Like a last-minute Martha Stewart nautical accoutrement, a static quartet of pelicans idly perches on a weathered skiff, their white crowns juxtaposed with long, grey-pouched bills. I'm in a bird-watchers paradise where flamingos may outnumber people. Approximately
200 species of birds relish Bonaire - flamingo, big-billed pelican, parrots, snipes, terns, parakeets, herons and tiny hummingbirds. Yes, bring binoculars!
The beaches are hum drum, strewn with gritty coral, but that's okay because the turquoise clear water demands exploration below with colourful colonies of tropical fish, indeed, a spectacular dive site ringed by a series of offshore reefs. Stones marked with the names of dive sites are seen from coastal roads, beckoning swimmers to shore dive. And even a cursory immersion reveals teeming marine life. Scuba divers joy; ditto for snorkeling.
Under water, visibility is a remarkable 30m (98 ft.), and temperatures range from 78F to 82F (26C-28C).
The attractive reefs house myriad coral such as knobby brain, staghorn, elkhorn, gorgonians and giant brain. Brilliant clouds of brightly-hued tropical fish skirt by while the deep slope entertains basket sponges, groupers, and moray eels. Most diving is done on the leeward side where the ocean is tranquil and even. And with more than
40 terrific dive sites, one can't help but be impressed.
In 1984, a rust-bottomed 24m-long (79-ft.) general cargo ship was confiscated by the
police with its contraband cargo of 25,000 pounds of marijuana. Known as the Hilma Hooker, dubbed The Hooker (strangely, not the Happy Hooker) by locals, it sank in 27m (89 ft.) of water. Lying just off the southern shore near the capital, its wreck is now a popular dive site!
This boomerang-shaped island sits only
81km (50 miles) north of Venezuela. The diminutive population of 15,000 resides on an equally small footprint - only 290 sq. km (113 sq. miles). Together with Aruba and Curacao, Bonaire forms a group referred to as the ABC islands of the Leeward Antilles. Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country's dissolution on October 10, 2010, when the island (including Klein Bonaire) became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands.
Kralendijk, the capital, is often accessed from neighbouring Curacao, 48km (30 miles) to the west, and like Curacao, it's desert-dry with little rainfall, frequently swarmed by day-trippers who pursue the elusive flamingo. The north tapers to Mount Brandaris at 241m (790 ft.), yet the southern half resembles a flat pancake that boasts the bays, reefs, beaches and a salt lake that attracts the birds.
Mangrove Info and Kayak Center, try kayaking through lush, quiet mangroves. Further north past a lake named Goto Mere (great for flamingo viewing), one may visit
Washington-Slagbaai National Park, 13,000 acres of inviting flora and fauna with rock formations such as Seru Bentana (Sky Window).
South on the east coast check out the tiny village of Rincon and further down, the salt pans with their white mountains that jut into the sky. At the
Flamingo Refuge, quietly watch the birds from the roadside or park by Pink Beach at sunset to view the amazing painted sky as the birds maneuver towards Venezuela.
Flamingo International Airport (BON) on the west coast is a short drive from Kralendijk, serviced by many U.S. cities - American Airlines/American Eagle via San Juan, Delta Airlines via Atlanta and Continental from Houston and Newark.
Dutch is the official language. Local Papiamentu, English and Spanish are also widely spoken. When dining, a service charge of 10-15% is added to bills in lieu of tips. To preserve numbers, many restaurants no longer serve Caribbean lobster and conch. Best also to avoid reef fish such as grouper, snapper and grunt, but eco-friendly alternatives include open water species such as dorado, wahoo and barracuda. Drinking water comes from desalinated seawater and is perfectly safe.
Bonaire Marine Park was created to protect the coral-reef ecosystem off Bonaire. The park incorporates the entire coastline of Bonaire and neighboring Klein Bonaire. The park is policed; services and facilities include a visitor information center at the
Karpata Ecological Center. Your sightseeing should include: The Flamingo Colonies near Goto-meer, historic Dutch buildings, the slave huts at Rode Pan, the Solar Salt Works nearby, Arawak Indian cave paintings at Boca Omina, Museo di Boneiru Beach, Washington - Slagbaai National Park, Willemstoren Lighthouse, Dos Pos, Rincon, Klein Bonaire and Lac Bay.
Even though most of the island is flat, renting a moped or scooter might be fun for getting around, but be prepared for unpaved, pitted, and rocky roads. Rental cars are readily available.
the electricity is odd, 110-130 volts/50 cycles, as opposed to U.S. and Canadian voltages of 110 volts/60 cycles. Adapters and transformers are not necessary for North American appliances, but be aware that plug-in clocks may run slow. All diving operators have a specially-engineered electrical stabilizer as standard equipment for visiting divers.
Pictures from Google Images and are the property of the owners
Courtesy of Caribbean Tourism
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.