The Beautiful Dutch Caribbean

Bonaire in the Caribbean is known for its sun, beaches and the sea. But it has much more to offer. For instance, it has one of the best diving spots in the world. But it boasts also an incredibly dry National Park. And it has an eventful and tumultuous past.

Bonaire is a wonderful beach destination, with nice weather, warm water and a beautiful landscape. The island has a rough past. With native inhabitants from Venezuela, degrading slavery and salt mining. This legacy can still be seen everywhere. This is an island where nature conservation has been given a prominent place for decades. Also to save nesting sea turtles. A trip to Bonaire is a trip to the sun, sea and beach. And much more.

The island is 40 km long and 5 to 12 km wide. It is one of the hidden gems in the Caribbean. And part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This makes it easy to visit the island via direct flights from Amsterdam. Below you will find numerous tips about the attractions, excursions and more on the island.

A beach on Bonaire.

282 species of birds live on land, most of all in the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba and Curaçao. With some unique species, such as the many flamingos. Although more and more tourists are coming to Bonaire mainly to look underwater.

Due to the drought on the island, remarkably little water flows from the land into the sea. And therefore does not pollute the sea with sand or waste. This means that visibility underwater is almost always excellent. And you can clearly see the wealth underwater. The underwater world of Bonaire has more than 80 species of hard and soft corals.

Sights on Bonaire


Kralendijk is the largest town on Bonaire, although it is actually nothing more than a village. The name is derived from the coral reef in front of the beach. The name has been used since around 1840, although locals still call the town 'playa', which means beach. The oldest settlement on Bonaire is not Kralendijk, but the smaller, more northern town of Rincon. Kralendijk is a good starting point to explore the island.


Rincon is the oldest town on Bonaire. According to historical books, the village was founded by the Spanish in the 16th century. At this time there were many pirates active in this part of the world, so they sought shelter on the island. Peaceful Rincon is located in a valley between the hills on the north side of the island. And is therefore not visible from the sea. The name Rincon means 'corner', although the reason for this is not entirely clear.

Fort Orange

Fort Orange (also known as Fort Oranje) is a small fort in the centre of Kralendijk. The first defences were built as early as 1639 on behalf of the West India Company. It had, among other things, four English cannons. The current remains date from 1816, after the Dutch conquered the island from the English. At that time it was mainly the residence of the governor, although it once also served as a prison. In 1932 the stone tower was added to the fort. This replaced the weathered wooden copy. Nowadays, historical objects from Bonaire's past are exhibited in Fort Orange.

Washington Slagbaai National Park

An iguana on Bonaire.

Washington Slagbaai National Park is relatively unknown to many visitors. It was established in 1969 to protect the dry rock landscape of Bonaire. It is the habitat of various animals such as the green iguana, but also of a rare bird, the lora. This is a subspecies of the yellow-shouldered amazon, and only occurs on Bonaire.


The Pekelmeer is world famous. For several reasons. First of all, the water whore is pinkish-red in colour. The strikingly small slave houses around the salt lake still provide tangible evidence of the Dutch slave's past on this island. And they are a kind of lasting memory of the darkest page of the Dutch past. They can still be seen in two places. In addition, Pekelmeer is also the largest home for the many red flamingos on the island. Bonaire is home to one of the largest breeding colonies in the world.

Lac Bay

Red flamingos at Lac Bay on Bonaire. ©Corno van den Berg

Lac Bay is considered one of the most beautiful places on Bonaire. It is a good place for windsurfing, but a surrounding mangrove forest is a favourite place for many animals to have their young. Including various species of rays, lobsters and the rare Caribbean seahorse. Red flamingos also come to Lac Bay to feed on tiny animals.


Gotomeer is located next to the Washington Slagbaai National Park. Gotomeer was created by excessive coral formation. This created a natural dam that closed the lake off from the sea. Because the lake is very shallow, you can see many red flamingos all year round. These birds search for food in the water.

Rooi Lamoenchi

The relatively unknown Rooi Lamoenchi dates back to Bonaire's plantation past. This old plantation was used for the cultivation of aloe vera. Various types of plants were used. Today, the remains of the old slave wall are still standing, as is the plantation building. There are also antique tools, furniture, other family belongings and the remains of a handmade dam from 1908. The private nature reserve is located east of Kralendijk.

Klein Bonaire

Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited island off the coast of Bonaire. In 1999 it became part of the Bonaire Marine Park and was assured that it would never be built on. Numerous hotel chains already had plans ready to build luxurious lodges on the island. The mangroves around the moose are an important nursery for fish and shellfish. It is easy to reach from Kralendijk.

Read my article Klein Bonaire

Karpata Estate

The Karpata Estate is nowadays an ecological centre, but was once a plantation where various products were grown. Such as aloe vera, charcoal and dye wood. In addition, goats were kept for their skins and meat. The original name was Plantage Borneo, but this was later renamed to Karpata. This is a plant that still occurs on Bonaire; it is the source of the laxative castor oil. In 1980, large parts of this trade centre were restored with funds from the Netherlands. It is located on the coastal road from Kralendijk in a northerly direction, near Gotomeer.

Snorkelling and Diving Bonaire Marine Park 

Diving in Bonaire Marine Park.

The coastline of Bonaire and adjacent Klein Bonaire is surrounded by living coral reefs. Extraordinary is that you can walk straight into the water to the coral. According to experts, Bonaire has the most first-class diving sites close to the coast in the world.

Recent studies show that Bonaire has at least 355 species of fish. This gives the island the greatest diversity of species in the entire Caribbean. And the fish (and sea turtles), because of the long protection, are used to viewers in colourful bikinis and swimming trunks wearing strange glasses.

The Bonaire Marine Park covers almost all of Bonaire. The nature policy in Bonaire is an example for many other areas. The American diving pioneer Don Stewart opened a diving school in 1962. He is known worldwide as the great protector of the underwater world. He gets help from Carel Steensma; the director of Southern America at KLM.

Steensma regularly visits Bonaire to dive and he acknowledges the need to protect it. Together they develop plans to establish the Bonaire Marine Park. Which actually happened in 1979. This protects almost the entire coastal area. With strict rules. For example, harpoon fishing is prohibited, as is breaking down coral. The island quickly made a name for itself as a diving and snorkelling destination.

Sea Turtles

A sea turtle at Klein Bonaire.

One of the most important animals in the water is the sea turtle. In addition to protecting beaches for their nests, for example, a lot of research is now being done into migratory behaviour. Including the Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire. Only on the island of Klein Bonaire do two species of sea turtles lay eggs, but not in large numbers. Several remote beaches on Bonaire have now been restored to their former glory and it is hoped that the turtles will also use them for laying eggs. The reefs around both Bonaire and Klein Bonaire are an important source of food for these animals.

Coral Bleaching

Bonaire has the dubious honour of being the area where 'coral bleaching' was first observed. That was in the period from June 1979 to February 1980. This discovery was made on the northeast side of the island, along the coast at a depth between 10 and 40 meters. When scientists looked further afield, this disastrous process was also seen on the Great Barrier Reef, for example.

Accommodation on Bonaire

There is a lot on offer. Think of small hotels, luxury villas, convenient holiday homes and apartments. If you book in advance, prices are not too bad. Be on time, especially during the holiday periods and weekends.

Things to Do on Bonaire

Celebrate Carnival on Bonaire

The carnival on Bonaire is one big party. It lasts 'only' one day where you can enjoy a parade, lots of live music and drinks. The local residents dress very colourfully. You will be amazed by the sights. It is a party that you, as a tourist, can easily join and participate in. The busiest place is logically Kralendijk, although Rincon is also known as a fun party spot. Anyone who wants to experience this spectacle in February should book their flight ticket and hotel early because it fills up very quickly during this week.

Explore the Caves

Bonaire has several caves, almost all of which can be explored. Bring your snorkel or diving goggles and get into the water. You have a chance of encountering a fish or shrimp that have completely adapted to the dark conditions. Be sure to bring good shoes as the rocks can be sharp.

Find the Lora and the Flamingo

Flamingos are probably the most famous inhabitants of Bonaire. You can encounter them in two (and with luck in several) places. Pekelmeer in the south of the island is famous, where you can get quite close to them. And where the birds also breed. They often look for food in Gotomeer, but you will see them often at a greater distance. The lora is more difficult to find, so you need a good guide. You enter Washington Slagbaai NP to look for bird life, and you will also see much more fauna and flora. And to listen to your guide, so that you understand what you see.

One of the many locations where you can swim or surf.

Dive to Hilma Hooker

The Hilma Hooker is a ship with a past. In 1951 she was built at a Dutch shipyard, her name was then MS Midsland. Everything was conquered and according to rumors even weapons and people. In 1984 the ship had problems with the steering gear off Bonaire. It soon turned out that she had 11,000 kilos of marijuana in her tow. At the request of the locally famous Captain Don, the ship was sunk above a coral reef. Nowadays it is one of the favourite diving spots, where you can see countless corals and fish that now live on and in the ship.

Ride and Swim with Your Horse

It is a marvellous experience: you ride your horse into the surf. Just to the point where the animal can stand and float through the water. And with the warm temperatures, it is a nice relief for both after a trip overland. Pay attention to the reaction of the horse, which is visibly enjoying it.

Climb the Top of Bonaire

The Brandaris in the Washington Slagbaai National Park is the highest mountain on Bonaire. Even though it is only 241 meters, the view gives a good impression of the Caribbean island. And in very nice weather you can even see the 'Christoffelberg' on Curaçao. And possibly even the mountains of Venezuela.

See Rock Paintings

The Caquetío Indians have left evidence of their presence. In shallow caves, they entrusted their drawings to the rocks about 500 years ago. Scientists believe that the drawings were made based on religious ideas. Try to find the turtles and the snake in the drawings. The caves with drawings are located in various places such as Spelonk, Onima, Ceru Pungi and Ceru Crita-Cabai. Those of Boca Onima on the east coast of Bonaire are the most accessible.

Explore Bonaire by Kayak 

You can paddle in a kayak in various places. Those who want to experience the important function of mangroves can paddle around Lac Bay or Klein Bonaire. And see why it is called the 'maternity room'. This can be done with or without a guide. It is also possible to sail along the west coast and see the landscape from the sea. You can follow the coral reefs and see how they are draped around the coast. And underneath you, it's colourful with fish. Most hotels offer kayak tours, just ask. The best time to go is early in the morning when you can also encounter many birds.

Mountain Bike across the Arid Land

The rugged desert landscape of Bonaire at sunset. ©Corno van den Berg

Mountain biking in Washington Slagbaai NP, for example, is a real experience because of the many cacti, the arid landscape and the rugged rocks that end in the sea. Ideal for those who have some energy left, or for those who want to make their own plans. You can also go out with a guide so that you do not miss the most beautiful places.

Surf the Waters of Bonaire

Jibe City is a relatively new place for surfing on Bonaire, where you can learn all the tricks. Lac Bay has been famous among windsurfers for a long time. The conditions of this inlet near Bonaire are ideal for catching the wind. You can get acquainted with the sport, but you can also get on the water with your board early in the morning. Take a good look around you, because you won't soon forget the mangroves, the clear water and the rest of the view. According to many windsurfers, it is even one of the most beautiful places in the world.

See the Sunrise on Sorobon

Sorobon is famous among windsurfers and beach lovers. The white sand, the trade winds and the view create a peaceful atmosphere. The sunrise is most spectacular at Sorobon. Get there early and bring some breakfast, sit on the sand and wait. After the sunrise, you can go snorkelling. And, for example, feed the many fish with a slice of leftover bread. Or climb on a surfboard.

Visit an Old Aloe Vera Plantation

At Rooi Lamoenchi you can get an impression of Bonaire's plantation past. This old plantation was used for the cultivation of aloe vera. The various plants that were used can be seen, as well as the cultivation methods. You can also see the remains of the old slave wall and the plantation building. There are also antique tools, furniture, other family belongings and the remains of a handmade dam from 1908. And all this in the rugged landscape of Bonaire, just east of Kralendijk. Visits are by appointment only, so please contact them in advance.

Spot Bonaire's Wildlife

The green iguana is bright green at birth but becomes paler in colour as the animal ages. The animal is still regularly seen on Bonaire, but their numbers are declining. Partly because the animal is eaten on many Caribbean islands. You can encounter this animal anywhere, but the best opportunity is in Washington Slagbaai NP.

The Bonaire anole is a unique lizard, as it only lives on Bonaire. The animal is not easy to recognize as it has the same colours as the brown branches of shrubs. This animal is usually active early in the morning and in the afternoon and is regularly seen in Washington Slagbaai NP. Although you do have to look for it.

The blausana is a striking green to blue-green coloured lizard. As they grow older, the male's blue colour changes to turquoise. Then they also have many light dots on their bodies. You can find them everywhere on Bonaire.

The History of Bonaire

The island is volcanic in origin. And was pushed up about 100 million years ago. Salt pans can be seen in the northwest. Over the centuries, especially during the various Ice Ages, the sea level has often risen and fallen. The water dried up, leaving the salt behind.

Bonaire not only has a rugged landscape but also a rugged past. Scientists have been able to determine that the first inhabitants reached the island from Venezuela. Petroglyphs near the village of Onima show that the Caquetío Indians (also known as Arawak Indians) arrived around the year 1000. The Spaniards Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci were probably the first Europeans to set foot in 1499.

The Spaniards search for gold but find nothing. The drought also makes agriculture impossible. The Spanish call Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao 'Islas Inútiles' or 'useless islands'. Livestock farming is a last resort, so the current donkeys and goats are descendants of the animals released in the early days. The native inhabitants are taken to Hispaniola to work as slaves on the plantations.

Bonaire becomes a freebooter island, a safe place for escaped slaves and convicts. They mainly settle in Rincon. It remains quiet for a long time, until the Netherlands conquers the island from Spain in 1633. Wouter van Twiller, governor of the new Netherlands, brings slaves from Suriname to, among other things, extract salt from the lakes on Bonaire.

Bonaire's famous slave houses are a lasting reminder of the dark past. ©Corno van den Berg

The slave huts at the salt pans are still silent witnesses. Slavery was abolished in 1863. Great Britain conquered the island twice. Even though the islands were finally assigned to the Netherlands in 1816, it was the reason for the Netherlands to build Fort Orange in Kralendijk.

Today Bonaire is part of the Netherlands Antilles. The island has its own status among holidaymakers. And it is even considered one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. It is an ideal holiday island for sun and nature lovers. Where nature has developed well.

Best Time to Visit Bonaire

The clarity of the water around Bonaire is excellent all year round. The reason for this is simple, when a rain shower reaches the island it is immediately piloted to the sea, so without pollution from sand or stones, for example.

If you want to see the coral reproduction, you should go in September or October. It depends on the full moon, so check in advance which is the best week to go. Keep in mind that there will be a larger crowd of tourists.

In terms of water temperature, January to October is the best time. After that, hurricanes can cause problems, both on land and for divers.

All 2 Bucket List Tips in Bonaire