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Why Go to Bonaire

On Bonaire, the main attractions lie beneath the water's surface. In other words, don't plan a trip to this island unless you want to get friendly with some of Bonaire's magnificent sea dwellers. The oft-overlooked sister island to Aruba and Curaçao, Bonaire is more famous for its impressive diving than its air of exclusivity. To travel to this "diver's paradise" (as the island's license plates boast) without exploring underwater treasures would be a regrettable misstep.

Though any Caribbean getaway promises a welcome retreat from the clutches of your smart phone, Bonaire is less about relaxing and more about adventure. If you're not an avid diver, hike around Washington Slagbaai National Park and admire the breathtaking scenery, or get off the beaten path and bike the island's unpaved roads. It's hard to believe that there's so much to do on an island that only measures 112 square miles. You could see the island in just one day… But would you want to?

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Bonaire Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit Bonaire is from May to October when there are fewer crowds and bargain hotel rates. If you're planning a winter getaway, keep in mind that December through April comprises the island's peak season, when the 80-degree weather yields packed hotels and higher prices. Bonaire's temperate climate and unique location, just north of the equator and safely outside the hurricane belt, poses little threat of tropical storms, no matter the season.

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What You Need to Know

  • Buy a nature tag To enjoy the island's subsea spectacles; you need to purchase a nature tag. Divers must pay a $25 fee, while snorkelers and swimmers must pay a $10 fee.
  • Dive safely "The bends," or decompression sickness, can result from ascending too quickly while scuba diving. To avoid the associated joint pain, fatigue, and dizziness, swim to the surface slowly using your breath bubbles to gauge your ascension speed.
  • The currency is the same The U.S. dollar is Bonaire's official currency, so there's no need to worry about conversion rates. Most credit cards can be used on the island, though American Express and Diners Club aren't as widely accepted as MasterCard and Visa.

How to Save Money in Bonaire

  • Stay for a day Because Bonaire is so small, it's easy to see the coastline in a day with one of the island's tour companies. Taxi drivers are happy to take you on a two-hour excursion for $25 per person.
  • Rent a bike Though a pick-up truck or a Jeep would allow for easier handling of Bonaire's rough terrain, renting a bike is cheaper.
  • Arrive in summer or fall The offseason boasts discounted hotel prices and fewer crowds clogging up the beaches.

Culture & Customs

Defined by its Dutch roots, Bonaire possesses a separate identity from the neighboring alphabet islands, Aruba and Curaçao. Although Bonaire's economy relies on tourism, the island doesn't exude the same air of luxury that the other ABC islands are known for. With more of a rugged feel, Bonaire caters to adventurers and adrenaline-junkies.

Bonaire residents passionately protect the island's breathtaking landscape and underwater life, which means tourists are expected to as well. This means spearfishing, reef-anchoring, and collecting sea shells, sea fans, sand, or any type of coral is against the law. Though it may seem a bit extreme, you'll understand these strict guidelines after seeing how thriving the marine park is.

Food is also a distinct component of Bonaire's culture. In addition to krioyo (local food), you'll taste dishes with Dutch, Indonesian, and Indian flavors, to name only a few influences.

The languages used on Bonaire are as diverse as the island's cuisine. Though the official language is Dutch, English, and Spanish are widely spoken. You'll also hear Papiamentu—a Creole dialect with Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and several African influences—used by locals.

Bonaire's official currency is the U.S. dollar. There is a 5-percent tax on goods and services, and a hotel room tax of $5.50 to $6.50 per person, per day. Bonaire's standard tipping practices are similar to the U.S.; it's typical to leave an additional 10 to 15 percent in gratuity for waiters and taxi drivers.

Though Bonaire is considered one of the safest islands in the Caribbean, be aware of your surroundings and keep track of your personal belongings.

Getting Around Bonaire

The best way to get around Bonaire is by car. Because Bonaire is so small, it's easy to drive the island's entire coastline in just a day. Renting your own set of wheels is also the easiest way to reach most diving spots. If you'd rather leave the island navigation up to drivers more familiar with the road, plan on using Bonaire's fixed-rate taxis. Taxis can easily take you from Bonaire International Airport (BON)—a five-minute drive to Kralendijk—to anywhere on the island. You can also rent a mountain bike if you're planning to spend most of your time within a few miles of your hotel.

There is no ferry service between Bonaire, Curaçao, and Aruba, so any island-hopping must be done by plane. If you're stopping at Bonaire as part of a cruise, note the island's port is located in downtown Kralendijk, meaning top shops and eateries are all within walking distance.

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Entry & Exit Requirements

American citizens must present a passport prior to entry, as well as proof of a return flight or continued travel. When traveling from Bonaire to Curaçao or Aruba , there is a departure tax of $9; for all other destinations (including the United States ), the departure tax is $35. Check with your airline to see if the departure tax is included in your airfare. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. Department of State's website .

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