Bonaire Diving by Phil Carta and Jenny Darby

The car tags say it all, "Divers Paradise" an island that caters almost exclusively to scuba diving enthusiasts from around the world. Bonaire is a desert island covered with cacti and scrub brush along with wild goats and donkeys thrown in for good measure. In contrast, underwater Bonaire is spectacular, with beautiful healthy corals and an abundance of fish life, thanks to the foresight of the government who protected this area by designating it a marine park. The effect is noticeable everywhere around the island; all shore dive sites are marked by large yellow rocks with the name of the site on them, making Bonaire the perfect place for shore diving.

When visiting the island you should spend a day touring the interesting sites. The southern tip of the island has the salt flats, a beautiful "pink" beach, old lighthouse and slave huts. The northern tip of the island has Washington/Silage National Park, a wildlife preserve and a great spot for watching some of the animal species that are unique to Bonaire. You will see pink flamingos, beautiful Parroquets, lorets, big blue lizards and three foot iguanas. Lac Bay, on the windward side of the island, has some of the best windsurfing in the world.

The Diving.

After paying a $10 Bonaire Marine Park Fee and an orientation to the island and marine park rules, you will do a shore dive to check your weight and get comfortable with your diving before heading out on the boats. Diving in Bonaire is perfect for novice or experienced divers as there are dive sites to fit all needs. Most all of the sites off Bonaire can be reached by shore so hard core divers can easily dive 4 to 5 times per day. Klein Bonaire diving can only be done by boat so most divers on the island choose a 6 boat dive, unlimited shore, package and do their boat diving around Klein Bonaire.

You will find a very healthy reef system which has large patches of elkhorn and staghorn coral, plate coral and massive coral formations along with huge gorgonians everywhere. The fish life in Bonaire is astounding with schools of fish cascading by you every few minutes. On our recent trip we saw stingrays, turtles, trumpet fish, coronetfish, scorpion fish, huge grouper, banded shrimp, pederson cleaning shrimp, file fish, balloonfish, spotted drums, flamingo tongues (seven on one gorgonia), goldentail morays, monster green morays, spotted morays, sand divers, barracuda, damselfish and parrotfish just to name just a few.

Night diving in Bonaire has to rank as some of the best in the world. The eels come out to feed and I have counted as many as 20 on just one night dive. Tarpon have also found they can catch an easy meal in the divers' lights so don't be startled when a 5 foot silvery monster zooms by you to devour his unsuspecting dinner. A trip to Bonaire is not complete without a night dive at Town Pier, which has to rank as one of the top ten dives in the Caribbean. This is a macro photographers heaven with frogfish, seahorses, arrow crabs, moray eels, anemones and orange cup corals.

The Hotels.

Those of you who remember the old Buddy Beach & Dive Resort are in for a surprise. The new Buddy's is under construction with two buildings completed and the apartments have to be the nicest on the island. They offer one, two and three bedroom units with an additional four buildings to be built along with renovating the older existing unit. All units have air-conditioning in the bedrooms, a cute mini-kitchen with stove, dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, bar or dining area, living room, TV and double French doors out to a large balcony with nice ocean views. Buddy's also has a pool bar and new restaurant.

Buddy's dive operation is the most convenient for shore divers because you can back you rental vehicle up to the shop and load your gear along with all the tanks you need for the day. For those who prefer boat diving there is a sign up sheet and the boat goes out once or twice a day as needed. There is also a large room for gear storage and fresh water rinses on the dock. Mechelien, Pascal, Ursula, Muffin and Hans will make sure you have a great time if you decide to stay and dive with Buddy's.

Harbour Village is a luxury property comparable to a Hyatt and not really suited to all divers who visit Bonaire. But it is a nice spot for a non-diving companion who wants to be pampered while you are out diving.

Everyone who visits Bonaire eventually makes it to the Sand Dollar, the most Americanized property on the island. The units range from studios to three bedrooms and most all of them have great views of the ocean. As with other apartments on Bonaire the bedrooms are air-conditioned and living room, dining area and kitchen are not. All rooms a private balcony or patio; there is always a breeze circulating through your room.

Andre Nahr runs the best and most organized dive operation I have seen in all my years of traveling the islands. There are four scheduled boat dives daily. If you are a photographer you will appreciate the extensive line of equipment rentals along with courses, the E-6 processing and light boxes in the viewing room. There is also a large room for dive gear storage and large rinse tanks built in on the dock. Don't forget to try the Parrot Burgers at the Green Parrot restaurant, located beside the dive shop. They are one of the better spots to eat on the island and have a friendly staff who treat you like members of the family.

The Sunset Hotel is the budget property for divers on Bonaire and the only hotel with a beach. Standard rooms have two double beds and are located on the road. Superior rooms have two doubles or a king and some have a small balcony. Deluxe rooms also have two doubles or a king with a large balcony. All rooms are clean and have a mini safe, air- conditioning and small refrigerator. There are three new Jacuzzis on the property and a pool, along with a beautiful sand beach. The property also has two bars and restaurants with excellent food and service. The dive operation is located on the beach and offers one to two boat dives a day along with shore diving packages. There is also a storage area for your dive gear.

The small family type Sunset Inn is a short 5 minute walk from town with a dive shop located conveniently next door. There are 5 rooms and 2 suites in the Inn and they all share a common lobby and kitchen. All rooms have a refrigerator and the suites have a hot plate, toaster and coffee pot. There is no beach but there are great ocean views from the front porch and access to the water by steps for snorkeling and diving.

The Sunset Villas are separate homes and apartments located throughout Bonaire. All have been totally upgraded recently and have safes and cable TV. They range from studios to 2 bedroom apartments and 3 bedroom homes, perfect for families and small groups. Most of them are located on the ocean with good snorkeling and diving right out front. Your dive package can be arranged with one of the local dive operations and you have the freedom to dive Bonaire at your leisure. Bel-Air apartments were especially nice for people wanting a quiet peaceful location, with huge balconies and a beautiful view of Klein Bonaire.

The Food.

I was amazed at the diversity. Everything was available from hamburgers and pizza to Chinese, European and Indonesian. Some favorites were Rendez Vous, owned by Marcel Nahr, who serves homemade soups, and fresh fish along with great house specials and Mona Lisa which has the best lunch specials in town and just should not be missed. For local fare try the Ankertje located oceanside past the town pier on the left and for happy hour try Karals Bar across the street from the Harborside Mall.

The Shopping.

Yes, ladies, there is shopping in Bonaire! It is not extensive but what is there is very good. There are several shops selling Caribbean style clothing made in Indonesia and I found some excellent buys. Jewelry shopping was also very good with a nice selection of those unique hard to find items that divers love like pendants and earrings in every fish and dive shape you can imagine. Beware, however, the store policies which generally say no refunds. Be absolutely sure that you want it for there is no taking it back. Bonaire, Divers Paradise...for divers and non divers it's a perfect vacation.