Caribbean Getaways: Bonaire Island Off the Coast of Venezuela

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Bonaire is a diver’s and snorkeler’s paradise. The island has a Dutch heritage, lies 50 miles north of Venezuela, and boasts superb reefs and relatively unspoiled surroundings. Neither lush with vegetation nor lined with beaches, Bonaire features an arid desert-like landscape and a dearth of sandy spots. But since 1970, the reefs surrounding the island have been part of the Bonaire Marine Park preserve. Ships can’t drag their anchors and divers must respect the coral. As a result, Bonaire delivers a spectacular underwater fantasy for scuba and snorkeling devotees.

Snorkeling and Diving

Because the reefs begin right off-shore, kids new to masks and fins can test their skills in shallow water while the more experienced reach rich coral formations after just a short boat ride. Since many of the more than 80 dive sites lie within a 15-minute boat ride from the coast, long boat trips are not necessary. And with the water’s excellent visibility, many dive sites deliver underwater wonders for snorkelers too.

Good walk-in from the shore sites include 1000 Steps, known for its iron formations where parrot fish, blue tang, and surgeon fish congregate and Mangroves in Lac Bay, where you can often spot baby barracuda. Klein Bonaire, a small island a few minutes away by boat, features lots of brain coral, gorgonians, angelfish, and the occasional turtle. First-time snorkelers should start in the sandy shallows of No Name off Klein Bonaire.

Snorkelers also like the reefs off Washington-Slagbaai National Park, a 13,500-acre preserve known also for its bird-watching. Near the entrance, Salina Mathijis, a salt flat, typically has scores of feeding flamingoes. At Put Bronswinkel, a watering hole, you frequently catch sight of several parrots and scores of parakeets, and yellow warblers.

Beaches and Windsurfing

The best beach on the island, white sand Sorobon at Lac Bay, is also known for its superb windsurfing. The water remains relatively shallow—two to four-and-a-half feet in depth—for a long way out and the constant breezes always blow towards shore. That means first-timers, whether kids or adults, don’t have to worry about being blown out to sea. Both the Windsurf Place and Jibe City offer group and individual lessons, kid-sized equipment, and patient instructors.

Where to Stay

Both Harbour Village Beach Club and Buddy Dive Resort have on-site dive centers that offer dive packages and lessons. Harbour Village, a bit more upscale than Buddy Dive, offers hotel rooms to four-bedroom residences. Buddy Dive features studios to three-bedroom units.