Bonaire is best known as a spectacular destination for divers. But the top reason for visiting Bonaire is the opportunity for complete relaxation on a totally authentic Caribbean island with a laidback vibe. You won’t find chain stores or cookie-cutter restaurants serving fast food. You’ll have plenty of leisure time to explore the island, enjoy a waterfront dinner with someone special, or simply hide out in a hammock with a good book and icy drink. Another Bonaire draw: it is quite affordable compared to other Caribbean islands.
Bonaire is a small island — you can easily drive the coastline in an afternoon, but it’s more fun to explore the 112 mil²/290 km² island piece by piece. Most visitors are on a return trip, and most are primarily interested in watersports, such as diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing. No worries, however, if you don’t want to spend all your time in the sea — Bonaire is ideal for solo escapes, romantic adventures, and relatively inexpensive family jaunts.
The US dollar is the official currency on the island, and the majority of residents speak a range of languages, including Dutch (the official language), Papiamentu (the native language), and English. All visitors must have a passport, but citizens of the USA, Canada, Europe and most South American countries are not required to have a visa.
Scuba diving is the number one activity on Bonaire, and the island ranks among the world’s best destinations for both unrestricted shore diving and drift diving. Divers enjoy clear visibility of pristine corals, canyons, and vertical walls. Bonaire National Marine Park surrounds most of the island and protects a profusion of corals and sea creatures.
Bonaire is family friendly, and children older than 10 can join a junior SCUBA certification course. In addition to water sports, the island offers an assortment of land-based activities for all ages. Each member of the family will want their own camera to snap close-ups and selfies at the goat farm and donkey sanctuary. Even the youngest folks enjoy watching the pink flamingos and other bird species that hang out in Washington Slagbaai National Park and Goto Lake.
Eco fans and adventure seekers like exploring Bonaire’s many caves and kayaking through mangroves at Lac Bay. Since dark, coarse sand and shells cover most of the island’s beaches, a day trip out to the white-sand on Klein Bonaire is a must. Water taxis make the half-mile trip out to the idyllic uninhabited island several times a day for swimming, snorkeling, and castle-building.
The lazy little town of Kralendijk is the capital and home to most of the island’s 16,000 residents. It is a charming place with Dutch Caribbean architecture, waterfront restaurants, distinctive shops, and a popular outdoor market. Except when a cruise ship docks at the port, you can stroll the uncrowded streets and visit the town’s two museums. Happy hour at City Café is the place to mix with locals, and the late night crowd hangs out at Karel’s or Little Havana.
Bonaire is a year-round destination, but the best time for budget travelers to visit is from April to August. This is when you’ll find lower prices and fewer crowds.
Temperatures can reach the high 80s during the summer, but the island is cooled by constant trade winds, and the humidity is usually low. In addition, since the island is located just off the northern coast of South America, it is outside the hurricane belt, so there’s little chance of a tropical storm.
Many travelers prefer to visit between January and March, and the weather is excellent during those months, but accommodations are more expensive then, and you’ll find fewer discounts on everything from tours to airfare. Be aware that the island is particularly busy during Carnival, which takes place sometime in January or February.
Even if you’re not a scuba diver or snorkeling fan and the thought of an island vacation makes you yawn with boredom, you can easily spend a week in Bonaire.
Off the beach, you can explore the island’s wild side, browse the shops for duty-free treasures, join the locals at cafes serving Caribbean cuisine, and read a best-seller in the shade of a palm tree while sipping an icy tropical drink.
Fall is an excellent time to visit. The snowbirds haven’t arrived yet, and you can still pick up a good deal on a hotel room. Beginning in December, you’ll pay top dollar for accommodations, tours, and airfare. If you plan to visit during the winter, make reservations well in advance to take advantage of any early-booking deals.
Between April and August, hotels offer lower room rates, and since Bonaire is outside the Caribbean hurricane belt, you can plan a vacation there during the summer.
As with all Caribbean islands, Bonaire’s busiest times are during school holidays and the annual Carnival, which takes place in January or February, just before Lent.
Bonaire is just off the coast of Venezuela, a bit north of the equator. The year-round air temperature averages 82°F/27.8°C, water temperature holds at about 80°F/26.7°C.
Because it sits near the center of the earth, Bonaire has about 12 hours of daylight throughout the year.
New Year’s Day January 1st
Carnival Monday (varies yearly)
Good Friday (varies yearly)
Easter Monday (varies yearly)
Queen’s Birthday April 30th
Rincón Day April 30th
Labor Day May 1st
Ascension Day May (varies yearly)
Bonaire Flag Day September 6th
Antillean Day October 21st
Kingdom Day December 15th
Christmas Day December 25th
Boxing Day December 26th
Click here for a current calendar of events.
Bonaire is on Atlantic Standard Time, four hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time: GMT-4. The island does not observe Daylight Saving Time.
Click here for the current time in Bonaire.
Think summertime casual when you pack for a trip to Bonaire.
Daytime temperatures will average 82ºF/28ºC, so bring lightweight clothes, such as shorts, t-shirts, swimsuits with a sarong or cover-up.
Nights may be cool, so women will want to bring a light sweater or wrap; men will need a lightweight windbreaker or sweater.
Be sure to bring comfortable shoes: one lightweight walking shoe or sneaker and sandals or flip flops.
Evening wear for women includes sundresses and slacks. Men will need long pants and a collared shirt for restaurants and clubs.
It’s handy to have a small backpack or beach bag, a refillable water bottle, and an electrical adapter if your devices are not geared for 120V.
Don’t forget sunscreen and mosquito repellent, and an anti-itch cream, such as Afterbite. If you plan to snorkel or dive, it’s handy to bring your own mask and water shoes.
The US Dollar is the official currency of Bonaire.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $25 per person
$$ => Tickets $25-50 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50-100 per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $100-250 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $250 for a double
$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $15-30 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $30 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $50 per person
$$ => Tickets $50-100 per person
The US dollar is the official currency for Bonaire.
To convert other denominations, click here.
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh. But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Airlines flying to Bonaire from Europe and South America include:
KLM, Delta Airlines, United.
Airlines flying to Bonaire through Aruba and Curacao include:
Divi Divi Air
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping. There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Money Saving Tip: Costco, because of its behemoth size and price negotiating power, offers great low prices for most major car rental companies. Yes, you need to purchase an annual Costco membership first, but it more than pays for itself with what you”ll save with a typical week”s car rental (i.e. searches turn up a mid-size car through Costco for $225 and a comparable car through another aggregator for $325.)
Did You Know: Budget Car Rental offers drivers residing at the same address (i.e. unmarried partners or BFFs) complimentary extra driver coverage. Other car rental companies charge upwards of $10/day.
Hopefully, your trip to Bonaire goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs? Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical — Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage. Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
The US dollar is the official currency for Bonaire.
To convert other denominations, click here.
If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash back” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the island. Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state or out of country. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access. Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:
For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than- stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server. In many places, servers work for below minimum wage and live mostly on tips, so consider the ramifications of your tipping decisions. To complicate matters, some restaurants are moving to a no-tipping model in which service is included. The verdict isn’t yet in on whether this new model will stick, so be sure you understand the tipping policy at each restaurant you visit.
Oh, and one more complication: Sometimes a tip is automatically included. But at least it will be itemized in plain sight on the bill.
Most bell staff receive $1-$2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5-$10.
Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2-$3 per day and about $5 per day in higher end properties.
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets, or simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Current etiquette calls for $10-$20 per person, per day for concierge help. Car valet staff expect $1-$2 for delivering you your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. Local grocery and drug stores will be cheaper than tourist shops for all of the above.
It’s fairly easy to get to Bonaire. Flamingo International Airport (BON) has a long runway to accommodate wide-body aircraft, and international carriers continue to add service. Delta and United fly nonstop from the US (Atlanta, Newark); KLM flies nonstop from Amsterdam. Local carriers InselAir, and DiviDivi Air Lines fly nonstop from Curaçao, and Aruba Airlines has service to and from Aruba.
All visitors must have a passport and a return or ongoing ticket, but American, Canadian, European and most South American citizens are not required to have a visa.
Airport Departure Tax
Unless your airline has included the tax in the price of your ticket, you will be required to pay an airport tax before you check your luggage when you leave Bonaire.
If your final destination is Curaçao, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius, Saba or Aruba: US $6/ANG 10. There is an additional security tax of US $1.40/ANG 2.50.
If your final destination is to any other other location: US $34/ANG 60.10.
Children under 2 years old do not pay airport tax.
Several international and local rental car companies have cars available for pick up at the airport. A few agencies are off-property and will bring your car to you when you land. It’s best to reserve ahead, especially if you prefer a particular type of car. If you plan to haul SCUBA gear or explore off-road ask for a pickup truck or jeeps. You’ll need to present a valid driver’s license and a major credit card at the pick up counter. Most companies require drivers to be at least 23-25 years old. Expect your car to be standard transmission, unless you request automatic at an increased rate, and be sure to verify that the car is air conditioned before you drive away.
Motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles are an economical way to go, and there are a number of rental shops on the island. Ask at your hotel reception desk for nearby outfitters.
Rules and Reason
Drive on the right side of the road and observe the international road signs. The speed limit is 60 kilometers per hour in the countryside and 40 kilometers per hour inside urban areas. Watch for donkeys, goats, bikes, and walkers on the roads.
Taxis wait at the airport and cruise ship dock for arriving passengers. You can call a cab by dialing 599 717 8100 or ask your hotel or restaurant to make the call for you. Rates are set by the government based on distance.
Water taxis run every day except Sunday from Kralendijk’s Town Pier to Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited island and nature preserve. You don’t need advance reservations to hop aboard for departures at 10:00 am, noon, and 2:00 pm.
Just the Facts
After the termination of the island group known as the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, Bonaire became a public body within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Capital: Kralendijk (population 3,061)
Island Population: 16,541 (2012)
Size: Approximately 24m/39k long and 7m/11k across at its widest point.
Languages: Dutch (official) Papiamento (local language used in casual settings), many residents also speak both English and Spanish
Location: 30m/48k from Curacao; 86m/129k east of Aruba; 50m/80k north of Venezuela
Currency: US Dollar
Use the same good manners you use at home.
Do greet residents with a hello or say Bon Bini, the standard greeting in Papiamentu, the local language.
Don’t ask a question or ask for directions without first saying hello. Be respectful and friendly.
Don’t try an accent, and skip the street slang. You’ll just sound silly.
Do wear a cover-up over your swimsuit everywhere except on the beach or at a pool.
Don’t go topless or nude. Some islands have designated resorts or beaches for that sort of thing. Otherwise, it’s illegal.
Do put a towel down before you get into a taxi wearing a wet swimsuit.
Don’t snap a photo of anyone without asking permission. Ask someone on staff before taking a picture of merchandise in a shop or outdoor stall.
Do tip appropriately, even generously. Most service providers count on tips as a major part of their salary.
Don’t complain about things that cannot be fixed: the weather, the price of food and other imported products, slow internet speed.
Don’t wear combat-type clothing or fabric with a military print.
Do accept “island time.” Relax. Breathe. Forget schedules. Expect delays.
The majority of residents speak a range of languages, including Dutch (the official language), Papiamentu (the native language), and English. Papiamento is used in casual settings and many residents also speak both English and Spanish.
Watch a dive vacation on YouTube
Get a good driving map here
Find current information, travel deals and event listings on the Official Bonaire Website