Sleek oceanfront oasis near Kralendijk
Minimalist grass-roof villa near Pink Beach
Waterfront tropical modernism near Pink Beach
With Aruba and Curacao, Bonaire makes up the ABC Islands (geddit?) that lie in the Caribbean Sea only 50 miles from the coast of South America. Unlike the majority of the Caribbean islands, they are not in the region’s hurricane belt and are in consequence dry and fairly arid, with a year-round warm and sunny climate. This, of course, is good news for vacationers seeking powder-sand beaches on which to relax, and calm waters for splashing about in. In the towns, like the capital, Kralendijk, you can wander among colorful Dutch Caribbean architecture, shop at markets for gifts to take home, such as the locally produced salt, or visit museums and old houses to learn about the colonial history of the island. But the big draw on this tropical paradise is its abundant nature, both on dry land and in the balmy blue water surrounding it.
20 percent of this small island is a protected nature sanctuary, the Washington Slagbaai National Park. Up at the northern tip of Bonaire, a 13,500-acre park is a place of secluded beaches, hidden caves, towering cacti, wandering animals and more than 200 different types of birds. It’s a great spot for hiking and offers trails for both the casual rambler and the serious walker. The Lagadishi Walking Trail, which begins at the park's Visitor Center, is an easy two-hour trek that will introduce you to the landscape of the island, You’ll pass sand dunes, mangroves, blowholes and Gotomeer, a saltwater lagoon frequently populated by elegant pink flamingos – one of the most recognisable birds on the island.
Flamingos are one of the many bird species that has found protection on Bonaire. At the southern end of the island, the Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is one of only four areas in the world where flamingos breed. Visitors aren't allowed inside, so you’ll need to take up a spot on nearby Pink Beach with a good pair of binoculars to see them. At Echo Parrot Sanctuary, on the other hand, there are weekly tours to introduce visitors to the yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot, known as the lora in the local Papiamento language. There are only around 900 of these endangered parrots left on the island, and the sanctuary works to raise awareness of problems that threaten their survival, like the poaching of chicks, and to restore the dry forest habitat that the birds need for nesting.
Donkeys, introduced by European settlers, can be found wild on the island and can cause problems for native wildlife, but working on the premise that this is hardly their fault, Dutch nationals Marina Melis and her husband Ed Koopman have set up a sanctuary that is one of the island’s most popular destinations. Kids, in particular, will love the Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire, which is home to around 500 formerly stray donkeys and where you can help feed them and go all gooey over the foals that are often to be found in residence.
Bonaire’s marine environment has not been forgotten when it comes to protecting the natural world and the creatures that call it home. The waters surrounding Bonaire and the small neighboring island of Klein Bonaire are all part of the Bonaire National Marine Park, and the island's entire coastline has been protected for more than 30 years, making this one of the Caribbean’s top diving destinations. The reefs here have been declared some of the healthiest in the region and since Bonaire is the peak of a submerged volcanic mountain, with sloping reefs only 30 feet from the shore, you don't need a boat to get out to the best spots.
To gain access to this wealth of underwater splendor you must buy a $25 nature tag, which grants you a year of unlimited diving and contributes to the maintenance of the marine park. It also includes admission to Washington Slagbaai National Park. The majority of the 86 dive sites available are accessible from shore – you’ll find them by spotting the yellow painted roadside rocks marked with the sites’ names. Popular dives include the Hilma Hooker shipwreck, Captain Don’s Reef, 1,000 Steps Beach and Alice in Wonderland, and you can expect to spot parrot fish, emperor fish, sergeant majors, candy bass, barracudas, and snappers.
One particularly worthwhile underwater adventure is provided by the Buddy Dive dive school. Divers at the school are helping scientists in a coral restoration project to protect and repopulate damaged reefs with healthy staghorn and elkhorn corals. Courses at the school allow you to get involved for as little as half a day, conducting surveys, cleaning, and removing algae and predators to help the coral stay healthy.
Kralendijk is certainly not the most bustling capital, even by Caribbean standards. Only a few blocks in size, it’s a laidback town that’s easy to navigate and offers a warm welcome to visitors. Queen Wilhelmina Park is the place to shop for Bonairean souvenirs, and in cruise ship season you can catch a traditional music and dance performance as you browse. Our Kralendijk rentals make the most of the island’s balmy climate and chilled-out vibe. Enjoy a property that blurs the boundaries between indoor and outdoor living, lounging in a thatch-roofed gazebo open to the Caribbean breezes, or by your own saltwater pool, perfect for that cooling dip. A charcoal grill makes for sizzling alfresco dining, while alfresco showers do the same for bath time. When it all gets a little too hot to handle, there’s air conditioning to cool the elegant living spaces, and TV and wi-fi for downtime diversion.