My 18 year-old son and I decided to make our first trip to Bonaire to celebrate his high school graduation. I did a lot of on-line research looking for the best value proposition I could find – quality and price were both important. Since Bonaire is the capital of shore diving, and almost every package deal you will find for divers on the island includes a rental vehicle equipped with a rack for scuba tanks, I knew that a location directly on the waterfront, while appealing, was not a critical element for enjoying the spectacular diving that Bonaire offers.
I considered a lot of different dive resorts and compared the deals they offered, and eventually found Tropical Divers, run by Klaus “Harry” Neuman, to have the best deal on the island. They also own a small lodging facility directly adjacent to the dive shop, and Harry also owns the recently-opened “Sense” restaurant which is also immediately next door to the compound. The location is not directly on the waterfront, but across J.A. Abraham Blvd from the Plaza resort, and guests from Tropical Inn have access to shore diving from the beach at the Plaza. The map and dive guide we were given with our rental truck lists the site as “Eighteenth Palm.”
Tropical Inn and Tropical Divers cater largely to German, Swiss and Austrian tourists and is very convenient to the airport; it is one of the closest resorts to Flamingo Airport, probably less than a kilometer, but with so little air traffic there was never a problem with noise. Tropical Divers is less well known to Americans, and having fewer reviews and recommendations from American guests, I was just a bit concerned about what to expect, so I am happy to report that we had a really wonderful stay and were extremely pleased with every aspect of our stay.
We took the direct flight from Atlanta on Delta, which was extremely late arriving due to mechanical problems before departure, but upon arriving in Kralendijk, after clearing customs and immigration we were met by our driver who had a sign with our names on it. He drove the 2 minutes to our destination and as he unloaded our bags, he told us that the reception desk in the dive shop was closed, but told us where to find the key and which unit was ours. I was a bit surprised, since when making the reservation directly by phone, I was asked for a credit card, but not required to pay a deposit. At the time of our arrival, we were given access to our 1 bedroom apartment for the first night without having paid a dime. This was my first clue that I was in for a different kind of experience, and one that was a refreshing change from what I was used to.
At the Tropical Inn the accommodations are either a hotel room or an apartment. There are only a few of each, but all are spotless and comfortable.
Our apartment was immediately next door through a small gate and courtyard. The large front porch area had a seating area and also a separate small dining table and chairs. On entering we found a spacious kitchen / living area with a television (satellite TV) a small stove, large kitchen counter, refrigerator, microwave, etc. The single bedroom had twin beds (as we had requested) a closet with a safe, and there was also a very comfortable connected ensuite bathroom with shower. The wall mounted A/C unit had been turned off and was located in the bedroom, so the apartment was stifling hot when we arrived. We turned on the air, closed the bedroom door and set about looking for a place to eat dinner. We walked a few blocks around the corner (past Sense, which was open), and decided to enjoy the waterfront seating at Richard’s Restaurant. The food was OK at best, and I was a bit disappointed, but the view was excellent and when we returned we found our bedroom very cool and comfortable. We later found that leaving the air on during the day, and the door to the bedroom open, would make the entire apartment very comfortable.
The next morning the dive shop opened at 8am, and we walked the few steps next door. We checked in and I signed my son up for a level one Nitrox class. While he spent the next 2 hours in class, I went across the street to the car rental office inside the Plaza resort facility and presented my voucher for the vehicle. It was very basic – a 4-door Mazda pickup with a manual transmission and air conditioning and a wooden rack in the back for SCUBA tanks.
Harry’s policy is to provide a guide for the first dive his clients make to familiarize them with the logistics of finding the dive sites, entering and exiting the water on shore dives, making sure we understood the rules imposed by STINPAA, the conservation authority on Bonaire, and to assess the skills of the divers to insure safety and competence of the divers before turning them lose to dive when and where they like. Our guide was Juerg; originally from Switzerland, and one of Harry’s most experienced divemasters. Juerg was extremely friendly, very competent and helpful. Always ready to lend a hand, whenever I had any question I soon cam to know that the answer was going to be prefaced with “That will be no problem!”
Our package included a week stay in a one bedroom apartment (very new, clean, roomy and functional), the rental vehicle, and unlimited air or nitrox. The initial guide service was also included. The shop has it’s own boat and dock just a quick drive around the corner and across the street and they run boat dives to Klein Bonaire twice a week. For $40 you get two-tank boat dives and lunch and a stop at “No Name” beach to swim, snorkel and enjoy the gorgeous beach and soft, white sand.
Tropical Divers is a full-service SSI dive training facility with its own deep freshwater pool. The rental equipment is high-quality - mostly Aqualung Titan regs, and SeaQuest weight-integrated BC’s. My son rented a nitrox-compatible dive computer also, which turned out to be a Suunto Gekko. He had never used a computer before and found that it was intuitive and completely adequate. You can tell that everything from the air filling equipment, to the steel tanks and rental equipment is all meticulously clean and well-cared-for.
There are always plenty of tanks filled and ready and there was never any deviation from the EAN32 provided – it became almost boring to see the analyzer consistently come up to precisely 32% on every single tank. It was extremely easy to drive up and swap tanks – you can pull up directly to the facility and swap tanks in a matter of only a couple of minutes. They ask that you only take two tanks per person at a time, but when I asked if it was possible to take a couple of extra tanks for a night dive – I got the standard answer “It will be no problem!” Just make sure you analyze the tanks and sign them out and make sure we know which ones you have out and when you expect to be back.
Another pleasant surprise - at my request, I was granted free access to the dive shop's wireless LAN so that I could use the WiFi setting on my iPhone and make SKYPE calls to the states for free. I also found it easy to post photos and trip updates to my family and friends via Facebook. Wireless access was strong and dependable.
A note about “Sense” - the on-premises restaurant – we skipped it the first night, since we weren’t sure what to expect for quality of food. Even though it was visually very appealing, I had researched restaurants on-line before arriving, and it wasn’t listed, being so new. When we finally did decide to give it a try, we were VERY impressed. It wasn’t cheap eats –but the quality of the food and the menu was outstanding. I ordered a sesame-encrusted tuna steak served with wasabi and soy, and my son ordered a pasta dish with a mustard-based sauce and topped with smoked salmon. I think it was the best meal we had the entire week. Absolutely wonderful. We dined al-fresco, and they had engaged a local jazz band that was superlative. I am a musician and former professional recording engineer, and I live in a major metropolitan area – I know good jazz and great musicianship – these guys were phenomenal. It was amazing. I strongly recommend visiting Sense whether you are staying there or not – it’s worth the drive.
The only negative I can add – and this is something I was not aware of at all even after substantial research before going to Bonaire – was that I had a problem with mosquitoes.
The local variety are small, fast and caused me a fair amount of discomfort. My dive buddy never had a problem with them. I would strongly recommend that no matter where you stay on the island, that you be prepared with a DEET-based repellent.
Bottom Line: Tropical Divers strikes what seems to me to be the perfect balance of “hands off” freedom, but there was always someone immediately available to answer a question or to fulfill a request. From the guest lockers for equipment storage to rinse tanks and rental gear – these folks run a tight ship and offer a great value for your money. Highly recommended.
- Also Known As:
- Tropical Inn Bonaire Kralendijk