Bonaire is a small island in the southern Caribbean’s Dutch-owned ABC chain that includes Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Its neighbors have superior beaches, shopping and casinos. But, Bonaire rules in the diving department, particularly in its easily accessible shore diving. Combine this with reliable dive operators, great topside attractions, and a wonderfully relaxed vibe—you’ve got a top-notch diving destination.
Our family was new to unguided shore diving, and a tad apprehensive. We’re converts now. It was fun and easy, and we saw loads of totally cool critters.
Diving in Bonaire: An Overview
Bonaire offers more than 60 dive sites, mostly along its protected western coast. Shore diving is Bonaire’s main draw. More than three-quarters of the island’s sites are just a few fin kicks from shore. Many sites are suitable for novice divers and shallow enough for snorkeling.
The healthy fringing reef surrounding Bonaire has been part of a marine protected park since 1979. Its waters teem with tropical marine beauties. It’s common to see turtles, moray eels, rays, and barracuda. Bonaire is famous for its macro-marine life (the little stuff). With a keen eye, divers can find critters like seahorses and flamingo tongues.
Shore Diving in Bonaire: How Does it Work?
New to unguided shore diving? No problem. First thing you’ll need to do is rent a pick-up truck and select a dive center for tank/equipment rental and air fills. The larger resorts have their own dive centers, but even the smallest B&Bs offer dive packages in conjunction with their favorite dive operator and truck rental company.
Dive sites are only a 5-15-minute drive from Kralendijk, the main town and tourist center. Sites are easy to identify; just look for the brightly painted yellow stones at the side of the coastal road. At many sites, you can drive directly onto the beach. Suiting up is a breeze compared to boat diving— there is plenty of elbow room, you’re on solid ground, and you can take as much time as you need.
Entry into the water, over small rocks and rubbly coral can be a bit tricky; take it slowly. Once waist deep in the calm water, you just strap on the fins, put on your mask and regulator and slip into Bonaire’s magical underwater world.
I had always been on guided dives so I was a bit stressed about navigation. Luckily, navigation is easy in Bonaire. The water on the protected western coast is generally calm, with minimal currents, and the reef runs extremely close and parallel to the beach. Many sites also include marker buoys.
Bonaire Dive Operators
Visitors staying at large dive resorts like Divi Flamingo or Buddy Dive have access to on-site dive centers. This is convenient, but if you prefer to stay in smaller lodges or B&Bs (we loved the Lizard Inn), there are many excellent independent dive centers like Dive Friends and Wannadive.
For personalized service, VIP Diving is excellent. We used them to complete our teenage son’s open-water certification. Bob, one of their guides, accompanied us on several shore dives. He had an amazing eye, spotting camouflaged seahorses and frogfish. He also helped us build confidence for our solo shore dives.
Bonaire Topside Attractions
Washington Slagbaai Park, at the north end of the island is a gorgeous park with huge cacti forests, rugged coastline, and flamingo filled lakes. Lac Bay, world renowned for windsurfing, has a beautiful sandy beach and is a great spot to grab lunch near the southern dive sites.
Topside Bonaire is refreshingly mellow. You won’t find a lot of late-night party spots, but plenty of places to chill-out with a cold Heineken. Kralendijk’s lovely seaside promenade and pretty Dutch colonial buildings house a surprising number and variety of restaurants.
It’s no wonder that Bonaire is consistently ranked within the top 3 dive destinations in the Caribbean.