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My Research Note For Bonaire

Discussion in 'Bonaire' started by drrich2, Oct 27, 2019.

  1. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    Done! Separately from my trip reports, I sometimes post a summary from researching a dive destination seasoned with some 1st hand experience. The research turns up info. useful for me and I like to pass it along, especially to fairly new divers who may not have much experience choosing and planning dive trips. This will thus run very long, but I hope it helps some planning their 1st trip.

    Bonaire
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    -----An island in the extreme southern Caribbean about 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, one of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao) – which lie south of ‘Hurricane Alley’ (so rarely impacted) and have year-round warm seas. Bonaire is around 24 miles long, 3 to 5 miles wide with an area of 111 square miles. Nearby Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited 2.3 square mile island about ½ mile off the midwest coast of Bonaire. Per Wikipedia the average air temp. is 81.5 F, with 2.5 F seasonal variation and 10 F daily variation, and water temp.s from 78 – 86 F; the humidity is very constant, averaging 76% with fluctuation between 66 and 85% daily, and most of the 20.5 inch average rainfall comes Oct. through Jan. Despite this humidity, much of the island appears arid, with no natural permanent freshwater bodies and cacti are plentiful.
    Bonaire Land Richard479.jpg
    -----Trade winds blowing east to west across the island make the heat more bearable, but this close to the equator the sun is strong (sunburns fast!). The north is hilly to mountainous, the south very flat. On the west coast, shore diving the north may mean a small hike down to the sea. To the south, you can park very close to the water but face longer swim-outs. Some northern sites have narrow areas for exit (e.g.: Oil Slick Leap); some southern sites are more forgiving if you’re way off. The north is more densely vegetated (a mass of thorny vegetation); the south much more open.
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    -----Bonaire formed when continental shelf movement pushed a large rock mass to the surface, creating the islands of the Lesser and Greater Antilles; as the seabed rose coral reef grew on it, then died as it surfaced (source: Wikipedia entry – Bonaire). The surface is limestone (a form of calcium carbonate, used by hard corals in their ‘skeletons’), and some soil. Below the sea is a fringing reef wall sloping downward to the depths, close enough for divers to walk in and swim out (so no need for dive boats) along much of the west coast.

    -----Shore diving without dive op. transport offers autonomy (e.g.: dive when, where and how you wish without professional supervision/schedule/rules), an offering few dive destinations in the region have (e.g.: in the Caribbean only Curacao comes close; Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and St. Croix offer limited shore diving, but are mainly boat dive destinations).

    -----Most shore diving is done along the west coast, aided by a (mostly) coast-hugging road so getting dive site to site's fast and easy. Sites are marked with yellow rocks with site names painted on, and guide books detail the sites. Shoreline varies from dead coral rubble (looks like ‘pellets,’) to rough, at times jagged ironshore – so medium-to-thick soled dive boots are best (in gear with weights, you can hurt your foot without penetrating the sole – I did at Oil Slick Leap).
    Added Bonaire Files321.jpeg
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    -----Few entries/exits (or beaches, period) have much sand. Bonaire is not a sandy beach lover destination, (if needed, consider Curacao). TourismBonaire.com has a beach listing. West coast diving usually offers minimal current, but it can happen, particularly in the ‘pinched’ section between Bonaire & Klein Bonaire – I was taught observe boats tied near shore; if they’re perpendicular to shore, okay to dive – if parallel, that’s current so beware.

    -----Waves slam the east coast (windward side, a.k.a. Wild Side); the island stops them, resulting in a calmer west coast (the leeward side). There are a few eastern sites dove by shore (ideally guided; Bas Tol with BasDiving.com is highly reputable and guided me once) or boat (Bonaire East Coast Diving). The diving is very different on the east; I saw sea grass and huge numbers of anemones, larger fish and different terrain diving Cai.

    -----Airfare to Bonaire often skews expensive, and neither Southwest Airlines nor Jet Blue flies there (as of Oct. 2019). BonairePros.com offers a free Insider’s Guide on Flights to Bonaire from North America.
     
    BLee88, couv, Schwob and 6 others like this.
  2. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    Civilization in Bonaire
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    -----As of Jan. 1, 2016, the population was roughly 19,408 permanent residents (per Wikipedia), largely black, and while Dutch citizens English is widely spoken so English-only speakers should have no problems. The ‘native tongue’ is actually Papiamento, but Dutch is the official language. The currency is the U.S. dollar (since 2011). They drive on the right side of the road; the large majority of vehicles are manual transmission/stick (if you want an automatic transmission dive truck, ask well in advance and you’ll pay an upcharge). Default speed limits are 40 km/hr (25 mph) ‘urban’ and 60 km/hr (37 mph) rural. Legal age to drive is 18 but rental agencies may have a minimum age of 21 – 25. The metric system dominates – expect vehicle gauges and speed limits in metric (e.g: km/hr; 1 km = ~ 0.6 mi, so 60 km/hr ~ 36 mi/hr). Road signs won’t all make sense to an American. There are roundabouts but no traffic lights. Cars in the roundabout have right-of-way vs. those entering it. The tap water is safe to drink. InfoBonaire.com has a page on traffic signs and regulations. Atlantic Standard Time Zone – same as EST in summer, an hour ahead of it in winter (no Daylight Savings Time). Road sign graphic from Bonaire Travelguide.com.
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    -----The U.S. power system is 60-Hz, 110-volt; in Bonaire it’s 50-Hz, 127-volt, but uses the U.S. plug style, so American electrical products plug in fine, and usually work though some reportedly may ‘run hot.’ There seems to be no cheap, convenient way around this, so I think most take their chances, but pay attention. InfoBonaire.com states many notebook computers have universal power supplies and should work fine, but if you want a transformer to address the issue for other electronics, you can get one for $50 - $100 at stores such as Kooymans or Playa Trading (or your resort might rent them); surges and brownouts are noted to be ‘not uncommon.’
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    -----Cell phone access can be had by visiting Digicell and renting a phone or SIM card. With widespread wireless Internet access and VOIP options (such as Skype or Apple’s Facetime), you may not need it. Or you can accept roaming charges and go with your home plan. As of 9-6-19, AT&T includes Bonaire in their AT&T Passport and International Day Pass offerings. Calling out of Bonaire from your own phone can get expensive; InfoBonaire has a page with the basics (and rough cost estimates). Don’t expect 24-hour Walmarts or pizza delivery. If you need antibiotic ointment for an abrasion or ibuprofen for a head ache late evening, it’s not simple to dart into a 24-hour convenience store. You can find most things during regular business hours. I suggest packing med.s you often use. Per TourismBonaire.com there’s only one food delivery service on Bonaire – Dinner in a Box, which delivers from 27 restaurants to your door.
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    -----There’s one main city, the capital, Kralendijk (pronounced Krawl-en-dike), with many suburbs (some you may hear are Hato, Belnem and Sabadeco). It’s widely spread out, but a decent-sized city by Caribbean standards. One point of interest is the large, modern Van den Tweel Supermarket (don’t expect all labels in English), though nearby Warehouse Bonaire is also useful. I’m fond of the small supermarket Zhung Kong (pic below), north of town (north of Sand Dollar, Buddy Dive Resort and Captain Don’s).
    IMG_4047.jpg
    -----There aren’t a lot of chain restaurants familiar to Americans (they have Subway and Kentucky Fried Chicken), but there are good places to eat. Food is imported in containers by sea, so prices high by U.S. standards. The small washcloths Americans use aren’t a ‘thing’ in Bonaire; they have hand towels and full-sized towels, so pack washcloths for your trip. Get non-aerosol mosquito spray, but high concentrates of DEET can degrade plastic, so be careful around dive gear. There’s one 60-bed hospital (a hyperbaric recompression chamber is adjacent) and an ambulance plane on call for emergencies; the emergency phone # is 191 (per Bonaire-Travelguide.com).

    -----Economically, tourism dominates. The island has long catered strongly to scuba divers, and is a cruise port on Southern Caribbean itineraries, so ships dock and unload thousands of tourists on Kralendijk. Expect to see ATV tours and such. To the southwest people engage in kite-boarding; on the southeast coast at Lac Bay wind surfers play. Cargill operates the large solar salt works production to the south; you’ll see wide, dark pink pools near white ‘mountains’ (salt). Their huge pier is an excellent, distinctive dive site (only allowed when no ship is in). To the northwest is a fuel storage and shipment terminal.

    -----When dining out, be aware of 2 key issues – soda refills may not be free, and service is often slow (your waitperson might not bring the check till you ask for it!).
     
  3. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    Where to Stay

    -----Bonaire’s a long island, but most divers stay along the west coast, ocean-front or not far inland, within a few to several minutes’ drive of the capital (Kralendijk). Some oceanfront places have onsite shore diving (a.k.a. ‘house reefs’), convenient for adding an evening or night dive to your day and upping your trip dive count, plus the view. Non-oceanfront may save a few hundred bucks. It’s easiest to break your options down into the north zone (north of Kralendijk), town zone (mainly Divi Flamingo Resort; one might argue the Plaza Resort) and south zone (e.g.: Belmar Condo.s, Windsock Resort (not the dive site), Courtyard Marriott, Delfins). Below: Den Lamen's oceanfront, Dive Hut is not.
    IMG_5932.jpg
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    -----Many newcomers choose a popular oceanfront option just north of town from these adjacent properties, named in order heading north out of Kralendijk – Den Lamen Condo.s, Sand Dollar Condo.s, Buddy Dive Resort (pics below), Captain Don’s Habitat and Hamlett Oasis. Well up the coastal highway and more rustic, you’ll find Caribbean Club Bonaire. Each has an onsite (or adjacent) dive operation and sells ‘package deals’ (e.g.: housing, tanks & weights for shore diving, rental truck). Those I named (except C.C.B.) form a near continuous row and have nice house reefs, and offer ready access to popular northern shore sites (e.g.: The Cliff, Andrea I & II, Oil Slick Leap, 1,000 Steps, Tolo, Karpata) without driving back through town. Just north of Hamlett Oasis is Zhung Kong Supermarket; smaller than Van den Tweel or Warehouse Bonaire in town, but conveniently located and adequate.
    IMG_1771.jpg
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    -----Your main disadvantage is having to drive through Kralendijk en route to southern dive sites. It’s not a long drive (a bit from Caribbean Club Bonaire) and the city’s not huge nor hard to drive, but many popular dive sites are south.

    -----Divi Flamingo Resort & Casino is your main ‘intown’ option. If you plan to only boat dive and want the option to walk into part of town, perhaps forego renting a truck part of your stay, plus you like an all-inclusive option, this might be your place. It’s in the southern part of Kralendijk; truck trips to dive southern reefs don’t be a bother, but you drive through town en route to northern sites. The big, modern supermarket Van den Tweel and Warehouse Bonaire are close by.

    -----South of town, you’ve got the Plaza Resort, the large Courtyard Marriott (waterfront but not oceanfront), Delphins, Windsock Resort and Belmar Condo.s. You’ve got easy access to southern sites and the big grocery stores in town, and only drive through Kralendijk to reach northern dive sites.

    -----Some location hurdles can be overcome by using a dive op. with multiple tank pickup locations. Dive Friends has a handy 7 locations (pic below); the Port Bonaire site across from the airport, just before the Windsock dive site, is very convenient for swapping out tanks between afternoon and morning dives. There are one or more food trucks, like the popular Cactus Blue food truck at Donkey Beach/Corporal Meiss site (between Windsock and Bachelors Beach sites), so you can buy lunch and sodas without having to drive back to a northern resort.
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    -----Some resorts have a pier where an affiliated dive op. will pick up for boat dives (e.g.: Captain Don’s, Buddy Dive Resort); some require you to meet at another location. Some have onsite dive shops (e.g.: Buddy Dive Resort), but just south of Sand Dollar and Den Lamen condo.s by the roundabout is Dive Friends main retail store.

    -----If you need budget price and non-oceanfront is okay, I liked Dive Hut in (2012 pics below). If you have the means and crave luxury and a sandy beach, consider Harbor Village; more an off-water luxury resort with interesting grounds consider Bamboo Bali (but no kids < 12). For a more recent construction, modern ‘big hotel’ resort that’s not so dive-centric, consider Courtyard Marriott or Delfins. Sandy beaches sloping into the water for wading aren’t common at west coast results, but Sand Dollar Condo.s has a small one.
    IMG_0687.jpeg IMG_0749.jpeg IMG_0746.jpeg
    -----When comparing package deals, check whether all taxes, etc…, are included.
     
    Schwob likes this.
  4. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    Who To Dive With

    -----Where you stay may determine that (e.g.: Buddy Dive Resort, Captain Don’s Habitat), but some places are just housing or can be done ala carte. Some of the dive op.s (e.g.: Dive Friends, Buddy Dive) will sell you a dive package without you’re staying at an affiliated property. If there’s a dive op. on property (e.g.: Dive Friends at Den Lamen Condo.s, beside Sand Dollar Condo.s), it’s easiest to deal with them (and it may be useful if you want to use their pier to dive the house reef). Sand Dollar/Den Lamen pier:
    IMG_6337.jpg
    -----If you will factor a preferred dive op. into where you stay, or choose an ala carte approach, there are things to note. 1.) Do they offer unlimited tanks for shore diving, and is nitrox included or available at an upcharge? Most do but I’ve read of exceptions. 2.) Do they offer boat dives (if you care), and if so do they pick up at your resort, or a place you’re willing to go? Do they offer just 1-tank trips (not uncommon in Bonaire!), or are 2-tank trips available? Do boat trips mostly hit sites not reachable by shore, or more of a mix? 3.) How many locations do they have? (Dive Friend’s 7 locations are nice plus). 4.) If you are a tech. diver, does this op. support tech. diving, and at the location you’ll be (or close to)?

    -----For a newcomer, it’s easier to do a bundled package with on-ground dive op. with a nice pier (with ladder for easy entry/exit) to dive a good house reef. Buddy Dive Resort has pier access to a nice reef:
    IMG_5492.jpg
    -----I can recommend Dive Friends, Buddy Dive and WannaDive from experience over the years, most recently Dive Friends and despite a small nitrox upcharge their multiple locations, retail store, 24/7 tank access, boat offerings and affiliation with several housing options are big perks.

    Some Popular Stay & Dive Package Options

    -----Buddy DiveBuddy Dive Resort is a large (a bit maze-like) property with a drive through tank station for picking up tanks (note: very convenient for air; with nitrox you still have to analyze your tank). Truck rentals are on-site; they offer transfer to/from the airport. It has 2 on-site restaurants (Blenny’s is more casual, ‘Ingredients’ higher end - never ate there), and buffet breakfast (~ $15/day I think). 2 Swimming pools and a pool bar, but no beach (there’s a raised sand area). Just north of Sand Dollar, it shares a nice ‘house reef’ accessible by piers (2 ladders). They support tec diving. Buddy Dive has 6 dive boats and you can depart from Buddy Dive Resort. I’ve stayed here 3 times – liked it, though I got turned around navigating it. They provide dive service at Caribbean Club Bonaire up north and Belmar Bonaire Oceanfront Apartments south of town.
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    -----Dive Friends Bonaire – 7 dive locations, and note tank lockers and nitrox stations are open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Divers are allowed to take 2 tanks apiece at a time. Nitrox is a modest upcharge (as of 8-22-19 an extra $20 for 6-day dive package). They ‘don’t allow’ (who knows how they police that) solo diving unless you have a solo diving certification (they offer a Self-Reliant course). They lease the pier at Bari Reef, so dive with them (and you must stay at Den Lamen or Sand Dollar Condo.s) if you want to use that (otherwise use the round-about to the south to drive down and park near a shore you can walk in from). Locations at Hamlet Oasis, Sand Dollar Condo.s (between it and Den Lamen), Yellow Submarine, Port Bonaire (across from the airport), Dive Inn, Courtyard by Marriott and Delfin’s Beach Resort. Dive boats depart from Yellow Submarine, Sand Dollar/Den Lamen, Port Bonaire and Courtyard by Marriott (min. 4 divers or head to nearby Port Bonaire).

    -----Sand Dollar Condominiums – 36 Condos, some owner-occupied, from studio to 3-bedroom. Alongside Den Lamen shares shore access to Bari Reef, very popular, and guests may use the pier. There’s a small sandy beach (with roped off swimming area), a big plus if you bring kids. There are restaurants in walking distance (e.g.: Eddy’s, Breeze ‘n Bites at Den Lamen, Between 2 Buns). The pool is beside Eddy’s restaurant, away from the water on the road side of the buildings (unless you walk to Eddy’s, you could miss it!). You can buy a buffet breakfast package, served at Breezes N’ Bites. When I booked a package with an automatic truck they used Avis as the rental agency; Avis did okay by me, but had a ‘mixed’ reputation in customer reviews.
    IMG_4050.jpg IMG_4054.jpg IMG_3904.jpg
    -----Den Lamen – Just south of Sand Dollar Condo.’s, also uses Dive Friends Bonaire and guests can use the pier for shore access to Bari Reef (house reef). Has a small sandy (and rocky!) beach but no pool. There’s a grocery stocking service if you want some waiting for you. Bonaire Trip Report 12/30 – 1/5/2019 Den Lamen (Homerdoc). He liked the room (but not being on the 3rd floor), called the breakfast ‘so-so,’ and noted Coco Beach is next door and had loud music into Friday night (glass half-full interpretation – a recreation area is walking distance!). Bonaire Trip Report 12/29/18 – 1/5/19 (+ Hat Tip to SB!) (Randallr). Spoke well of room, large terrace and view – but also on 3rd floor.
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    -----Hamlet Oasis Resort – 20 detached cottages (studio or 1 or 2-bedroom apartments), ‘almost’ waterfront (the property is, not your unit per Trailboss123’s post #21). Has a pool. Fred B. (Mar 2018) noted there’s no single supplement – you rent the apartment, and they don’t assume double-occupancy; likewise, not much extra to bring a buddy. Scuba service by Dive Friends Bonaire. House reef is the Cliff, a really nice albeit modest vertical wall dive heading south toward Captain Don’s Habitat. No on-site restaurant, but walking distance by Captain Don’s Habitat and Buddy Dive Resort, which do. Prices exclude government room tax.

    -----Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino – a popular resort with onsite dive op., dive boat departures and a house reef, plus a casino and couples all this with being in walking distance of Kralendijk. If you only want to do boat (and perhaps house reef) dives and avoid the expense of a rental truck, yet walk to/from town conveniently from a full-service dive resort, this could be a great match. There’s an all-inclusive option, a ‘kids stay free’ program and complimentary kids and family activities. Has a pier but not a real beach. One reviewer noted car rental is available on-site. Bonaire 12 day trip report (by Fat Daddy June 2019).
     
    BLee88, Schwob, Redfoot and 1 other person like this.
  5. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    Toucan Divers at Plaza Beach and Dive Resort Bonaire – the well-known all-inclusive resort not far south of Kralendijk that can handle large groups (and hosted some Scuba Board Invasions). They offer boat diving and have a house reef, though the practical logistics of getting tanks and going in sounded inconvenient in some trip reports (but mds (Post # 36) noted more recently tanks are staged in 2 areas, by the pool and by Tipsy Seagull restaurant, you can have nitrox tanks delivered to either shore location, and you have to haul your gear back to lockers at the far dive shop but not tanks. The dive shop is toward the front of the large property, so it’s a walk to get to the house reef. There’s a large man-made sandy ‘beach’ area, but it doesn’t slope into the water.

    Dive Hut Bonaire – not oceanfront but not far, the neighborhood had a rustic suburb feel when I was there, they offer strong low budget packages and across the road is a building for gear, tanks and rinse tank. WannaDive provides dive service; their main location is nearby Eden Beach Resort. Breakfast was an upcharge option (not a buffet), and there was no onsite daily restaurant for other meals (but the buffet one day/week was good). 2012 Trip Report.

    Belmar Bonaire Oceanfront Apartments – a small southern property using Buddy Dive for scuba services, and advertising valet boat diving – Trip Advisor review 93Scuba June 2019 said there’s no resident boat and only Buddy Dive’s smallest boat can pick up at Delmar – but he wrote well of it. Per DivineMissMaja (Jul 2017) there’s a small pool area and sea wall and dock but no beach. WAGB10 noted parking is a challenge most times, and Shandive in March said there were 17 parking spots for 24 rooms. Short drive to town. Has a house reef but I’ve seen reviews claiming Buddy’s Reef is better. DiverSteve (Post #10) said Belmar has ocean-facing patios, stops into the water off the dock, tanks are stored 20 feet from the main road and your condo. key allows 24/7 access, but there was no hotel in walking distances except Hotel Roomer. Close to town, but you’ll be driving.

    Delfin’s Beach Resort Bonaire – a new offering getting good reviews for clean, modern facilities but there’s a significant negative – not a good house reef (Trailboss123 & MoreCowBells (Posts #31 & 32) noted conditions can be variable and rough. Trailboss123 (Post #31) noted it’s one of the nicest resorts but expensive, has a nice but expensive main restaurant (Post #33; MoreCowBells Post #39) and the pool was amazing. He said (Post #40) the reef’s quite a ways from shore, a long dive across sand or surface swim to reach, very close to the point and subject to currents and wind – not always a safe entry. BuffDiver’s trip report (Sept. 2019) was detailed and complimentary, but noted the included breakfast was Euro. style (not American), agreed the main restaurant (Brass Boar) was very pricy, and the shore dive a rough entry and long (10-12 minute) swim out. Delfin’s is close to southern dive sites.

    Specialty Dive Services

    VIP Diving Bonaire – Bonaire lends itself to independent rustic shore diving, but what if you want guided ‘valet’ service? Enter VIP Divers, which has good reviews on Scuba Board. Chiggins (Post #20) noted they had one tank pickup location but larger tanks (15-L) available. They offer guided west and east coast shore diving, partner with Bonaire East Coast Diving, and offer a package for cruise ship passengers.

    Bas Diving – A very popular shore diving guide who takes divers on guided east coast dives. The east coast is very different underwater, but pounded by waves and weather conditions are more apt to bring danger. I dove the Cai site with a regular buddy (had a scary experience) and later guided by Bas Tol (one of my best dives, long and easy, saw a lot) – a night and day difference. Strong positive reputation on Scuba Board.
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    East Coast Boat Diving – offer a 2-tank morning & 1-tank afternoon boat trips, limit 10 divers, require minimum 4 divers for morning trip, 6 for afternoon. They depart from Sorobon pier (on east coast); they provide tanks (63 or 80-cf, air or nitrox) but you bring weights and gear. They do their morning surface interval pack at the pier to avoid undue roughness, but note due to surface swells there’s no rinse tank for cameras as the water wouldn’t stay in the tank (sea sickness-prone divers take note). They have bottled fresh rinse water.
     
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  6. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    Diving Miscellany
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    -----Package deals often include 7-night accommodations, 6-days unlimited shore diving (often with free, or small upcharge, nitrox use), a manual transmission 4-door truck rental (often doesn’t include optional (but highly recommended) CDW insurance) and free wifi. There’s an Ultimate Dive Truck option. Most scuba tanks are AL80 (some AL63 available; big tanks are less common) with yoke valves (if you use DIN, bring an adaptor). Morning dive boat trips may be 1-tank, not always 2, and divers may be expected to haul their own gear on/off the boat, set it up, swap tanks (if a 2-tank trip) and rinse and store it later. If you want ‘valet’ dive service you can find it, but don’t expect it as the mainstream default.

    -----Bonaire’s surrounding sea is a marine park, and there’s a cost to dive in it. The marine park tag is good for the calendar year (yes, if you buy Dec. 1st it only lasts a month) and presently costs $45. You can buy online and get a paper receipt, or at a dive shop on-island and get a plastic tag for your BCD D-ring. You need proof-of-purchase at hand whenever you dive, and for free entry to Washington-Slagbaai Park. Is the past cash was required, but now I’m told they require credit card payment.

    -----Many west coast sites follow this pattern – modest swim-out (shorter up north, longer down south, could be a hundred yards+ in places?) to the reef wall drop-off (might start around 20 feet deep?), angling down (maybe 30 – 45 degrees?) into the deep. The better sites have a good mix of hard corals, gorgonians and some sponges (lush in places) and a decent amount of fish life (by Caribbean standards). Typical Caribbean fauna – sergeant majors, black bar soldier fish, various grunts (e.g.: French and blue-striped; school masters), yellow-striped goatfish and yellow snapper, blue tangs, trumpet fish, tarpon, barracuda, some sea horses, green, spotted, golden-tail and some chain moray eels, sharp-tail eels, eagle and southern stingrays, green and hawksbill sea turtles, etc… Tarpon are particularly common ‘dive buddies’ on night dives, hoping you light up an easy meal. I’ve never seen a shark, grey angelfish or porkfish in Bonaire.

    -----For a discussion of recommended sites for 1st timers, there are multiple threads; here’s my old listing on distinctive west coast sites:
    -----1.) Karpata - not that distinctive to me, but I liked it; fairly lush, often spoken of and thus popular. Nice to go see what it's about, and there's the big concrete block I enter/exit beside.
    -----2.) Oil Slick Leap - the big, near 5 (?) foot giant stride is cool, hardly any swim-out and a good dive with neat wildlife. You must exit via ladder, and it’s missing a couple of lower steps or just plain missing in the past, so check before you dive! Wallob Hebel took these 2 photo.s in 2010 & 2011:
    Richard SD Card 7 001.jpg

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    -----3.) 1,000 Steps - the walk back up is a 'feel the burn' experience, but the staircase is a nice photo op. A pretty good dive site.
    P1020331.jpg
    -----4.) The Cliff - small vertical wall (pic below). A boat dive site, Small Wall, is similar (but ironically I thought it was bigger).
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    -----5.) Salt Pier – has encrusted pilings. You can only dive it when there's no ship in, and you likely won't know day-to-day whether one will be, so if you're driving by & see it open, try it.
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    -----6.) Hilma Hooker - the wreck, and a double-reef system.
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    -----7.) Angel City - nice double-reef system; I enjoyed heading out over the 'sandy canyon' and diving the distant reef. I imagine you could do this at Hilma Hooker. There’s a ledge you have to step down off going in, and climb up getting out; waves knocked me down getting out, and a loose piece of rock dropped me and waves rolled me around, so it the waves are big, watch out!
    -----8.) Bari Reef - nice though it's hard to describe any major dynamic feature. Years ago it was the site where a large diversity of species was documented, and got minor area fame for that.
    -----9.) Sweet Dreams - hardly ever hear anyone mention it, but it was a really lush, good southern site.
    -----10.) Windsock - the dive site, not the resort. Fairly easy entry/exit beside a large wooden pier, which makes finding your way out on night dives easier. Warning: getting out and back in the shallows, I discovered hard-to-see light-colored rock formations easily blundered into. Whether you wade or back swim, watch out!
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    -----Bonaire is not a mainstream ‘big animal’ destination. Aside from sea turtles (most I’ve seen were small), green morays, tarpon, larger rays and a few of the barracuda, tiger grouper and cubera snapper, there’s not much big commonly seen (shark sightings are pretty rare). The only large grouper I’ve seen there are tiger grouper.

    -----At mainstream west coast sites, water is warm, current usually minimal, viz. maybe 60 – 100 feet, dives are over hard bottom (albeit sloping) and navigation is easy – head east and you’ll hit the island!). A compass is still handy at long swim-outs/backs. Entries can be tricky – one Scuba Board member reported using a cane with good results (tursiops’ post on folding canes). At issue is walking over loose dead coral pellet rubble, often then stepping off a ledge onto uneven bottom you can’t see well due to surge.

    -----Bonaire gets bashed for fairly uniform west coast sites, but some are much lusher than others, the Cliff and Small Wall offer small but impressive vertical walls, Salt Pier encrusted pilings to explore, the Hilma Hooker wreck is good and some southern sites have a neat double reef (e.g.: Angel City – you have the usual Bonaire fringing reef, then swim across a sandy ‘canyon’ to find another reef wall!).

    -----Famous for shore diving, Bonaire also offers boat diving. These are usually 1 or 2 tank trips to hit sites not accessible from shore due to location (e.g.: off Klein Bonaire, or lacking shore access (e.g.: Rappel) unless you stay at a particular operator (e.g.: Small Wall). Or they may hit sites where entry is a bit tougher and the swim out a bit long (e.g.: Hilma Hooker wreck). I don’t see the point in Bonaire as an ‘only boat diving’ destination – I get can as good or better (in some ways) boat diving elsewhere in the Florida/Caribbean region, but some people disagree.

    -----Just past 1,000 Steps the west coast-hugging main road becomes one-way headed North; if you want to dive Karpata or Tolo, you commit to a long return trip home (likely swinging through Rincon). I suggest hitting Tolo, then Karpata, and call the drive home ‘surface interval.’
     
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  7. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    A Shore Diving Primer

    -----Shore diving is fun and freeing, but work and takes care. Stick to mainstream west coast sites not too far south (due to current at times) and in-water conditions should be fine, but getting in and out of the water, and what you find when you get out, are another story.
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    -----Most entries and exits aren’t smoothly sloping sandy beaches. They’re on dead coral pellets (like gravel that shifts under your feet), rock or irregular ironshore, often uneven underwater with trenches and depressions and where you can turn an ankle, and enough surge to make it hard to see. Some sites (e.g.: Hilma Hooker, Angel City) have a significant step down over a ledge (perhaps 10 inches?) onto uneven bottom you can’t see clearly. And while the leeward side’s mostly calm, depending on weather occasional big waves can shove you around. Wife took the 3rd shot:
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    -----The typical Bonaire dive workflow entails driving to a site, parking your obvious rental truck in plain view, walking in heavily encumbered by dive gear and being reliably gone for 35 minutes to an hour where you can’t see or hear what’s happening topside, often at rustic sites without anyone else around. Most divers only stay a week; they won’t be around long as thieves (if one were caught) get due process. And the native population, rather poor by U.S. standards, know this. What could go wrong?

    -----Multiple forum threads with scads of pages of posts lament and debate how awful that is, whether the government should ‘do more’ or divers suck it up and stick to the recommended preventive practices without much complaining, but here’s the bottom line:

    -----1.) While you dive, your rental truck is an obvious sitting duck.
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    -----2.) Leave your truck unlocked and windows down so roaming thieves can search it without breaking a window.
    -----3.) Leave nothing of value in the truck while you dive. Tanks in the truck bed are okay. A cheap pair of sunglasses or flip flops is probably safe. If you want a cheap cooler with sandwiches and sodas on ice, and you won’t be scarred for life if it disappears, fine. Otherwise, leave non-diving stuff at the apartment or stick it in a dry pouch or dry box on you during the dive (good for a driver’s license, credit card, cash, the truck key – if the key is electronic you don’t want it to get salt water exposure). What to do with “stuff” when diving…
    -----4.) While siphoning gas and stealing batteries aren’t unknown, they aren’t reported on the forum much.
    -----5.) Don’t even think of leaving the key in the truck. Wouldn’t want to buy the rental company a new truck.

    -----If you want an easy ladder entry/exit, dive at a resort like Buddy Dive Resort. Otherwise expect to deal with iron shore. Watch the waves awhile – if you see a big one, be mindful they’ll likely come in at a fixed interval. Right after one hits is a good time to go in. Gear up but put your arm through your fin straps and carefully walk in, feeling with your feet. Once waist deep, don your fins, drop down and dive.

    -----I like to pick a direction, north or south (into the current if there is one), and fin along around 40 feet deep till my turn pressure, heading deeper if I see something interesting. Then rise to around 30 feet for the swim back. If I’ve got a good gas reservoir, fin around the shallows over rubble (watch it – scorpionfish are common here) till ready to exit. At southern sites, surfacing aways off my exit is no big deal. At some northern sites it can be – so at Oil Slick Leap, pay attention – you need that ladder! To exit, get waist deep, take off your fins and run your arm through the straps, and walk out carefully.
     
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  8. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    What To Do Topside

    -----Washington-Slagbaii National Park – offers a small visitors center and roads for a self-directed driving tour through the scenic but rugged, somewhat mountainous landscape. More prickly pear-style cacti than I knew there were in the world! Waves crash against the cliff-like coastline. I suggest taking a half-day once to explore it; take a camera, there’s good scenery. Per BonaireResources.com it’s off-limits to passenger cars, normally only allows trucks and Jeeps, and your cell phone won’t work in the larger part of it.
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    -----Donkey Sanctuary – donkeys were brought I in to aid in salt mining, became obsolete and became feral (and road hazard). Efforts were made to gather them into this sanctuary (to prevent auto-injuries and environmental damage) – some still roam wild, but the sanctuary does a lot of good and driving through with apples or the like to hand-feed out your window is fun. These 2 weren't in the sanctuary...
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    Kite Boarding – At the Atlantis site on the southern west coast. Fun to watch from shore. You can get lessons.
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    -----Lac Bay – A sheltered bay on the east coast, with a sandy beach sloping into a large, shallow bay were people wind surf (or watch it – looks like a surf board with a sail), sit on loungers by the sea, etc… Jibe City (looks more like a beach bum village to me) offers food and various things.
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    -----Landsailing – A 3-wheeled cart with a sail you ride around flat areas.

    -----Kayak the Mangroves (& snorkel) – I linked a tour operating out of the Lac Bay area; for a small fee they pick up and drop off from several west coast locations.

    -----Snorkeling – Go it alone or hire a professional excursion.

    -----ATV, Electric Golf Cart, Bikes or Scooters, Motorcycles (including Harleys!), 4x4’s or Segway.

    -----Cave Tours.

    -----Enjoy the Wildlife – you’ll see Caribbean flamingos around the island, green iguanas, Bonairean whiptail lizards and (around lights at night) little geckos. Feral donkeys and goats. Plenty of free-range dogs and some cats and chickens. Bird watching is a thing - get lucky and see a yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot. No venomous snakes or large predators – I heard somebody got bitten by a dog.
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  9. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    Dangers

    -----Bonaire is a refreshingly (not perfectly) ‘safe’ island, but there are dangers and most people don’t leave a cell phone in their dive truck, plus many shore dive sites have no onsite businesses or homes so unless fellow divers or passerby happen to be there, you’re on your own.

    -----Sunburn – This near the equator UV is powerful (even if it seems overcast). Use plenty of sunscreen, but be careful – some aerosol sunscreen ran in my eye and not only burned but altered color perception for a day or two). Ideally use a reef-safe product - I like Stream2Sea.

    -----Mosquitos – Common at night and at restaurants (a lot of Bonaire diving is outdoors, and where objects block the trade winds, they attack your legs. They may get in your room at night, and if you have a patio (as we did at Buddy Dive Resort), attack there. Usually not bad at night dive sites, but we got eaten alive once at Windsock. You want mosquito repellant and long pants heading out in the evening! Two mosquito-borne viral illnesses are noteworthy - Denque and Chikungunya, and a 3rd (Zika) for those pregnant or apt to get/cause one soon.

    -----Falls and Sprains – Ironshore is hard, abrasive and unforgiving. You can’t see the sea floor you’re stepping on due to surge near shore, and often there’s a small ledge to step off entering, or up onto exiting. That bottom is uneven, may have loose stones and in places (e.g.: Hilma Hooker) pockets in the rock hold sea urchins.
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    -----Flat Tires / Breakdowns – You’re probably driving around with no cell phone, rental trucks aren’t always in great shape, some areas (e.g.: Washington-Slagbaai Park) don’t have good roads, and you’re expected to be able to change a tire. A scuba tire inflator that attaches to your BCD’s low-pressure inflator can help!

    -----Stench – Swimwear gets rank after 2 or 3 days. Sea water has tiny organisms in it – they die and rot when your trunks dry out. Take them when you shower and shower over them, then ring out and hang to dry.

    -----Jellyfish – At a rough interval (8 – 12 days) after a full moon, Caribbean sea wasp jellyfish may move inshore at night, drawn to lights, and shore diving your house reef off a lit pier can get very painful (happened to some of us). Otherwise not much of a worry.

    -----Fire Coral – Often mustard yellow with white highlights, you’re not supposed to touch corals and other living things anyway, but if you do, it burns. Not extreme, but some people have more severe reactions. Plate fire coral is common where you wade in/out, so exposure protection for your legs is wise.

    -----Get Spooked – Not a ‘danger,’ but tarpon (some big!) like to accompany night divers. A 4 to 5-foot silvery fish zipping by at arm’s length could freak one out. Large green morays look scary but if you don’t act foolish (e.g.: try to pet it), shouldn’t be a danger. Sharp-tail eels are flexible and crawl on the bottom looking like snakes – Bonaire doesn’t have sea snakes, but if you’re highly phobic about snakes, learn what these guys look like. Spotted morays could be confusing. Once in a while a large barracuda is seen – keep your distance.
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    -----Food Poisoning – Not a ‘Bonaire thing’ so much as a tropical seas thing. Ciguatera is caused when a type of dinoflagellate produces a heat-stable toxin that heads up the food chain to larger fish people eat, causing miserable symptoms and may reverse heat and cold perception. Cooking doesn’t destroy it and there’s no specific anti-toxin. I haven’t heard of it being common around Bonaire; species safe to eat in one region may not be somewhere else. Check current recommendations.

    -----Infection from Animal Bites – Many dogs run free, and cats. Hand-feeding donkeys can get you nipped. Bonaire is somewhat ‘poor’ by American standards. I’m guessing not all pets are up on rabies vaccinations? Per the CDC some bats in Bonaire carry rabies but it’s not a major risk to most travelers. If you get bitten by a stray mammal and want treatment ‘just in case’ (e.g.: immunoglobulin and vaccination), it can be terribly expensive (though the price came down after what happened to this woman).

    -----The CDC has a page on Health Information for Travelers to Bonaire with vaccine recommendations and other info.

    -----Crime – Petty theft from dive vehicles is a problem. Bonaire is pretty safe topside but more worrisome crime isn’t unknown. For an exhaustive discussion about the varied facets of the Bonaire crime scene, see Crime – Our experience – Looking for input to share. TLDR version – to minimize risk of petty theft from trucks, leave doors unlocked and windows down with no valuables except scuba tanks while shore diving. Some think a room at a large resort may be less likely to be broken into than a private residence.
     
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  10. drrich2

    drrich2 ScubaBoard Supporter ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Southwestern Kentucky
    8,580
    6,312
    Any Reason You Wouldn’t Want To Go?

    -----Bonaire is my favorite dive destination because I love fixed cost ‘all you can dive buffet’ dive freedom (e.g. solo diving), easy navigation and good general Caribbean diving, a single day flight to/from America at a cost not outrageous. Love it. Would anyone would be better served elsewhere?

    -----Oh, yeah. While little touches Bonaire’s sheer simple ease of cramming in a high shore dive count, other destinations win out on a range of things.

    -----1.) Great reef – Bonaire’s good, but Little Cayman’s Bloody Bay Wall rocks. I’d also give the nod to the outer atolls region out of Belize, reached by live-aboard.
    -----2.) ‘Big Stuff’ – particularly more species of large grouper (besides tiger grouper) – Nassau, Black and Yellow-fin grouper, more eagle and/or southern stingrays, reef and nurse sharks – gotta give it to Cozumel, Little Cayman, the outer atolls of Belize and Key Largo (Florida). Bonaire does have sea turtles, tarpon, barracuda, tiger grouper, cuberra snapper, green morays and some rays.
    -----3.) Really big stuff – for the Goliath grouper aggregation, hit Jupiter, Florida late summer/early fall. For the lemon shark aggregation, hit it in winter. If you want a range of shark species, high likelihood of success and close up action, and don’t mind shark feed dives, hit Jupiter (season varies by species). For frequent fairly large shark encounters without shark feed diving, try the offshore wreck diving out of Morehead City or Wilmington, North Carolina.
    -----4.) If you want to stay in the U.S.A., keep airfare cheap, have access to mainland Florida, enjoy shallower diving over flat, hard bottom, fairly lush and (in my view) more (and bigger) fish (albeit viz. wasn’t as good), with the option for deep wreck diving, try Key Largo, Florida.
    -----5.) If you want kelp, a different ocean and set of species, and seal and sea lion action, try California (but cold water with lower viz. and only one hard coral species).
    -----6.) If you are physically impaired (e.g.: falls are serious), or like taking it easy, a live-aboard offers a similar dive count, a lot less work (you don’t load and unload trucks, swap tanks, walk in/out over ironshore and rubble, etc…), in a ‘turn key’ simple setup (e.g.: they transport, feed and clean up after you, fill your tank, usually provide a dive guide, etc…). Some land-based operations can get you 4 dives/day (e.g.: Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo and St. Croix Ultimate Blue Water Adventure did for me). If you like a lot of boat diving with the option for shore diving, Curacao or Grand Cayman should serve.
    -----7.) Higher End Healthcare Support – Bonaire has a hospital, but if you or a fellow traveler have a serious condition, check what they do and don’t handle. I went to Key Largo in 2013 in part because it was a family trip with our baby daughter; I wanted full service medical care on hand if she got seriously ill.
    -----8.) Not much sandy beach – while it’s much larger, more populous, more complex to plan (e.g.: whether to stay at Westpunt or near Williamstad), the sandy beaches, civilized offerings (e.g.: the Sea Aquarium), scenic capital city and other amenities of Curacao deserve consideration. 2 Shots of Sand Dollar Condo.'s beach area, & 1 of the Bachelors Beach dive site.
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    -----9.) You want shore diving with topside amenities – food, etc… Most Bonaire dive sites are ‘rustic’ – no rinse showers, snack shacks, etc… Some sites at Curacao and Grand Cayman have amenities (though a fee may be involved, or in G.C. you are to rent tanks at the onsite op. and solo diving may be forbidden).
     

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