This Caribbean Island Is Home to the World's Oldest Marine Park, Epic Diving Spots, and Luxury Beach Hotels

Even better, Bonaire sits outside of the Caribbean's hurricane belt.

<p>Courtesy of Harbour Village Beach Club</p>

Courtesy of Harbour Village Beach Club

Just 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, shielded from the Caribbean's hurricane belt, lies the always sunny, rugged, and beautiful Bonaire. Part of the trio of Dutch islands in the Caribbean, Bonaire is the B in the ABCs, which also includes Aruba and Curacao.

The island is all about adventure, thanks to its wild, desert landscape and spectacular coral reef that sits just offshore. In fact, the reef has been designated a national park and is known for heaping handfuls of dive sites, making Bonaire one of the best diving destinations in the Caribbean.

"Bonaire is a dream destination for most uncommon travelers," says Stephen Bennett, a Caribbean travel expert and co-owner of Uncommon Caribbean. "I'm talking about the kind of people who purposely avoid crowds and...favor adventures that feed an insatiable cultural curiosity."

Forget big brand-name hotels and tourist trap attractions — overtourism has yet to sink its teeth into the sandy streets of Bonaire.

"The desert island is home to the Caribbean's first and oldest marine park, as well as one of the region's top coral reef sustainability programs, the Reef Renewal Foundation," adds Bennett. "As such, undersea treasures and adventures here are simply off the charts. The island's deep commitment to the environment and sustainability makes Bonaire particularly ideal for communing with nature, both above and below the waves."

<p>dbvirago/Getty Images</p>

dbvirago/Getty Images

Best Hotels and Resorts

Windhoek Resort

"This cozy boutique property was designed by celebrated Dutch architect Piet Boon," says Bennett. "The Piet Boon brand is one that embodies the 'if you have to ask' aesthetic. At the same time, though, the property is anything but hoity-toity."

Pure Villa Karibuni

"Bonaire's numerous luxury villas are also sure to please most travelers," says Bennett. "Pure Villa Karibuni, another Piet Boon creation, is particularly stylish, comfy, and well-appointed."

The Bellafonte

A luxury oceanfront hotel with just 22 rooms, The Bellafonte has some of the best views of the sparkling turquoise sea. An on-site restaurant serves all-day dining, while the resort offers complimentary yoga twice a week, an oceanfront plunge pool, and diving facilities on site.

Harbour Village Beach Club

This beautiful resort has four acres of powder-soft sand and direct beachfront access. The luxury rooms here come with views of the marina or gardens, and guests can enjoy activities like PADI-certified scuba instruction, kayaking, or a spa treatment.

Van der Valk Plaza Beach & Dive Resort

An all-inclusive resort with a beautiful oceanfront pool and a private marina, this is one of the best hotels on Bonaire. Guests can enjoy diving and snorkeling, an on-site spa, yoga, and beachfront dining.

Sailboat Stay

"For a truly unforgettable, decidedly uncommon, and more affordable option, why not opt for a sailboat stay?" suggests Bennett. "Airbnb lists a few sailboat stays on Bonaire starting at just $64 per night."

<p>GanzTwins/Getty Images</p>

GanzTwins/Getty Images

Best Things to Do

Water Sports

Bonaire is all about action and adventure, most of which is centered around water activities. From kayaking and windsurfing to kiteboarding, snorkeling, diving, fishing, and beyond, there's not much you can't do on the water here.


Kralendijk is the capital of Bonaire, known for its colorful architecture and charming restaurants. From Kralendijk, you can hop on a water taxi to Klein Bonaire, a deserted islet that's part of the gorgeous Bonaire National Marine Park.

Washington Slagbaai National Park

Covering nearly 20 percent of the island, this spectacular desert national park is one of the best places on Bonaire for outdoor adventure. It has two driving routes and two hiking trails, as well as stunning remote beaches, flamingo-peppered salt pans, and plenty of spots for snorkeling along the way.

<p>Stephan Kogelman/Getty Images</p>

Stephan Kogelman/Getty Images

Bonaire Landsailing

According to Bennett, while Bonaire is all about the sea, the land-based options should not be discounted. He recommends Bonaire Landsailing Adventures, "particularly for those with a need for speed." Climb aboard a sail-powered go-kart for an adrenaline-filled race across the desert island.

The Cadushy Distillery

"If you're a spirits connoisseur, a stop at The Cadushy Distillery is a must," says Bennett. "This is where you'll find the world's only liqueur made from cactus. Bonaire is, after all, a desert island."

Best Restaurants

Hang Out Beach Bar Jibe City

Nothing says you're in the Caribbean like the vibe at Hang Out Beach Bar. Bright colors, toes in the sand, strong cocktails, and freshly caught fish — what more could you want? The venue often hosts live music and puts on a table barbecue every Thursday evening.

At Sea

Perched on the promenade in Kralendijk, At Sea is a local favorite and one of the best fine-dining restaurants on the island. The à la carte menu is full of fresh goodies, from caviar to seafood risotto, but it's the four-, five-, and six-course "surprise menu" that really shoots this to the top of foodies' must-try lists.


The views dial up the elegance at this otherwise casual waterfront restaurant. While the menu swings Mediterranean most days of the week, the restaurant is known for its Italian Night every Sunday, featuring homemade pizzas and pasta. Be sure to make a reservation for sunset.

Chefs Bonaire

Dutch chefs Han ten Winkel and Mark Tromop take diners on a five-course culinary journey. The intimate experience takes place within the Bamboo Bonaire Boutique Resort, where the chefs not only do the cooking, but serve each guest as well.

Ocean Oasis

Barefoot and breezy is the vibe at Ocean Oasis. This beach club's aesthetic is all about swaying palms, billowing white drapes, and thatched palapas. Feast on stuffed crab rolls or fresh local fish by the sea for lunch, or splurge on the decadent surf and turf when the sun goes down.

<p>Heather Tillema/500px//Getty Images</p>

Heather Tillema/500px//Getty Images

Best Time to Visit

Bonaire is one of those places where anytime is a good time to visit. That's especially rare for the Caribbean, but Bonaire is fortunate enough to sit outside the hurricane belt.

"If you like warm, sunny days with little chance of rain, then anytime is the best time to visit Bonaire," says Bennett. However, he says his personal favorite time to visit is contingent on what's scheduled on the local events calendar.

"I'd highly recommend the pre-Lenten period, usually in February (a.k.a. Carnival time on Bonaire)," he says. "The street party here isn't as loud, raucous, or huge as the more famous West Indian Carnival celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique, or Guadeloupe. At the same time, though, few celebrations offer a more fun and exhilarating way to vibe with the culture."

How to Get There

Bonaire has one international airport, called Flamingo International Airport. It receives direct flights from Miami, Atlanta, Houston, and Newark. Bonaire is also a port of call for cruise lines, including Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean, among others.

Visitors to Bonaire are required to pay a tourist entry tax of $75 per person, per visit.

<p>Alexis Gonzalez/Getty Images</p>

Alexis Gonzalez/Getty Images

How to Get Around

Bonaire is a small island, covering roughly 111 square miles. It's three to seven miles wide and 24 miles long. Twenty percent of the island is also covered by the Washington Slagbaai National Park, an expansive desert landscape that's prime for adventures.

"You'll want to rent a car here, but not just any car," says Bennett. "A Jeep, truck, or SUV with high ground clearance is recommended and required for trekking around the incredible Washington Slagbaai National Park."

He also notes that if you don't drive stick, you'll want to reserve your rental car well in advance because automatic vehicles are scarce on Bonaire.

If you plan on lounging at the hotel and only shuttling around for dinners, then taxi is the quickest way to travel. Bonaire does not have public transportation, nor does it have Uber or Lyft. Taxis, however, are safe and do have fixed rates. 

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