tiny island has few sandy beaches but is surrounded by deep water and a glorious reef system that is easy to access and thus an amazing place to snorkel and scuba dive.
Bonaire National Marine Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is just off the coast from where your ship pulls into the port in the main city of Kralendijk. The park is a protected region of coral reef that sits close to the shoreline. You can dive or snorkel right from shore all over the island.
Do It Yourself Snorkel Day
Klein Bonaire is the serene and picturesque uninhabited island that sits just over a half-mile from the coast where you dock. This is THE spot for snorkelers to explore, and cruise lines naturally offer shore excursions in the waters of the marine park.
But it’s easy to do it yourself and a heck of a lot cheaper if you pack your own snorkel mask. Water taxi services run from the pier and drop you off at “No Name Beach” on Klein Bonaire. The beach itself is a wonderful place to relax on the soft sand and swim in the shallow surf.
Walk up the beach and enter the waters for a “drift snorkel” session. As you wade out over the edge of the reef, the clear waters get deep quickly, and the sea comes alive. Fish, green turtles and bright coral are on full display as you gently kick while the currents drift you easily back toward the beach.
More Sun and Fun
Head to Lac Bay, which is about a 15-minute drive from the port, to check out Sorobon Beach for windsurfing. Bonaire Mangroves Center is also at Lac Bay and offers another nice option for snorkeling or kayaking.
The town of Rincon is on the northern end of Bonaire, and it’s home to Washington Slagbaai National Park, which covers about 20 percent of the island. In the arid desert-like park, you’ll find a network of trails, as well as volcanic hills, fields of cacti and quiet beaches and lagoons. Mangazina di Rei Cultural Park is also in Rincon. This is a museum the tells about the history and culture of the island and how Bonaire evolved from a slave plantation for the Dutch, beginning in the early 17th century.
In fact, slave huts can be seen around the island and have been preserved as a remembrance to this era. These tiny huts were sleeping quarters for up to six slaves who were put to work mining the vast salt pans around the island.
When ships are in port, cruisers will find a lively market set up on Wilhelmina Square with vendors selling island-made goods. The Town Center in Kralendijk is also a lovely place to wander amid the shops and eateries. Caribbean architecture adds character to the bustling little main street, Kaya Grandi.
You can find dozens of charming casual restaurants with stunning seaside views throughout the port area and along the main boulevard of Bonaire. They serve tasty beach bites like burgers, barbecue and seafood. But to get a unique taste of Bonaire, try a dish made with lionfish. These fish are an invasive species that the island is working to mitigate and eradicate from its waters.
They also are quite tasty, so more restaurants have begun offering menu items such as lionfish burgers, ceviche, fillets, salads and risotto. Consider this: You eating them helps to solve the problems that lionfish are causing to the environment in the waters of Bonaire.
Brewery Bonaire is the island’s first craft brewery and home to the cold and refreshing Bonaire Blond. Stop by after a day in the sun to try some of the flavorful creations as a nice way to cool down in a friendly environment. The brewery is located at Kaya Grandi 12B and serves bottles, drafts and flights of craft beers along with a variety of Caribbean cocktails.
Speak the Language
Islanders speak English, Dutch and Papiamentu, which is a type of Spanish creole language also mixing in Dutch and Portuguese.
To say good morning: Bon dia.
Please: Por fabor
Thank you: Danki
Good Old Greenbacks
No currency exchange needed. The U.S. dollar is Bonaire’s official currency.
John Roberts is a freelance writer and operator of InTheLoopTravel.com. He writes about cruising and active travel, highlighting how people can connect with the world and other cultures through rewarding travel experiences.