A dry and windy island yet bursting with colour, Bonaire is a gem of a destination The Tourism Board and STINAPA (Stichting Nationale Parken Nederlands Antillen) work hard to ensure a balance between nature and the many visitors to the island.
It’s brightly painted buildings, the shimmering turquoise bay, the giant pyramids of salt standing alongside the strikingly pink waters, the vivid green and yellow lorikeets and the flocks of coral pink flamingos all leave a lasting impression of colour.
Just 24 miles (39km) long by 3-7 miles (5-11km) wide, Bonaire lies 50 miles north of Venezuela and outside of the hurricane belt. Its easterly trade winds blow year round with the higher winds prevailing generally from mid-December through to August.
The average yearly temperature is 28°C (82°F), sea temperature 27°C (80°F) and rainfall approximately 22 inches. The main languages are Papiamentu and Dutch, but English and Spanish are also widely spoken.
The local currency is the US dollar.
Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country's dissolution on 10 October 2010, when the island (including Klein Bonaire) became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands.
Home to five of the PWA (Professional Windsurfers Association) top freestyle Windsurfers, the flat shallow water of Lac Bay provides a fantastic training ground for freestyle, it’s great for blasting and safe for children and beginners. Many people that you meet on the beach just keep coming back.
As well as windsurfing there are many other activities including some of the best diving in the World with visibility averaging over 30m (100 feet). It is possible to dive and snorkel directly from many hotels both day and night The Island’s first dive operation was set up in 1963 by Captain Don Stewart at Flamingo Beach. He has played a major role in the formation of Bonaire’s Marine Park and reef preservation.
A Kiteboarding School (www.kiteboardingbonaire.com) operates at Atlantis Beach providing instruction, equipment hire and a rescue boat.
Cycling is becoming more and more popular with tours into the Kunuku (outback) and around the Island.
The Mangrove Info and Kayak Centre (http://www.mangrovecenter.com/ and ) offer Kayaking and snorkel trips through the Mangroves - the mangrove forest of Lac Bay is one of the best preserved mangrove forests in the Caribbean.
Bonaire consists mainly out of limestone (fossile coral reefs), there are many caves on the island (http://www.outdoorbonaire.com/)
Various sailing charter operators can be found on the Island. Bonaire offers excellent deep sea and light tackle fishing and is rated as one of the best bonefishing destinations in the world.
The Washington Slaagbaai National Park makes for a great day out, but you must use a 4-wheel drive type vehicle because of the rugged terrain. There are dive and snorkel sites and plenty of places to picnic along the way. If you’re into hiking then you might fancy a walk up Brandaris Hill (241 meters/784 feet) the highest point on Bonaire. The round-trip takes about 2 to 3 hours. The trail is well marked and easy to follow. From the top you get a great view of the island and on a clear day you might be able to see Curacao and Venezuela.
The Park is a Nature Sanctuary located at the northern end of Bonaire. Formerly two land plantations supplying salt, charcoal, aloe extract, divi divi pods and goats for export to Curacao and Europe it comprises some 14,000 acres.
Another worthwhile expedition is to Klein Bonaire: a nature reserve of around 1500 acres, accessible by water taxi. Great for snorkelling and picnicking (though you might need to take some shade) it is a nesting site for turtles: www.bonaireturtles.org
The Salt Pans provide a great photo opportunity and the Pekelmeer is a pretty drive and one of the most important breeding grounds for the southern Caribbean flamingo population (+/- 6,500).
History and Culture
Believed to have arrived around 1300, Arawak Indians from Venezuela were the first inhabitants of the island. Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci arrived in 1499 and claimed Bonaire for the Spaniards. The Dutch took possession in 1636. African slaves were brought to the Island in the late 1600s to work on the plantations and harvesting salt. Between 1799 and 1816 the Island was occupied on and off by various countries and individuals.The Island returned to the Dutch in 1816.
Salt production slowed with the abolition of slavery in 1863. However, in the 1960s, a US Company designed new solar slat works revitalising the industry.
Today salt production is still a major industry on the Island along with tourism.
Kralendijk airport was built in 1943, and today Bonaire is on the itinerary for many of the large cruise liners that travel around the Caribbean Sea.