You may not have heard of Bonaire, it’s part of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) right above Venezuela. What’s wonderful about Bonaire scuba diving is the location, being that it’s out of the hurricane belt and not impacted by severe weather. The ABC islands are owned by the Netherlands, so the main town areas have a great European feel while being culturally between the Caribbean and South America.
So, how’s the diving? Imagine being at one with the ocean. As scuba divers, we love the anticipation of jumping into the great blue ocean and looking down immediately to see what lies beneath. Well imagine you could do that several times a day – you simply walk from the shoreline and glide into the ocean. Go as far as you want, as deep as you would like and no one is going to be clinking at the oxygen tank telling you to turnaround and go back. Just you and the ocean.
When I arrived, I had no idea of what to expect. For some, scuba diving in Bonaire can be a scary feeling, no rules, no teacher, no safety blanket. But if you’re like me, and enjoy a good adventure, have dived so much that you’re a mini mermaid and enjoy creating your own limitations – Bonaire scuba diving is for you.
The dive shop provided a map, my gear, and well wishes - “on your way, happy diving.” It was really that simple. You hire a 4WD, load up with air tanks in your boot, take you BCD, regulator, mask, fins, a computer watch, map of Bonaire and head out on the road. Its anxiety filled with liberation. Each shore dive spot is clearly marked on the street and most entrance points are from a sandy shore.
Based on where you stay the facilities cater for divers, after all it is the main reason people visit and scuba dive in Bonaire.
The Salt Pier
I remember gearing up for my first dive at the Salt Pier. I checked my gear several times making sure I had everything. I looked up towards the ocean, how on earth will I ensure I come back to the same spot? I entered in from one end of the pier and started descending, immediately I was surrounded by schools of fish between the piers, the sun vibrantly shining through and creating magical shadows against the beams of the piers. It was spectacular. Like driving a car, I went right into “diver ready” mode.
I found the coral on the beams pretty, the random pockets of schools of fish so pretty and the calmness of the ocean so relaxing. The best part about Bonaire scuba diving is that very few divers are at the same location at the same time making it easy to enjoy a dive, explore what feels like unchartered territory and get great snaps without a photobomber in sight.
The Salt Pier is a wonderful place to start the first dive, it’s got great marine life, corals, and because of the beams it’s easy to know where you came in and how to get back out at the same spot – helps with the initial nerves of diving alone.
Alice in Wonderland
This scuba diving site lies right next to the Salt Pier. All you need is to change out the air tank and you’re set for the next dive. Wait. Stop. Don’t forget a good surface level interval time. A little bite to eat and we’re off again. Alice in wonderland is all about the amazing Bonaire scuba diving reefs that line the shoreline. The dive itself isn’t deep, maybe 40 feet. This time I went in with complete excitement and a turtle friend who came to join in the diving fun! It’s special when the marine life and human life can be symbiotic, coexist without fear. This is Bonaire scuba diving.
I wasn’t prepared for how symbiotic the experience would be. I was turned into a mermaid.
While on this dive, by happenchance I made my first friend. She was my Dory if we were in Finding Nemo. “bam, bam, bam,” I kept getting poked in the leg. Looking down, I see this black and white fluttering fish (about 10 inches long) perpetually hitting into me. I got this feeling she wanted me to leave, I was bothering her. So, I swam away and sure enough she followed – “bam, bam, bam …. Suck.”
I would later find out that this was a remora fish, but in the meantime, she was suctioned to my leg and didn’t want to let go. So, I took her along the dive. If she decided I was a shark, turtle or whale, then I proclaimed her my Dory. Remora fish often suction onto those fish to travel, remove parasites and dead skin from them. It appeared that my Dory wanted to exfoliate me.
I tried to say bye to Dory by gently pushing he off as I came to the surface. Dory wasn’t ready to leave me. I started talking to her rationally like Nemo would, “you’re going to die if you follow me, best you stay here.” The things you do as a scuba diver that make complete sense to you but others would label you crazy. I imagine Dory has forgotten me and found another love affair, but that day, she made me a mermaid.
There’s plenty of other dive locations in Bonaire, you could visit several times and not complete all. Further, you could complete all and still find new things in the ones you went to first. That’s why it’s a divers paradise, an island designed just for us and our community.
Ready for the Shore Dive, Walk Right In
Divi Flamingo Beach Resort
Experienced divers – Bonaire scuba diving is not
for the faint or nervous Nancy’s. I would love for every scuba diver to
experience Bonaire, but it does require some level of experience. There were
times I would rise to the surface because I lost my way.
Scuba diving Bonaire requires a dive buddy – I wouldn’t recommend going solo on dives. If you’re traveling solo, ask if a dive master/instructor will go with you for a small fee.
Food for the road – as you’ll be out most of the day with many tanks in your trunk, it’s best to have some lunch on the go. Being in the water makes you hungry and it’s important to eat and drink lots on your surface intervals. Alternatively, you can also stop along the way for more of a formal meal. If you don’t mind that when you’re wet and salty.
Reference for marine life – I wish I had one after each dive to try and find what I saw. Google works as a reasonable alternative, as does returning to the dive shop and asking them.
Scuba diving vacation packages for Bonaire – most people that come to Bonaire are divers, there’s very little to do otherwise. When booking your scuba diving vacation, your hotel package should include diving needs. Have an idea of the number of days you want to dive, the equipment you need, rental car you would like etc.
Non-divers should miss Bonaire - If your partner isn’t a diver, I recommend Curacao. It’s the “C” in the ABC Islands and provides great beaches, city life, food, culture and scuba diving. It’s about an hour or less flight from Bonaire. Curacao isn’t set up the same, it’s regular dive trips with dive shops, but the region is the same so you end up seeing similar reefs and marine life.
Currency – Bonaire is owned by the Dutch but they do accept the US dollar, it’s been the official currency since 2011.
Accommodation – be sure that you get accommodation that includes good facilities for divers. Staying at the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort was great. The dive shop had good equipment, easy way to get in and out without lugging a lot of your equipment far, lockers, and ability to hose down all the equipment easily.