If you love the idea of seeing amazing underwater life from a snorkeler's perspective but, like me, you aren't a strong swimmer, Bonaire has to be the best place in the world to start
I'm not a very confident swimmer - I hate cold water, and can’t even look at a boat without feeling seasick. But, I snorkelled once before and really enjoyed it, and wanted more. Research revealed that my dream snorkelling destination actually exists - the tiny marine reserve Caribbean island of Bonaire.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Bellafonte Chateau de la Mer, in a convenient location, right on the seafront. The staff are extremely friendly and helpful, the building is very attractive, and our studio had everything we needed: kitchenette with fridge, microwave, kettle, and coffee machine and it was a spacious room with air conditioning, balcony, TV, CD player, free wireless internet, and en suite facilities. EEG Boulevard 10, tel: 00 599 7173333
Where to snorkel
As guests at the Bellafonte Chateau de la Mer, we could just walk out of our studio onto the jetty (complete with Jacuzzi and loungers) and snorkel on own private reef! Instant, effortless snorkelling! There are fish swimming under the jetty and around the steps which are “regulars” and felt like friends coming to greet us – particularly a very attractive blue fish whose markings made it look as if it was smiling at you! We were also lucky enough to see an octopus squirting its ink, and twice saw dolphins swimming by just a hundred yards or so away. On land we were amused by a large iguana sunning itself which, despite its ferocious appearance, seemed to mainly eat flowers!
When we explored some of the many snorkel/dive sites around the island, we found several with easy, shore access for me, and with the option for my more adventurous husband to go into deeper (more scary!) water. They all had warm water, great visibility, fish coming right up to the water’s edge, convenient parking and no currents to speak of, and we had some truly wonderful snorkelling experiences. It is very romantic to go snorkelling with your partner, holding hands underwater and enjoying the amazing underwater life.
We swam among forests of coral formations and sponges of all shapes, colours and sizes. We saw sea urchins, crabs, enormous shoals of large and small beautifully coloured fish that could have come straight from a child’s colouring book - some striped and some looking as if they were encrusted with jewels. We followed a parrotfish and trumpet fish that appeared to be inseparable from each other, and saw butterfly fish that looked as if they had four eyes. And nearly all of them allowed us to go right up close to them, giving us fantastic photo opportunities. It was like swimming inside an aquarium!
Bari Reef was one of our favourites; according to some sources it’s the number one reef in fish diversity in the entire Caribbean. We returned there many times, and each time saw something new with very little effort – a large white spotted eagle ray was especially beautiful to watch, so graceful in the way it swims. We also loved Bachelor's Beach; unlike the beaches at most of the snorkel sites, which consist of “coral rubble”, there is a sandy stretch with a great view, for those (rare) occasions when we wanted a break from snorkelling. And our final favourite - well, who could resist snorkling at a site called Alice in Wonderland?
FOOD - Eating in:
We shopped mostly at Warehouse Bonaire, which seemed to have the best choice and value for basic meals at the studio. We did our bit for the environment by buying a couple of their giant re-usable shopping bags with scenes of Bonaire on them, which made great souvenirs! www.warehousebonaire,com Warehouse Bonaire, Kaya Industria 24, Kralendijk tel: 599 717 8700
Following advice from the staff at the Bellafonte Chateau de la Mer, we found the following laidback, casual restaurants, with seating mostly outdoors and offering take away too. The facilities are quite basic, but all offer great value and simple, well cooked food:
Bobbejans BBQ, which is only open at weekends, is packed with locals and visitors. We sat in the lovely tropical garden at the back and had amazing platters of mixed BBQ food brought to us for under £10! Kaya Albert Engelhardt 2, weekends only.
El Fogon Latino (Colombian cooking), is barely more than a shack, with three or four tables outside. They are known for their Sancocho: the special soup of the day, and we also enjoyed the fresh fish served with a choice of rice, with French fries and salad; or rice with fried or boiled yucca and salad; or rice with green plantains and salad – no danger of leaving hungry there! http://www.elfogonlatino.com/ Kaya Nikiboko Zuid # 88, Bonaire Phone: 599 717 2677 email@example.com Open 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., closed Tuesdays
At China Nobo we ordered take away, getting the same number of dishes as we would have done in a Chinese restaurant at home, but for about a quarter of the price for twice as much good quality food! http://www.chinanobobonaire.com/ Kaya A. Emerenciana #4, Nikiboko, Bonaire Tel: 599 717-8981
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Open daily from 10:00 AM through 11:00 PM
The Patagonia Argentinean Restaurant is less casual, with great harbour views (book in advance and ask for one of the tables directly overlooking the water). They have special nights where for $20 they offer an excellent help yourself salad bar then bring a variety of freshly grilled meats straight from the kitchen to your table until you tell them to stop! Fantastic value, and very welcoming – the female owner chatted with us as we left after our first visit, and greeted us like old friends on our second visit! http://www.patagoniarestaurant.com/ The Lighthouse, Harbour Village Marina Phone: 599 717-7725
Another great experience was Sunday lunch at the Lac Bay Bar at Cai. This was about as far from a traditional English Sunday lunch experience as you could get! The restaurant is outdoors, right on the beach, and local bands play while you eat. We had simply cooked but very fresh fish. There were a few other visitors, but mostly locals; well worth the bumpy drive along the dirt tracks to get to Cai.
The Kontiki Beach Club was our favourite place to relax with a drink (great cocktails, including a delicious non alcoholic Pina Colada), with its romantic atmosphere and quiet tables looking across the exotic garden at the stunning view of the mangrove lake and its white sandy beach. Beautifully coloured birds (including humming birds if you are lucky) are attracted by the plants and come and perch on your table. Kaminda Sorobon 64 Tel: 599 - 717 5369 E-mail: email@example.com Website:
Good to know before you go
The currency is the Antillean guilder or florin, but US dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere. We found that very few places will accept $100 dollar notes, and some won’t even take $50 notes. You can change them for smaller notes at the bank (but they will want to see your passport).
If you want to explore the island properly, and to carry snorkel or dive equipment around with you, it’s best to hire a four wheel drive. We used AB Car Rental (www.ABcarrental.com). They were competitively priced, helpful and efficient, and drove us to the airport after we returned the truck.
For diving and snorkeling information see: www.bonairediveguide.com