Bonaire Diving Guide

Looking north along the western shore of the island, just south of Nukove and Washington-Slagbaai National Park.
©Scott Okumura

Bonaire In Brief
Together with Aruba and Curaçao, Bonaire is part of the southern Caribbean island chain known as the Lesser Antilles or, less formally, the "ABC" island group. The island is 24 miles long by 3-7 miles wide and is roughly crescent-shaped. Kralendijk and Rincon are its main population centers. Kralendijk, the largest of the two, is located on the western side of the island. Flamingo International Airport, the usual point of arrival, is located just south of Kralendijk at 12º8'N 68º16'36"W.

A small satellite island called Klein Bonaire lies roughly 1 mile west of Kralendijk. It is a flat, uninhabited island that serves as an estuary for sea turtles.

The island's earliest known inhabitants came from nearby Venezuela around roughly 3500 years ago and it has been ruled since 1499 by the Spanish, Dutch, British, and finally Dutch in turn. As with much of the Caribbean, Bonaire has a long history of repression and slavery and many of its modern residents are descended from it or have come from the Netherlands or neighboring islands such as Curaçao, just 50 miles to the southwest.

Prehistoric rock paintings from the Onima Cave site north of Rincon. They are believed to have been created around 500 AD and their meaning is unknown.

Since the recent dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, the island is simply known as a "special municipality" of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Dutch remains its official language. Papiamentu is another language that is recognized on Bonaire. It is a dialect of the creole language Papiamento which is derived mainly from African languages and either Portuguese or Spanish, together with some Dutch, English, and Native American influence.

Average yearly temperature: 82ºF (27.8ºC), humidity 76%
Average yearly water temperature: 80ºF (26.7ºC)
Average rainfall: 22"
Resident Population: 12,000

Why Choose Bonaire?
Since the early 1960's, Bonaire has been renowned as a recreational diving destination and it is continuously listed among the best places in the world for shore diving in particular. The entire island is framed by a vibrant coral reef which is readily accessible along the full length of the leeward (western and southern) shoreline. This is due largely to the fact that a steady trade wind blows across the island from east to west, sheltering much of its coast from destructive waves. The island is also situated well south of the hurricane belt and is seldom hit by severe weather. This fact is evidenced on land by its arid terrain and fauna and below water by the visible health of the reef system.

A Web Burrfish (Chilomycterus antillarum) from a night dive at Eden Beach. ©Scott Okumura

The entire reef (to a depth of 200 feet) falls under the protective status of a marine preserve and commercial fishing, anchoring, even spearfishing have been prohibited for decades in an effort to keep the ecosystem healthy.

Bonaire has a reputation as a pioneer in marine preservation and sustainable energy use and is often referred to as the "Diver's Paradise." It is also popular for snorkeling, windsurfing, cycling, and birdwatching. According to their records, nearly 60% of people arriving on the island are repeat visitors. You will probably not feel you have had enough time to do all of the things you would like to there in a week's time.

Because of the easy access to the sites, it is possible to spend a lot of time in the water. Past dive totals (for eight day stays) have ranged between 25 and 35. That's 3 or 4 per day, usually beginning on the day of arrival. Because of the amount of dives, using nitrox is strongly encouraged to mitigate the risk of decompression sickness and it is generally available as a "free upgrade." Make sure that you remember to bring your EAN certification card so you can exploit the option.

For more on the history of the Bonaire National Marine Park (STINAPA), click here.
For more on Klein Bonaire, click here.

A Reticulated Brittle Star (Ophionereis reticulata) relaesing eggs into a slight current. ©Scott Okumura

Chartered trips to Klein Bonaire or to sites on the East Side or "Wild Side" are easy to arrange during your stay. I usually make online reservations with Bonaire East Coast Diving a month in advance of our arrival but it can be done easily in person. They offer daily 1 or 2-tank trips that leave Sorobon (Lac Cai) according to a regular schedule. The windward side of the island offers your best chance to see large animals (turtles, eagle rays, sting rays, green morays, nurse sharks, mantas.) These dives are from a 10-passenger zodiac and the ride can be rough at times so make sure your camera is carefully secured as you leave Lac Cai and cross the barrier reef.

2-tank excursions: $110, departing at 8:00 am
1-tank excursions: $65, departing at 1:00 pm

1-tank trips to Klein Bonaire can be scheduled through Wannadive at Eden Beach for $25. They leave daily from the pier at Eden Beach at 9:00 am and return before lunch. Simply write your name in on the chalkboard by the counter and show up on time. Tanks will be provided and should be staged for you on the pier when you arrive. Klein Bonaire is a good place to find deep wall dives. Carl's Hill and Knife are the only sites I have had a chance to visit and I recommend them both.

All charters are guided dives so remember to listen carefully to briefings and avoid wandering off. In my experience, both of these operators have been well-organized, professional, and well worth the time and expense.

A Longlure Frogfish (Antennarius multocellatus). Check the chalkboard at your dive operator for reported sightings. They seldom venture far from their chosen perch. ©Scott Okumura

Recommended Gear
3mm Full Wet Suit, with Hooded Vest or Lycra Skin Suit (for night diving)
or 5mm Full Wet Suit, with Separate Neoprene Cap
The water temperature ranges from 78ºF (26ºC) in February to 86ºF (30ºC) in October. If you are planning to do many long or deep dives together with some night diving, a 5mm full wet suit will ensure that you are comfortable. If you bring a lighter 3mm suit, a 5/3mm hooded vest worn over or under it will add comfort at night or whenever you begin to feel cold. The breeze at night is steady and cool and the extra protection for your ears will provide welcome relief after a long day of diving. A lycra skin suit is a good alternative to a hooded vest since it is less bulky and less expensive. If you do that, consider packing a separate neoprene cap in case you feel the need to protect your ears. During trips in the summer months, when the water temperature is above 84ºF, a 3mm full wet suit has been ample, but I've learned to add a little protection to make night diving more relaxing.

7mm Dive Boots with Lug Soles
Bring boots that have fairly thick soles and a tread. They should offer maximum protection and support. More commonly available 5mm boots tend to have thin, smooth soles that will not offer enough abrasion protection or traction for the sharp coral, slippery algae, and loose coral rubble that you will find on Bonaire. If the soles are too thin, you're feet could become bruised. Make sure the boots cover your ankles.

Lycra Dive Socks
Because of the number of hours you are likely to be in the water, your feet can become blistered if you wear your boots without socks. Thin lycra dive socks work amazingly well for preventing blisters from forming. They also make boots and wet suits much easier to put on and take off which will save you from having to pull on the seams of your suit. They can be purchased on the island but the weight is negligible for packing. I believe you will find that they make a big difference. Make sure to rinse them well with soap or vinegar or they will smell awful by the end of the week.

No Gloves or Knives
According to the rules of the Marine Park, no gloves or knives are permitted when diving. This is to discourage contact with the coral and allow its natural defenses to be an effective deterrent.

Spring Straps on Fins
Spring straps are not essential, but they will give you an advantage if the entries prove challenging. The less time you spend struggling with straps in the shallows, the less likely you are to fall or brush against fire coral. They are expensive but if you dive frequently you will not regret having added them.

Clothing & Footwear
Bring only light clothes that dry quickly. The air temperature ranges from 80–90ºF (27–30ºC) throughout the year and the average rainfall is less than 22" so it's unnecessary to bring a jacket. Bring cheap sunglasses that you don't mind losing or bringing on a dive and a few large quick-dry pack towels that you can use for changing or to cover your camera gear while in transit. Remember to bring a hat or bandana if you burn easily.

To save luggage space for dive and camera gear, I have learned to bring very few shirts and shorts that I can hand wash as needed.

Avoid bringing heavy cotton t-shirts and jeans. They will not dry quickly in the high humidity.

Securely fitting sandals are far better than loose flip-flops because of the sharp, fossilized coral rubble along the coast. Anything that allows your heels to slip could be disastrous and could easily spoil your diving with a bad fall. Plan to walk on sharp, porous rock, not sand as there are few sandy beaches on the island.

Dry Sack
It is helpful to have a small dry sack or mesh dive bag for keeping a change of clothes sand-free and hidden between dives. The rental trucks have an area under and behind the rear seat that is convenient for stowing things out of sight. It's where the tire jack is kept so a dry sack also protects your clothes from grease.

Miscellaneous Items
O-ring Kit (with Pick)
It will sometimes be necessary to change tank o-rings since they see a lot of wear. Having an o-ring kit handy has saved many dives. If they don't fail outright, even a slight leak can produce an annoying hiss of bubbles behind your ear and you might wish you had a installed new o-ring to prevent it from driving you mad. When loading tanks for your dives, perform a visual check on each o-ring.

Allen Keys, Crescent Wrench, HP Seat
If you want to be able to make repairs or adjustments to your regulator, a wrench and allen key set will come in handy. There are many rental and repair shops if you need, however. Bruce Bowker's repair shop at the Caribe Inn is perhaps the best stocked and he is a very knowledgeable repairman. A spare HP seat for your model of regulator can save the hassle of looking for one if it is an uncommon make and happens to fail during your trip. Remember to remove your drysuit hose and cap the LP port when you are packing your regulator.

A $25 Annual Park Permit Tag
must be worn whenever you are
in or on the water.
Bring a couple ties for attaching your STINAPA Marine Park tag to your mask if you intend to snorkel on the last day. When you buy your tag, you will probably attach it to a ring on your BCD, but you must bring it with you when snorkeling, too.

Surge Protected Power Strip, Type C Plug Adapter
Voltage on Bonaire is 220–240 volts (U.S. and Canada are 110–120 volts.) A power strip will extend the usefulness of a plug adapter and allow you an ample number of surge-protected outlets with which to charge several items at once. It is also the only way to assuredly use polarized plugs since they will not fit in the outlets on Bonaire. Many inns now have US style outlets but it's best to be prepared with a Type C adapter.

Food & Water
There are several grocery stores in the downtown area that you can use to provision yourself at the beginning of your stay. My shopping list includes items like drinking water, shampoo, soap for hand washing clothing, soy milk, vitamin C, throat lozenges, coconut juice, fruit, cereal, sunscreen or anything I might have forgotten to bring. Consider buying a bottle of vinegar for rinsing gear or treating ears or stings. You might also want to buy citronella candles.

Buy large plastic water jugs (gallon) and refill them for rinsing your hair, face, and boots between dives. You can leave drinking water in the freezer at night and it will thaw and stay cool for most of the next day. It's very important to drink regularly to avoid getting run down and dehydrated. Coconut juice is probably the best thing available for this, though the island tap water is desalinated seawater and will be more pure than most bottled water or the city water we are used to.

There are many great places to eat on Bonaire. It is sometimes best to decide where you plan to eat dinner in advance then make reservations during the day or previous night. After a few misadventures, I recommend Bistro De Paris, Patagonia, Donna & Giorgio's, Pasa Bon Pizza, It Rains Fishes, Bobbejan's, or La Barca for dinner. They can all be found in the central area between the marina and the Kralendijk waterfront. For local food, Maiky's Snack (near the Butterfly Farm) has been recommended but I have yet to try it. Local fare features fish, chicken, goat, and occasionally iguana dishes. Fish specials are usually Barracuda, Wahoo, or Mahi Mahi (Dorado).

Service can often be slow since everyone on the island seems to not be in much of a hurry. Keep that in mind when you go for lunch between dives or if you plan to dive after dinner. It will often be necessary to ask for your check or at least exercise some patience.

For lunch, try Elle's Deli adjacent to the Bari Reef roundabout. They make a great sandwich using local goat cheese, honey, and almonds on a baguette and their soup is always good. Donna & Giorgio's is easily the best lunch option I've found. It's an Italian trattoria conveniently located just north of the tiny shopping district, where many of the island's scooter rentals are situated. The Bistro De Paris is also a good choice for lunch, though they seem to open according to a secret coin flip.

As breakfast options, consider Zeezicht on the Kraledijk waterfront (Sunday, Tuesday–Saturday) and Elle's Deli (Monday–Friday 8–5, Saturday 8–4.) It can be difficult to find places to eat breakfast, especially on Sunday so consider revisiting the same place or stocking up on breakfast foods at the grocery store.

Wannadive BBQ
Every Thursday at 6:30 pm at the Wannadive Hut, the staff of Wannadive hosts a large BBQ. It is $12 all you can eat. This is a very casual beach bar and a great chance to meet dive and charter operators, instructors, guides, and other guests in a relaxed setting.

See the Restaurant Guide I've compiled for more details.

Rental Trucks
Rental trucks on Bonaire are most commonly four-door light duty pickups that will hopefully have some type of rack in the bed for securing tanks. You don't need to worry about getting sand or water inside them as they should have some protective vinyl coating on the seats and floors.

Most of the trucks available are manual shift or at least that appears to be the standard and I have never asked about an option for an automatic.

It is best to decide in advance of your trip who will be driving and responsible for the deposit on the vehicle. It is common for the agency to place a credit hold of $300–$500 on your account for the duration of your stay. Check your receipt for this transaction to make sure it does not read, "Sale."

It is likely that you will only need to fill up once before you return the vehicle. There is a gas station adjacent to the roundabout near the airport that I usually visit. You will be challenged to find another since there are few and they seem to be tucked away on back roads.

When arranging tanks in the bed of the truck, it's helpful to agree on a method for identifying your empty tanks. You can either separate them with a loose weight as a marker or turn them in opposite directions. The tanks will seldom have caps on them.

Make sure to leave the windows open and doors unlocked when you are diving or you will invite thieves. The rental agencies will advise this because they are not fond of replacing the glass.

A typical rental truck on Bonaire. Ideally, a tank rack will be included to keep things from rolling all over the bed.
 ©Scott Okumura

Drivers drive on the right in Bonaire though roads usually lack a dividing line so be mindful as other cars approach. There is a section of the coastal road (from 1000 Steps to Karpata) that is one-way in a northerly direction. Plan on driving back to Kralendijk through Rincon when diving sites north of 1000 Steps. There is a dirt road "shortcut" but it can be in very bad condition if rains have washed it out, causing you to have to drive slow enough to defeat the purpose. Even though the road after 1000 Steps is one-way, it is not clearly marked, so be wary of drivers, moped and bicycle riders, goats, and donkeys that may not be aware of the rule. There are many blind curves on this stretch of road.

Even though you will likely never see a police car, avoid speeding on the island to minimize the risk of hitting free-roaming dogs, goats, or donkeys. They have a tendency of darting out of the bushes at all hours of the day, seemingly without a care for vehicles. Goats usually travel in small herds, so if you see one, more will probably be near.

The roads in the Washington-Slagbaai and from the BOPEC Oil Refinery to Nukove are dirt roads that can be very rough if rains have washed them out. Expect deep ruts that can break axles.

There are no stoplights on Bonaire. Major intersections have roundabouts. When you come to one, be sure to yield to the cars that are in the roundabout.

A view of the road within Washington-Slagbaai National Park. ©Scott Okumura

I don't mean to overshadow the amazing experiences you'll have by fixating on the few negative aspects to diving on the island, but I believe understanding a few common hazards will help you to avoid and prepare for them should you meet them. In my opinion, the greatest hazard is being unprepared.

Challenging Entries & Exits
By far, I believe losing your footing when entering or leaving the water is the greatest hazard on the island. Winds tend to increase as the day progresses so it is generally better to dive the more exposed sites near the southern tip of the island early in the morning when winds are light, then dive sites closer to Kralendijk in the evening where they are more sheltered. In addition to slippery algae and loose coral rubble, many sites have hidden ledges and holes or depressions near the shore. Use extreme caution when entering or leaving the water to avoid sprains or cuts. Also be aware that there is a higher concentration of fire coral in the shallows and you should avoid touching anything if possible. It is sometimes safer to inflate your BCD and float over any rubble or coral near the shore before attempting to put your fins on. Adding spring straps to your fins will help with simplifying the effort. Surf is only a problem if winds are strong and the entry for a particular site is tricky to begin with. The most challenging entries are in the far south or north ends of the island—sites like Willemstoren Lighthouse or Taylor Made.

Not an uncommon entry/exit to a site; loose coral rubble, sharp rocks, framed with thorny bushes. ©Scott Okumura

Fire Coral, Fireworms, Sea Wasps
There are several types of Fire Coral that it would help to familiarize yourself with before diving on Bonaire. Once you are able to recognize it, it should be easy to avoid. It is most common in the shallows so be careful where you put your hands when stabilizing yourself or anchoring to take photos. If you brush against it with your suit, I've found that scrubbing the area with sand can successfully remove the unfired nematocysts. Vinegar is also effective for neutralizing them. If you do not do one of these things, the nematocysts will remain embedded in your suit for days and handling the suit can spread the stinging cells over your body. The rash it creates is very unpleasant and can persist for weeks. Fireworms and Sea Wasps are less commonly encountered, but I recommend learning to recognize them so you can avoid them. Sea Wasps are small box jellies that can be identified by four, short white tendrils. I have seen one or two but happily have no experience to report on the severity of their sting.

A Bearded Fireworm (Hermodice carunculata) on Blade Fire Coral (Millepora complanata) — Ouch!
©Scott Okumura

Mosquitoes are usually only a problem following rainfall and in the evening when the air cools. Following a few precautions will help to minimize the risk of getting molested by them:

  • After rinsing your wet gear, either leave it outside overnight (in a gear locker) or bring it directly indoors (to hang in your shower.) If you wait, mosquitoes will congregate on it and can be brought inside your room with your gear.
  • Keep windows and doors closed. Especially the door to your bathroom since mosquitoes can enter through an open vent. Keep your bedroom door closed as much as possible to prevent them from entering where you will be most defenseless.
  • Apply bug repellent in the evenings before heading out for dinner. Cactus Juice and Burt's Bees herbal repellents work great and are nontoxic.
  • SssstingStop itch relief gel is a good remedy for when you do get bitten. Fresh cut aloe can be easily obtained as there is a lot of it on the island. Bring a ziplock bag for preserving cuttings in a refrigerator during your stay. It works very well for reducing inflammation and itching.

"Opportunist" is the term Bonaire prefers for petty criminals. You will see lots of security measures in place to deter them despite the very laid back attitude that prevails. Theft can occur if you are not careful and if you fail to follow some common sense precautions:

  • Leave nothing valuable in the truck while you dive. Enough cash for lunch is usually all I risk and I usually carry it with me when I dive.
  • Leave truck windows open and the doors unlocked. This will indicate that nothing of value is inside and prevent thieves from breaking the glass.
  • Keep your clothes in a small dry sack and stow it behind or under the rear seat while you are diving.
  • The truck itself is in little danger of being stolen. I usually keep the key in a door pocket or under a seat.
  • Keep sunglasses and sandals out of view. Masks and fins are more interesting to thieves than BCDs and suits. Rental tanks are completely safe to leave unattended and generally all that I leave in the bed of the truck when I am diving.
  • Definitely avoid leaving cameras unattended and conceal them as best you can when entering or leaving your room or truck. Consider that thieves generally stake out a target.
  • Use a room safe for stowing your passport, wallet (credit cards), and phone or MP3 player during your stay.
  • Room thefts, though rare, are most likely to occur from 7–9 pm, when you are away for dinner. If you are at all unsure about your room's security, keep this in mind. Lock all doors and windows, close drapes, and leave a few lights on when leaving your room. Consider bringing a cable lock to secure anything of value inside your luggage. I sometimes will empty my large check bag of clothes and use it as a locker for my camera gear, securing it to a bed or couch to create an obstacle.

I use this map to track sites that I've had the fortune of diving since my first visit in 2009 (in red.) ©Scott Okumura

20 Recommended Sites
Here is a list of sites on the main island that I believe you will never tire returning to—in order of location from north to south along the leeward coast. Following this list should help a first time visitor enjoy a wide variety. Of course, the reasons I like these sites are according to my own experiences and any site on Bonaire has the potential to amaze you by offering unpredictable vistas and encounters. A whirling bait ball can make a less interesting site unforgettable.

  • Nukove
  • Taylor Made
  • Candyland

These three sites are accessible by a dirt road that skirts the BOPEC Oil Terminal on the north end of the island. They feature massive hard coral formations and a steeply sloping reef that has many rifts in it, making for interesting topography. Barracuda are frequently seen and sometimes school in the area. Taylor Made and Candyland are "unmarked" sites so look for piled rubble on the shore to locate the entry points. Large Elkhorn coral formations near the shore make these two sites very challenging to enter. The channels through which you must swim are narrow and winding so it is not wise to attempt entry when surf is heavy. Study your route and plan accordingly. Because these three sites are somewhat remote, consider bringing a picnic lunch and diving all of them in a single trip. Remember that the coastal road at Karpata is one-way so you'll need to return to Kralendijk via Rincon or brave the shortcut noted earlier.

  • Karpata
  • La Dania's Leap
  • Ol' Blue
  • 1000 Steps

These four sites have consistently been the most amazing shore sites I have visited on the leeward side. If the sky is clear, there will be lots of incredible color on the reef due to the concentration of hard and soft coral. Turtles, barracuda, squid, midnight parrotfish, and eagle rays are among some of the usual encounters. La Dania's Leap, probably the best among these because of its varied terrain and relative difficulty to access, can be reached by entering at Karpata and swimming south along the shore roughly four hundred feet before turning deep. The entry and exit at Karpata can be rough due to the large, loose coral boulders that lay underfoot. I find it easier to float away from the shore before attempting to put my fins on. There are usually several iguanas at the parking area and among the ruins of what use to be a marine research center. Again, remember that the coastal road after 1000 Steps is one-way so be wary of people ignoring the rule and you'll need to return to Kralendijk via Rincon or brave the shortcut noted earlier.

  • Oil Slick Leap
  • Cliff
  • Bari Reef
  • Eden Beach (Front Porch, Eden's Rubble)
  • Windsock

These sites are the most accessible ones for night diving and offer reliable encounters with tarpon and a wide variety of nocturnally active creatures (octopus, morays, lobsters.) Wannadive tanks can be picked up at both Eden Beach and Windsock. There are several wrecked sailboats at Eden Beach that make interesting objectives. The Cliff offers a long shear wall that is unusual topography for the main island. The only other wall dives that I'm aware of are found on Klein Bonaire (at sites near Carl's Hill.)

  • The Lake
  • Hilma Hooker
  • Alice In Wonderland
  • Invisibles

Visit these sites to experience Bonaire's double reef system. The first reef is a few hundred feet from shore over a sand flat. If you swim out from the first reef at 50–60 fsw, the second reef will soon come into view. The sensation of "flying" between the reefs is a bit surreal. Watch your air, depth (nitrox MOD), and orientation carefully when diving on the second reef. It is deep, far from shore, and possible to get turned around if not paying attention. The Hilma Hooker is the largest wreck on Bonaire that is easily accessible. As such, it can be very popular (crowded) at times. The large resorts often bring boatloads of divers or big caravans. Don't let that discourage you though. It's a good place to see several large tarpon milling about during the day. The 240' Hilma Hooker rests in 100 fsw so this is a good site to do early (as your deepest dive of the day.) Look for garden eels at these sites, especially in the sand between the two reefs.

  • Vista Blue
  • Hidden Beach

These sites have vast concentrations of soft coral (gorgonians and sea fans) in the broad, shallow area above the reef. Turtles and rays (stingrays and eagle rays) often feed and rest here. Look closely among the gorgonians for well camouflaged, slender filefish.

  • White Hole

This is an amazing boat dive on the barrier reef that lies in front of Lac Cai on the east side of the island. A 10-person zodiac operated by Bonaire East Coast Diving leaves twice daily from the fishing pier at Sorobon. The boat leaves in all kinds of conditions so prepare for rough seas and make sure to keep a hand on your camera. Expect to see many turtles (dozens) and large animals like rays (stingrays, eagle rays, and possibly mantas,) green morays, schooling tarpon, nurse sharks, and even dolphins.

  • Cai (Blue Hole)

This site is available as a long guided shore dive through Wannadive. Meet at Eden Beach and go as a group to the north end of Lac Cai where you will enter and swim through a wide channel to a bowl inside the barrier reef. After swimming over the barrier, you'll explore a portion of it before returning along the same route.

A Lettuce Sea Slug (Elysia crispata). ©Scott Okumura

Washington-Slagbaai National Park
The north end of the island has some interesting vistas and topography and it is well worth visiting. There is a small natural history museum at the gate to the park near Rincon. Take a half hour or so to check it out and learn about the island. If you plan to be at the park gate by 9:00 am, you should have time for two lengthy dives and a casual drive through the park before it closes at 5:00 pm. Avoid cutting it close because the roads in the park can be very rough and require patience. You'll have more fun if you don't feel rushed.

At the gate you will receive a map and a rough schedule to follow. The ranger will notify you if any of the roads are closed and, if you are diving, they will ask that you begin your last dive no later than 2:30. You will need to be able to leave Boka Slagbaai by 4:00 in order to complete the final stretch and reach the gate safely by 5:00.

Shortly beyond the gate you'll find that there are two routes to choose from — a long and a short one. The long one, following a more northern path is a roughly 2.5 hour trip without stops. The shorter one is 1.5 hours. Both roads are one-way only.

Whether or not you plan to dive or snorkel in the park, you must bring your park tag with you in order to enter. You will also need to bring the paper form that you filled out when you purchased it and a photo ID.

Consider packing a small winch strap for securing tanks to the rack if you plan on diving in the park. Otherwise, they will migrate all over the bed of the truck and could damage your gear.

It's important to bring lots of water with you and make sure that your truck has at least a half tank of fuel, a spare tire, and changing tools. Also consider loading a spare tank and bring your o-ring kit. Also plan to bring a picnic lunch.

I have visited Boka Bartól and Playa Bengé and they are great sites. Conditions can be rough due to wind and waves, so carefully evaluate them before entering. At both sites, there is a slight maze of rock to negotiate before you cross a stretch of sand to the reef. Pay attention to landmarks to assist your return to shore and consider bringing a compass.

The life that you will encounter at these sites will be more like that of the wild east coast than that seen on the leeward side of the island. There are many large parrotfish, green morays, large turtles, and a good chance of seeing rays.

For more information on the National Park, click here.

Here is a closer look at Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Make sure to leave Boka Slagbaai no later than 4:00.
 ©Scott Okumura

Miscellaneous Advice & Recommendations
  • Bring a polarizing filter for your land camera to capture the amazing turquoise color of the water and of the blue sky.
  • Pack a small collapsible cooler for keeping drinks, sandwiches, or fruit cool while diving the more remote sites. The padding can be used to pack and protect camera gear in your carryon luggage.
  • Bring a small LED clip light or headlamp to provide light when you want to gear up for a night dive. Many sites will not have light on shore. Otherwise, remember to set up your gear in a lit area before you go.
  • If you have any doubts about leaving items unattended in your truck, consider bringing a cable lock for securing belongings. A watertight box or bag can also be used to hold keys, cash, or a credit card with you when you dive.
  • Cut a portion of fresh aloe when you find it and store it in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator for when you need it. It works great for soothing mosquito bites, fire coral, scrapes and sunburns.
  • Remember to set your dive computer for a specific nitrox mix if you are not accustomed to doing it.
  • Bring hard candy or throat lozenges to help sooth your throat between dives. Nitrox is dry compared to air and can exacerbate the dry sinuses you might have after a long plane ride.
  • Reserve a 1 hour massage for one of your final days. There are lots of spas to choose from. I have tried Bon Fysio and recommend it. It's near Elle's Deli and the roundabout in front of Bari Reef.
  • Consider kayaking and snorkeling in the Mangrove Swamp of Lac Cai on your last day (when decompressing before a flight.) 1 or 2-hour tours are offered through the Mangrove Information Center. It's well worth the trip but bring water and mosquito protection. Remember to reserve in advance.
  • Bonaire sightseeing flights: I haven't tried this yet, but it looks like a great way to experience the island. A 1-hour flight for three passengers is $250 (roughly $85 pp.)
Spotted Drum, Equetus punctatus. ©Scott Okumura

Restaurant Guide
The following is a list of the restaurants that I can vouch for. There are many others that I've yet to try and I will add them once I've had a chance to experience them. I hope you have a chance to visit some of these during your stay. Remember that reservations are recommended for any of your dinner plans. That is due mostly to the availability of help and the challenge of acquiring ingredients. The economy has put a strain on the island's restaurants so don't expect to be lavished.

Bistro de Paris & Zazu Bar (French, bar) — Kaya Gob N. Debrot at the Harbour Village Marina, phone 717-7070
     Lunch: Monday through Friday 11 am – 3 pm
     Dinner: Monday through Saturday 6 pm – 10 pm
     Closed on Sunday

Bobbejan's (BBQ, bar) — Kaya Albert Engelhardt 2, phone 717-4783
     Lunch: Sunday only 12 pm – 2pm
     Dinner: Friday through Sunday 6 pm – 10 pm
     Open Weekends only

Donna & Giorgio's (Italian, bar) — Kaya Grandi 52, phone 717-3799
     Breakfast and lunch: Monday through Friday 9:30 am – 3 pm, Saturday (lunch only)
     Dinner: by reservation only on Tuesday and Friday.
     Closed on Sunday

Elle's Deli (Dutch and local) — Kaya Gob N. Debrot, District Shopping Mall, phone 717-3558
     Breakfast and lunch: Monday through Saturday 8 am – 4 pm
     Open Sunday for special occasions only

Gibi's (Local, BBQ) — Kaya Hulanda 39, phone 09-567-0655 or 717-5759 (call for dinner reservations and directions)

It Rains Fishes (International, bar) — Kaya Jan N.E. Craane 24, phone 717-8780
     Lunch: Monday through Friday 10:30 am – 3 pm
     Dinner: Monday through Saturday 5 pm – 11 pm
     Closed on Sunday

La Barca (Italian, bar) — Kaya Jan N.E. Craane, phone 717-4514 or 795-1932
     Dinner: Monday through Saturday 6:15 pm – 10:30 pm
     Closed on Sunday

Pasa Bon Pizza (Pizza, bar) — Kaya Gob. N. Debrot, phone 780-1111
     Dinner: Wednesday through Sunday 5 pm – 11 pm
     Closed Monday and Tuesday

Patagonia (Argentinean Steak House, bar) — Kaya Gob N. Debrot at the Harbour Village Marina (lighthouse), phone 717-7725
     Lunch: Tuesday through Friday 12 pm – 2:30 pm
     Dinner: Tuesday through Sunday 6 pm – 10:30 pm
     Closed on Monday, no lunch on Saturday and Sunday

Unbelievable (International, bar) — Kaya J.A. Abraham Boulevard 29, phone 717-3000
     Dinner: Sunday through Friday 6 pm – 10 pm
     Closed on Saturday

Zeezicht (Variety and local, bar) — Kaya Jan N.E. Craane 12, phone 717-8434
     Breakfast, lunch, and dinner: Daily 8 am – 12 am (the kitchen closes at 11 pm)

Reminder List (from a recent trip)
[   ]   Passport
[   ]   Cash or Travelers Check (for accommodations, truck rental & insurance, unlimited nitrox)
[   ]   $25 for STINAPA Park Pass (available through Wannadive)
[   ]   EAN Certification Card
[   ]   Diver Certification Card (OW, Advanced, Divemaster)
[   ]   Driver's License and Credit Card (Drivers) — expect around a $300 hold for the week
[   ]   Cash/Credit for meals, tips, fuel (estimate $300–$500 pp for the week)
[   ]   O-ring Kit (with Pick)
[   ]   Type C Plug Adapter
[   ]   3-prong US to 2-prong US Adapter
[   ]   Power Strip with Surge Protection
[   ]   Ziplock Bags (for camera parts, o-rings, desiccant, cut aloe, etc.)
[   ]   Zip Ties (2)
[   ]   Regulator Set (remove drysuit inflator hose and cap LP port)
[   ]   Spare HP Seat (if you have one)
[   ]   Dive Computer (fresh battery)
[   ]   Wet Suit (3mm or 5mm full wet suit)
[   ]   Hooded Vest (5/3mm) or Lycra Dive Skin
[   ]   Separate Neoprene Cap (3mm)
[   ]   Boots (7mm, with rugged soles)
[   ]   Lycra Dive Socks
[   ]   Mask (adjusted for diving without a hood)
[   ]   BCD
[   ]   Fins (with spring straps if possible)
[   ]   Can Light, Backup Light
[   ]   Batteries & Chargers (bring spares and pack for easy removal and inspection at the airport)
[   ]   Camera, Lenses, Housing, Ports, Floats, Arms, Strobes (pack for easy removal/inspection)
[   ]   Tools for Camera Assembly (Allen Keys, Screwdriver, Wrench)
[   ]   Silicon Gel & Desiccant (keep desiccant in a ziplock due to the humidity)
[   ]   Spare Memory Cards or Card Reader
[   ]   Polarizing Filter
[   ]   Pack Towel (for covering your camera between dives)
[   ]   Insect Repellant
[   ]   Insect Bite Relief Gel
[   ]   Chemical-free Sun Screen SPF 30+
[   ]   Enzymes (for treating heartburn)
[   ]   Dry Sack (for keeping clothes between dives)
[   ]   Mesh Sack (for wet things)
[   ]   Towel (for hair)
[   ]   Cable Lock
[   ]   Q-tips, Ear Pain Relief Solution
[   ]   Clothes (T-shirts, Shorts, Light Pants, Underwear) — a sweatshirt or light jacket for the plane
[   ]   Shoes, Socks (for travel)
[   ]   Sandals (not flip-flops)
[   ]   Hat, Cap, Scarf, or Bandana (for sun protection)
[   ]   Cheap Sunglasses (you might need to dive with them in a pocket if you forget you have them on)
[   ]   Shower Kit
[   ]   Swimsuit (for snorkeling)
[   ]   Airplane Amenities (Earplugs, Mask, Air Pillow, MP3, Laptop, Book, Snacks, etc.)

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