Things to Do in Bonaire
||Bonaire is blessed with one of the gentlest climates in the Caribbean, with very little rainfall (less than 22 inches annually) and a prevailing easterly trade wind that provides a constistent 15 mph (= 25 Kmh) breeze. Since Bonaire lies at a 90 degree angle to its trade winds, the island's western side (where you'll find all of the snorkeling operations) is always calm and protected. Average year round air temperature is 81.5 degrees Fahrenheit, with a +/- 2.5 degree seasonal variation, and an average daily variation of 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
This small, arid boomerang of an island is a divers' paradise. Skeptical? Read the license plate on your rental car, pal. This isn't just tourist-bureau puffery either: Bonaire really does have some of the best diving in the region, most of it within the Marine Park encircling its shore.
Bonaire has gone to great lengths to preserve its natural resources. Until flippered folk discovered the island, its claims to fame were salt production and flamingos - hardly front page stuff - and Bonaire continues to keep a tight lid on tourist development.
The average daily high stays around 27°C (81°F) all year, and humidity is tolerable, so the best time to go is the low season of May to mid-December when rates come down. Bonaire is out of the hurricane belt so you don't have to figure the big blow into your schedule.
Bonaire's biggest party is Carnival, which features music, dancing and celebrations of the harvest from late February to early March. You can 'jump-up' on National Day, when most of the action happens in Rincon. The week-long October International Sailing Regatta brings a fleet of racers to the bay off Kralendijk.
Fewer than 2000 people live in this sleepy, two-story town, where the main street is a stone's throw from end to end. Although salt has been the island's economic mainstay for centuries, the town's name (Dutch for coral reef) reveals that it's the capital of diving - reefs being to Bonaire what cable cars are to San Francisco. The locals call it simply 'Playa.'
A walking tour pamphlet, available from the tourist office, will lead you on a merry jig to the town's modest attractions. One of the best sights is the 19th-century Fort Oranje (now serving as the Harbor Office) and its adjacent stone lighthouse. The Bonaire Museum is a sweet local affair, housing exhibits on the Caiquetio Indians as well as more recent art, artefacts and household items.
The vast salt pans at the island's southern end are home to one of the largest flamingo breeding grounds in the western hemisphere. The pink wonders flock 10,000 at a time to the sanctuary's 55ha (135 acres). Nearby Witte Pan (Pink Beach) on the southwestern coast is one of the island's few good beaches, though it bears the scars of Bonaire's darker history in the form of cubby-house-sized stone huts in which slaves working the salt pans used to sleep.
Washington-Slagbaai National Park
Created out of the grounds of two former plantations on the northwestern knob of the island, this park contains 5500ha (13,500 acres) of scrub-covered hills, lakes, hiking trails and over 100 avian species. The island's hilly northern extremity culminates in the 235m (780ft) Mount Brandaris, not far from the northwestern shore. The peak is a good place to take in the sweep of the island and the curve of the Caribbean horizon.
Unlike much of Bonaire, the park has some good beaches. Playa Slagbaai on the western coast has bright yellow 19th-century buildings and good swimming; to the north, Playa Funchi has good snorkelling in calm waters full of parrotfish and coral. The park's saliñas (salt pans) host hundreds of flamingos but you're not allowed to get too close.