Located off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean, Bonaire is world-renowned for its pristine waters, unspoiled coral reefs and world-class diving. People travel from all over the world to experience the marine sanctuary here. However, not all of the treasures on this small Dutch Caribbean island are underwater. The land is full of history, culture and stunning topography.
If you don’t dive or just want to come up for air for a couple of days, don’t leave the island without exploring these 10 best things to do in Bonaire — besides diving!
This friendly port city is the heartbeat of Bonaire. The narrow streets are lined with colorful architecture, historic buildings, shops and dining. The docks are home to dive boats, ferries and, oftentimes, cruise ships. When the big boats are in port, the Bonaire Arts and Crafts Cruise Market is open and thriving. Artisans and vendors set up shop, selling art, clothing, jewelry and everything in between. Kralendijk’s dining scene is plentiful, with lots of fresh seafood options, as well as Asian, Mexican and Dutch cuisine.
Take a drive
Bonaire is a small island and mostly easy to navigate. There are taxis, but to really see the island, you’ll need a car. One main road winds around the southern tip of the island. It’s loaded with points of interest, including the salt flats, with pink-hued water and piles of brilliant white salt. Stop at the slave huts to learn important chapters of Bonaire’s history and then continue on to the lighthouse. Parts of the drive are eerily desolate, with a landscape that looks almost lunar.
Hike Washington-Slagbaai National Park
Washington-Slagbaai National Park covers the entire northern end of Bonaire, and one easily could spend the entire day here. Before renting a car, ask if it is approved for park entry. Not all are. The terrain is rugged, mountainous and fascinating. Two driving trails are available that lead through a menagerie of sites. Visitors find themselves navigating a cactus forest at one turn, while the next unveils towering limestone caves and seaside blowholes. Pack food and drink, as there are many places to picnic and snorkel.
Learn to windsurf
Sorobon Beach is legendary for its shallow waters and consistent wind, making it an ideal spot to both learn how to windsurf and to hone your skills. In addition, you can paddleboard here. Check out Jibe City to rent boards of all sizes, take lessons or attend a Sup yoga class on a paddleboard. It’s not just about water sports. The water is refreshing, and so are the libations served at nearby beach bars.
Wander through Rincon
This small inland town is the oldest on the island. Visit the historic buildings, churches and Gruta Lourdes, where pilgrimages are made to see the statue of the Virgin Mary in a small grotto. Time your visit to Rincon on an afternoon when Posada Para Mira is open. The restaurant, on a hill, serves up native dishes, including goat stew and the island’s iguana soup.
Attend a tasting at Cadushy Distillery
Cadushy is the only distillery on the island and a must stop for those who appreciate refreshing libations, from rum to a Caribbean gin made from Bonaire’s native Kadushi cactus, aloe vera, basil and juniper. Located in the center of Rincon, the distillery’s shaded garden is home to hummingbirds, parrots and an alfresco tasting bar.
Visit Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire
Donkeys rule at Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire. This sanctuary takes in donkeys that are sick, injured and orphaned. Instead of releasing them back into the wild, these donkeys are given refuge here. For a small fee, you can drive the dusty terrain of the sanctuary, where you’ll be surrounded by hundreds of donkeys. The curious animals come right up to your car, and, if your window is down, they’ll stick their heads in for a greeting. You’re free to get out and interact with, and even feed, the donkeys.
Birdwatch at Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary
Flamingos are a big deal on the island. Murals celebrating the birds are painted on the airport walls, and their likeness is found on all kinds of items in almost every store. There are only four breeding grounds for flamingos in the world, and Bonaire is one of them. Large gatherings can be spotted at numerous locations on Bonaire, but the Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, on the island’s southern end, is perhaps the best place to birdwatch. Snow-white mountains of freshly mined salt serve as the backdrop for the pink flamingos. It can make for a brilliant photo if you line things up just right.
Tour caves and look for inscriptions
There are both wet and dry caves in Bonaire — several hundred of them, actually. Finding those with ancient tribal inscriptions is like going on a treasure hunt. Barkadera is well known for exploration. To have the safest caving experience, go with a guide. (Note: Barkadera requires a guide.)
Picnic on Klein Bonaire
This uninhabited island about a half mile off the shore of Bonaire is a perfect locale to unplug and escape for an afternoon. It’s only accessible by boat. Pack a cooler and pick up a water taxi on the docks in Kralendijk. Sunbathe on the white, sandy beach, snorkel in the marine sanctuary or go for a hike. But don’t expect any amenities. It’s all about nature here.