It’s possible you’ve heard of the Dutch Caribbean before. Perhaps the ABC islands? No doubt, someone you know has been to either Aruba or Curaçao. But what about the ‘B’ in ABC? Have you ever heard of Bonaire?
Bonaire often gets overlooked as the go-to vacation destination in the Dutch Caribbean. But in this guide, I’m going to tell you why you should add Bonaire to the very top of your Caribbean bucket list!
Offering the best diving in the Caribbean, Bonaire attracts many divers and snorkelers to explore its colorful and lively underwater world with 85+ dive sites.
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However, Bonaire has much more to offer above its sun-soaked surface.
From hiking to the top of the island’s tallest mountain to cliff jumping into turquoise waters to land sailing with nothing but the wind to power your go-kart, this tropical-desert island abounds with untouched natural gems and eco-adventure activities (and, most importantly, all without the high-rise resorts or crowds that typically accompany Caribbean islands).
Read more below to discover the best of Bonaire—an island sprawling with flying flamingos, docile donkeys, lazy lizards, and Kadushi cacti! 🇧🇶
The Ultimate Eco Guide to Bonaire Island
What to Know Before You Visit Bonaire Island
🛩 Entry Tax: Visitors must pay a $75 USD fee upon entry.
🌿 Nature Tag: You must pay a nature fee ($45 USD) to dive or participate in any park activities.
💵 Currency: US Dollar
🇧🇶 Language(s): Papiamentu, Dutch, English, Spanish
🚁 No Drones Allowed
🐠 Use only reef-friendly sunscreen and apply in advance before entering the water
Where Is Bonaire?
Bonaire Island is located approximately 50 miles (80 km) off the northwestern shores of Venezuela and the South American mainland.
On the map, you will see the cluster of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) in the Leeward Antilles. However, the true order (from left to right) is not ABC but rather Aruba-Curaçao-Bonaire.
✨ Fun Fact: The Kingdom of the Netherlands is actually made up of four countries: Aruba, Curaçao, St Maarten, and, of course, the Netherlands. Since its dissolution in 2010, Bonaire is no longer considered a country, but a special municipality of the Caribbean Netherlands along with St Eustatius and Saba (the BES islands).
How to Get to Bonaire
You can easily get to Bonaire from the U.S. and Europe, with direct flights from Miami, Houston, Atlanta, Newark, and Amsterdam.
Bonaire’s only airport, Flamingo International Airport (Bonaire International Airport, or BON) is small and straightforward—just the way we like it!
Once you get there, make sure to pick up your rental car as you’ll need it for exploring the island on your own. Get a high-clearance vehicle or 4×4 so you can drive through Washington Slagbaai National Park.
✨ Book online in advance for the best rates.
Is Bonaire the Untouched Gem of the Caribbean?
While Bonaire is no stranger to tourism (after all, it’s heavily reliant on tourism), it is not overrun by tourists.
During our week-long stay in Bonaire, we enjoyed the island’s most breathtaking places with few others. At times, we even found ourselves alone; alone to enjoy the beauty and gifts of Mother Nature.
🌊 From incredible dive sites to bays in the island’s national park thick with cacti, we had moments of solitude where it was just us, the sea, and the sky looking back at each other.
No, it’s not entirely untouched; villas, hotels, and restaurants do line the shores or hang over the rocky coral cliffs. But, for the most part, it’s integrated; there are no concrete hotels 13 stories high; there are no all-inclusive resorts stealing land from known turtle nests.
Here, nature feels first.
And the best part?
Bonaire, and its people, are making a conscious effort to protect it.
🌿 Read more about the Top Eco Resorts & Hotels on Bonaire
How Bonaire is Pioneering Sustainable Travel
Here are a few quick stats about how Bonaire is pioneering sustainable travel to the island:
- 💙 In 2019, Bonaire launched the Blue Destination Certification Program “to inform, guide and reward companies on their way to a more sustainable and social business.” (More on this below.)
- 🌵 The Washington Slagbaai National Park was the first nature reserve established in the Dutch Caribbean (est. 1969).
- ☀️ Bonaire is the leading island in terms of clean energy, producing over 40% of its electricity thanks to solar and wind power. They are also transparent in their reliance on petroleum-based fuel (60%), and are implementing more solar panels on roofs as well as transitioning to bio-diesel in the future.
- 🦩 The native flamingos of the island are heavily protected in nature reserves and sanctuaries, with a rehabilitation center and strict no-drone policies.
- 🏝 Bonaire’s 770+ exotic donkeys—first introduced to the island by the Spaniards—are well taken care of by the non-profit Donkey Sanctuary.
- 🤿 Many dive shops, including Dive Friends and VIP Diving, were awarded Blue Destination Certification. Dive Friends also hosts quarterly Dive Clean Ups and both shops were awarded a PADI Green Star for their environmentally-friendly business practices. You can learn more in my guide about diving in Bonaire.
- 🐠 Bonaire boasts 6672 acres of a protected marine park. Established in 1969, Bonaire’s National Marine Park is one of the oldest marine reserves in the world. (You will see several coral restoration trees and gardens during your dives!)
- 🌳 There are nearly 1900 acres of protected wetlands and abundant mangroves.
- 🌊 STINAPA, a non-profit organization, helps to protect and educate about Bonaire’s nature parks. All visitors must pay a nature fee to help fund conservation efforts.
As is the case with any destination, improvements can always be made.
Bonaire’s mission is just that—to inspire other Caribbean islands to follow in their footsteps toward a greener, more sustainable future.
What Is Bonaire’s Blue Destination Certification?
Even though they are already pioneering ecotourism in the Caribbean, Bonaire Island aims to do more, which is why the Blue Destination Certification was brought to life in 2019.
In sum, Blue Destination Certification promotes what Bonaire already stands for: “synergy between nature, culture and economy.”
The hope is to attract visitors who share their values in caring for people and the planet.
To earn certification, companies must adhere to a set of criteria developed by the Blue Destination committee.
Currently, there are twelve overarching themes upon which businesses—including hotels, restaurants, cafes, car rental agencies, offices, and diving schools—are rated.
- Purchase and sales
- Social welfare and local employment
- Preventing exploitation
- Health and Safety
- Energy and Climate
- Preventing pollution and nuisance
- Nature and landscape
- Cultural Heritage
You can see which companies are currently certified and learn more at BlueDestination.com.
Eco Adventures Not to Miss on Bonaire
No brakes, no engine, only wind power—such is the thrill of land sailing on Bonaire!
Land sailing, or sand yachting, is like being on a Mario Kart track—except there is no pedal power here, only sails and gusts of wind.
Donna and the team will teach you everything you need to know before you get behind the handlebars of your very own “blokart” and start cruising in the wind!
Washington Slagbaai National Park
The Washington Slagbaai National Park is teeming with hidden nooks of pristine beauty. The national park is so big and wild that it takes hours just to drive through (in a 4×4, preferably).
But beyond the one-way muddy roads and thick forests of Kadushi cactus lie some of the island’s prettiest geological gems, beaches and bays, and snorkel spots.
🌵 Read more about what to do and see in my guide to Bonaire’s Washington Slagbaai National Park
Kayaking in the Mangroves
Lac Bay, located on the east side of Bonaire Island, is a gorgeous shallow bay home to wetlands and mangroves.
Here, you can kayak through a tunnel in the mangroves and go snorkeling, while learning about the symbiotic relationship between the different types of mangroves, plants, and marine life.
While we didn’t have time to do this tour, it is a great eco-adventure to have on Bonaire. You can only visit the mangroves with a certified guide.
The guys at Royal Tours offer a clear-bottom kayak and snorkeling tour that departs from Lac Cai (the conch shell beach).
Exploring the Caves & Karst Nature Reserve
We didn’t realize how diverse Bonaire really was until we learned that it doesn’t only have palm trees, flamingos, desert cacti, mountains, national parks, and marine reserves, but it also has a secret underworld of caves and caverns.
There are approximately 400 caves on Bonaire! And several can be explored with a guide. There are dry caves and also submerged caves that you can snorkel in, similar to the cenotes in Mexico.
Bonaire’s Karst Nature Reserve aims to protect its elaborate cave system through conservation, research, protection, and sustainable tourism. Inside some of the caves, you can also find historical and cultural wonders, such as the paintings and handprints of the island’s first inhabitants.
Of course, what better way to discover Bonaire than through its world-famous dive and snorkel sites?
There are over 85 registered dive sites (and plenty more named but unregistered ones), around Bonaire and Klein Bonaire—the small, wild island you will see in front of Kralendijk.
While most of the dive shops on the island all work consciously to protect the environment, we found that Dive Friends and VIP Diving take the extra step with Blue Destination Certification, PADI Green Star awards, and regular reef clean-up initiatives.
Read even more things to do in Bonaire, Caribbean in my bucket list guide! 🌴
Where to Eat, Stay, & More
We had an amazing time discovering Bonaire through its cuisine!
While we weren’t adventurous enough to try the local goat or iguana stew, we did get the chance to try a variety of different at some of the best restaurants in Bonaire serving fresh seafood and creative dishes inspired by the island’s diverse mix of cultures including Dutch, African, Spanish, French, Chinese, Portuguese, German, and Antillean.
Some of our favorite places to eat on Bonaire were:
- Brass Boer
- Posada Para Mira
- Kite City Food Truck
- La Cantina Brewery
If you would like to learn more about what is considered sustainable seafood on Bonaire, you can find some great information here.
We stayed for one week in the lovely Delfins Beach Resort, a 4-star luxury hotel located just a 10-minute drive from Kralendijk.
Delfins, along with a few other eco-forward hotels mentioned below, all are excellent places to stay in Bonaire.
🐬 Delfins Beach Resort ($$$+) — Features luxurious apartments and villas, a pool and spa, a waterfront restaurant, and a 5-star dive shop. It’s one of the new hotels on the island. Sustainability-wise, it uses solar panels on its apartments and villas and mindfully sources non-toxic detergents and hotel products.
🏴☠️ Captain Don’s Habitat ($$-$$$) — Captain Don’s Habitat has been working with the environment, culture, and economy in mind since the beginning. The founder, Donald Steward, is also the celebrated founder of Bonaire’s prized marine park and helped bring forth diving tourism to the island. Don’s Habitat has long been working to improve upon its environmentally-friendly practices. They have an awesome house reef for diving and snorkeling, lush gardens, on-site dining, and more.
🦋 B&B Kas Chuchubi ($-$$)— This small and sweet Bed and Breakfast has all the touches of luxury accommodation but is packaged in a homely setting.
All of the above hotels, while improvements can be made to become more environmentally friendly, are Blue Destination Certified.
🌿 For more information on each hotel, read my guide to the best places to stay on Bonaire
Bonaire is unlike many other tropical islands in that you can’t only pack a swimsuit and expect to stay inside your all-inclusive resort.
No—here, on this island of flamingos and lizards and dive sites and caverns, adventure beckons and you will need to be prepared to meet it!
Here is my quick list of essentials to pack for a vacation to Bonaire:
- ☀️ Reef-friendly sunscreen (I brought my tin of Raw Elements Natural Sunscreen, but you can find Sea & Sky Sunscreen in the shops on Bonaire).
- 💦 Reusable water bottle (Bonaire’s tap water is 100% filtered ocean water and is safe to drink!)
- 👟 Closed shoes for adventure activities (e.g. hiking Mount Brandaris, horse riding, etc). I wore my Allbirds Tree Runners and they were great.
- Water boots or water shoes for entering shore dives
- 🤿 Snorkel mask (+ gear). You can rent snorkel equipment for $15-20 in most dive shops on Bonaire for one day. However, you might prefer to invest in your own scuba diving mask. I bought my Beuchat for my Open Water Course and never looked back!
- 🦟 Eco-friendly mosquito repellent (Murphy’s Naturals is my go-to!)
- 👒 Hat + sunglasses
As for clothing, I packed this much for our 8-day trip and it worked out perfectly:
- 2x Swimsuits
- 1x Beach coverup
- 2x Rompers (one short-length for beaches, and a long one for nice dinners)
- 2x Shorts (only used one pair!)
- 2x Tank tops
- 2x Yoga outfits (we did two yoga lessons + a SUP lesson)
- 1x Long skirt
- 1x Jean (for the plane)
- 3x Shoes (1 sneaker, 1 sport sandal, 1 beach sandal)
- 1x Light cardigan
I reused outfits a couple of times, but I didn’t need anything more than that! I have a 40L backpack, so I can use it as my carry-on (no need to check it in).
Packing Tip: Most resorts on Bonaire will be equipped with both US and European-style outlets!
So, Is Bonaire Island on Your Bucket List?
Bonaire has pristine beaches, wild landscapes, and some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean.
But what really makes this little island in the Caribbean Netherlands special is its eco-centric commitment and vision.
A commitment to preserving the nature of the island while ushering in sustainable tourism that benefits not just people, but also the culture, economy, and the planet and all its creatures.
That’s the kind of destination I want at the top of my bucket list.
That’s the type of do-good vacation I want to have.
So, with all that said, I wish you your first Bon Bini na Boneiru (“Welcome to Bonaire”), and I hope to see you on the island someday!
Finally, if you have any questions about visiting Bonaire, please feel free to reach out and drop a comment below.
Please note this article was written in partnership with Tourism Corporation Bonaire (danki!), however, all opinions and thoughts expressed here are mine alone. It is my hope that, with this guide, you can enjoy visiting Bonaire Island responsibly and contribute to its ecotourism mission.
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