Bonaire is known as a diver’s destination. But there lots of fun things to do in Bonaire, even if you don’t dive. This 5-day alternative itinerary will give you the best spots for sightseeing and snorkeling in Bonaire.
Travel to Bonaire is so Easy
Bonaire is part of the Dutch Antilles and is a neighbor to Aruba & Curaço in the southern Caribbean. Dutch is the native language but most people also speak English. The economy is standardized on a US dollar, which makes it easy to pay for things and to figure out how to get around.
The island itself is only 115 square miles and you can easily drive from one end of it to the other in less than an hour. You can base yourself in Kralendijk, which is centrally located and 20 minutes to everywhere.
From the US, you can fly direct to Bonaire from Newark, Atlanta, Houston and Miami. Other direct flights come in from Toronto and Amsterdam.
Finding the Best Bonaire Snorkeling
Diving and snorkeling in Bonaire are so popular because the reef is right on the rocky shoreline. So you can just wade in at any one of the 91 marked locations. The spots are labeled with yellow painted rocks. Not all of the spots are suitable for snorkelers however. So do as I did and buy Tropical Snorkeling’s guide to snorkeling in Bonaire. It will tell you where to go…and where not to go for the best Bonaire snorkeling. If you also want to mix in some diving, check out this guide for the best spots.
Things to Do in Bonaire for Non-Divers
What follows is an alternative itinerary for non-divers, or for divers who need some to decompress. It offers a lot of things to do in Bonaire, but don’t worry, it’s not an exhausting schedule. The itinerary leaves plenty of time for chilling out.
Day 1: South Island
- Sightseeing: Visit the Cargill Salt Ponds and Slave Huts
You can’t tour the salt ponds but they are really cool to look at, even if from a distance. It’s hard to imagine that much salt being extracted from the water. However, there is a sad history to the salt ponds. In the past, much of the work done to build and maintain the ponds was performed by slaves. They were indigenous locals brought down from the northern part of the island and housed with up to 11 slaves in a very small hut. There are two sets of slave huts and some explanatory exhibits on the coast south of the salt ponds. Cost: free.
- Snorkeling: Salt Pier & Margate
This area of the island is loaded with great spots for snorkeling in Bonaire. We loved Salt Pier and Margate. Salt Pier in particular was great because the coral is growing UP the pilings of the pier, offering a great vertical view for snorkelers. And in both locations, we spotted turtles. The shore here is very rocky so you need to be careful with your entrances and exits.
- Sunset Photo Shoot: Back to Salt Pier
Even if you visited the salt ponds during the day, come back about an hour before sunset for a photo shoot. The late afternoon light casts interesting shadows on the piles of salt.
Day 2: East Island
- Sightseeing: Jibe City & Lac Bay
One of the most fun things to do in Bonaire is to hang out at Jibe City on Lac Bay. The bay is on the windy side of the island, providing a great spot for wind and kite surfing. They have a quality selection of gear for rent. And even if you don’t windsurf, you can take advantage of their beach and free lounge chairs to read and drink beer. They also have a restaurant on site that serves great food. The whole place had a nice chill vibe. Cost: $50 for a two hour beginner lesson, $50 for two hours of board rental and $20/hour for stand up paddle boards.
- Swimming & Snorkeling: Lac Bay Swim Platform & Reef
The bay is very wide and shallow. Jibe City has placed a swimming platform deep into the bay. You need to be careful to dodge the windsurfers but it’s worth it to swim out to the platform. And if you are feeling particularly energetic, take your snorkel gear with you. You can swim past the platform all the way to the reef. Beware though- it’s quite far out from shore.
- Kayaking: Northern Lac Bay
There is a mangrove forest in the far north part of Lac Bay. You can take a snorkel and kayak tour with the Mangrove Center. Cost: 2-hour guided tour is $46 and runs twice a day.
Just doing an excursion from a cruise ship? Then check out these DIY shore excursion tips for Bonaire.
Day 3: North Island
- Snorkeling: Petries, Andrea I & Karpata
Snorkeling the north island is one of the best things to do in Bonaire. If you feel the urge, just pull out and try one of the many spots. We did a 1-way snorkel by parking at the Andrea I lot, walking south on the residential road to Petries and then swimming back. Another favorite in this area is the 1,000 steps beach. And don’t miss Karpata, it was one of our favorite spots. For this itinerary, do your snorkel first, then do the sightseeing. The road turns 1-way just after 1,000 steps and it forces you through Rincon and back to Kralendijk.
- Sightseeing: Goto Meer Flamingos, Cadushy Distillery Echo Parrot Sanctuary
At the fork in the road after Karpata, stay left-ish. The road will take you up the coast and then inland to the Goto Meer lake. There, you will find flocks of resident flamingos. The road goes right along the lake’s shoreline and you can pull over at multiple spots to take pictures. Then follow the road straight into Rincon to the Cadushy Distillery. The distillery makes a variety of flavored spirits distilled from local cactus. This is popular with the cruise ship passengers, so go on a day when there isn’t a boat in port, or go later in the afternoon. Cost: Flamingo viewing and booze tasting is free. But Cadushy also sells mixed drinks and bottled liquor. If you are in the area on a Wednesday, you can stop into the Echo Parrot Sanctuary. They offer 5pm tours of their nonprofit conservation facility.
- Hiking & Biking in Rincon
There are a number of hiking and biking trails in and around Rincon so ask Cadushy for the local Rincon valley map. It includes local hikes, biking trails and a scenic drive.
Day 4: Near the Airport
- Sightseeing: Donkey Sanctuary
Donkeys were imported to Bonaire by the Spanish as work animals. Over time, the donkeys were replaced with mechanized transportation and the donkeys were let loose to fend for themselves. This created an overpopulation of underfed donkeys. The sanctuary takes in the donkeys, sterilizes them and gives them a home. They have 600 donkeys living in the sanctuary and when you enter the sanctuary, they will all converge upon your car looking for pets and snacks. I found it a bit overwhelming, Ken loved it and petted all of them. This is one of the goofiest things to do in Bonaire, but it’s well worth it. The sanctuary is open from 10am to 5pm. Cost: suggested donation.
- Snorkeling: Red Beryl & Te Amo
Head back south of the salt pier for a snorkel at Red Beryl. Then come back to the the airport and take a snorkel and a chill pill at Te Amo beach. The coral shelf is very close to shore here and the access is easy from the beach. The beach offers a nice sandy spot to chill out and the Wind City food truck offers cold beer and food.
Day 5: Near Town & Klein Bonaire
- Snorkeling: Klein Bonaire
Klein Bonaire is an island marine reserve located just offshore. The snorkel book mentions quite a number of spots around the island, but unless you rent your own boat, you really only have one option. Catch the Caribe Watersport taxi over to the island. They run it three times a day from the Eden Beach Resort. They will shuttle you over to the island where you can drop your stuff. Then you get back into the boat and tell them how long you want to snorkel for. The boat will then take you the requisite distance south and drop you in the water. You then do a 1-way snorkel back to where you dropped your stuff on the beach. There are no services on the island but it has a nice sandy beach. Cost: $15 per person.
- Sightseeing: Coco Beach and Eden Beach
This is your vacation after all. So don’t forget that one of the most important things to do in Bonaire is to chill on the beach. After your snorkel at Klein you can do just that at either Eden beach or the Coco Beach Club next door. They both have sand, lounge chairs and a bar and Eden beach also has a restaurant.
Sea tutles might be plentiful in Bonaire, but they are indeed endangered. Learn about other endangered animals and global conservation work.
Read More: For more island adventures, check out this guide to San Andrés island in Colombia.
Tips for Visiting Bonaire
- Get a car. It might be a small island, but you still need a car. I rented from Budget and got a compact car that worked just fine. They have a problem with petty theft on the island so don’t leave valuables in your car and don’t lock it. Get a waterproof wallet and take your car key, credit card and some cash into the water with you. Leave your phone in your room, you won’t need it.
- Pay attention to cruise ship days. You may want to avoid Klein Bonaire, downtown or Cadushy on cruise days.
- Self-cater your meals. Eating out is expensive in Bonaire. Many of the smaller hotels and condos have full or partial kitchens. They have some decent VRBO inventory and AirBnB listings in Bonaire for both apartments and condos and you can self cater.
- Choose a great hotel.
- Friendly & Great Location: Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn has a very friendly small hotel popular with divers. Our room was large, had a full kitchen and an ocean front deck. All of the guests converge on the dock at sunset to share cocktails and swap stories. Check reviews and book at Trip Advisor.
- Budget & Breakfast: The Sonrisa hotel is a small, budget place close to downtown but not on the water. It has a fridge and offers a full breakfast. The property is modern, has a nice pool area, is secure and it’s less expensive than many other options on the island. Check reviews or book at Trip Advisor or Booking.com.
- Full Service Luxury: The Bellafonte offers luxury ocean front suites with a dive center and excellent customer service. Check reviews or book at Trip Advisor or Booking.com.
(Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that if you chose to purchase, I’ll get a small commission.)
Essential Gear for Bonaire
You’ll use these six items everyday while in Bonaire so stock up before you go.
The snorkel gear, sunscreen, anti-fog and rash guard may be obvious, but don’t forget them because they are essential for Bonaire. Since it’s best not to lock your car, a waterproof wallet is useful for taking your ID and car key into the water. The Neoprene socks are great because you’ll be entering from a rocky shore and if you try to do that with bare feet, your feet will regret it. The Cactus Juice is a bit less obvious. However, it does a great job as BOTH a sunscreen AND a deterrent to sand flies.
There are so many great outdoor activities and points of interest in Bonaire. Mix and match this itinerary to give yourself maximum snorkel time. Have fun and happy snorkeling.
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