As my plane descended toward Bonaire, I could see Klein Bonaire and the turquoise sea from my window seat and I could not contain my excitement for my first visit to this lovely place. I basically jumped off the plane and ran inside so I could get started with my SCUBA dives! I had heard tales of the wonderful underwater world and wanted to see it for myself.
Where is Bonaire? It is close to Venezuela and part of the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacoa. There are now direct flights from Atlanta, Houston and Newark so it is much easier to arrive at this tiny island filled with 86 dive sites!
On our first day with Jonathan from VIP Diving, we explored two famous sites named Tolo and Salt Pier. After an easy shore entry, we spent 75 minutes in the warm waters examining the incredible creatures. At Tolo we saw razor sharp surgeon fish, groups of up to 5 trumpet fish, several scorpion fish, a chain moray eel, juvenile box fish, honeycomb cow fish, multiple flounder, file fish, several swimming moray eels, cleaner shrimp, arrow crabs, damsel fish and sadly many lion fish. The corals are vibrant and we saw amongst others fan coral, brain coral and staghorn coral.
At Salt pier, we saw 2 baby green turtles, another chain moral eel, Caribbean reef octopus, a school of squid which are my favorite creature to see, tarpon, large schools of fish under the pier structure, scorpion fish, flamingo tongue nudibranch, barracuda, bar jacks, porcupine fish, goat fish, squirrel fish. There were so many fish of so many types I felt like I was diving in an aquarium. Our max depth was 90 feet and my Deepblu cosmiq said we were in the water for 72 minutes.
Above water, we had a private tour with Jonathan from VIP Diving and saw flamingos, the national bird of Bonaire, around the lake and learned about cotton, aloe vera and brazil wood tree that was used for red dye. We made plans to dive Margate Bay in the South and Karpata in the North. We saw the Slave Huts where the mining ships picked up the salt.
Another day, we dove with VIP Diving and Jonathan, our Dive Butler, took us to Vista Blue and we saw several turtles and a hogfish with a sea urchin in its mouth—it spit it out to hit it against coral and then scooped it back up into its mouth! We saw an incredible sharptail eel with bright white spots. It was out swimming and we watched it slither around the corals. At the end of our long dive, we saw juvenile damselfish. I love their bright blue spots. I also love when the juveniles look so different from the adult fish. We saw honeycomb cowfish about four times and porcupine fish with their flat fronts. There were scrawled file fish and peacock flounders! I loved watching the spotted moray eel breathe with its mouth open inside the coral head. We had long lovely guided dives.
The lighthouse is the Southern tip of the island and of the top 5 windsurfers in the world, 3 live in Bonaire. We had plans for a windsurfing lesson at Jibe city but that will have to happen on my next visit. I also want to come back for the night diving with the ostracot: 5 nights after full moon, 45min after sunset, this magical spectacle occurs. Have you been on a fluorescent night dive? I never heard of it but it is on my list for my next visit along with seeing the turtles at night at Lak Bay. You can also kayak and visit the distillery but I want to be under the water as much as possible! We drove by Devils Rock and the archway that newlyweds walk through to gain five things in this order: SEX, MONEY, HEALTH, Children and Happiness.
On a dive that began with a giant stride in and drift to Karpata, we went to 100feet and the wall was stunning! We saw everything: flounder, eels, turtle, shrimp cleaning in eels mouth and a giant blue midnight parrot fish. Afterwards, Jonathan took us went to sehu largu for an incredible viewpoint and photo spot.
What to do in Bonaire? You can go salsa dancing, to happy hour or you can shore dive, boat dive, take a guided dive. You can have your own transportation and dive as many times a day as you wish.
At Buddy Dive Resort, we did two boat dives at Klein Bonaire. The water was so clear we could see the bottom from our boat! With our group at Monk’s haven, we did a one hour drift dive. I loved seeing an absolutely giant lobster, 4 shrimp all together and arrow crabs, as well as some very large sized barracuda. Hands off was our 2nd site and full of life everywhere you looked.
For our third dive, Martin took us to learn about the Coral Restoration Foundation of Bonaire which began in 2012. You can take a specialty class and assist the team in taking care of the coral tree nursery. At Buddy’s Dive Resort, there are 20 trees and the staghorn coral and elkhorn coral are really growing! You can do a one dive adventure or a 3 dive specialty class. Volunteers can clean trees in the nursery, help with pruning and add coral to the thicket. There is also a nursery on Klein Bonaire. It is possible for you to sponsor a tree and help save our ocean and our planet. While we were in the coral tree nursery, we saw three enormous tarpon and a very large turtle.
For our fourth dive of the day, we went night diving at Knife. I love seeing the creatures that appear after dark. We saw an octopus wander about, and a lobster out for a stroll. There were sleeping parrotfish and very bright blue slugs as well as sleeping lionfish and a sting ray swimming. I see more on one dive in Bonaire than on multiple dives in most other places. It is truly amazing.
After a tour at Harbour Village Beach Club Bonaire, we went on a boat dive with Great Adventures Bonaire to Andrea 1 and 2. I loved going to 90 feet and during the dive seeing eels, juvenile drumfish, juvenile damsel fish, peacock flounder and four shrimps.
For most of our stay, we enjoyed a private Piet Boon villa right on the sea! You can scuba dive right from your bedroom! Our three bedroom home had every amenity including a pool and an iguana who visited us in the mornings during breakfast.
One day we did two amazing dives with Bonaire East Coast Diving, the purpose built boat has one section that deflates and they remove it so it is very easy to get back in the boat. You back roll in and the diving was superb! Fred and Bob take 10 divers max. They supply tanks you bring all your own gear even weights. We saw an African pompano on the surface and a Manta Ray as we descended. There were porcupine fish, giant green moray eels, lionfish, southern sting rays and octopus. I loved White Hole with the tarpon and Turtle City where my buddy, Aalia counted over forty turtles!
I also loved the penthouse at the Bellafonte Bonaire. Eating breakfast on the private terrace with the sunrise was remarkable. Where do the Dutch royal family stay? The Bellafonte! It is good enough for the King and Queen and you are going to love it.
Lisa Niver is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 102 countries on six continents. This University of Pennsylvania graduate sailed across the seas for seven years with Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Renaissance Cruises and spent three years backpacking across Asia. Discover her articles in publications from AARP: The Magazine and AAA Explorer to WIRED and Wharton Magazine, as well as her site WeSaidGoTravel.
On her award nominated global podcast, Make Your Own Map, Niver has interviewed Deepak Chopra, Olympic medalists, and numerous bestselling authors, and as a journalist has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded three Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards and been a finalist twenty-two times.
Named a #3 travel influencer for 2023, Niver talks travel on broadcast television at KTLA TV Los Angeles, her YouTube channel with over 2 million views, and in her memoir, Brave-ish, One Breakup, Six Continents and Feeling Fearless After Fifty.