Last summer we spent 2 spectacular weeks on the island of Bonarie. The island spoke to us, individually and as a family. We couldn't get it out of our minds. What made this place so memorable? What made it so special? There are a million places on earth we have yet to experience; so why would we want to go back to an island that is small and relatively underdeveloped, especially for 10 weeks? We were afraid we may get island fever, however, no one was ready to head home after 2.5 months. We all had a truly magical summer. Here are just a few reasons why WE LOVE BONAIRE!
1. The WILD life. There is something really cool about seeing wild donkeys, goats, and flamingos just living their best life. At any given time of day, you can see donkeys and goats on your way to your destination. Just hanging out with their peeps. Sometimes the donkeys are standing in a row not moving - sleeping I suspect. You can also see mama and baby goats playing around. We even saw a goat climb vertically up a mountain side. The flamingos are sometimes solo in the water and sometimes canoodling with their pals. Seeing them fly together across the sky, is a vision of pink to behold. It's all just cool. And different. And I really love and appreciate the sensation of "ah" I get every time I see them. It serves as a regular reminder that it's not just us here on earth trying to survive.
2. The Shore Diving. As someone who gets seasick on small boats bobbing in the water, diving has always been something I've felt "eh" about. I was certified in 2003 so I could dive with my husband on our honeymoon, but never really fell in love with it because I always felt ill after the first dive while we waited on the boat. After a couple of days, I was pretty much done. I'm also not a morning person (especially while on vacation - and waking up at 7am to catch the boat. . . not my cup of tea). Shore diving changed all of that for me. Throughout our first summer in Bonaire, we woke up at 9am, had breakfast, drank water, got our gear together, and meandered out the door around 10:30 or 11. HEAVEN. We walked into the ocean, saw amazing sea life and then just walked out. HEAVEN. We grabbed lunch at a food truck, or something we had packed in the car and then drove to another site. By the time we arrived, our surface interval was over so we geared up and walked back into the ocean. HEAVEN. It is so freeing not to be beholden to anyone or anything while diving. No schedules. No dive boats. No expensive guides. (Note: my husband is now a dive instructor, so I already spent my money on a lifetime of dive guides!!!)
3. The mix between underdeveloped and amazing cuisine. One would think that Bonaire lacks a lot of modern conveniences and high end opportunities since it remains relatively underdeveloped. But that is part of what makes this island such a surprising paradise. As a foodie, I really do love a great restaurant prepared meal. Bonaire has a surprising amount of places to find an exquisite bite to eat including at least 3 places with tasting menus that rival The French Laundry. If you're into 5 courses (with optional wine pairings) be sure to try out, Brass Boer, Chefs and At Sea. They won't disappoint! Even the food trucks offer gourmet cuisine that rival any great restaurant in the states! A list of restaurants is coming soon to the site, so be sure to check back.
4. The variety of kid friendly activities. A lot of people come to Bonaire only to dive. As far as I'm concerned, they're missing out! This is a spectacular island for the whole family. To begin with, the snorkeling is amazing! SO many of the wildlife you see at great depths under the ocean can be spotted at depths of 5 - 10 feet! My 5 year old had a heyday at 1000 Steps, Salt Pier and Andrea I spotting several turtles, a ray, butterfly fish, trunkfish, filefish, flounder, eels, and an array of beautiful angelfish. HEAVEN. We also went to the Donkey Sanctuary to feed the donkeys carrots, to Aletta's Goat Farm to milk, feed and pet the mama and baby goats, to Te Amo and Bachelor Beach to swim and play in the sand, to Empire Outdoor cinema to watch Aladdin, Yesterday and The Lion King, to putt putt at Flamingo Mini Golf, to drive the blocarts at Bonaire Landsailing Adventures, to Omina to check out the caves and Indian inscriptions, kayaking and snorkeling in the mangroves and windsurfing in the beautiful Lac Bay (just to name a few). There is SO much to do.
5. The many ways to give back. As someone who grew up in a family that supported a lot of philanthropic projects, I've been disappointed as an adult to find out how few options there are to give back that include my young kids. Bonaire provided several opportunities for adults and kids alike to volunteer in real and meaningful ways. As with anything in life, the more you give, the more you get! We were blessed last year meeting a fantastic marine biologist who works at STINAPA. We kept in touch with her and reached back out to her this year letting her know we really wanted to contribute. Together we worked on a project to minimize impact to the marine environment by identifying the best place for divers and snorkelers to enter the water. We created yellow entry/exit rocks and created a path to make it simple for everyone. If you would like to continue that project during your stay in Bonaire, please get in touch with us at Harps@HarpGuides.com. Second, we went out with Sea Turtle Conservation to save the baby sea turtles. Third, we saved the sponges at Salt Pier. While all three volunteer projects were amazing for a variety of reasons, doing the sponges was my favorite. HOLY WOW. . . what an awesome and super fun experience. We ended up going 5 times, (2 of which included our 10 year old, newly certified diver).
What made this experience amazing?
1. You get to touch the sponges legally even though it still feels kind of naughty!
2. How often do you get to do a dive where you are physically doing something real vs. just looking for cool things?
3. Moving the sponges down the pilings wrestled up a ton of debris that the fish went crazy for, so we saw an amazing variety up close and personal.
4. We met a number of other really cool people doing it.
5. It took thought, precision, focus, and skill. . . all things that are helpful to master while underwater.
6. Derek (who was removing the sponges) had a variety of new experiences seeing what was underneath the sponges (including a octopus who was ticked off and sprayed him)!!
7. Sponge Football. Derek would remove the sponge and drop it down. We pretended we were in slow motion playing football while we swam to catch them before they dropped to the ground!
6. The off roading. Although not my favorite thing to do, I really love how just when you think you've figured out every inch of the island, you realize there is so much more to uncover. We spent a day searching for caves and Indian inscriptions and would up taking a 3 hour - off road excursion of the "other side" of the island. While there, we found abandoned wells (perhaps for donkeys) and troughs built in 1967, huge cave systems, cactus on the car, cactus in grandpa's leg, lots of laughter, some anxiety over lack of cell reception, beautiful scenery and so much more!
7. The marine life. Hands down, this is the best diving I have ever personally experienced. Not only is it easy to enter and exit the ocean because of all of the shore diving options, but the array of sea life, sponges and corals are incredible. In Bonaire, it's possible to hang out with a variety of sea creatures incl. turtles, rays and eels for 20 minutes easily. It was truly awesome to watch them eat, play, glide, dig, scope out predators, and breathe with such clarity because we were SO close. I often felt like we were swimming in a fish bowl or an aquarium as we were surrounded by creatures that just went about their business. As long as we merely observed them and didn't impact their habitat or reach out to touch them, they were happy to oblige our curious nature about their everyday habits.
8. The people. As a culture, the people of Bonaire are incredibly friendly. Since the island is a Dutch municipality, it is inhabited by both individuals from the Netherlands as well as individuals who are indigenous to the island. As a result, both Dutch and the Creole language, Papiamento, are the primary languages on the island (although most everyone speaks English). It was remarkable to us, how many people we were able to meet and truly connect with in such a short period of time. People on the island feel strongly that "the island chooses you . . . or it doesn't". I get that. We feel oddly drawn to Bonaire unlike any other place we've visited or lived. We made friends everywhere we went, from the wait staff at Cuba Compagnie, to others seeking knowledge at the Bonaire Botanical Gardens. We ended up throwing a party at the end of our stay to thank our new friends for their kindness and generosity of spirit. During the party, someone commented how easy it is to "collect" friends here. Despite it's small size, we never felt anyone give off a, "I have enough friends already", or "you're only here for a short while, why should I bother?" vibe. It was all, "You love Bonaire?! So do we. Let's be friends!"
9. The weather. I am not one for extreme weather. I don't really like it too hot or too cold. We got married on the beach in the Bahamas, and I was sweating through my wedding dress. So what makes Bonaire different as it's a Caribbean island as well? THE WIND!!! For some reason, Bonaire boasts a great deal of wind which makes even the hottest days bearable. The temperature range throughout the day and night stays around 76F - 84F year round and is located outside of the hurricane zone. At night, while watching the movie at the outdoor theater, our kids wanted a light blanket, but we were loving the warm air with the constant breeze. For me, it makes everything so much better. During the few moments where the wind was minimal, I could feel the difference. Every time I recognized the absence of breeze, I would say, "come back wind!" and sure enough, I was treated with a spectacular gust that made me breathe easier again!
10. The crystal blue water. As you drive up and down the coast, it's hard not to be repeatedly stuck by the beauty of the ocean. Plain and simple. It's breathtaking. Yes, you can find spectacular ocean views in other parts of the world. But paired with all of the above, it just feels like, "Yeah. This place rocks!"