Bonaire is a small island in the Dutch Caribbean, approximately 50 miles north of Venezuela. It is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and was settled by the Dutch in the late 15th century. Only 24 miles long, one side of the angled island is protected from even the gentle easterly wind. As such, it has some beautiful beaches with calm, clear waters and stunning sea life.
The population of the island is only about 10,000 (based on 2001 Netherlands Antilles census). Bonaire has the reputation of being an extremely relaxed holiday location, with a laid-back atmosphere and friendly locals. A large proportion of its visitors return to enjoy a peaceful stay and take in many of the sights and experiences that it has to offer.
The official language of Bonaire is Dutch; if you know this language, you will get by fine. However, the native language is Papiamento, which is also spoken in Curacao, Aruba and elsewhere in the Dutch Antilles. Papiamento appears to have originated as a Creole of Portuguese and African languages and dates back to the 15th century slave trade, when the Portuguese started shipping West African slaves over to the Americas. English and Spanish are also widely spoken on Bonaire.
Currency in Bonaire is the Netherlands Antillean Florin (NAFl), also called the Guilder, which is pegged to the US dollar. However, all the shops on Bonaire will also accept US currency (though most won’t take any notes higher than $20 – change your $50 and $100 bills before arriving).
At the time of writing (August 2006):US$1 : 1.78 FlUK£1 : 3.35 Fl€1 : 2.27 Fl
ATMs supply cash in both dollars and NAFl. Credit cards are accepted in many stores and purchases will usually be charged to them in dollars.
Bonaire’s climate is exceptional, even for the Caribbean. There is little rainfall (around 22 inches annually) and it tends to be sunny all year round. Temperatures are also fairly consistent whatever the time of year, usually in the high 70s or 80s Fahrenheit (25-30oC). The water temperature averages 80°F (27°C).
The island is outside the Caribbean hurricane belt, but the prevailing easterly trade wind provides a regular breeze of around 15 mph (25 km/h). The waters on the sheltered west side of the island are even calmer still.
Bonaire is an extremely peaceful destination for a holiday, although there is plenty to do if you feel like it. The island is an ecological haven and the warm, clear waters (which have been legally protected since 1979) are home to an amazing variety of marine life, including extensive coral reefs. This has also made it very popular for scuba diving and snorkelling. The consistent trade winds attract sailors and windsurfers. Kayakers often explore the mangroves.
On land, the wildlife is almost as diverse, with iguanas, flamingos and even a sanctuary for some of the island’s many donkeys. Plant life is also impressive, with cacti, orchids and lilies on show. Many visitors choose to explore the island by bike, which you can hire from the Stephany Shopping Center in Kralendijk, the main settlement.
Much of Bonaire’s wildlife is endangered and protected. Taking any flora or fauna with you when you leave is illegal.
Mainstream shopping on Bonaire is relatively limited – this is not the reason most people visit. There is only one major shopping area but many smaller stores around the island.
Local artists and craftsmen make paintings, ceramics, jewellery and other native goods. Other island specialities include Dutch cheese and Cuban cigars (which you may not be able to import home – check first).
Nightlife in Bonaire tends to be low-key but comes in a variety of forms. For the more adventurous, there is the option to try night diving or snorkelling. If you wish to spend your evenings on the land, live music and dance are available. There are no big nightclubs, but many good restaurants and bars. Traditional Caribbean music can be found in some beach bars: steel calypso bands, jazz, R&B and Reggae are on offer, especially at the weekends. February is carnival season.
Bonaire has two casinos: the Plain Resort Bonaire Casino and the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort and Casino, which is open until the early hours of the morning every day except Sunday. The Movieland Cinema at Kaya Prinses Marie also includes a videogames arcade.
Bonaire is a small island, so it is generally easy to find your way around in a car. This is the best way to see the island as there is little public transport. Main roads are usually kept in good condition, but bear in mind that smaller 'roads' may just be muddy tracks, especially in the rain.
Drive on the right. US, Canadian or European licences are valid. Be careful on narrow and badly lit roads and watch out for pedestrians and animals. The speed limit is 40 km/h in towns (25 mph) and 60-80 km/h (38-50 mph) in the countryside.
The drink-drive limit is 50mg/100ml blood: significantly lower than in the UK. If you are intending to drive, it is better not to drink at all.
Food and Drink
Given its history and popularity as a tourist destination, it will come as no surprise that food on Bonaire comes in a range of varieties. Restaurants on the island cater to most nationalities and tastes.
Traditional dishes include soups, stews or fried food, usually served in large quantities and with rice, potatoes or polenta as a side dish. Goat stew (kabrito stoba) and pastechis, spicy fish pastries, are specialities. If you want to eat local food at your hotel, ask – it may not be advertised on the menu. Seafood features heavily as it is one of the only food sources that does not need to be imported.
Tourism Corporation BonaireKaya Grandi #2Kralendijk, BonaireNetherlands AntillesTel: +(599) 717-8322Fax: +(599) 717-8408info@TourismBonaire.comwww.tourismbonaire.com