Situated off the coast of South America, Bonaire is the “B” in the ABC Islands; neighbors Aruba and Curaçao are the other two. Though it’s technically part of the Netherlands—a special municipality, to be exact—it has a tropical feeling that’s unmistakably unique to the Caribbean. Despite its small size, there are plenty of exciting things to do in Bonaire.
The island is well known for its status as one of the best scuba diving locations in the world, with nearly 90 dives accessible right off the island’s shores. Learning to scuba dive is one of the best things to do here because the dropoffs are shallow, the water is clear, and the currents are usually minimal. With so many professional dive shops and such a huge variety of wildlife to see around the island’s well-protected reefs, this is the place to try diving if you think there’s even the tiniest chance you’ll enjoy it.
Not ready to strap on a tank? No problem. You can still get up close and personal with massive angelfish, bannerfish, spotted manta rays, Spanish lobsters, seahorses, sea turtles, octopuses, and so much more by snorkeling or signing up for a kayak tour.
If you prefer to stay on land, you can tour historic sites, ATV through the desert terrain, spot neon pink flamingos at a preserve, or spend the afternoon sitting in the shade of a palm tree while you sample the world’s only cactus-based liquor.
Read on for a not-at-all exhaustive list of all the relaxing, adventurous, and bucket-list things to do in Bonaire.
Dive In At The Bonaire National Marine Park
Bonaire draws divers from around the world each year who prefer to shore dive. Rather than having to take a boat to your dive site, shore diving allows you to simply get your gear ready on the sand and swim out to the dive site.
Even if you’ve never touched a scuba tank, you can still get in the water in the Bonaire National Marine Park, which covers nearly 6,700 ocean acres. You’ll dive in shallow, protected water under the guidance of a certified instructor who will teach you everything you need to know to be a safe first-time diver.
If you spend time in the water in Bonaire (which you definitely should,) consider bringing a waterproof GoPro or a waterproof camera case for your phone. More than 350 species of fish and 50 species of coral call the marine park home. The reefs here are so healthy and lively that it was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Biodiversity sites in 2011.
Snorkel Off A Picturesque Beach
If dreaming of the Caribbean brings to mind thoughts of white, sandy beaches, you’re in luck: Te Amo (I Love You) Beach is just that. Frequently cited as one of the Caribbean’s best beaches, this spacious public beach has a very gentle drop off, so it’s ideal for kids and families who prefer protected shallow water.
That geography also makes it one of the best islands for snorkeling in the Caribbean. Because the water is clear and relatively shallow near the shore, you can float just a few feet above colorful bannerfish, angelfish, and blue-striped sergeant majors. Snorkel gear rentals are available nearby, and there’s usually at least one food truck available if you work up an appetite. The beach occasionally plays home to sea turtle nests; be sure to give the turtles and eggs plenty of space if you’re lucky enough to come across one.
Tour A Mangrove Forest In Lac Bay National Park
If you’d rather be on the water than in the water, plan to visit the mangrove forest in Lac Bay National Park. Things to do in Bonaire aren’t just limited to snorkeling and diving, and here, you can slowly meander through the protected mangrove forest, where intricate root formations and bright green trees hover just inches above the water’s surface. You’ll often see conchs, sea birds, lobsters, shellfish, and the occasional baby manta ray darting around in the surprisingly clear water.
There are a few different ways to tour the forest. If you prefer to take it easy and enjoy your surroundings, opt for a tour on an electric-powered inflatable boat. If you’d like to take a more active role in navigation, you can go on a kayak tour and paddle through the canals and mangrove tunnels. The area is protected and usually free of currents, so it’s completely doable even if you’re an inexperienced paddler.
Stroll The Beach At Willemstoren Lighthouse
As you might imagine from a small island surrounded by reefs, Bonaire has several lighthouses, most of which were built in the early to mid-1800s. While they once saved ships from beaching themselves on the shallow reefs, they now mostly serve as historical sites and meeting places for social events.
Willemstoren Lighthouse is on the south end of the island, and while it’s small, it’s quite lovely—the bright pink, red, and yellow colors make for excellent photos, especially on the odd chance a storm is coming in.
Winds are usually a bit stronger on this side of the island, making it a popular spot for beachcombing. You’ll often see unusual sculptures on the beach created by locals out of driftwood and other found materials from the sea.
Visit Bonaire’s Little Sibling
When you arrive in Bonaire, one of the first things you’ll notice is the small island just off the coast of Kralendijk called Klein Bonaire. The island is uninhabited, so it’s only available for day trips. To get there, you can take a water taxi from Kralendijk—but for a much more fun experience, consider setting sail to the island on a traditional junk ship.
Once on Klein Bonaire, you can snorkel on the amazing reefs just off No Name Beach, or relax and enjoy a cold drink on the sand. Snorkeling here is ideal for beginners as the water is extremely clear, and sea life can be found just a few feet offshore.
Windsurf At Lac Bay
Lac Bay is one of the most fun places on the island. Along the bay, you’ll find open-air bars and restaurants, most of which have benches and beach chairs arranged in the gentle surf. Take windsurfing lessons or rent a board and go out on your own in the shallow water.
Lac Bay has a few different spots to spend a few hours, but if you’re looking for the most laid-back option, visit Jibe City. You can learn to windsurf or windfoil, do some gentle paddling on a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, or spend the afternoon sipping a margarita in the surf.
Get The Perfect Shot Of Bonaire’s National Bird
If you’ve never seen a flamingo in the wild, make time to visit Gotomeer, a landlocked saltwater lagoon on the north part of the island. The lagoon is one of the few places in the world where Caribbean flamingos—generally considered the brightest flamingo in the world—come to nest and raise their babies. The flamingo is the island’s national bird, and there’s a dedicated viewing area where you can watch the elegant animals in the wild.
Explore The Area Around Rincon Village
Bonaire’s history runs deep, and there’s a lot to learn about the island. Around Rincón, which has been a town since the 1500s, there are plenty of things to do. Try a gentle hike through the cactus-covered landscapes and around unique rock formations, or book a tour of the Echo Dos Pos Bird Conservation Center.
If you need a break from the sun and want to check out one of the best things to do in Bonaire, book a tour that stops by the incredibly unique Cadushy Distillery. Cacti grow nearly everywhere on the island, and this distillery makes the world’s only cactus-based liquor. While you’re tasting their various concoctions, you may be able to spot wildlife like hummingbirds, colorful parrots, or one of the island’s famously large iguanas.
Ride Through The Island On An ATV
Island life doesn’t have to be all about relaxing on the beach or gently floating in crystal-clear water. If you want to up the adventure factor, consider driving an ATV through Washikemba Reservoir. Drive through the reservoir, spotting wild donkeys and massive iguanas, and along some of the most picturesque coastal roads on the island.
Some ATV tours also stop at other locations, like hidden caves. Bonaire has more than 400 caves tucked into the island, many of which are large enough to explore.
Riding across the island on an ATV is a fantastic experience, especially as you’ll often be able to splash through mud and kick up sand on ocean-view roads lined with huge cacti. If you like action sports, you’ll definitely consider this one of the best Bonaire activities.
Sail On Land
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of land sailing; you don’t need any knowledge of the sport to try it. Bonaire has one of the longest land sailing tracks in the world, and your knowledgeable guide will show you everything you need to know in around 10 minutes.
The “ships” are easy to steer, with just a small cart as the body, a simple steering wheel, and a huge sail. Bonaire’s trade winds are usually constant and gentle, making it an excellent place to catch a wave without any experience. The wind is relatively constant—after all, Bonaire is French for “good air” (or “good wind”)—so you can try the sport no matter what time of year you visit.
Take A Trolley Tour Of The Capital
First established in the mid-1600s, Kralendijk is the epitome of a tropical capital. With colorful architecture, skillful street art, unique shops and restaurants, and beaches just a stone’s throw away, you could spend a whole afternoon slowly meandering through the town.
On the tour, you’ll cruise by marinas full of bright white sailboats and learn about the history of the town as you drive by some of its most famous buildings. While in Kralendijk, be sure to visit the open-air Bonaire Arts and Crafts Market, where you can buy island-made products ranging from sea salt and bath products to art, clothing, jewelry, and home goods. The market is very close to the cruise docks, so it’s easy to wander your way back after finding the perfect souvenir.
Take A Ride On A Glass-Bottom Boat
One of the most amazing things to do in Bonaire (actually, anywhere in the Caribbean!) is to take a trip on “Aquaspace,” one of the world’s most unique boats. On top, it’s a relaxing sailboat, where food and drink are served and there’s never a bad view.
From below, it’s a moving aquarium with a glass-bottom hull where you can sit below the surface of the water. Watching fish and other exotic creatures swim past you at eye level while you stay dry is an amazing experience, especially for kids, older travelers, or anyone who doesn’t have the fitness level for scuba diving.
Once you’ve had your fill of peering into the bright blue ocean (if that’s possible), head back up to the deck where there’s plenty of space to relax in the sun and enjoy the cool Caribbean trade winds. Aquaspace hosts brunch, sunset, and BBQ sails, and there’s usually an opportunity to snorkel off the boat in case you find yourself unable to resist diving in.
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