Bonaire: Epic Shore Diving Galore

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You roll out of bed in your hotel or bungalow, woof down a quick (or a leisurely one – your choice), and head out to your rental truck. Throw however many tanks you’ll need for the day into the back, and head out.

Using the map provided by the Bonaire National Marine Park, watch for the yellow painted rocks on the side of the road naming the dive sites. When you see the one you want, pull your truck over on the side of the road, gear up and head for the water.

Locate the yellow buoy marking the site an easy swim offshore and slip into the warm, clear water and experience some of the best diving in the Caribbean.

Return, head to the next site, repeat. Return, head to the next site, repeat until you’re worn out or hungry, whichever comes first!

No Need to Imagine – This Is Bonaire

This is what diving in Bonaire is all about — no crowds, no scheduling your entire vacation around the dive boat’s schedule, and plenty of interesting things to do topside.

Add to that year-round mid-80s temps, an arid climate so no muddy runoffs or daily rain deluge, and the option to dive in the summer months without the risk of being clobbered by a hurricane, and Bonaire’s got you covered.

Bonaire is located just north of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean but far enough west to be out of the hurricane belt. It’s a member of the Caribbean part of the Netherlands, along with Saba and Sint Maarten.

Bonaire realized decades ago that its underwater beauty was a resource to be preserved so became one of the earliest adopters of reef and marine life conservation in the world.

The Diving

Bonaire offers diving for divers of all levels, as well as snorkeling for non-divers.

Bonaire is known for its excellent and convenient shore diving, totally more than 60 named sites, but not far offshore is the tiny island, Klein Bonaire, which has many boat dive sites.

Many accommodations have wharfs and piers right out front, making early morning or night dives a piece of cake — and well worth the time.

With roughly 80 to 100 sites depending on who you ask, it’s tough to make recommendations, but here are some of the favorites for a variety of reasons.

Hilma Hooker

This is wreck dive, resting in 60’-100’ a few miles south of the main city, Kralendijk, near the beginning of a dual reef system. At about 235’ in length, she has an interesting history in drug smuggling.

In 1984, she apparently lost power and was towed into Bonaire’s main pier. A search soon yielded 25,000 pounds of marijuana, so the Hilma Hooker was impounded. While the legal battles ensued, she was taking on water. Afraid she’d sink at the pier, she was towed to a permanent anchorage just offshore.

She had so many leaks, she eventually sank — conveniently for us divers about 300 yards offshore! Because she was considered evidence, nothing was removed, unlike ships deliberately sunk to become dive sites. Divers have made her a safer wreck dive by cutting openings but you do have to watch your bottom time due to her depth.

Salt Pier

This is a great dive for beginners and macro photographers, with depths ranging from about 15’-60’. The pillars are completely encrusted with corals and sponges, attracting large schools of fish, including tarpons and barracudas. You may need to get permission from the company that owns the pier, so check with local dive shops before you go.

One Thousand Steps

Pagoda-shaped star coral formations create homes for many reef creatures, so look inside the hollow cores for bluish eggs. Hawksbill turtles and manta rays, and even an occasional whale shark are what bring divers to this popular site — despite the fact that you have to climb up and down 64+ steps, which begin to feel like 1,000 with gear! The depth ranges from 20’-100’.

Alice in Wonderland

This is a unique opportunity to dive two reefs, with the first home to many soft corals and the second to many other coral species including star, leaf and brain. Depths range from 30’-100’ so keep an eye on your depth as you move between the two.

Bari Reef

More than 300 species of fish are reported to frequent this calm, current-free dive site, so be sure to bring a fish identifier card! Depths are 30’-100’.

Karpata

This shore dive site’s claim to fame is great visibility and panoramic views, making it ideal for photographers. Giant Elkhorn coral and ship anchors embedded in the coral add to its uniqueness. Depths are 10’100’.

Getting to Know Bonaire

Bonaire offers a range of accommodations, with almost all of them catering to divers. Although Dutch, English is widely spoken. Consider a dive package that comes with unlimited tanks and a few boat dives such as ones you can find here. Plan on renting a truck if your package doesn’t include one. Watch for the many wild donkeys that wander the roadsides!

Bonaire is a very arid climate, making it home to a variety of beautiful lizard species and more than 200 bird species, making it a great place for bird-lovers. It sits in the migratory path for flamingos traveling to South America. Many live here year-round, making it one of the best places to see wild flamingos in the world.

Quick Facts

When to Go:  With year-round temps about 80°F, 12 hours of daylight and little rain, Bonaire is a year-round diving destination.

Average Air Temps: Mid-80s year-round.

Average Surface Water Temps:  Winter, averages 70-80°F / Summer, averages 81-84°F

Average Visibility: 60’- 100’ year-round

Getting There and Getting Around

Flamingo International Airport offers nonstop and connecting flights from the U.S. and Europe, although you may need to fly into nearby Curacao or Aruba and then take quick hop over.

The roads are mostly in good shape, and if you want to take advantage of the shore diving and exploring the salt flats and national parks, plan to rent a truck.

Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/scuba_thib/


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