Scuba diving in Bonaire
Bonaire is a gorgeous island in the south Caribbean that is a paradise for scuba divers. It is one of the “ABC Islands” (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) and is classified as a special municipality of the Netherlands. It is small, with a population of less than 20,000 people and measures about 22 miles from tip to tip. People speak English, Dutch, Spanish, and Papiamentu. Bonaire has reliably warm, dry weather and is conveniently located outside of hurricane alley. Average rainfall annually is about 20.5 inches, with a rainier season during October to January. The east coast of the island has rough seas and diving there is not recommended; the west coast of the island has numerous dive sites with coral reef running the length of the island.
The most convenient way to get to Bonaire is via direct flights from America or Europe to Flamingo International Airport. You could also fly to Aruba or Curacao and use regional flights to get to Bonaire. I did this, I don’t recommend it! Direct flights to Bonaire happen 1-2 days a week, mostly on the weekend and are offered by United from Newark and Houston, Delta from Atlanta, and American from Miami. Canadians have a direct flight from Toronto on Sunwing and Europeans have direct flights from Amsterdam on TUI or KLM. Bonaire is also a popular cruise destination, and it is very obvious when a cruise ship is in town.
Getting certified and taking classes
I spent most of my time in Bonaire at Buddy Dive resort, taking PADI Open Water, Advanced Open Water, and NITROX courses. They offer a large selection of classes, from the most basic to technical diving instruction! I had some great teachers and the class sizes when I was there were really small (I was the only person in my Open Water class!!!) I came to Buddy Dive as a solo traveler, and I was (needlessly) worried about not finding dive partners. Especially with all the boat diving I did, it was easy to pair up with another solo diver, hang out with the dive master, or make a trio. There also was a big chalkboard where we could advertise that we were looking for a partner! I met some fun people in my dive travels, and did a bit of shore diving with them. Shore diving with Buddy Dive is really nice because they have a drive through air/32% NITROX station. This means that you literally pull in, grab your tanks, (return empties), and head out. You’re allowed two tanks per person each time you go through.
Shore diving vs Boat Diving
I had initially intended to rent a car and drive around to various dive sites with people I would meet while diving. When I went to rent my car, I discovered that rental companies insisted upon using a pickup truck for diving, and there weren’t any of those with automatic transmission available. My choices were either to have a crash course in driving stick shift or to find another way to go diving. Fortunately, boat dives at Buddy Dive actually cost about the same or a bit less than renting a car, so I did that instead!
One of the advantages of boat diving is that you don’t have to worry about your entry into the water. Make sure to do your research regarding your entry… some sites are quite tricky or impossible to get to from the shore, and not all of them have informative names like Bloodlet or 1000 Steps! Advice from locals is to leave the doors to your vehicle unlocked and no valuables in your vehicle so that if someone tries to break in they don’t damage your car.
Bonaire is full of beautiful dive sites and beaches! Before you dive, you need to purchase your STINAPA tag for $25 for 1 year or $10 for one day. Many divers keep a collection of tags on their BCD as trophies. When I was diving there, I saw someone with at least 10 tags on their BCD! They are usually marked with a yellow rock with black paint with the name of the site. If you get tired of diving on Bonaire, hop on a boat and head over to Klein Bonaire! It’s a small island to the West of Bonaire that’s got even more dive sites! Sites at the southern tip of the island have strong currents that are more suitable for advanced divers. Sites at the very North of the island are in Washington Slagbaai National park, which is included in the price of your STINAPA dive tag. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Hilma Hooker – make sure to learn the story behind this wreck!
- Mi Dushi (Klein Bonaire)
- Any of the piers – great for schooling fish!
The definitive list of dive sites is found on STINAPA Bonaire’s website. The Bonaire tourism website has a list of some of the dive sites around the island. InfoBonaire has another list of dive sites.
Buddy Dive is active in coral restoration. You might notice that the shallow waters (less than 20 feet) have noticeable damage to the hard corals due to damage from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. If you are diving at Buddy’s Reef, keep an eye out for the coral restoration “trees” (look, don’t touch!) If you want to learn more, Buddy Dive is one of several local dive operations that offers the PADI Coral Restoration Diver Specialty course! I was very lucky and I was in town for Coralpalooza 2017, an event organized by Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire. I got to spend two dives scouring algae and fire coral off of the coral trees! It was wonderful to give back a little bit to the reef!
Where to stay
Buddy Dive is a full service resort with very nice rooms, two pools, and two restaurants! There are stay and dive packages available there. Ingredients Restaurant at Buddy Dive was a tasty dining experience… I made a point to order some lionfish as it is an invasive pest and also really tasty! Another thing to check out at Buddy Dive are the large lazy iguanas who lounge by the staff parking lot at high noon. Since I was traveling solo, I opted for a much cheaper option closer to Kralendijk, and walked about a mile each way every day to get to Buddy Dive. (I actually really enjoyed my daily walks! They gave me a chance to get familiar with the local flora and fauna, including some friendly stray doggos, beautiful colorful tropical birds, lizards…)