Bonaire‘s capital, Kralendijk (say CRAWL-in-dike), is more like a village than a city, which makes it ideal for strolling.
The tongue-twister name comes from the Dutch word koralendijk, which means coral dike. And, there is, in fact, a coral dike, or reef, just off the town’s shore. If you just can’t get your mouth around this word, call the capital Playa, as the locals do.
Before you set off to explore the little town, pick up a map and information at the cruise ship port or at the tourism office at #2 Kaya Grandi.
Start at Fort Oranje on the coastal road, Kaya Charles E. B. Hellmund. This mini fortress isn’t an impressive citadel but its bright color, tower, and location across from the cruise ship terminal make it a striking landmark. The Dutch built the structure in 1639 and it was used as the governor’s mansion until the early 19th century. British troops periodically took control of the island during the Napoleonic Era, but the fort never saw action during the conflicts, and the cannons are actually from a British warship that ran aground on Bonaire’s coast.
Walk north along the waterfront until you come to Wilhelmina Plaza. During cruise season from November until April, the plaza holds an Arts and Crafts Cruise Market. Vendors set up canopies and sell a variety of products, including the locally made tequila-like liquor called tekibon. Several times each year, Wilhelmina Plaza hosts The Taste of Bonaire with traditional foods, drinks, and handicrafts. Check the current events calendar for this year’s dates. Each festival has a theme and often includes live music, dancing, and cultural activities.
A short distance north of Wilhelmina Plaza, the waterfront road becomes Kaya J.N.E. Craane and you’ll find the recently-opened Terramar Mall and the Terramar Museum on your right. The museum is a must-see combination of Caribbean history and archeology. You can make a self-guided swing through the exhibits or take a tour with one of the enthusiastic guides. Plan to spend an hour or so soaking up 7,000 years of island history. Highlights include a 66 foot/20 meter-long timeline illustrated with drawings and photographs, as well as a short video that tells the story of how people moved about through the Caribbean islands over time.
At Sea is the ideal spot for a fine dinner. If you’re feeling adventurous, order the multi-course Surprise Menu. If you’re more cautious, go for one of the two catch-of-the-day choices. Either way, save room for dessert, and again, go with the chef’s Surprise. A table on the terrace will give you a fabulous view of the sea, but you may prefer to eat inside the tiny, historic ChaChaCha house. Reservations are a good idea, but the restaurant also saves space in the bar for last-minute walk-in guests.
It Rains Fishes is set in a renovated century-old building across Kaya Craane from the waterfront. A fresh fish market is inside and you can watch the day’s catch being cleaned just before it’s cooked in the kitchen and brought to your table. The menu is varied and includes several choices under the NO FISH heading. Salads and sandwiches are the main focus at lunch, and dinner choices center on fish specials prepared in a variety of ways. There’s also a limited kids’ menu and early diners can put together a two-course meal from 5 pm to 6 pm at a special price. Call to reserve a table with a view of the sea.
Karel’s Beach Bar 0pens early to get your day started with a cappuccino and stays open late to end your day with cocktails, music, and dancing. It extends out from the downtown waterfront to a covered pier that serves as a meeting spot for locals and visitors. The views are amazing. The service is friendly. The atmosphere is relaxed. Lunch and dinner choices from the vast menu include burgers, pasta, seafood, and snacks.