With the holiday break a few weeks away, people are scrambling last minute to find travel destinations. Admittedly, winter travel can be hectic and pricey, but the key to finding deals (and keeping your sanity) is to look for the less popular destinations. But less popular doesn’t mean boredom; these are places that aren’t on people’s radar, and that’s a good thing. If you are thinking about heading to Cabo, Cancun, St. Martin, St. Barth’s, or any of the more well known travel destinations, you will find yourself short on accommodation options and long on paper required to book what little inventory is left.
But what about escaping to an island that averages 82 degrees year round and is so tranquil and uncrowded, there are no need for stop lights? The same island has some of the best and most pristine waters in the world. I’m talking about the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire, 50 miles north of Venezuela and one-third of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao)– the perfect antidote to holiday fatigue.
Because of its relatively dry climate and location outside the hurricane belt, you’re nearly assured 365 days of sun, which translates to beach time on your holiday vacation. Speaking of beaches, you have your choice of powdery white sand beaches or rocky shore beaches across the island. The beaches are easy to spot, just look for the yellow markers around the coastal roads. Part of Bonaire’s beauty also lies in the fact that the entire 112 square miles of Bonaire, its native wildlife and the waters surrounding the island are a protected marine reserve to 200 feet below sea level by their government. Bonaire was the world’s first country to enact these protections in 1979 and has always been a leader in sustainable tourism, with 40 percent of the island running on clean energy. There are no large chain hotels on this quaint little island, and even lesser traffic, so be prepared that this paradise could quickly become your go to vacation spot.
WHAT TO DO:
Scuba Diving and Water Sports
Any article about Bonaire would be remiss not to begin with SCUBA diving and water sports, after all this is what Bonaire is known for. The island earned its moniker “Diver’s Paradise” honestly. With 24 miles of lee coast, this island offer some of the world’s best snorkeling, SCUBA Diving and windsurfing. The water is so clear and clean, its not uncommon to see the bottom of the ocean from a dive boat. If you are a certified diver, Bonaire has some of the best shore diving in the world. Load up your gear in your Jeep, head to a beach and walk right in! Diving not your thing, many boats offer snorkeling excursions. No dive experience required, just jump in the water from the dive boat with your snorkel gear.
If you’re looking for a nice sandy beach, try Lac Bay. Crystal clear shallow water with lots of beach activity and windsurfing. Grab a lounge chair at The Beach Hut, and which is a favorite of tourists and locals for their food and drinks at the beach side locale. Coco Bay Beach, another good sandy beach, is to located downtown but once you’re on the beach, you feel miles away from everything. CocoBay has a full service restaurant with beach service that is perfect for relaxing.
Not a diver, not a problem, there is plenty to do out of the water. At 112 square miles, you can tour the entire island in a day, or just meander around locally with plenty to do.
Head over to Kaya Grande, which translates into Main Street in English. As the name indicates, this is Bonaire’s main drag where you’ll find just about anything you want or need. Pop into some of the local shops to explore. Elements has some of the most unique and exquisite jewelry; many pieces are handmade, one of a kind, and truly affordable. There are art galleries, clothing and souvenir shops, but if you are on a baecation, then you won’t want to miss Cigar Emporium Bonaire. This shop carries all your man’s favorite Cubans (or yours), be it Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, it’s all here, along with liquor and Cuban coffee, it’s a win for all the grown folks.
Not too far from Kaya Grande, you’ll find the Bonaire Arts and Crafts Cruise Market, an outdoor local artisan craft market with all things made in Bonaire. Shop while listening to local music, grab a bite from a food vendor.
Mangazina di Rei The government has refurbished the oldest building in Bonaire, the King’s Warehouse (c. 1824) in Rincon, where the slaves used to come to gather provisions. It now serves as the cultural museum of Bonaire. Walk through the island’s rich and storied history, and experience the culture up close. Sample traditional dishes, play the drums, blow a conch shell, or learn how to make a cactus fence. It’s a good one stop island overview.
Due to Bonaire’s arid climate, salt is Bonaire’s chief export. After church on Sundays during slavery, the slaves would walk 7 hours from their “homes” in Rincon to the salt flats to begin their work week. These cramped huts, which are not tall enough for the average adult to stand upright, were used as sleeping areas and places for storing personal belongings for the week until the slaves made their return walk home on Fridays.
The Donkey Sanctuary
If you’re an animal lover, don’t miss this. It will be your new happy place. The Spanish brought the donkeys over to help with hard labor, but once slavery ended, the donkeys were no longer useful. Donkeys don’t fare well on their own, and many were found sick or maimed. As the name implies, this place provides a safe haven for the donkeys of Bonaire. You can ride through the park in your car, but make sure to buy a bag of carrots to feed the donkeys. I never had so much fun being surrounded by a bunch of jackasses! https://donkeysanctuary.org/en/
Courtyard By Marriott Bonaire Dive Resort. There are no large chain hotels on the island, so if you are looking for the comforts of home, look no further. Admittedly, Courtyard and resort don’t traditionally go hand-in-hand. But this is not your typical Courtyard Hotel, it’s a resort; one of 3 Courtyard’s select service resorts worldwide. The resort is a complex of multi colored buildings reminiscent of old island charm with a dive shop connected to the hotel. The resort is home to the island’s only BLT Burger, which doubles as the hotel’s seaside restaurant. With a spa room, and bespoke events such as a weekly Dinner on the Dock (a sea to table dining concept on the hotel’s wharf,) an infinity pool and lush beds with pillow top mattresses, this definitely isn’t your mama’s Courtyard. And because we’re getting you there on a reasonable budget, the prices are affordable, and you won’t compromise luxury.
Delta and United offer non-stop flights from Atlanta and Newark respectively, check with the airlines as direct flight schedules vary depending on days. Other routes may take you through Aruba, the A in the ABC Dutch islands. Aruba is the polar opposite of Bonaire, it is larger and more commercial island, with more things to do. If you want to break up your trip, this is a great option. Grab a room Aruba Marriott Resort and Stallaris Casino, a beachfront resort that caters to fun and relaxation. Escape to the adult pool for tranquility or try your luck in the hotel’s casino.