Traveling around the world with an autistic child like me can be quite a challenge. During the planning phase, my parents always have to take my special needs into account and decide which activities or locations are off limits and which are greenlit.
Recently, we spend a week in Bonaire and mommy and daddy thought this might just be the perfect island for me! And it was!
Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until 2010, when the island became a special municipality of The Netherlands.
With less than 300 square kilometers and a population of about 20.000 inhabitants, Bonaire is one of the smallest islands we've visited. But despite its size, Bonaire has such an abundance of beauty and memorable activities that we simply had an amazing week and wished we could have spend just a few days more!
So what is surely not to be missed? What makes Bonaire so awesome and how did I do? Did you know that there are '55 Great Things To Do in Bonaire' advertised? But let's break it down for you and present our own '10 Best Things To Do In Bonaire'!
1. DIVING AND SNORKELING
Bonaire is surrounded by well preserved coral reefs that are easily accessible from shore. It is of little wonder therefore that Bonaire is regarded as one of the top dive and snorkeling destinations in the world! Of course I don't do either, but mommy and daddy do and I just love to tag along. This is not always easy as there are many dive operators that refuse to take kids along, especially kids as demanding as me. Thankfully, mommy and daddy found Tropical Divers and they came up with the perfect solution. Daddy went into the water first while mommy stayed with me on the shore. I had a great time playing with the sand and washed up corals. When daddy was done, they simply switched turns.
Snorkeling however, can be just as exhilarating as diving in Bonaire. One of the best snorkeling sites in Bonaire is Wayaka 2 in Washington Slagbaai National Park (see our number 10). We went into the water on several days and I found the perfect spot to enjoy my time while mommy and daddy looked at the countless tropical fishes below the water surface: sitting safe and sound on daddy's back!
2. KLEIN BONAIRE
About 800 meters from the coast lies the tiny, uninhabited islet Klein Bonaire. Every day, private and commercial boats take tourists to the islet where they can enjoy diving, snorkeling or simply relax on the beach. We went there by watertaxi from Kralendijk and I loved every minute of it. Take note: when you visit Klein Bonaire, pack plenty of food and drinks with you if you intend to stay for a substantial amount of time on the islet as there are no vendors or restaurants located.
3. CLIMBING MOUNT BRANDARIS
Mount Brandaris is exactly 241 meters high and is the highest point of Bonaire. The mountain lies in the middle of Washington Slagbaai National Park, which encompasses almost the entire northwestern area of the island.
Hiking Mount Brandaris is not easy, no matter what various sites and travel-blogs claim. There are some truly challenging parts making your way up, from cactuses on the trail to steep climbs on rocks.
Despite this, mommy and daddy made it while I was safely hoisted up on mommy's back in the child carrier. The greatest part? Overlooking almost the entire island from the peak!
4. CLIFF JUMPING
By far the best known spot to do some adrenaline-inducing cliff jumping is Boca Slagbaai in Washington Slagbaai National Park. Mommy and daddy both jumped while I was playing at the shore. I will wait a couple of more years before I decide to follow them on these kind of thrill-seeking activities!
5. SALT PANS
Bonaire has a long history of salt production and until this day, the southern part of Bonaire is partly dominated by huge salt pans. At several spots along these pans, a salty foam forms which looks like snow on pictures and video. It was a lot of fun to play with it, although it felt a little bit strange and funny.
Slavery played a part in Bonaire's past and near the salt mines several slave huts are preserved for historic purposes. These were build in 1850 and served as camping facilities for the slaves. Thankfully, slavery was abolished not long after.
6. FLAMINGOS AND WILDLIFE
Flamingos appear on many images related to Bonaire and it's not strange why. Bonaire simply has a lot of flamingos and the coolest thing is: they are protected by law! So you are most likely to catch a glimpse of them from the road, but entrance to nesting grounds and such is clearly prohibited. We were lucky enough to get pretty close to a flock while driving around Washington Slagbaai National Park and they were beautiful!
But besides flamingos, anyone visiting Bonaire is going to encounter many lizards, including large iguanas. These can be extremely beautiful, with bright blue coloured tails.
But we simply loved wild donkeys. Yes, donkeys that just walk around the island, almost always in pairs or groups. You'll see them along the road or passing you on a trail as you hike.
Kralendijk is the capital city and main port of Bonaire and has about 3000 residents. The development of the city goes back to the 17th century and its name is derived from the Dutch 'Koralendijk' which translates to 'coral dike'. The town has highly characteristic architecture, with the brightly coloured houses being the most iconic eye-catcher. The harbour and boulevard are lively with great spots to have something to eat. If you're lucky, you can even get some fresh fish from the fishermen.
8. DRIVING AROUND THE ISLAND
We highly recommend anyone going to Bonaire to rent your own car. Driving around the island is extremely easy. The roads are good (mostly) and there isn't much traffic. In fact, there isn't a single traffic light on the entire island! In order to make the most out of our driving adventure in Bonaire, we rented a pick up truck. This provided us with just a bit more comfort when driving on unpaved roads, especially in Washington Slagbaai National Park. I love driving and exploring Bonaire was a blast! We saw Boca Omina, Sorobon Beach, Lac Bay, 1000 Steps Beach, ancient Indian rock carvings and so much more! Of special note is a visit to the Cadushy Distillery in Rincon. Here a special liquor is made from cactus! Of course I'm way too young to drink it, but the green bottle mommy and daddy bought seemed like a perfectly fine toy to me... Ah well...
Ok, we don't really have that much to say about caves, simply because we only got to see a few of them on the outside. The truth is: I find caves a bit scary at the moment. The darkness that surrounds you, the trouble in estimating the distances in front, above and behind you... It's just too unpredictable and tense for me right now. But for anyone traveling to Bonaire: check out the caves! There are underwater caves that are supposed to be spectacular and we wouldn't want anyone reading this article to miss out on them!
10. WASHINGTON SLAGBAAI NATIONAL PARK
We already mentioned Mount Brandaris, snorkeling at Wayaka 2, flamingos and cliff jumping, all to be found at Washington Slagbaai National Park, but since there is so much more to see and do in this huge ecological reserve, we felt it only fitting that the park deserves its own entry. From gigantic waves bashing on cliffs on the east-side, to stunning vistas, the park will put you in a state of amazement while your there. Take note: the entry is 45 USD per adult and free for children under 12 years of age. But if you are planning to dive you'll need to get a special tag for 45 USD and you can use this tag -plus your dive registration card- to enter the park for free!
One of the most impressive things to see in the park -and surely not to be missed- is the Suplado Blow Hole, a cliff where massive waves hit the surface and water is spewed out of a hole in cliff wall.
So that was it: our 10 best things to see and do in Bonaire! Hope it will inspire you while planning your upcoming trip.
To conclude this article, I would like to tell you all where we stayed and how it went. We stayed at Tropical Inn Resort in Kralendijk, just a few minutes from the airport. Tropical Inn has its own dive center, two pools and some very nice apartments. I had a great time and best of all: I learned how to swim a bit on my own! Now isn't that cool! :)
Until our next trip!