Crystal clear waters. A rich and colorful underwater world. If any island in the Caribbean has it, it is Bonaire. Belonging to the so-called ABC Islands, Bonaire bursts with popularity among scuba divers and snorkelers for amazing reefs and a most wonderful marine life. The island is greatly accessible by car and therefore can be easily explored on your own. It was one of these places in the Caribbean that had long time been on my bucket list and that I was highly anticipating to finally lay foot on during this Southern Caribbean cruise.
The morning that the Koningsdam had arrived at the pier, we were one of the first group of passengers that left the vessel right at 8 am to begin their island exploration. Bonaire´s international Flamingo Airport lies only 10 to 15 minutes from the cruise ship terminal and most of the rental car companies offer a pick-up and drop-off service from and to the pier.
I had placed a reservation with AVIS in advance at the fantastic price of 37 US-Dollars for a medium-sized car fitting four people. Shortly after finalizing the papers at the desk, we were off to our Bonaire island adventure with me at the steering wheel (be afraid, be very afraid 🙂 ).
Our first stop was the 1000 Steps Beach north of Kralendijk, just after the Santa Barbara Crowns neighbourhood. This beach consists (like most beaches on the island) of corals and is accessible by stairs from the road. As the climb itself (luckily there are only 67 steps altogether) can be hazardous and steep, make sure to wear proper footwear as walking on corals with bare feet can be quite uncomfortable as well.
There are tons of colorful fishes at this beach, so make sure to bring snorkeling gear already with you. My personal highlight of 1000 Steps were the sea turtles though, which actually came right to the shoreline to feed on the seaweed covering the corals and stones.
Even if the weather was rather cloudy that day, it was a moment of bliss to me to be able to swim with these young fellas and see them in their natural environment. Time flew and after an hour we carried on with our tour.
Our next stop was the Goto Laguna, or Gotomeer, a saltwater lagoon near the islands northern end and one of the major Flamingo hangouts on Bonaire. This area is a nesting place for the pink birds which are real fun to watch and observe as they elegantly stalk through the shallow waters.
From the parking and observation lot just up the hill from the lagoon you can enjoy a beautiful view onto the area and the Washington Slagbaai National Park in the background.
From here, we drove up-country past the little village of Rincon to get a glimpse on what local life on the island looks like. The Bonaire lifestyle is very relaxed and locals are very friendly and helpful. Even though Bonaire has seen hard times in terms of slavery centuries ago, the positive way of life can be felt everywhere where you get in touch with them.
You will also find many curious donkeys and goats along the roads that were once brought to the island by the Europeans.
What I experienced as quite interesting was the rather harsh and dry nature and environment that Bonaire is made of. This shows particularly at the island´s shorelines. When you think of the Caribbean, you normally picture white sandy beaches and lots of palm trees hanging low above turquoise waters, right?
Bonaire has a rather dusty and rocky touch to it. I liked this controversial atmosphere though, as it reveals a completely different kind of beauty that you are normally used to from high-gloss travel catalogues. It also makes it stand out from the other islands belonging to the ABC archipelago like Curacao and Aruba.
After a short stop at a local supermarket for a little snack and refreshments, we decided to drive south towards the Willemstoren Lighthouse and Ruin to check out the beaches south of Kralendijk for another swim and the famous Slave Huts.
Bonaire´s economy is mainly dependant on tourism these days. Back in the 1700´s, slaves were brought over from Africa to work in the salt pans and tending crops. Reminiscent of this dark part of history are the white and orange slave “accommodations”, the White Pan and Red Pan.
The huts were constructed around 1850 and served as camping facilities and sleeping quarters for the slaves that worked in the salt pans. Their size is ridiculously small, considering that each “house” held quite a few men and women, once again a more than bad example of how human beings have been mistreated during slavery times.
A sad memorial of inhumanity, but absolutely worth visiting to make a statement on freedom and equality.
It was late afternoon already when we left the slave huts to check out Atlantis Beach for another dip in the ocean. The sea had quite a swell and it was a little dangerous to swim close to the sharp edges of the cliffs, so we decided after a quick hop in to slowly finish up our excursion.
Our last stop of the day was the Willemstoren Lighthouse at the most southern point of Bonaire. The lighthouse is particularly beautiful and this spot is also a highly frequented meeting point for scuba divers. It is a great photo spot, I think, and the small ruin right next to it makes a great location for souvenir snapshots with an urban decay ambiance.
Having soaked up the salty air for a few more moments, it was unfortunately already time to head back to Kralendijk to let this beautiful day settle in our minds while enjoying a cup of coffee at a local bar. Returning the vehicle was seamless and the AVIS representative brought us hassle free into town where we took a short walk through the main street and the shops.
As Koningsdam departed on-time at 6 pm a little later, one thing was absolutely clear as the island slowly disappeared on the horizon and the ship steered towards its next destination. I definitely wanted to come back! Bonaire had set my heart on fire for the extraordinary beauty of maritime life and the underwater world.