We came to Bonaire for the shore diving. No schedule departures and no guides to control your dive. Just you and your buddy, a truck, and the open road. Also, the most affordable diving in the world (I have found to date).
Bonaire has 51 shore dive sites accessible by car on an island of 113 square miles, and there are plenty more unmarked. If you want to get on a boat, there are an additional 12 sites on the main island and 25 on the small island of Klein Bonaire 20 minutes off the west coast.
Prices and Planning
No Visa for Americans, just show up and bring your $$$
By Caribbean standards, Bonaire is expensive. The currency is USD, a plate of food is $20, and lodging is above $100 per night. Luckily, beer is around $1.50 so you can get drunk enough to forget the prices. There are plenty of grocery stores in town so I recommend getting a room with a kitchen. We ate cereal for breakfast and PBJ for lunch because we didn’t have one.
We stayed for 3 weeks and only spent $4,500, for both of us. This covered airfare, lodging, 4 diving classes, and 50 dives each. We used expedia to book a hotel and flight combo and we saved a lot of money by staying at City Inn. I would not recommend this hotel BUT who spends time in the hotel on vacay anyway? We don’t.
City Inn is $50 a night and that is the cheapest you’ll find for the location (next to the beach). Oh yeah, the beach isn’t that great. There is no sand and it’s not made for lounging. Good for a swim though.
About the diving
On arrival you will need to pay $25 for a Marine and National park pass. You need this to dive, snorkel, and/or visit the national park. The round tab goes on your goggle strap (so you don’t forget it) and the paper receipt goes in your wallet. Don’t lost the receipt like we did or else you won’t be able to go into the national park.
Also, don’t waste your money on that dive book that everyone buys when they go to Bonaire. There are no maps in it and the descriptions are plain and simple. With some common sense you get by without any guides or books. Just use the free Bonaire map that is on display at every store in Bonaire. Normally I don’t bash peoples work but the author didn’t put much work into that book, and it’s definitely not worth the $20.
The best way to pay for tanks is to get 6 days unlimited for $180. If you don’t it’s $34 unlimited tanks per day.
We started our tab and used Dive Friends our entire stay. They have 5 dive shops near Kralendjik which is convenient because you don’t have to go all the way into town to refill on tanks depending on where you’re coming from. If you’re going north use Hamlet Oasis and if you’re going south use Port Bonaire.
If you’re using DIN and/or looking to do Tech Diving go to the Dive Inn location. For logistical reasons they only carry DIN tanks here but there are adaptors at the other locations.
Diving by Bike
The first week Alisha took her OW, AOW, and Nitrox while I took my Self-Reliant course (1 day). Since classes kept us in town I rented a bike and pedaled with my gear on my back to all the local dive shops that have a house reef or nearby dive shop. A car is roughly $50 a day and a bike is $50 for the week. There are plenty of dive sites you can reach in town by bike if you want to save some money.
Dive Friends has 4 locations with a house reef. The yellow submarine, Dive Inn, Sand Dollar, and Hamlet Oasis.
From yellow submarine you can also dive the House reef and “something special”.
From the Hamlet Oasis you can reach dive “the Cliff”, “Reef Scientifico”, and “La Machacha”.
From Sand Dollar you can dive “Bari Reef” and “Front Porch”.
From Dive Inn you have “chachacha Beach” and the Pink Flamingo house reef next door.
That’s 9 dive sites you can do in town less than 1.5 mile away from Yellow sub. Plenty for a week.
Diving by Truck
When driving by truck and utilizing Dive Friends you can only take 2 tanks at a time per person. This means that you’ll do 2 morning dives, have lunch, do 2 afternoon dives, have dinner and sleep. A relaxing 4 dives a day. If so inclined, you can pick up 2 more tanks before the shop closes at 5pm and do a night dive and early morning dive. We never did this because we like to sleep.
The shore diving by truck can be divided into 2 parts. The northern loop and the southern loop. Each loop is roughly 20 miles (great bike rides). All shore dive sites are on the west side of the island.
The northern loop starts after you Pass Hamlet Oasis. Highlights of this loop are “Oil Slick Leap”, “1000 steps”, “Tolo Beach” and “Karpata”. The northern loops is a beautiful drive and most dive sites the reef is very close to shore, so there is no long swims. Once you Pass “1000 steps” the road becomes a 1-way street so you must drive the whole loop through Rincon to get back to town to pick up more tanks.
The southern loop starts once you pass the airport. This loop cruises through the salt works area and is flat and windy. Kiteboarders are active south of Margate Bay. Highlights are “The Lake”, “Helma Hooker” “Salt Pier” and pretty much anything near salt pier.
From “The Lake” to “Alice in Wonderland” you are diving a double reef system. Around the salt pier we saw the most eagle rays and sea life in general. The fish love to hide under the pier. Once you get south of White Slave the currents become stronger and the swim out to the reef becomes longer. We dove Margate Bay, White Slave, and Pink Beach but did not enjoy them as much as we did the salt pier and the double reef system.
**Note on the pier, when a ship is present you cannot dive. There’s a guy who sits out there to make sure you don’t try.
We never drove to the national park because we heard it was more trouble than it was worth. It also takes an hour to get anywhere in the park and the diving is unpredictable because of the random currents.
The east coast of the island is boat diving only. Not many companies operate here and we never did go out with one of the few that do, but we heard that it was pretty good. The seas are rough on this side and the reefs are untouched. Plan on a bumpy boat ride and lots of marine life.
Dive by boat
By boat you can access Klein Bonaire and some of the inaccessible dive sites up North. Boat diving is pretty cheap ($56) with Dive Friends (2 tank ride) and you also get free tanks the rest of the day. Boat diving is from 0900-1300.
My favorite dive sites
Oil Slick Leap: I liked the entry (jumping off a small cliff) and the fact that the dive starts immediately. There is no swim out and it’s very easy to navigate, you know where the exit is because there is a very visible ladder.
Hilma Hooker: It’s a shipwreck and I like em
Salt Pier: Awesome dive site, very shallow, and lots to see. Everything hangs out here under the pier. Octopus, barracuda, eagle ray, etc.
The Lake: It’s called the lake because the reef goes in a circle around a sandy bottom. Easy to navigate and the perfect length for an air sucker like me.
1000 steps: It’s a beautiful spot for pictures and the diving is just as good as oil slick.
Karpata: Last spot you can hit before a long portion of coast where diving is prohibited. Great site.
Tolo: Awesome beach and dive site in general. Good place to relax
Front Porch: It’s on a nice beach by the Spice restaurant and there is a tug boat wreck at 27m.
The Cliff: You can dive 3 sites if you take it all in really fast. There are 2 boat wrecks and a USMC flag (Captain Don’s Memorial).
Our car did get broken into (at City Inn) and they stole our dive computers but that is our fault for leaving them in there. On that note, leave your car door unlocked so thieves won’t break your windows and take everything out of your car when you sleep.Bring bug spray and use it.
Most of the beaches are coral and/or rocky broken coral. If you want a sandy beach go to the Spice Club by “Front Porch” dive site. They have chairs and buckets of beers.
The most affordable food is at Rumba’s Café. You can get a piece of pizza for $2.50. Good pizza too.