Bonaire is an island municipality of the Netherlands and lies in the southern Caribbean about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela. It’s part of the ABC Islands, Aruba, and Curacao being the other two.
The thing that Bonaire is most known for is scuba diving — it’s one of the best shore diving locations in the world. But there’s more to this little island than scuba diving.
Here are the top 7 things to do in Bonaire plus some FAQs about the island and tips to make your trip awesome.
Quick Facts About Bonaire
Bonaire is a unique island. It can sometimes feel more like a desert than a tropical island. Cactus flourish in Bonaire’s dry, windy climate and you will see a ton of them. Literally everywhere. There are no stoplights on the island and don’t be surprised if you spot a wild goat or donkey walking about.
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Another interesting thing I noticed is that I didn’t see many kids. Most of the tourists tended to be adults traveling without children. There weren’t a ton of beach areas that would be good for kids or many activities geared towards kids, so this is probably a trip where you would want to leave them home.
While the climate is tropical and it’s a Caribbean island, there aren’t many white sandy beaches. Most are very rocky and small. There aren’t many big hotels or resorts either — most accommodations are small, independently run hotels. There is 1 KFC on the island (if you are into that sort of thing).
Bonaire Quick Facts:
Size: 110 square miles
Language: Dutch and Papiamentu are the official languages, however, English and Spanish are widely spoken.
Currency: U.S. Dollar
Climate: Temperatures average about 82 degrees. September and October are the hottest, least windy months.
Airport: Bonaire International Airport, also called Flamingo International Airport (BON)
Looking for a place to stay on Bonaire? Check out my Coral Paradise Resort Review.
7 Fun Things To Do In Bonaire
Bonaire is known for its amazing reef system which has turned it into a shore diving mecca. But, you don’t have to be a scuba diver to have fun in Bonaire.
1. Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Scuba diving is the #1 thing to do on the island of Bonaire, hands down (shore diving, specifically.) The entire island is a gold mine for divers and many accommodations cater specifically to shore divers. However, it’s great for snorkeling too.
The island is surrounded by coral reefs right off the coast and it’s all easily accessible without a boat! You can rent a truck, rent your gear, find an entry point, and hop right in the water!
There are over 80 dive sites between Bonaire and Klein Bonaire (a small, uninhabited island right next to Bonaire). In addition to diving, many of these sites have reefs that are very shallow, so you’ll find lots of great snorkeling spots to explore too.
Pro Tip: Whether snorkeling or diving you will want some hard-soled water shoes. The beaches are can be very rocky and some have bumpy paths to navigate before even getting to the beach. Yes, they are really ugly so you know I would only recommend them if they were absolutely necessary!
2. Donkey Sanctuary
The Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire is home to over 700 donkeys and is one of the best things to do in Bonaire! The property is huge, so the donkeys have plenty of room to roam free.
As you drive through the Sanctuary the donkeys will
gently ask for food shove their faces in your car window. Be sure to buy a few bags of carrots at the front entrance so you can feed them. There are tons of donkeys here so save some carrots for the guys at the end!
You can tour the property by car, bike, scooter, or foot.
Hours of Operation: Daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (entrance closes at 4 p.m.)
Cost: $9 for adults and kids 13+, $4.50 for kids up to 12 years old, $3 per bag for carrots
3. Take a Drive Around the East Side of the Island
You need to rent a car to get around Bonaire. Since you will have wheels anyways, take a drive around the east and south sides of the island. This scenic drive will take you through the salt flats (huge ponds used for salt production), slave huts, flamingos, beaches, and tons of dive sites.
It’s a picturesque drive and a great way to spend the afternoon in Bonaire.
If you’re in Bonaire on a cruise or aren’t renting a car, you can find lots of tours that will take you around the island.
4. Visit Kralendijk
Kralendijk is Bonaire’s “downtown”. Located right by the cruise ship port, this little town is definitely busier on cruise days. However, don’t think it’s necessarily better to visit on a day when there isn’t a cruise in port to avoid the crowds — many of the shops are not open on days without a cruise ship in port. The town is all but shut down on Sunday night.
You’ll find gift shops, restaurants, and nice views of the water in Kralendijk.
Don’t miss the Casdushy Distillery shop to sample some cactus liqueur and visit the giant flamingo sculpture by the water. This public work of art is made from trash that was found in the ocean!
5. Lac Bay
Lac Bay is located on the east side of the island and is home to beaches, windsurfing, mangroves, and kayaking. The cool thing about the beaches here are that they are shallow for hundreds of feet out from shore. You can wade in waist-deep water without being anywhere near the beach.
This is the perfect spot to take a kite surfing lesson! Since the bay is so shallow, it’s a great place to try it out. I didn’t on this trip, but I might give it a try next time.
Pro Tip: Lac Bay is a windy spot. Leave your giant, floppy vacation hat at home!
6. Washington Slagbaai National Park
Bonaire’s national park lies on 14,000 acres of land on the northwest side of the island. The park offers mountain biking, hiking, snorkeling, and scuba diving, plus lots of beautiful scenery!
Cost: $25 per adults, children under 12 are free; admission is included with your STINAPA diver tag (currently $45 per person and a requirement to dive); If you have a $10 STINAPA nature tag (required for snorkeling and other water sports), admission is $15
Guided Tours: Slagbaai National Park tours
Contact: Washington Slagbaai National Park
The drive through the park takes 1.5-2.5 hours, not including any stops. If you stop to swim, dive, or relax this can easily turn in to a full day trip. The road leading to the exit of the park is bumpy AF. Seriously, it’s just awful. If you have any type of motion sickness, this isn’t the activity for you.
Pro Tip: There are no amenities like food/beverage stands in the park, so bring plenty of water and a travel-friendly cooler with some snacks.
7. Echo Dos Pos Parrot Conservation Tour
One day when we were driving around, we stumbled on the Echo Conservation Center. There was a sign outside that said they did tours once a week, so we went back later in the week to check it out.
The tour lasts 1-1.5 hours and will take you through the property to explain the group’s effort to protect and conserve different parrot species – specifically the yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot.
It was fun to learn a little about these birds and to see some up close. The volunteer who led our group was super passionate about what he was doing, and I like being around those kinds of people, so it was an enjoyable tour.
You don’t need advance reservations for this tour.
Public Tours: Wednesdays at 5 p.m.
Cost: $10 in cash per person
Private Tours: Available with at least 48 hours advance notice; recommended times are 7 a.m. or 5 p.m.
Private Tour Cost: $25 per person in cash; 2 person minimum
Restaurants In Bonaire
One of the best things to do in Bonaire is to eat!
And there is a huge variety of restaurants in Bonaire. We ate everything from pizza and Italian to Columbian and Japanese. The odd thing about the majority of restaurants is that they don’t open until 6 p.m. for dinner. While that’s not super late, it’s strange to not have the option to eat earlier if you wanted to.
Everything is very casual in Bonaire so there is no need to get dressed up for dinner.
One thing to note about restaurants in Bonaire: the service sucks. Like, totally sucks. Like, good luck if you want more water or another drink or Lord help you if there is something wrong with your food. It’s probably not happening. Most servers come over once to get your order and then they disappear. When you want your check you have to flag someone down.
Despite that, American tourists are expected to tip.
This Italian restaurant is pretty unique because there is no set menu. You can tell the waiter if there is anything you don’t like, but you don’t know what you are eating until it’s in front of you.
They offer small plates for $7 and wine for $5. You can order as many or as few courses as you want. The salad wasn’t great but we had a spinach soup that was excellent and one of the best pasta primaveras I have ever had.
This is a Japanese restaurant with a second-floor balcony overlooking the main street. It was good but overpriced. And they serve their red wine ice cold (I have been known to drink cold red wine if necessary but I have never had it served that way at a restaurant).
Pro Tip: Osaka and the restaurant on the first floor of the building are different restaurants! (It’s not obvious) The restaurant right underneath this one has a sign with the same font so it’s easy to assume they are the same place. We went in and asked for a table upstairs…at the time we didn’t realize they were 2 separate restaurants! We must not have been the first people to do this because the dude working there made no attempt to hide his disgust with us as he waved us to the upstairs restaurant. Ooops!!
Italy In The World
This is a cute little Italian place that makes you forget you are on an island. The interior looks like a restaurant you might see in a less tropical location with walls stacked high with wine bottles. The food and wine were very good but a little overpriced for what it was.
Pasa bon Pizza
The pizza was ok, not great. I didn’t particularly like the crust on it. However, if I was in town again I would probably give it another try. They have some cool photographs on the wall to check out while you are there. Oh, and Lionfish Pizza. They have that too.
This is a restaurant at Captain Don’s Habitat. You can sit outside overlooking the water, so it’s a nice place to eat while the sun sets. It offers typical bar food, but it was good. I ordered the namesake drink (and I tend to shy away from frozen drinks because they are too sweet) and it was quite good.
This restaurant has lots of outdoor seating right in the main square near the cruise terminal. The menu was international with a Cuban flair. The food was pretty good and the prices were reasonable.
This was my husband’s favorite restaurant on our trip. It’s a little hole in the wall a little outside of town. We ended up sitting outside which was a lot nicer than the inside however, there are only 2 small tables. There was one waiter who was super pleasant and spoke really good English, but he left right after he took our orders. The food ended up being pretty good, and it was a good value. I was pleasantly surprised.
This was one of my favorite restaurants in Bonaire. It’s located right across from the water in town with a nice view. You can get crepes and waffles with sweet or savory fillings. This was the last meal we ate before heading to the airport. If I had tried it earlier in the trip I probably would have gone back a second time.
The only thing I didn’t love about this place was that we ordered water and ended up with 2 bottles of water for $3 each. I would suggest bringing your own or ordering a real drink.
This is a little coffee and ice cream shop right on the water downtown that has the best ice cream in Bonaire. They had one called Lotus Speculoos which is basically Biscoff cookies. Guys, they have Biscoff cookie ice cream!!! And it was only $2 for a scoop. Yes and yes.
Pro Tip: Do NOT go to Gio’s for ice cream. It was terrible. We actually threw our cones out and went back to Luciano.
Tips For Tourists In Bonaire
Overall Bonaire is a very laid back and friendly island. English is widely spoken and the official currency is the U.S. dollar so it’s also an easy place to visit.
Even if you aren’t into scuba diving, there’s plenty of things to do in Bonaire to keep you busy. Since it’s a small island, it’s a great place to visit on a cruise.
Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when visiting Bonaire.
- Bonaire is close to the equator and it’s windy. This combination makes it easy to not realize you are getting burned. Bring a tight-fitting hat (floppy vacation hats will blow right off your head) and a good reef-safe sunscreen.
- Don’t expect great service in any restaurant.
- English is common but you will also hear Dutch, Papiamentu, and Spanish.
- The currency is the U.S. Dollar.
- There are approximately 8,962 grocery stores on Bonaire. Most of them are small and dumpy. For a good grocery store experience, go to Van Den Tweel. It’s worth any extra drive you might have to make to get there.
- Know how to navigate a roundabout. There are no stoplights on Bonaire, but there are a bunch of roundabouts.
- Don’t expect any big, fancy resorts. This island isn’t very developed compared to other tourist destinations and you won’t find a Grand Hyatt or Ritz Carlton here. What you will find are small, independent hotels and bed and breakfasts. Many of these cater to shore divers so while you might be missing out on luxury, you will enjoy convenience when it comes to diving.
- You will need to rent a car in Bonaire (or a truck if you are diving) and you should leave it unlocked.
- Even if you are just snorkeling, it’s a good idea to bring water shoes or hard-soled scuba booties as the beaches and water can be very rocky.
I hope you have a great time in Bonaire! Follow Zen Life and Travel on Instagram for awesome travel photos plus tips and tricks to make your next vacation spectacular!
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