The vast majority of the world’s great dive sites are accessed by boat. That’s all good and fun, but had to admit I’m the kind of freewheelin’ girl who prefers to don scuba gear on my own schedule, and not necessarily be tied down to a dive shop’s pier departure time. This is part of what makes Bonaire one of the most unique dive destinations in the world, and the reason it was at the top of my Caribbean bucket list — it’s an island surrounded by shore diving sites, and they’re not just a consolation prize to those who missed the boat. They’re the main attraction.
That means you can rent a car and spin through one of the island’s adorable tank drive throughs on your way to any number of dive sites or, if you’re staying at one of the island’s popular dive resorts like we were, you can simply wake up, walk a few steps out your front door, and drop into your resorts house reef whenever you please.
Bonaire is crazy serious about protecting its national treasure. The Bonaire National Marine Park, managed by STINAPA, was first established in 1979. They continue to trailblaze when it comes to protecting the marine environment, from being among the first to permanently moor dive site to leading the way on introducing marine park fees for divers and snorkelers.
In order to get the all clear to dive, we had to sit through a thorough briefing, pay a $25 annual marine park fee, and affix our shiny STINAPA tags to our dive gear. You can also pay $10 for a one day marine park fee (but who wants to dive for just one day?) or $10 for an annual non-diving marine park fee. Bonus, the $25 fee includes free entry to ! All in all, a small price to pay to protect paradise.
Our first dive of the trip was off the Divi Flamingo dock at Calabas Reef, known for its spectacular night diving. I’m not a big fan of night diving but one of my favorite little details about Bonaire was walking through Kralendijk in the evening and seeing the sea lit up from below with night divers’ torches. It makes me smile just to think about.
We were diving Calabas Reef during the day, but I was thrilled to have the sun’s bright light illuminating the gentle slope with coral from 20-100 feet. Yup, this is what Bonaire is all about.
This was my first dive ever with my shiny , so I was still figuring out all the ins and outs of a new camera. But I was spoiled for subjects to shoot — there were so many cuties in the shallows! I loved this trunkfish, and the trumpetfish that followed.
There were so many trumpetfish in Bonaire, I swear I saw one the length of my arm. I made it a goal for the week to get a really great shot of one.
this was a good start!
Later that afternoon, we’d hop on the resorts boat for a second dive of the day. Now, I did just bang on about shore diving quite a bit, but Bonaire does offer boat diving too. The main reason is to access the dive sites around Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited island fringed by gorgeous beaches and reefs. On this particular day, the winds were a little high, so we headed to Bachelor’s Beach instead — a site which shore divers can also access from the beach.
Even boat diving from the resorts in Bonaire is a little less of a hassle to organize than traditional boat dives — after all, it’s just a short stroll from hotel room porch to pier, and it seemed like there was a lot of leeway regarding hopping on the boat at the last minute.
We didn’t see quite as many creatures at this site, but I happily camped out with the few I did encounter and enjoyed watching them go about their little fish lives for as long as they’d have me.
It didn’t take long before blogger instincts took over, and we started trading cameras back and forth to capture underwater profile pictures — in my case, a well timed hair flip.
After a morning where the only other divers I saw were my buddies, I didn’t love sharing the dive with so many others from the boat. Frankly, this was my least favorite dive of the trip, though I might be biased by the jellyfish stings, acquired during my safety stop, that left me looking . My first jellyfish attack — a whopper right to the face.
While it was a little scary and a lot painful at the time, nature is nature and I now have a great story to tell around the rinse tank.
Thanks for the cool GoPro shot, !
Later in the week, when we moved over to Buddy Dive Resort, we celebrated with an afternoon boat dive to Klein Bonaire. As mentioned, rumor has it the sites here are the whole reason boat dives bother to exist on the leeward side of the island. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to check out Buddy Dive’s house reef, as I would have loved to have compared it to the one at Divi Flamingo, but this was a pretty great alternative.
One nice thing about boat diving? It makes for some entertaining entries!
Our destination was Carl’s Hill, on the northwest tip of Klein Bonaire. Any dive site named after an underwater photographer — in this case Carl Roessler — is good for me! The sheer drop of coral from 20-70 feet made this into a gorgeous wall dive with an abundance of life to discover along the way.
Can I just get a general rah rah for Bonaire for taking such great care of this precious ecosystem? These dives made me a believer that whatever they are doing is working well. Having traveled to so many parts of the world where the reefs are little more than a coral graveyard and you see more divers in the water than fish, it was refreshing to arrive and find a thriving world underwater.
Whether you’re finning around your dive resort’s house reef or hopping a ride on their boat, it’s pretty hard to have a bad time diving in Bonaire — assuming the jellies don’t try to french kiss you, that is.
Stay tuned for more on diving in Bonaire, including the shore diving adventures that are the island’s claim to fame as well as a wild day of boat diving off the rarely visited East Coast.
Divers, what do you say? Are you more into shore dives or boat ones, or does it not matter as long as you’re underwater?
All underwater photos in this post were taken with the and its . See a full list of my photography gear here. Many thanks to Bonaire Tourism for hosting me. As always, you receive my honest thoughts, full opinions and poorly written jokes regardless of who is footing the bill.