Natural Beauty

From land to sea and thrilling adventure to beachin’ it, nature’s bounty is abundant on the Caribbean Netherlands island of Bonaire

“Are you here to dive?” It’s not a peculiar question for my plane neighbor to ask, given the flight is full of eager divers headed to beautiful Bonaire—the Caribbean Netherlands island located just 50 miles north of Venezuela. Thanks to the lively marine sanctuary that stretches its entire perimeter, Bonaire is known as one of the best shore-diving destinations in the Caribbean. Much to my seatmate’s surprise, it’s everything but diving I’m looking to explore here. 

The smallest of the Caribbean’s ABC islands, Bonaire is 111 square miles of desert terrain. You won’t find many palm trees or stoplights, but you’ll see flamingos fluffing their feathers (there’s more of them on the island than people), gentle wild donkeys, and rich historical notes seen in the salt pans, lighthouses and Washington Slagbaai National Park.

Opened in 1969, the park is home to an array of plant and animal species. With the purchase of a STINAPA tag for entry into the park, visitors are directly contributing to the island’s extensive conservation efforts. Hop out of the car at one of the many beaches located throughout the reserve, and if you’re feeling brave, take the plunge off the cliff at Boca Slagbaai. (Speaking from experience, keep your body straight when falling if you want to avoid a sizable bruise.)

After exploring the park or lounging at the beach, Bonaire’s culinary scene is ready to serve you. Sebastian’s, Boudoir and Ingridiënts are all island favorites, and for those who want to eat like a local, the iguana soup from Posada Para Mira is prime for the adventurous eater. Looking for something to wash down your meal? Make your way to The Cadushy Distillery where they brew liqueurs from the abounding Kadushi cacti.

It would be no trip to Bonaire without a little thrill. Strap into a “blokart” at Bonaire Landsailing Adventures and use the wind to power you around a figure-eight track or head to Jibe City—the world-famous windsurfing beach—to learn how to glide through the water using nothing but the ocean breeze. 

For something more zen, pristine snorkeling at Klein Bonaire will open your eyes to an unfamiliar world where schools of colorful fish welcome you into their home. Top off the evening with a sunset chill-and-grill catamaran cruise from Epic Tours Bonaire before heading back to the luxurious Harbour Village to rest for the night, where rooms overlooking the ocean are a natural white noise machine. Enjoy a nightcap at their open-air La Balandra restaurant, or hop in the water for an end-of-night snorkel, which will bring you face-to-face with enormous tarpons.

Bonaire’s “once a visitor, always a friend” slogan holds true, and though their scenic settings and thrilling activity offerings are top of the line, it’s the welcoming locals that are the heart of the island. Whether your leisure is spent amongst the marine life or with both feet planted firmly on the ground, Bonaire brims with adventure—and new friends—for all who visit.