I haven’t seen a trip report for awhile, so I thought I would add my 2 cents worth about Bonaire. My husband and I spent Dec. 14-28 at Buddy Dive Resort (and then one night, Jan. 3, at Villa Eco Bonaire, close to the airport.) One week was a timeshare exchange; we rented the other week. We had wanted to go to Bonaire for a long time, but it’s hard to get into via timeshare exchanges. I posted reviews of Buddy’s resort, its dive operation, Villa Eco Bonaire, Gio’s cafe (great gelato!), Cadushy Distillery, Fort Oranje, and the Washington-Slagbaai National Park, all places we enjoyed visiting, on the few non-diving days.
Thanks to all the advice I gleaned from reading dozens of TripAdvisor reviews and posts, as well as asking pertinent questions, we felt prepared.
Food: We typically don’t eat out at restaurants anywhere, and so this was the same. I did make a pilgrimage, though, to Gio’s for gelato—twice. Very good. We enjoyed making 4 trips to Van den Tweel grocery store, and found that the quality, variety, and prices were all reasonable. We drove by and/or went into a few other grocery stores, but walked out without purchasing anything at the other stores. We found them dark with a lack of variety, compared to the VDT store.
Diving: We had pre-arranged for 12 boat dives with Buddy, 6 per week. We went diving on 10 days, but just a total of 15 dives in the 2 weeks. (We found that to be tiring enough.) We went to Klein Bonaire 5 times, and dove a variety of other sites along the west coast of Bonaire. We have been diving all over the world, including many islands in the Caribbean. We indeed saw great fish life, but the coral was “so-so”—not the “pristine” reefs I read about in their promo material. The few turtles we saw were the smallest we’ve seen anywhere in the world. No sharks, just one ray. Easy diving, minimal current. Visibility was good, not great.
Bonaire is known for its easy shore diving, and we enjoyed 2 dives off Buddy’s dock (could have, should have been more). A dive site map of Bonaire boasts dozens of sites. One of our Buddy dock dives was north to the Machaca wreck by Don’s Habitat. Since we had to go through another named site, I was concerned that the wreck would be too far. We were assured it was easy enough to do. Well, we got to the wreck in 10 minutes, and then kept going. When we found ourselves at a familiar place, a site called Small Wall (which we’d done as a boat dive the day before), I started wondering just how did Don Stewart (or whoever else) decide where one site ended and one began? We had just kicked through 4 named dive sites. Our total bottom time was 50 minutes. The reef is continuous along the coast. On some of the boat dives we felt like we’d seen it all before – it was repetitious and became boring.
We are not really shore divers, but I researched dive sites (in the shore diving book Buddy’s has to use in their shop) for ones listed as “easy.” I picked the site Alice in Wonderland (that’s my name, so had to do that.) We both found it wasn’t so easy (getting in and out of the water), so that was the end of shore diving for us. We found the site’s sealife to be like the others we’d been to, so we felt that shore diving wasn’t worth the hassle.
The Bonaire Airport has a display case highlighting Don Stewart’s induction into the Scuba Hall of Fame in 2005. He stated that he had been diving so much on Bonaire, but hadn’t been to the Great Barrier (reef in Australia), Yap, or Palau. My husband and I have been diving in all of those places and believe that not only is the diving much different, it’s better. We met many people who have been to Bonaire more than a dozen times. We don’t quite understand the fascination, but are glad that we have now been there. Probably won’t go again. There are far too many other dive destinations around the world.
Security/Safety: I had read so many posts about people having things stolen, and to not leave anything in the truck. We had never been any place with such blatant warnings (indeed, Buddy puts a sticker on the glove box, advising people to leave the windows down, the doors unlocked, and nothing in the vehicle.) Just that was a real deterrent from wanting to go out and leave the truck somewhere.
Sightseeing: We didn’t dive on two days because I hurt my back, so we took advantage of the opportunity to drive around the island. The map supplied by Buddy’s was extremely helpful, and the only map we needed. As previously mentioned, I wrote reviews on some of the places we went. The road in the National Park is really bad. We took it really s-l-o-w, so there would be no damage to the truck. Had to stop a few times anyway for the goats. The interior road from Rincon to Karlendijk is the best road we drove on, not too terribly bumpy, and not too much traffic.
We drove around the south side of the island, stopped to see the slave huts, the salt mountains, the lighthouse, then on to Lac Bay. It is indeed very windy around the southeast side of the island, where the windsurfers are! Hung out at the Beach Bar there, and then drove around to the picnic area and had our picnic lunch that we had brought with us. We did not combine our one shore dive with anything else. Done with that dive, hopped back in the truck and just went back to our condo. We had taken nothing, and took our unit key and truck key with us, in key pockets in our wetsuits.
We made sure to go into Kralendijk on non-cruise ship days, so the streets and stores were empty. Just had gelato had Gio’s, didn’t find anything we “needed” to buy. Walked around Ft. Oranje and took a few photos.
Airlines & Airport: I booked this trip in February, 10 months before we took it. At first I booked RT from Bonaire to Curacao on DAE, (Dutch Antilles Express airlines). Mistake! I then read all the terrible reviews about DAE, so booked the same trip with Insel. I figured that was trip insurance. DAE stopped flying Oct. 2013, so I was really glad I already had my back-up plan. I had thought we’d take an early flight from Curacao and breeze through Bonaire on the return to the U.S. I was told that 2 hours wouldn’t be enough time, so we backed it up a day and spent our last night back on Bonaire after 6 nights on Curacao. (That’s another trip report on Curacao’s forum.)
Insel allows 20kg for a free checked bag, plus a separate free 10kg bag of scuba gear. The digital luggage scale we had really came in handy, as we packed our 4 free bags to go to and from Curacao. Our last night of the trip, in our room at Villa Eco Bonaire, we dumped everything out of the 4 bags and rearranged into 1 checked bag (50 lbs.) for United (not free!), and 2 standard carry-on bags.
TripAdvisor posts had advised to get to the Bonaire airport really early to go back to the U.S., as there were 2 flights leaving about the same time. We got there at 5:45 a.m. (o’dark early!) for the 8:22 United flight to Houston, and there was hardly anyone there! We breezed through minimal lines, and found out that the flight to Newark had been cancelled due to nasty snowy weather there.
While in the short security line I was admiring a woman’s bag. It had pretty pictures of dive sites and other places on Bonaire on it, with “Bonaire Gift Shop Wine & Liquors” printed on it. She and her husband said they had visited the store and had plenty of those bags – and gave us one! We thought that was so nice. We hope that they finally got home – they were going through Chicago to get to Ohio, after their Newark flight was cancelled.
Our own saga began in Houston when we learned that the airplane for our next flight from Houston to Portland, OR was coming from Cleveland (even though it was a continuation of a flight originating in Mexico’s Baja.) United sent out 9 (count ‘em, nine!) different departure times, as they continued to search for a plane that could leave earlier than the initial 5 hour delay. We finally left 2 ½ hours late.
Upon arrival in our home airport, at midnight (4:00 a.m. in Bonaire, and we had gotten up at 4:30 that morning!), after 45 minutes wait, we all learned that the bags were not even put on the plane! The next day was extreme frustration trying to get ahold of someone at United to actually file a claim (Their Baggage phone line’s automated message said, “We’re too busy to help you.”). The suitcase was delivered just before 10 p.m., almost 3 days after we arrived back home. (So that’s my rant about United Airlines.)
Happy to be able to check Bonaire off our bucket list.