Tuesday, July 10, 2012


So honestly, have you ever heard of the island of Bonaire, or know where it is located? I travel for a living, and I readily admit that I had never heard of it. Until now, that is. Bonaire, which sounds like some type of air freshener, is "special municipality" of the kingdom of the Netherlands. Along with Aruba and CuraƧao, it makes up the "ABC" islands of the Leeward Antilles, which are themselves the southern portion of the Lesser Antilles. Confused yet? No wonder nobody knows about this place. Let's put it this way, it is an island a little bit bigger than Martha's Vineyard, sitting off the northern coast of Venzuela in the Caribbean sea, just above the equator.

If you know any French at all, you might recognize that "Bonaire" means "good air". And while the air is just fine here (albeit muggy), that doesn't seem to have anything to do with why it is called that. The original inhabitants of the island were the Caiquetios (a branch of the Arawak found throughout the Caribbean), and they called the place Bonay, meaning "low land". But waves of European explorers (Spanish, Dutch, and even French) eliminated the aforementioned inhabitants and mangled the name until it became Bonaire. There are only two recognized towns on the island, Kralendijk and Rincon, and nearly all of the available lodging is in the form of timeshares. So it was only a matter of time before you-know-who paid a visit.

Now I should point out that there are very few sandy beaches on Bonaire, and it is therefore not ideal for swimming. It is, however, rated by numerous publications as one of the best diving and snorkeling destinations in the world. In fact, their license plate motto is "Divers Paradise". Unlike a lot of diving/snorkeling destinations, the barrier reef is just off shore, and you can easily swim/float to it. And all of the waters off of the island have been declared a "marine park" and are protected under law, just like an onshore park. As a result, the number of corals, fish, and other aquatic species is simply staggering. I am a snorkeling man myself, and after paying a $10 annual park fee ($25 for divers), I can put in anywhere I like and check out the action. And get this, you can even go night snorkeling. That's right, you rent yourself a special underwater flashlight (or you can bring your own), and get a completely different take on this underwater world. It's advisable to choose an area that you have already explored during the daylight, so that you can orient yourself. Otherwise it's a bit like trying to find the fuse box in a blackout... in your neighbor's house.

Now if you prefer to stay on top of the water, you are also in luck. Bonaire offers some fantastic kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, and windsurfing locations. The protected Lac Bay, combined with winds that blow nearly 95% of time, are quickly making it a "Windsurfers Paradise". The island is set up to handle professionals and beginners alike at Bonaire Windsurf Place and Jibe City. The latter features shallow water and a trade-wind that always blows onshore. Meaning, you cannot get blown out to sea. I highly recommend the ABK Windsurf Clinic at Jibe City, if you have five days to immerse yourself in windsurfing. Otherwise, take one of the various 2-hour sessions designed for beginners. Either way, you can end your day at The Hang Out Beach Bar, which is exactly what it sounds like.

There's lots to see and do out of the water as well. You can horseback, hike or cycle through the "kunuku" or outback; view the entire island from its highest point in Washington/Slagbaai National Park; enjoy numerous museums and historic sites; and view nearly 200 species of birds. And even if you don't normally go in for bird-watching, you are going to want to check out the flamingos. There are several spots on the island where you are almost guaranteed to see at least a flock or two of these beautiful pink birds taking flight at sunset.

My timeshare rental, appropriately enough, is at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort. It's right on the ocean and features its own beach, a freshwater pool, their own dive operation, and a restaurant with the coolest name ever: The Chibi Chibi Restaurant and Bar. RedWeek members rate it 4-stars and rave about the dive operation - one of the oldest on the island.

Well I am off to the Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire. Donkeys were first brought to the island by the Spanish to perform manual labor. But when the work dried up, the donkeys were left to roam free, creating a large population of "wild" or feral donkeys. The sanctuary works to protect and nurture injured or sick donkeys, and to educate the public about these curious members of the horse family. And if you go, you can tell your friends you went all the way to Bonaire to get your picture taken with an ass.

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