Bonaire Cruise Port

Port of Bonaire: An Overview

Shy pink flamingos, gentle sad-eyed donkeys and elusive sea turtles all share something quite rare in today's world. They flourish on or around Bonaire, one of the ABC isles (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) deep in the Southern Caribbean. Each lives in sanctuaries set up by island residents who boast an awareness and level of conservation that few countries can match.

Though ecotourism is one of the latest buzzwords in the travel world, Bonaire, just 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, was a world leader in the field of ecology long before the term was even coined. The island's greatest claim to fame is proudly touted on its license plates -- "Divers Paradise." This is no tourist-bureau puffery, although many believe that the license plates should read "Nature Lovers Paradise." Beyond the diving and snorkeling, there's windsurfing, kayaking, bird watching, kite boarding, fishing, mountain biking and horseback riding.

Many Caribbean islands brag about their underwater worlds, but Bonaire has set the standard by which everywhere else in the world is measured -- it led the way by protecting sea turtles back in 1961, banning spear-fishing in 1971, making it illegal to remove live coral in 1975 and establishing the first marine park in 1979. It also helps that the island is outside the traditional hurricane zone and is a desert island with no river runoff into the sea.

It has been called "Arizona by the Sea" for its climate and abundance of cacti. There is no rainy season and temperatures are consistently pleasant with lows in the 70s and highs in the 80s. Unlike its better-known neighbors, Aruba and Curacao, this isle of about 20,000 residents is quiet and laid-back. There are no flashy Las Vegas-type casinos as in Aruba or a showy pastel-colored capital city as in Curacao.

The first recorded Bonaire scuba diving began back in 1962 when Don Stewart, a would-be California actor, dropped anchor on this small, arid boomerang of an island. Considered the father of Bonaire diving, he was the first to use fixed moorings to prevent coral damage and helped set up the Caribbean's first island-wide underwater park. He has received numerous international awards for his conservation efforts. The park is a United Nations Environmental Program Model Marine Protected Area.

Port Facilities

You'll be docked in downtown Kralendijk, the capital of Bonaire, off Kaya C.E.B. Hellmund. Shopping, dining, bar hopping and even snorkeling and diving are within walking distance of the dock. You will pass through Harborside Mall, a small open-air shopping center, to get from the pier to the street. There are public restrooms here, but they cost $1 to use. Just outside of the center, you can find taxi and tour operator stands for independent exploration.

Don't Miss

Flamingo spotting: These tall pink birds can be found in the north at Gotomeer, a saltwater lagoon inside of Washington Slagbaai National Park, which serves as a popular flamingo hangout. At the southern end of the island is one of the more unusual preserves -- a flamingo sanctuary in the midst of the solar salt works. Massive mounds of blindingly white salt -- ironically waiting to be loaded on ships to melt ice on northern roads -- are next to the 135-acre sanctuary for the delicate pink birds. Today, thanks to careful conservation efforts the colony is flourishing. The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is one of only four places in the world where flamingos breed, and while visitors aren't allowed inside, you can spot them with binoculars from the road.

Bonaire National Marine Park: The waters surrounding Bonaire and nearby Klein Bonaire (a five-minute boat ride from the capital) are all part of the marine park. Everyone who will be using the park needs a Marine Park tag. It is available at all dive shops and includes admission to Washington Slagbaai National Park. There are 86 marked dive sites, and many are also excellent for snorkeling; the majority are accessible from shore -- look for the yellow painted rocks with dive site names. If you are lucky you will spot a sea horse or a sea turtle. Guided diving and snorkeling can be arranged through dive shops. Try Captain Don's Habitat (yes, that's the Don Stewart), Divi Flamingo Resort or Plaza Resort.

Donkey Sanctuary: The sanctuary is just 10 minutes from Kralendijk near the airport, and down the road from Bachelor's Beach. It is the brainchild of Marina Melis, a Dutch woman who has had a lifelong appreciation for donkeys. Distressed to learn that many donkeys had been abandoned, she set up the refuge with her husband in 1993, where more than 600 donkeys now live -- all have been named and receive loving care. There are usually a couple of babies on hand, and visitors can help feed the donkeys. Bring fruit or bread for a special treat for the animals. (Kaya IR. Randolph Statius van Eps, Kralendijk; 599-956-0767; Open daily, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Donations welcome.)

Go Fish: Go reef, deep sea or bone fishing with Captain Chris Morkos, who has been fishing Bonaire for more than 40 years. Half- and full-day trips are available through Piscatur Fishing Charters. Everything is supplied including tackle and bait. Pickup at the ship pier is included. Captain Chris speaks fluent English, Dutch, French, Spanish and the regional Papiamento. (Kaya H. J. Pop 4, Kralendijk; 599-717-8774)

Washington Slagbaai National Park: Bonaire's national park occupies the northern tip of the island and is a wild, undeveloped park with diving and snorkeling sites, the highest peak on Bonaire (784 feet), a lighthouse and bird watching (including flamingos). Pickups, vans and Jeeps are best for driving on the rough roads. The drive from where your ship is docked takes about 35 minutes. (599-788-9015; open 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Entry must be before 2:45 p.m.)

Lac Bay: This bay, a protected cove on the east coast (a half-hour from port), is ideal for windsurfing. Novices will find it especially comforting since there is no way to be blown out to sea. Lessons and rentals are available. Sea kayaking is also here and guided tours of the mangroves are offered through Bonaire Windsurf Place and Jibe City.

Visit a local ranch: The Rancho Washikemba at Kunuku Warahama, also known as Horse Ranch Bonaire, offers two trails for horseback riding: one goes to the beach with a stop for swimming, while the other goes to the mangroves and flamingos with a stop at the caves. Morning tours of the ranch are available from 9 to 11 a.m., and again from 3 to 5 p.m. The ranch is a 15- to 20-minute drive from the cruise port. (Kaya Noorwega 1; 599-788-8668; rides by appointment)

Terramar Museum: Terramar is the passion project of Dutch archaeologist Ruud Stelten, and documents 7,000 years' worth of Southern Caribbean history. Housed in a greatly renovated historical building more than a century old, the museum's exhibits tell a story of indigenous tribes, slavery, colonialism and life on the island and surrounding islands. The museum is within a short walking distance of the port; spend about 45 minutes here exploring both levels (there are arrows that take you throughout the entire museum). A discount on the $10 admission can be found by grabbing coupon vouchers at downtown vendors like It Rains Fishes restaurant. (2 Kaya Isla Riba; 599-717-0423; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Sundays)

Getting Around

On Foot: Across from the pier is Wilhelmina Plaza. On cruise days it becomes the Bonaire Arts and Crafts Cruise Market with local artisans offering native foods, handmade wares, original art and clothing for sale. Cultural dance shows, concerts and other entertainment are held here during the day.

It is an easy walk of just a few minutes to shops and restaurants along the Waterfront Promenade and Kaya Grandi, the main shopping street, one block inland.

By Taxi: Taxis are readily available. Rates are set to various destinations, and you can tour the entire island for $40 per person. Local beaches, the Plaza Resort and Harbourside Village are $20 round trip for up to four people. Popular Sorobon Beach (by Lac Bay) is $40 round trip for up to four people.

By Rental Car: There are a number of car rental companies in Bonaire, but roads are narrow and what used to be one-ways are now two. If you plan on leisurely driving, let other vehicles go around you and stay alert for passing cars and motorbikes. Roads are generally well paved and well-marked, but if you will be driving into Washington Slagbaai National Park, you will need a truck or a Jeep since conditions are rough on unpaved roads. Daily rentals are harder to come by, and more expensive, so arrange yours in advance. Motor scooters and motorcycles are also available for rent as well as bicycles.

Beaches

Don't expect Aruban-style stretches of wide dazzling white sand. Bonaire's beaches are small but there are 22 of them; the shore is mostly coral and rock outcroppings. The best hotel beach is at Harbour Village Bonaire or Flamingo Beach at Divi Flamingo Beach Resort. (If you tire of lying in the sun, the island's only casino is nearby.) Take the southern scenic route to Pink Beach with good snorkeling and scuba diving. Lac Bay/Sorobon Beach is the windsurfing beach. No Name Beach on Klein Bonaire is accessible via water taxi. There is no shade, so be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat and water, but there is good snorkeling from the beach and turtles are often spotted.

Food and Drink

Look for lionfish blackboard specials when in Bonaire -- they are an invasive (and tasty) species to the island. For something truly regional, sip on some cactus, whether it's in a soup or a cocktail. Tekibon is the national drink of Bonaire -- liquor similar to tequila -- extracted from the yatu cactus.

There are a number of popular restaurants along the Waterfront Promenade within a couple of blocks of the ship pier, including Karel's Beach Bar and It Rains Fishes.

Zeezicht: For sea views, Zeezicht is one of the oldest restaurants in Bonaire and serves local specialties including iguana soup, conch cocktail and fresh fish. (Kaya J. N. E. Craane, Kralendijk; +599 717 8434; opens daily at 3 p.m., closing times vary)

Bonaire Blond Brewery: There are a handful of sports bars where you can find a cold beer, but at the Bonaire Blond Brewery along Kaya Grandi, they make their own. (Kaya Grandi, Kralendijk; +599 701 6161; 3 p.m. to midnight)

Food trucks: For a truly special lunch with a view, venture a few minutes south of downtown to Kite City or Cactus Blue. These are two of Bonaire's venerated food trucks, and sitting along the oceanfront, toes in the sand, it will be hard to have a bad meal at either.

Good to Know

Bonaire, like Curacao, is known for being a bit windy. Don't expect gale-force winds, but there are ample breezes for excellent windsurfing.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The U.S. dollar is the island's official currency. ATMs are available at local banks downtown, the supermarket, Harborside Mall and several resorts.

Language

The official language of Bonaire is Dutch, but Papiamento, the local dialect of the ABC islands, is widely spoken. "Masha danki" means thank you very much in the language. English is spoken by most locals.

Shopping

Shopping won't take long because there aren't many shops in Kralendijk, but there are handmade ornaments, paintings and artwork from local artists at the arts and crafts market in Wilhelmina Plaza. The Bonaire Gift Shop (Kaya Grandi 13) has a little bit of everything and the salt shop -- where you can find salt for your dinner or your bath -- is next door.

For unique jewelry, try Elements Bonaire (Kaya Grandi 26) or Littman's (Kaya Grandi 33-35). Littman's also has the best collection of resort wear, T-shirts, fine watches and custom-designed gold and silver jewelry. All are downtown at Harborside Mall and along Kaya Grandi, the main street.

Captain Don's book "Adventures of Captain Don: Tales of Bonaire Diving (Guaranteed 85% True)" makes a fun keepsake, as would "Island Adrift," a DVD about the exploits of Captain Don. Captain Don died in 2014, but his legacy lives on around the island. The book and movie are available at Captain Don's Habitat, north of town.

Top Supermarket, the biggest supermarket on the island, is just a few blocks from the cruise pier. It's a must-visit for Dutch cheese, chocolates and other treats. (Bring your own shopping bag -- none are supplied.)

--By Deborah Williams, Cruise Critic contributor; Updated by Brittany Chrusciel, Associate Editor

  • Bonaire: Adventure of the Seas
    maurmanfinnegan
    We rented a car to drive to Flamingo's, salt flats and Soborano beach. Directions, roads not in good shape. We saw Flamingo's drove back to town and turned car in. Took a cab to beach for lunch and quick dip in water. Would not recommend. ... Read more
  • We booked a tour outside the ship and it was great. We opted for an island tour and got to explore the many areas of Bonaire. We visited 1000 steps, which is actually only 80 steps, the flamingo habitat, the salt mounds, and the old slave houses. ... Read more
  • We rented a car and were able to explore the whole island. It is the most beautiful little island we saw. It is flat and very dry, therefore you'll see lot of cactus. Arrived at Gotomeer to see beautiful Flamengos in their natural habitat. The solar ... Read more
  • Bonaire: Carnival Sunshine
    wcarlton62
    rented golf carts would not recommend them unless you have all day they are slow and Island is big. Went snoekling right off beach and it was great wish we would have had more time. ... Read more
  • Bonaire: Celebrity Equinox
    davesmom57
    We are not big on snorkelling and since this is what Bonaire is noted for we opted to just tour the shopping area off the ship. It was not a huge area, but did give us some walking time. We took advantage of an empty ship and enjoyed our day ... Read more
  • Took a water taxi (Cheers) to the Kline Bonaire. It's fantastic over there, but there are zero facilities. If you want to snorkel or dive, I think Bonaire is the place to go. You get your gear, walk into the water and fish are everywhere. The ... Read more