THE BEST OF BONAIRE – DUTCH CARIBBEAN
Bonaire is the middle sized island of the so called ABC islands, and sometimes portrayed as the least eventful. But after spending a week on the Dutch Caribbean island, we can say that there is plenty to tell you! Bonaire is developing quickly when it comes to new hotels, restaurants and tourism. Here’s our full Bonaire Travel Guide.
Bonaire in a nutshell
- As of 1 January 2022, the island’s population totaled 22,573 permanent residents – which is growing each year as it’s especially popular with the Dutch.
- Kralendijk is the island’s capital and the island’s hub.
- Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010, when the island became a special municipality. It is one of three special municipalities in the Caribbean; the others are Sint Eustatius and Saba. *source
- Languages spoken on Bonaire are Papiamento, Dutch and English. However, the original inhabitants were actually called Archaic Indians – part of South America. Remains or this era are still visible in caves where you can find cave paintings.
To enter the water, including snorkeling, you must purchase a STINAPA Nature Tag. This certificate is valid for one calendar year and can be purchased at various hotels and diving schools, but can also be purchased online through STINAPA’s website which we did.
- Because it’s an island, almost everything needs to be imported – most of it from the Netherlands. This makes prices higher and you can compare them to the Netherlands.
- It’s in our nature – the slogan of Bonaire that pretty much live by. Nature is important to the island and you see it everywhere. Seaweed nurseries, local initiatives to safe the coral reef, and bamboo straws – Bonaire wants to keep their environment safe and we love it.
WHERE TO STAY
We decided to stay in 2 separate hotels/apartments to get you a feel of the different options. Whether you decide to stay in Kralendijk, near most restaurants, or perhaps you want to be close to the beach bars.
Senses Boutique Hotel & Apartments
Located in the heart of Kralendijk, Senses is a home away from home – or even better. This place is fairly new with views overlooking the harbor and apartments are spacious and luxurious. Lucky for us, we stayed in the penthouse which featured an open kitchen, 3 bedrooms and a large balcony. Downstairs there is a small pool for guests, but the best thing about this place has to be its location.
Walk out the door and you’ll find yourself in the middle of Kralendijk, with restaurants, bars, shops and the buzz of the island. We stayed here for 3 nights, which was perfect. Rooms are available from $180 in low-season. Book it here.
Delfins Beach Resort
If you want a hotel that has it all, this is the one to go for. Beach entrance, 3 swimming pools, 4 restaurants, and an in-house diving school. While it’s a large hotel, it still feels cozy due to the set-up of the different area’s. Rooms at Delfins are available from around $150 but they often have special offers.
As mentioned, Delfins has 4 restaurants; for an unforgettable culinary experience you go to Brass Boer (which is often fully booked). We ate at Senang, which was Asian food at its best! Shared dining dishes from Indonesian, Korean, Thai and Malaysian cuisines. One of the best lunches we had on Bonaire, so do check it out as you can also come here if you’re not a guest of the hotel. Also nice are the two beach restaurants Club Tropicana and Beach Brasserie where they host latin and BBQ nights. If you want to grab a quick but healthy bite, pass by the Boertiek for barista style coffee, juices and sandwiches. Book here!
Harbour Village Hotel
Although we didn’t stay here, we spent a whole afternoon here for lunch and some relaxation on their private beach. Guests like the Dutch Royals stayed in one of the villa’s here. Although prices are quite high, apartments are around $500, you get the only private beach on the island filled with palmtrees, and you can dock your yacht in the harbor next door. Book it here!
WHERE TO EAT
By all means, we must talk about the food on the island. We tried as many different restaurants as possible, in Kralendijk, but also beach clubs and more local food. Take your pick!
Mezze – Kralendijk
This restaurant in Kralendijk is always busy, even in June! We take this as a good sign, and we enjoyed our food, especially their homebaked flatbread. Service is friendly and you generally order about 3 dishes per person which are made to share.
By far one of the best restaurants on the island. From healthy options, to no nonsense meals. We found that the quality and portions are well priced compared to other places we ate. Cocktails are delicious, and don’t miss their BBQ Meat & Fish market on Sundays.
Senang – at Delfins
Hands down the best restaurant we ate. The flavors were spot on, well spiced and authentic. You can order a la card but we opted for their classic shared Senang menu where you enjoy 6 dishes from different Asian countries and spice levels. Yummy!
Number 10, Kralendijk
A favorite for coffee, breakfast and lunch! They even serve gluten-free cakes and offer plenty of vegan options.
It Rains Fishes, Kralendijk
They serve pretty good seafood and although the owner recently changed, the menu is still good. Go for the fish curry – we almost licked the plate!
La Cantina, Kralendijk
Local and speciality beers, cocktails and comfort food with a twist is what they serve at La Cantina. The place looks amazing and has a beautiful courtyard that looks super romantic and cozy. They are only open at night and is the perfect spot for friends and couples.
Bagel & Bloom, Kralendijk
As the name suggests, this place serves bagels, and they do it well. You can pick different bagels and toppings. We love their coffee/tea cups, like the ones haging on the wall.
Stoked food truck, Te Amo Beach
If you’re in for a quick and budget friendly snack, visit this famous food truck located next to Te Amo beach. We ordered the catch of the say salad which was super good, and only cost us $12 for a large portion. You can only pay cash!
Smooth Operators, Kralendijk
No food, but smoothies and juices – the best on the island as they call themselves. We didn’t have cash on us so we can’t give you an honest review but by the looks of it, they make it colorful!
THE BEST THINGS TO DO ON BONAIRE
Have you got a minute? We hired a car (rent your easily at the small airport in Kralendijk), and get exploring with our island tips!
Book a dinner on the Melisa
Sailing on the Caribbean sea while enjoying a 6-course meal? It can be done at Melisa Sailing! For $100 you get your wine and prosecco included. Honestly, the food pleasantly surprised us. The amuse, starters, mains and dessert were all amazing. It’s really one of the best things we did during our Bonaire trip.
Visit the Washington Slagbaai National Park
See a different side of Bonaire! See colorful birds like parrots, flamingo’s and a beautiful landscape. You can buy the entrance ticket online (a big tip during the high season). The park is open from 8 am till 5 pm, but you can only enter until 14:30. Be aware that you can only enter the National Park with a high car due to the many rocks. Highlights are the Blowing Hole (you will get wet), the pink beach Wayaka II and of course the Flamingo’s.
Rent a snorkel-set and see the coral
Bonaire is known for its under water life, and is the perfect place for snorkeling. The waters around Bonaire belong to the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP). The BNMP was established to protect all marine life in this area and to restore nature. Rent some gear at Dive Friends, and check out these amazing snorkel spots on the island:
- Klein Bonaire – visit the small island by taking a taxi boat for 25 dollars which departs from a few places in Kralendijk. A white beach by the name of No Name Beach welcomes you, and a crystal clear sea where the coral awaits. See colorful fish, and spend a few hours exploring.
- 1000 Steps – definitely no thousand steps, but it doesn’t make this snorkel spot less beautiful. There is a tiny parking spot at the beginning of the stairs.
- Washington Slagbaai National Park – the best spots in the park are beaches Wayaka II and Slagbaai.
Note: make sure you wear coral reef safe sunscreen or wear a t-shirt to avoid sunburn.
Visit the Yoga & Wellness Festival
If you visit the island mid-June, you are in for a treat. This year (2023) it was the first time for this festival that focuses on all things health and natural. During this week full of Yoga & Wellness, you can enjoy different treatments across the island at discounted prices. On Sunday the actual festival takes place where dance, food, yoga, holistic treatments and music come together on the local beach of Te Amo. We enjoyed a massage, yoga, supping, a holistic beauty treatment and an intense hypnosis re-birth which was an incredible experience.
Dance at Cuba Compagnie
Each Thursday evening, you can join in (or just watch) the Latin Night at Cuba Compagnie, a restaurant/bar which is located on Koningin Wilhelminaplein. It doesn’t matter if you can dance, someone will grab you and take you to the dancefloor. It was so much fun!
Drive around the island
There are a few routes you can take, but most people devide the North and South over 2 days. We started at the Southern part and you will come across several points of interests like the lighthouse, the slave houses – pretty shocking to see how small they are but it resembles a time where slaves were used to harvest the salt in Bonaire and this was where they slept. You will also pass several kite surfing spots which is cool to watch!
Chill and relax at Jibe City
This place is the kind of vibe we love. Jibe City is actually a windsurf rental and school, as the water here is shallow and there is always a breeze. But around Jibe, you can find more bars and restaurants where you can chill. The Hangout Bar (pictured) for instance, perfect for snacks and drinks.
GET THE LOCAL EXPERIENCE
It’s basically our motto; talk to the locals and find the best spots and hidden gems. Although Bonaire has a lot of Dutch and American influences when it comes to food, there are some local restaurants, villages and routes that will let you experience Bonaire the local way.
Visit Rincon Village
The oldest village of Bonaire and we got a private tour by one of the locals that lives here. Rincon has a few local bars and restaurants where you can eat amazing food for budget prices. Fish and meat are mostly on the menu, but we visited Posada Para Mira and they served a vegetarian plate which was great! Another local hang-out is Rose Inn. Come here for cheap beer and local bites. Rincon also has a unqiue distillery called Cadushy Distillery where they create different Liqueurs made from cactus for example. They have even won international prices for it. You can book a tour and taste for yourself!
Another local highlight that no tourist knows about, are the name day celebrations in June. They start the party at Rose Inn, where it continues on the streets of Rincon with music and fire. Yes, locals jump over fire for good karma and health wishes. It’s super traditional and gives you a look inside the community.
Our Verdict about Bonaire
All in all, Bonaire gave us a week full of exploring, relaxing, with fun encounters so we can highly recommend it for a holiday. We came in June and it was really relaxed and quiet. Let us know if you’re planning to head over there! For more info about the island and events check Bonaireisland.com
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