Although only a few are marked on tourist maps, Bonaire is home to around 500 caves, half of which haven't even been mapped. And the best part about these caves, is that they are completely undeveloped, and uncommercialized, unlike Hato Cave on Curacao. SinceI wanted to experience everything the island has to offer, and undeveloped caves are some or my favorite places to explore, I couldn't leave without visiting at least one, and this one was the right choice. You won't find this place in any guidebook or tourist map. This is NOT your typical Caribbean holiday activity.
This just goes to show that no matter how much you think you know about a place, you always end up finding something new. Until just a few weeks before my trip, I had no idea such a place existed on Bonaire, and if it wasn't for a Trip Advisor post, I wouldn't know about it 'til this day. I had originally planned on just visiting a land cave, like Omina, but after learning that there is an underwater cave on the island, and that there is the possibility of snorkeling there, it was something I just couldn't pass up, as who knows when I would get another chance. I'm really glad I was told about this cave before my trip, as I would've been extremely disappointed to find out about it, afterwards.
This was the highlight of my ENTIRE trip, and has to be the best and most adventurous experience, I've ever had. Cave diving is something that's been on my bucket list for quite a while. Ever since I saw a nature documentary, featuring a segment on cave divers, I've dreamt of some day getting the chance to explore an underwater cave myself. I have to be honest, I never thought I would get that chance, as I thought you have to be a professional cave diver to explore these places, and I didn't think it would be possible to do so, just by snorkeling. And the fact that it happened so soon, is even more unbelievable. However, this goes to show that with a little bit of research, anything is possible. It wasn't exactly "cave diving", but to me, it felt no different, and satisfied my cave diving urge.
Although it's a bit off the beaten path, and is only for the most adventurous travelers, cave snorkeling is quickly becoming a popular tourist activity on Bonaire, as this is the only place in the Lesser Antilles, where such a cave exists. It's these sorts of unique things, that make Bonaire the eco-tourism hot spot, that it is.
Although you can visit the cave yourself, if you know the location of it, it is advised to do it with a guide, as these places have claimed many lives. There are a few tour companies on Bonaire that offer snorkeling trips through the cave, usually for around $50. The most popular is Jentis Tours, but after e-mailing them, and getting no response, I arranged to visit the cave with Brian, from Bonaire Vista Tours. Bonaire Vista doesn't officially do cave snorkeling tours, but since we had arranged a private tour, I asked if it would be possible to include some cave snorkeling, and they thought it was a great idea, which I was more than happy to hear. I think it was luck that Jentis didn't respond to my e-mail, as I couldn't have had a better guide for this trek. It turns out, that when Brian isn't giving tours, he's busy mapping the island's vast cave system, so no one knows this cave, better than him. In fact, he was able to show me the more "adventurous" routes, and take me through parts of the cave, that regular tours usually skip. And the fact that it was just the two of us in the cave, made the experience even better. He was informative and entertaining at the same time, explaining a bit of the geology, and making jokes about stalactites, that I don't think I can repeat on here. The trek couldn't have been more perfect. Forget the big tour companies. If you want to experience this cave the way it was meant to be experienced, do the trek privately, with Brian.
The trek through the cave took us about 30 minutes, though it felt a lot longer. The cave itself isn't actually that large, but getting through the narrow passages, especially the underwater ones, takes a while. Plus, we stopped a lot to take pictures, and look at the formations. We were even fortunate enough to see a bat, which I did not expect, as well as a tiny shrimp, and a rock that looked like a fish.
Like most caves on Bonaire, this cave does not have a name. It is simply known as "The Underwater Cave". According to Brian, this isn't the only underwater cave on Bonaire, but it is the only one that's accessible to tourists, so everyone immediately knows what you're talking about when you say, "the underwater cave".
Despite this term, most of the cave's formations lie above the water, so you don't actually do a lot of snorkeling. But the parts that do require snorkeling, are quite an adventure, especially the narrow passages, some of which you have to dive underwater to get through. Just be warned, they're a bit of a tight squeeze. I hit my head a few times, and got some scrapes and scratches. The underwater formations are also quite a sight. Truly a magical place. This is eco-tourism at its best.
Even if you're doing this trek with a guide, which you most likely will be, there are a few things you need to bring with you when visiting the cave. A mask and snorkel of course (don't bring fins), swim suit (you'll be doing a lot of swimming), an underwater camera if you have one, a towel, and sturdy tennis shoes and socks, as you have to climb in and out of the cave. I also packed some water shoes, but ended up just going barefoot, as the surface is "mostly" smooth. It's also a good idea to bring a bag to carry your stuff in. A headlamp and underwater flashlight will be provided to you by your guide, and trust me, you will need them. The water is a bit chilly when you first enter, but you get used to it quickly.
I was a bit concerned about getting down into the cave, as it has been described as, "extremely difficult". It's really not. If you climbed rocks as a kid, you won't have any problems. My guide did tie a rope for assistance, just incase, but we ended up not needing it.
Never in a million years did I imagine that I would find myself swimming through a cave in Bonaire. This is an experience I will remember, for a very long time. Not very many people, especially my age, can say they've done something like this. I am extremely grateful to Brian and Bonaire Vista, for making it possible, as I never would've been able to have this experience without them.
Brian told me that next time I come to Bonaire, we will do some actual cave "diving", so I can "officially" cross it off my bucket list.Related to:
- Adventure Travel
- Diving and Snorkeling
Located on the northern outskirts of Kralendijk, is the 404 ft. (123 m.) high, Seru Largu, or "Long Hill". Our guide explained that the name comes from the fact, that the hill stretches for several miles, across central Bonaire.
This is one of the most popular spots on Bonaire, and is a stop on most island tours, as it offers the best views of the island. From here you can see in all directions. The best views are to the south and west, looking towards Kralendijk, the salt pans, and Klein Bonaire. To the north and east, you can get some nice views of the island's desolate landscape.
In addition to its views, the hill is also a popular wedding spot, and the place to be on New Year's Eve, as it offers spectacular views of nearby fireworks.
But the hill's most famous feature is its large religious monument, which was erected in the year 2,000. The monument reads in Papiamentu, "Kristu" "Ayera" "Awe" "Semper". "Christ" "Yesterday" "Today" "Always". Our guide explained, that each of the words, actually comes from a different language, that makes up Papiamentu. "Kristu" (Portuguese). "Ayera" (Spanish). "Awe" (Dutch). "Semper" (Latin).
In addition, there is also a large "M" with a crown, in the center of the monument. Our guide explained that this represents the Virgin Mary, as well as the Dutch monarchy, and the new millennium.
If you want to enjoy this great view, without leaving your computer, click the link below.Related to:
Located within the Washington-Slagbaai National Park, in the north of the island is Seru Brandaris. At 790 ft.(241 m.), this rugged mountain is the highest mountain on Bonaire, and the second highest in the ABC islands. As hiking the mountain requires time, and a special trip with a 4x4, which we didn't have, we only viewed it from a distance. You can get some really nice views of it, from Gotomeer Lake, which for me was sufficient enough. But those who have more time, and the proper car, can make the hike to the top. My guide said, next time I visit the island, we will do exactly that.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
This is one of the most popular sites on Bonaire, and as a Natural Resources student, it was one of my favorite spots on the entire island. The lake is a MUST on any visit to Bonaire, especially for those who are interested in eco-tourism, like myself.
Also called Lag 'n Goto, Lago de Goto, or simply Lake Goto, Gotomeer Lake is the largest lake on Bonaire, and one of the largest in the Lesser Antilles. Known locally as a "saliña", because of its high salt content, this natural salt water lake, sits on the eastern edge of the Washington-Slagbaai National Park, and is one of the Caribbean's few original flamingo habitats. In fact, the flamingos are the main reason people come. They are what make the lake one of the top eco-tourism hot spots in the Caribbean. In fact, I will write a separate tip, just about the flamingos.
In order to protect the flamingos, particularly the nesting ones, it is strictly forbidden to hunt, fish, ski, wake board, swim in, or use any sort of water craft on the lake, such as kayaks or motor boats. In fact, unless you're a licensed researcher, you are not even allowed to set foot on the shore of the lake. Luckily, there are several designated viewing areas located along the lake, where you can enjoy the scenery and wildlife, without disturbing the ecosystem.
There are two main sections of the lake, a smaller narrow section, located next to the oil refinery, and the main section of the lake, which is located within the boundaries of the national park. The smaller section next to the refinery is better for viewing the flamingos. The flocks are smaller, but they are much closer to shore. There is a small bench, where you can sit and observe them, without disturbing them.Related to:
- National/State Park
Karpata Aloe Oven
This is something truly unique. I read about these things when I was researching Aruba, but I didn't get a chance to visit any. This large aloe oven is located on the grounds of the former Landhuis Karpata, and probably dates from the late 1800s, around the same time as the plantation. As you can tell from its name, this was no ordinary oven. In fact, it had quite an unusual purpose. The oven gets its name, not because its made from aloe, but because it was used to burn the leaves of aloe vera plants to extract the juices. But despite its name, the oven's main purpose was not to burn aloe, but to burn limestone. That's right, I said limestone. I was just as surprised, to learn that you can actually burn stone. I don't know enough archaeology to know how this was actually done, and I don't know enough about chemistry to tell you how the process actually worked, but the limestone was burned to extract quick lime, which was used as plaster or cement, for small structures, such as buildings, walls, and stairs. This was also done with coral. The process actually dates all the way back to Neolithic times, and is still done today, with modern technology.
To be honest, from the picture I've seen, I thought the oven would be small. I had no idea it would be so large. Trust me, it's much larger than it appears in the pictures. There is even a little door on the side, where you can actually go inside the oven, which is pretty neat. If you want to experience the true scale of it, you have to come to Bonaire.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
This place isn't part of the regular tour, but I asked our guide to stop here, as I wanted to experience a little bit of everything Bonaire has to offer, so I had to visit at least one landhuis (plantation house). There aren't very many of these left on Bonaire. Originally, I wanted to visit Landhuis Slagbaai, but our guide said that getting there requires a separate tour with a 4x4, which we didn't have, so I asked him if we could stop at this one, as it was on the way, and the only other one I could find, that's still fully intact. Despite their condition, the buildings actually look pretty nice.
The landhuis was built around 1868, and was originally called, Landhuis Borneo. The plantation was an important port and commercial center, and its main export was the castor oil bean. The plantation was later renamed, Karpata, after the Karpata or Ricinus tree, which grows on the plantation grounds, and produced the castor beans. In addition, the plantation also exported goat meat and hides, as well as aloe, charcoal, and dye wood.
Karpata was eventually abandoned, and stood in ruins for several years, until 1980, when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, in one of her first acts as Queen, had it restored and turned into a research station for the Bonaire National Marine Park. But unfortunately, the research station lost funding, and was shut down, just a few years later. The building has been abandoned, and dilapidating ever since. Today, its ruins stand as a reminder of the island's once thriving export industry, and is one of the few historic buildings left on the island. If anyone is looking for a fixer upper to turn into a nice vacation home, the building is currently up for sale.
In addition to the plantation house, there is also an original aloe oven on the grounds, which I will write about in a separate tip, as it is an attraction in itself.
I also read that the area has one of the most beautiful reefs on the entire island, but unfortunately, as much as I wanted to, I wasn't able to do any snorkeling here, as that would be asking too much of the guide. But I am glad that I at least got to see the plantation.Related to:
- Historical Travel
If you're renting a car on Bonaire (which if you're staying for more than a day, you will need to), you must drive the Queen's Highway. Despite the name, this is not actually a highway, but a small coastal road. The road starts just outside of Kralendijk, and runs for about 3.5 miles along the west coast to the island, up to Karpata. The road takes you through one of the most beautiful parts of the island, past turquoise blue waters, acacia forests, karstic landscape, abandoned plantation homes, and the famous 1,000 Steps. If you are lucky, you may even see some lizards, iguanas, and parakeets, as we did. Or maybe even some goats or donkeys.Related to:
- Road Trip
When I was e-mailing my guide about my tour, he asked me if I wanted to stop at 1,000 Steps, as it was on the way. I told him no, as I didn't see anything interesting about stairs. He obviously forgot, because he stopped there anyways. I'm actually glad he did. Yes, the 1,000 steps are just that, steps. Nothing special. In fact, most people come here not for the stairs, but for the diving and snorkeling, which is said to be some of the best on the island. But what makes this area so special, is the view, and the beautiful color of the water. Seriously, I've never seen such beautiful water, as I did here. I now see why this is one of the island's top diving and snorkeling spots.
Our guide told us, that there are actually only 72 steps, but the reason it's called 1,000 Steps, is because when divers climb back up with all their gear, it feels like they're climbing 1,000 steps. I didn't actually go down to the beach, as our guide only stopped there for a few minutes, and it wasn't a planned stop, but if we were on our own, I would've went down and done some snorkeling.
Amazing spot.Related to:
- Diving and Snorkeling
White Slave Huts
Although there are slave huts found throughout the Caribbean, this particular style is unique to Bonaire, and they are another popular, iconic, and highly photographed attraction of the island.
There are two main slave hut sites on Bonaire, the White Slave Huts and the Red Slave Huts, but there are also some different style slave huts around Rincon and Cabaje. I'm not really sure why these particular huts look different from usual slave huts, or why both huts were painted different colors.
These tiny and photogenic white washed huts were built in the 1850s, to shelter slaves who worked on the nearby salt pans. Although I was able to stand upright in them, most of the slaves could not, so they were mainly used for shade and sleeping, and these huts would often house as many as 6 people at once. Only men were used as slaves, and once a week on Saturday, food rations were distributed to them, and they were allowed to leave and visit their families who lived on the other end of the island.
Both the Red and White slave huts were recently restored to their original condition, and today, they serve not only a living exhibits of the island's history, but also as markers for two of the island's most popular dive spots.
There is also a large blue obelisk at the site, which our guide explained was used as a beacon for ships, who came to pick up the salt, as at the time, there were no lighthouses in the area.
This was the second stop on our tour, before we headed north.
I had originally wanted to visit both the White and Red slave huts, but we were traveling with a guide, and visiting the Red huts would've cost extra, so we only visited the White Slave Huts, which was part of the regular tour. I thought the Red Slave Huts looked more interesting, because they hadn't been restored, but I was satisfied with these, as I now see they have both been restored, and don't look much different except for color. Now I actually think the white huts are a little nicer. They actually looked a lot nicer and larger in real life than they did in the pictures, however, I was a bit disappointed that there were some houses right next to them, and the site was actually a lot smaller than I thought it would be, with only a few huts, but it was still worth the stop.Related to:
- Historical Travel
This was the first place we visited in Bonaire. This is one of the main attractions of the island, and also one of its most famous and most photographed. These salt pans have become sort of an icon of Bonaire, and are seen on many post cards, guide books, and travel brochures for the island. It's pretty obvious that they are a favorite with photographers.
This was our longest stop on the regular tour. Personally, this was my least favorite spot on the island, and I didn't find it that interesting, as we have many places like this in the U.S. However, the salt pans are still worth visiting, as they are such an icon of Bonaire, and unique to the island, as this is the only such place in the entire Caribbean. But I wouldn't spend a whole lot of time here, like our guide did.
Salt production on Bonaire has been going on since Colonial times, when the salt was hand picked by slaves, who would often go blind, from looking at the white color. By 1837, the island was a thriving center of salt production, and the island's biggest industry. However, in 1870, the government sold the salt pans, along with much of the island's public land, to two private landowners. This forced much of the island's population to relocate to nearby Aruba, Curacao, and Venezuela, which is the reason the island has such a low population today. Salt production eventually resumed in 1966, and today it is once again the island's biggest industry, exporting the salt all over the world. Some salts are used for animals, and to put on roads, but because of its high quality, the salt of Bonaire is used as a condiment for people, but also as bath salt. In fact, the table salt that Americans put on their French fries and potatoes, comes from right here. So next time you purchase salt at the grocery store, check to see if it came from Bonaire. You can also buy large bags of authentic Bonaire salt, at the airport.
The most notable features of these salt pans, are the enormous salt mountains, and the pink water, which is the result of brine shrimp, and microscopic algae living in the water. Our guide explained that this is actually sea water, that's pumped in and out of the salt pans. But the salt pans are huge. They stretch for about 6 miles, and take up almost the entire southern tip of the island. But most of the salt pan looks like my last 2 pictures.
When we visited, we managed to catch a glimpse of a truck moving salt, out on the pans. If you're really lucky, you may even be able to catch a glimpse of some flamingos, who feed on the brine shrimp and microscopic algae living in the water. We were fortunate enough to see some during our visit, but they were a bit far, and difficult to see, as they blended in with the pink water.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Statue of the priest
The plaque says: Abstinence until marriage.
That is what a catholic priest from Holland tried (in vain) to inculcate to the local people in Bonaire Island. The phrase is written in Papiamento (Abstene te matrimonio).Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Adventure Travel
Bonaire's capital Kralendijk, which means "coral dike", is a very nice port city on the Central West coast of Bonaire. It has a population of around 3,000 people, which increases significantly depending on tourism from divers and docking cruise ships. This is where you'll find the vast majority of the island's restaurants, businesses, traffic and shopping.
Kralendijk is a nice city to explore with a long walk. Take a stroll along the oceanside streets of Kaya C.E.B. Hellmund and Kaya J.N.E. Craane up to the Kralendijk Market and Town Pier. Continue this way and you'll see an outdoor craft market that sells mostly kitschy souvenirs but has a few unique artists. Walk down Kaya Grandi to find the mall, boutiques and many restaurants. Walk further in to the city to see tidy residential streets with gardens and brightly painted houses.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Bon Tuk electric Island tours
A great way to discover Bonaire has a lot more to offer than the underwater world only. Via this eco friendly and silent way of transport one can discover the nature of Bonaire on a relaxed but also exciting way. See the Flamingo's, the solar salt works and the city of Kralendijk. Get out of your car and step into the Bon Tuk. It's fun! Also a recommendation for people with kids!Related to:
- Road Trip
- Family Travel
I didn't get to go to Fort Oranje but I took photos of the lighthouse from the ship. Fort Oranje was built in 1639 to defend Bonaire's main harbor. The commander of the island lived here until 1837 when his new home was built next door. The fort never saw action. The cannons are old English cannons that date between 1808 and 1812. Over the years, the building (fort or lighthouse) has been used as a government center and warehouse for government goods, as a prison, police and fire station. The fort building was restored in 1999, and is now the courthouse.
A wooden lighthouse was built around 1868, and replaced by a stone structure in 1932. It is an active lighthouse with a white flash every 2 s. The 1932 lighthouse is a square tapered-pyramidal stone tower. The light station now serves as the harbor master's office. Located on the site of a seventeenth century fort adjoining the cruise ship docks at Kralendijk, on the west side of the island. The fort is open for tours, but I don't know if you can get into the lighthouse. It is a very small fort and apparently only really of interest for the lighthouse.Related to:
- Sailing and Boating
Snorkel or Dive
The main thing to do in Bonaire is dive. But at 75 years old with only 85% lung function and Bob having just had a melanoma removed from his shoulder which isn't healed yet, I decided that I would just snorkel and Bob would not join me. But even the snorkeling was great. Some people saw turtles and octopus. In addition to what is pictured, I saw a sea cucumber, a barracuda, and various fishRelated to:
- Sailing and Boating
- Diving and Snorkeling
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Blvd Santa Barbara 50, Bonaire, Caribbean
Good for: Business
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