Bonaire is my favorite place for SCUBA diving. It is known as the “Divers Paradise,” and half of the tourists that visit Bonaire are SCUBA divers. In fact, every truck that is rented comes with a rack made of 2×4 lumber to hold air tanks. The beauty of diving in Bonaire is that it has the best shore diving in the world. You don’t have to go out in a boat to get to a dive site. The reef that surrounds the island is only about 25 yards off shore and 25 feet underwater. All you need to do is throw a couple of rented SCUBA tanks and your dive gear in your truck, and drive down the main road until you see a large yellow-painted rock with the name of the dive site. Then you pull in, park, get into your gear and wade into the water to swim out to the edge of the reef. Diving couldn’t be easier!
This trip was special because our daughter, Elisabeth, joined us for the first week of the trip. She was certified as an Open Water Diver a couple of years ago and has heard all of our stories about our great times in Bonaire. When we asked if she wanted to join us, she jumped at the chance.
We rented our truck through Car Rental Bonaire. We had never rented from them before and you can imagine our pleasant surprise when their representative greeted us outside baggage claim to take us to our truck. What a great way to start a trip! We stayed at the Divers Paradise Apartments. What a nice place! We had our own kitchen, reliable cable TV and wireless internet, and our own, secure locker to store our diving gear. John, the owner was a wonderful host, giving us great service as well as good tips to make our stay special. We got our air tanks through the Good Dive SCUBA Center and received great customer service. I recommend these businesses to anyone going to Bonaire.
We started the first day by doing a buoyancy check. This makes sure that you have the proper amount of lead weights to counter the buoyancy of your body and dive gear. The goal is to achieve neutral buoyancy where you “float” underwater and can change your depth by breathing in and out. This makes it easier to dive and protects the coral reef from you slamming into it by bouncing off the bottom as you would if you are too heavy. After establishing good buoyancy we continued our dive along a site called the “Small Wall.” There were all kinds of fish along the wall. Elisabeth had never dived below 45 feet and was concerned about diving deeper than that. She was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to drop down to 70 feet.
We spent the rest of the week diving at some of my favorite sites. We started with Bari Reef for a nice open water dive along the reef wall and later dove among a number of moored boats at “Yellow Submarine.” With each dive Elisabeth became more comfortable and was able to truly enjoy exploring the underwater world. Diving in Bonaire is a world away from diving in the abandoned rock quarry called “Fantasy Lake” near her home in Raleigh, NC.
One of my favorite dive sites is the Hilma Hooker. This is an old tramp steamer that was seized by the Coast Guard because it was used in drug smuggling and sunk near the shore on the south end of the island. We got an early start and were on the wreck before 9:00 in the morning. There was another truck on the shore, but we never saw any other divers. The Hilma Hooker is not the best wreck to dive on, but it is an easy one. Here is a video I shot on the way back to the shore – Hilma Hooker Video
Of all of the dive sites on Bonaire my favorite is called La Dania’s Leap. For the entry you jump off a cliff that is about three feet above the water. You’d better have everything ready because there is no exit here. Once in the water we dropped down to about 70 feet and drifted with the current to another site called Karpata for the exit. [Drift Dive Video] The underwater environment here is the most diverse on the island. The hard coral is in good shape. We saw all kinds of fish as well as turtles, lobster, eagle and manta rays, and moray eels. [Hawksbill Turtle Video] As you get closer to the exit you swim into a landscape of soft coral, waving back and forth in the current. The exit at Karpata can be a bit exciting, especially in heavy surf, but not a problem after you have done it a couple of times. After we unloaded our gear at La Dania’s Leap, we had spotted the truck at Karpata so it was waiting for us when we exited.
The road to Karpata is a one-way road, so we had to drive through the town of Rincon, around the other side of the island to get back to our room. We stopped on the eastern side of the island to show Elisabeth the “wild side.” The prevailing wind comes from the east and the surf is always rough. The rock surface has been eroded by the wind and waves and looks like I would imagine the surface of the moon. Seru Largu is the highest point on the island (about 370 feet above sea level), so we stopped there to see the monument and enjoy the view.
In the 1700’s the Spanish brought goats and donkeys to Bonaire. These animals now run wild around the island. We saw small groups of them almost every day. In fact, one day a few donkeys showed up outside our apartment and we had fun petting and feeding them.
We enjoyed snorkeling as well. Our favorite spot was the entry for Bari Reef. There is a building foundation in the water that has become the home to many fish – angel fish, spotted horn, butterfly fish, trumpet fish, and parrot fish to name a few. The visibility was great and on a sunny day, as clear as on dry land.
There are other things to do in Bonaire than SCUBA diving. We enjoyed a few restaurants for dinner and had lunch at Lac Bay which is the prime wind surfing site on the island. Most evenings we walked over for “cocktail hour” with friends that were staying at the nearby Black Durgon Inn, where we watched the sunset.
Unfortunately the date arrived for Elisabeth to go home. We had a picnic lunch on the waterfront downtown and drove her to the airport.
Diving did not stop with Elisabeth’s departure. My long time dive buddy, Stan Pash, had been diving with us all week and we teamed up with some other divers that were also at the Black Durgon. In addition to La Dania’s Leap we dove a site called the Oil Slick which has a nice jump to the water below and a ladder for an exit. We spotted a good sized lobster that would have made my lobster-hunting friends from Key West jealous.
The highlight of the second week was when John Burns guided us to see SIX sea horses. Sea horses are hard to spot as they are so small and anchor themselves to pieces of coral. John and his wife had been diving this area for a couple of months and know where every kind of sea life is located. I had only seen one sea horse before (John showed me that one too!), so this was a real treat!
Another highlight was when our host, John Schwind, took me Lionfish hunting. Even though the sea around Bonaire is a protected marine preserve, Lionfish hunting is allowed. You have to have special training or accompany someone who has, so John fit the bill.
If you are unfamiliar with Lionfish, they are an invasive specifies from the Indian Ocean. They were released into the Caribbean when Hurricane Andrew destroyed an aquarium in southern Florida and washed the Lionfish exhibit into the sea. Lionfish are voracious eaters and multiply in great numbers. They have no natural predators in the western hemisphere and are destroying the native fish. Fortunately they are also great to eat and there is a movement to to hunt them as a game fish to thin their numbers. Lionfish are dangerous to hunt as they have poisonous spines that fan out like a lion’s mane (hence the name), but with the right training and gear they can be hunted safely. We used to see a lot more of them than we have this trip so the hunting appears to be working. However, some of that may be due to the fact that they have gone to greater depths to avoid their hunters. John and I were able to spot three of them as deep as 100 feet below the surface, and each of us were able to spear one.
We did a final dive at Salt Pier where I got some great pictures. The water was clear as tap water and with a sunny day the visibility was some of the best we have had. What a wonderful way to end a diving vacation! That afternoon we started our packing for the trip home.
We celebrated our last night on Bonaire by going to Donna and Gorgio’s, a delightful Italian restaurant, with our friends from Michigan, Stan and Betsy Pash.
After a relaxing morning and lunch with friends, we turned in our truck and flew back to the U.S., concluding our trip to the “Divers Paradise.”