Bonaire: Shore Diving, Lionfish Pizza, and New Traditions

We recently returned from a dive trip in Roatán, Honduras, with several of our friends, including Steve and AJ. For the past few years, we’ve planned an annual diving excursion with them, and it all started with a trip to Bonaire.

Prior to this adventure, I don’t know that I could’ve found Bonaire on a map. I knew it was in the Caribbean, but how many island nations are there in that part of the world? Turns out, Bonaire is about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela. It’s part of the ABC islands in the Dutch Antilles, along with Aruba and Curaçao. They are located outside the hurricane belt and have more arid climates than the rest of the Caribbean, which makes for good year-round travel.

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Beach cairn on the “wild side” of Bonaire, which gets more wind and waves than the protected diving side of this Caribbean island nation. The “wild side” is where you’ll find kitesurfing.

We stayed in Kralendijk, Bonaire’s capital city. With just over 18,000 residents, it’s a small town that’s easy to navigate. You can hire a dive master and even a dive boat if you’d like, but Bonaire is best known for its shore diving. It’s the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat diving buffet, particularly when paired with an unlimited air tank package from Wanna Dive at Eden Beach Resort and a rented pickup truck.

AJ worked her VRBO magic and scored an incredible deal on a private villa for the week. With three master suites and its own pool complete with a tiki hut, there was more than enough room for us all to spread out and relax.

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Each of Bonaire’s 86 dive sites is marked with a bright yellow rock painted with a site name, such as “One Thousand Steps,” “Salt Pier,” and “Alice in Wonderland.” You pretty much drive until you see a rock, then park and dive.

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Some of the dives in Bonaire are zero-entry, beach-level, wade-in sites. Others require a little more effort, such as the aforementioned 1000 Steps. It’s really only 66 steps from top to bottom, but it feels like a thousand when you’re climbing back up the stone staircase soaking wet with all of your gear, including tanks and weights, after an amazing but exhausting dive.

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Steve descending the ladder to dive Bonaire’s Oilslick Leap. Also not zero-entry shore diving.

Whether you have to climb stairs or can wade right in, Bonaire is some of the best diving we’ve done anywhere in the world. The visibility in April was excellent, the marine life is abundant, the coral is vibrant, and the vibe is incredibly laid back.

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Bonaire is also a good place for some shallow wreck diving. The Hilma Hooker was towed to the port of Kralendijk in the summer of 1984 after its engine had trouble at sea. It had already been under surveillance as a possible drug trafficking ship, and when Bonaire authorities asked for the ship’s papers, there were none to be found. What was found were 25,000 pounds of marijuana. Needless to say, the ship’s owners never claimed it after that.

The Hilma Hooker was anchored just off shore, and on September 12, 1984, it rolled over on its starboard side and, within two minutes, disappeared. Wouldn’t you have liked to be standing on the beach when that happened?

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The Hilma Hooker wreck dive site off the coast of Bonaire

While Bonaire is known for its spectacular diving, there’s plenty to do on land as well. The salt flats generate more than 400,000 tons of salt each year, which is a major source of revenue for the country. It’s also an important part of Bonaire’s history. The Dutch West India Company arrived on the island in 1623 and used slave labor to harvest salt and operate plantations on the island.

You can still see the slave quarters, which are too short to stand in and must be entered by crawling. As Wikipedia states, “[It is] a grim reminder of Bonaire’s repressive past.” It’s also an important experience for visitors to the island who want to better understand its culture.

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Bonaire’s solar salt flats, which produce more than 400,000 tons of salt annually. Flamingoes love to eat the shrimp that feed on the drying salt.

There is also some pretty good food to be found on Bonaire, namely lionfish pizza. If you’ve never seen a lionfish before, they’re quite exotic, even elegant, looking. However, they are the kudzu of the sea — an invasive species that multiplies quickly and eats native fish. They’re also poisonous to humans when they’re alive. Many divers throughout the Caribbean get permits to spear these buggers, and there’s a growing culinary market for them. On Bonaire, Pasa Bon Pizza is known particularly for its lionfish pizza, which is quite delicious.

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An invasive lionfish spotted off the coast of Bonaire in the Caribbean

In addition to great diving that started our annual tradition with Steve and AJ, Bonaire is particularly special to me since it was one of the first adventures Mike fully captured on video. He put together this terrific compilation of our trip that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I do!

5 thoughts on “Bonaire: Shore Diving, Lionfish Pizza, and New Traditions

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