We only visited Bonaire for a day, but it quickly became one of our favorite Caribbean islands. We discovered Bonaire on a cruise we took one March for Spring Break. There are plenty of things to do in Bonaire on a cruise and lots of cruise port excursions you can do on your own by renting a car in Bonaire.
Living in Florida makes cruises and flights to the Caribbean easier and cheaper than from other parts of the United States or the world. We have visited Saint Lucia, several islands in the Bahamas with Groupon and Living Social, Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, the Dominican Republic, Bonaire, Curacao, and Aruba. All of these islands have something unique about them, and all of them have things we liked about them. Bonaire just had that little something extra that makes us want to go back and stay there for longer one day.
Spending the day in Bonaire with a rental car meant we had many of the places we stopped to ourselves. Since most people stayed close to the ship or took a cruise ship excursion in Bonaire, we were able to find beaches that had no one else around and to make a loop around the island to find all the best places to go in Bonaire.
Bonaire is not very popular with tourists compared to many other Caribbean islands. There are not many cruise ships that visit the island, so it is not overrun with tourists during the day or at night like nearby Aruba. Being off the beaten path appealed to us. It still has the beautiful beaches and crystal clear water you would expect in the Caribbean but without the crowds. The island has coral formations, salt pans, a flamingo sanctuary, and a perfect area to learn to windsurf.
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Renting a Car in Bonaire
We only had one day in Bonaire, but we made the most of it. Our first stop was a little seafood restaurant right near the pier overlooking the turquoise waters. There is a whole string of restaurants near the cruise port in Bonaire, and many of them serve fresh seafood while looking over the water and port.
Next we found our favorite rental car we have ever driven at Rento Fun (also partners with Bonaire Motorcycle Shop if you want to rent a Harley for your time on the island). The walk from the port to Rento Fun (map here) takes less than 10 minutes (.43 miles or 700 meters).
Because we don’t plan ahead, we walked in and asked what was available. Based on the options, we chose a Suzuki Jimmy for $38 a day. They also have everything from bicycles, scooters and motorcycles to cars, trucks, and vans. You can view the whole fleet and the prices here. We chose the Suzuki because it had the open top, perfect for cruising around the island for the day.
We loved the freedom of renting a car in Bonaire because we were one of the few cars on the road. Renting a car also meant that we could take off and go see the parts of the island that are not visited as often. Having a rental car gave us the freedom to see what we wanted and for as long as we wanted. At the end of the day, we simply dropped it back off and headed back to the cruise port.
Things to Do in Bonaire
There are plenty of things to do in Bonaire on a cruise or on a longer stay. If Bonaire is your cruise port, get ready to enjoy the idyllic scenery of the island for your day in Bonaire. The whole island has a relaxing and laid back vibe that makes it perfect for a Caribbean getaway. Whether you love just relaxing on the beach, finding adventure in activities or learning more of the island’s history, there is plenty to do in Bonaire to suit your individual tastes.
When we first arrived, we picked up a map with beaches and suggested snorkeling spots. The beaches had names, and the snorkeling spots had numbers. Along the road, little rocks had the corresponding names and numbers, making it easy to find the spots you wanted to see.
The southern coast of Bonaire was our favorite area. The road goes along the coastline, so you have water views the whole way. We only saw about ten cars the entire time we drove the southern coast, including stops. We stopped at beaches that had no one else in sight and snorkeled anywhere that looked like a good spot.
Snorkeling & Windsurfing in Lac Bay in Bonaire
We headed to the southern part of the island first. As we drove along the turquoise water, suddenly we found where everyone on the island was – Lac Bay. As it came into view, we saw lots of colorful windsurfing sails filling the bay. We pulled over on the side of the road to take it all in.
Windsurfing in Lac Bay
Lac Bay is perfect for windsurfing and has quickly become the capital of windsurfing in the Caribbean. I’d love to go back and learn here one day. The water is calm and shallow throughout the bay, making it ideal for beginners. With a constant wind blowing and warm waters year round, it is the perfect spot for windsurfing all year.
If you are looking to learn to windsurf or just rent equipment, there are plenty of shops along the beach offering both of those options. There is also a hotel on Lac Bay if you are looking to stay here for a few days. Even if you aren’t windsurfing, the view and the water here is gorgeous. Plus, you can enjoy watching windsurfers of all skill levels cruise around the bay.
Snorkeling in Lac Bay
If snorkeling is more of what you are looking for, Lac Bay is perfect for snorkeling along the reef that borders the bay. Be sure to avoid the channel and be aware that on especially rough days, you will still have to fight a current in the usually calm bay. Wear water shoes as you have a long walk through shallow water to make it to the reef. While most of the bay has a soft sand bottom, there are parts of the bay with shells, urchins, or bits of corral.
You can find full directions including maps of the walking routes and best snorkeling areas here. It takes about a 20 minute walk to reach the reef, but Lac Bay is one of the best snorkeling areas in Bonaire.
Salt Flats, Pink Lakes, and Flamingos in Bonaire
At the south end of the island, you will find sparkling mountains made of salt and large pink lakes near the salt flats. Salt continues to be a major part of Bonaire’s economy even today. This area near the salt flats gives you unique views but also an idea of the island’s history.
Flamingo Sanctuary & Pink Lakes
As you drive along the southern part of the island, you will see pink lakes on one side of the road and the clear blue waters of the ocean on the other side. The contrast makes for a beautiful view along the drive. The waters of the pools look pink because of the brine shrimp that live in the water, giving both the water and the flamingos their pink coloring.
Keep your eyes open for flamingos on your drive. The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is one of only a handful of places were flamingos actually breed, and it is home to over 10,000 flamingos. The sanctuary is not accessible to tourists, but you can enjoy the flamingos from the road without entering the sanctuary. You can also see them from Pink Beach sometimes if you plan to stop there.
Slave Huts & Obelisks in Bonaire’s Salt Region
Just past the salt flats and ponds, there is a little row of houses and some obelisks along the beach. Signs nearby tell you the history of this area. These huts were built in the mid-1800s for the salt workers use.The slave huts were used for sleeping and storing belongings during the work week. On Friday afternoons, the slaves walked seven hours back home to Rincon to see their families. They returned every Sunday to be back in time to work on Monday.
The slave huts stand along the water’s edge. While you can easily tell how small they are just by standing next to them, you can also go inside to get a better idea of the tight living quarters. The houses are painted various shades of pink, orange, and white which contrast with the blue waters beyond them from the road.
In addition to the slave huts, this area also has four obelisks. The obelisks guided ships to the type of salt they wanted to purchase. Each obelisk is painted a different color to help the ships navigate. They are painted red, white, blue and orange, the four colors that have been used in the Dutch flag throughout history.
Pink Beach, Bonaire
We spent the majority of our day in the southern part of Bonaire. When I saw a beach on the map called Pink Beach, we had to check it out. I expected to see a truly pink beach, especially after the pink ponds at the salt flats. Pink Beach was not all that pink, but it was still beautiful.
Pink Beach gets its name because of the pink tint the sand has thanks to millions of crushed shells. These shells come from microscopic pink single-celled organisms called foraminifera. Apparently the sand used to be much more pink, but that changed after a storm in the late 1990s. Hopefully one day the beach will regain its namesake pink color.
If you plan to drive around the southern part of the island, Pink Beach is still worth a stop. While the sand is not noticeably pink, it is still a beautiful area with the palm trees blowing in the breeze, the slight pink tint to the sand, and the calm waters in various shades of blue. This area is good for snorkeling and diving as well, but there are no shops, restaurants, or places to rent equipment at this beach.
East Coast of Bonaire
After exploring the south coast, we continued on our journey around Bonaire, driving up the eastern coast. The eastern coast differed greatly from the southern coast. The southern coast featured clear and calm waters with sandy beaches and some rocks. Along the eastern coast, waves crashed against large rocks and coral formations.
The waves slam into the coast with the waves splashing high into the sky. The posted signs about danger and death need to be taken seriously. There is no question while standing on this coastline that swimming is a bad idea, even for strong swimmers. We hiked along the rocks and enjoyed watching and hearing the waves crash, but swimming was out of the question.
Best Beaches in Bonaire & Klein Bonaire
Klein Bonaire is a small, uninhabited island off the west coast of Bonaire. To get there, catch a water taxi from the city center boardwalk or from Eden Beach. You can see the schedule and reserve seats online, but most days, especially in low season, it does not sell out in advance. Make sure to take food and water with you. This island is uninhabited, so there are no options to buy food or water there. Take plenty of sunscreen as well as there is little shade on the island.
The water taxi drops you off at No Name Beach, one of Bonaire’s best beaches. You can relax on the beach or find good snorkeling right off the water. If you are looking for more snorkeling options, walk down the beach to the south until you find a yellow post. This marks an open area in the coral reef where you can enter the water. You can also ask the water taxi captain to drop you off at the yellow post. From there, snorkel with the current back down to No Name Beach.
Other popular beaches include Te Amo Beach and Donkey Beach (local favorites), Bachelor’s Beach, Coco Beach (lots of activities), and Boka Slagbaai in Slagbaai National Park.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Bonaire
If you are looking for a Caribbean island to visit in the future, give Bonaire a chance. There are plenty of things to do in Bonaire whether you are on a cruise or staying for longer. There are several cruise lines that visit the island, so you can find a southern Caribbean cruise stopping there if you want to see more than just Bonaire. If you are looking for a hotel to stay in for a longer stay in Bonaire, you can start your search for a hotel here.
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