Cruising to Bonaire? Tips to help you enjoy your stay.
Customs & Immigration
This is the easiest check-in ever! And it’s free! The office is right near the cruise boat terminal.
The US dollar is the currency of choice in Bonaire. There are several ATM’s to withdraw cash, but we found the MC Bank was the most reliable. There was a $4 service charge per transaction at the machine and then your bank will likely add another $5 charge again. Visa is also commonly accepted at most stores and restaurants.
There are approx. 42 moorings with about 16 of these being for smaller boats. Not all moorings are created equal though. Some are large cement blocks, while others are screw in anchors. Our preference was definitely having the cement blocks for our heavy boat.
On each mooring, there are two mooring lines on red/white floats. You will need two lines on bow cleats to tie to these mooring lines. We looped our boat lines down through the mooring loop, back to the cleat, and back down through the mooring, and back to tie to the cleat. We found this method reduced chaffing on our lines with less pressure per line and better holding strength.
The lines from the floats to the anchor (whether cement blocks or buried anchor) will chafe over time, so you should check them regularly. The marina will supply you with new lines if needed, but you will likely have to change them yourself.
We liked the mooring we were on, right in front of the Yellow Sub Dive Shop, since we found it the most convenient (most of our shore visits were going to Yellow Sub). All moorings are directly over the reef, so it’s easy to dive right off the back of your boat and enjoy the underwater sea life. The sound of divers traveling under your boat is quite common.
If there are no moorings available when you arrive, you will need to go into the marina until one becomes available. There is absolutely NO anchoring, anywhere in Bonaire.
We arrived in mid December, just before the Christmas winds kicked in. Cruisers that had been there before us indicated that the winds were fairly light for the previous 3 months. Winds from December through the end of February were higher, with high teens to mid twenties on average, with at least one rain shower each day. Once March rolled in, the winds became lighter and precipitation basically stopped. This brought the sand out to the boat, covering it on a rusty looking dust. This kept us busy washing down the boat to keep it clean. Don’t leave your windows or hatches open in either period.
The March winds are more settled making a passage north/east much more tenable. For boats continuing west, it doesn’t make much difference.
The winds are generally from the east, so the moorings are fairly well protected, or as good as they can be behind a basically flat island.
We found the Digicel store on the Main Street in Kralendijk provided the best deal on data at the time we were there. We could buy 18gb of data for US $32 for 30 days, and we could roll over whatever wasn’t used in the next month. Best deal we have found EVER. The staff in the store were always very helpful.
We didn’t frequently dine out, but we did find a few favourite dining spots that we are happy to recommend.
1. Blenies - Top on the list, as we visited at least 7 time in the three months we were there. They are located at the Buddy Dive Resort, next to Ingredients. Every Friday they have an all you can eat buffet with pig on a spit, roast beef, salmon, and loads of salads for $24.50pp (cash only). The rum punch flows FREE from 5:30 - 6:30, and there is live music and dancing, if you like. Always a good time. It is recommended that you reserve a table at least 3 days in advance.
2. La Tarezza - located on the Main Street in Kralendijk, they are only open Mon-Fri. This is a no menu restaurant. You pay for however many courses you want. Each course is $6 or $10 if paired with wine. They ask you if you have any allergies or serious dislikes and will stay away from these. Outdoor dining in an elegant atmosphere.
3. It Rains Fishes - located right on the water. We went here for Valentines Day dinner and thoroughly enjoyed it. A little more pricey, but very good food.
4. The Bistro - located in the marina. They have $8 hamburgers on Wednesday’s with happy hour from 5-7. The food is good, but the service can be quite slow. This was a regular cruisers get together on Wednesday’s.
5. Antillies Wine Company - Located across the street from the Warehouse grocery store. Not really a restaurant, but they have a once-a-month wine tasting on the second Saturday of the month. For $10 you get 6 tastings and they do supply light snacks. We suggest that you bring some snacks with you if you haven’t had dinner before going. It starts at 7pm, and if you want to ensure you get a seat, arrive on time. This is all outdoors, so bring bug spray.
6. El Mundos - located on the Main Street in Kralendijk. This is a great place for sporting events like the Super Bowl. It’s pub style food, and it’s not bad, but it’s more about the atmosphere for such events.
If there is one thing that needs improvement, from a cruisers perspective, it is the insufficient or complete lack of adequate dinghy landing areas. The marina has a designated area for tying your dinghy, but it is very narrow and getting worse each day as the bushes grow over it. There might be room for six dinghies, but even that’s a stretch. The Budget Marine Store tried to provide a small floating dock along the main wall, but even that broke while we were there. If you want to park at Karels Restaurant on the water, they will charge you $5 for the privilege, and then you can watch as your dinghy is destroyed under it. There is the Fisherman’s dock, which can be tenuous at best with the sharp metal edges under the end. The Yellow Sub Dive Shop Dock is for use of their customers, and really can’t accommodate much more than three dinghies at a time. So you see, it can be quite a challenge to go to shore and spend your money!
1. Food stuff - the largest grocery store is the Van Den Tweel. There is a free shuttle that runs from the marina to here on Tuesdays and Fridays at 5pm. Walking is doable, and we did more often than not. It’s about a 2.5km (1.5 mile) distance, but the advantage is that you can stop at many other supermarkets along the way. We found the Warehouse was the best for price, but you might not get everything you need. The Bondi Gro (cash only) is another good one for frozen food like beef tenderloin and shrimp although they also have many other items and even an electronics section. We had a hard time finding Anchor butter (our personal favourite brand), but we managed to locate some at the Sunshine Market. All of these stores can be found along the same street within a kilometre.
2. Dive gear - there are more dive shops than food stores in Bonaire. If you can’t find what you need here, it doesn’t exist! If price is your main concern, the Caribe Inn and Dive is the place to go, although the selection is not as vast. The staff at Dive Friends, which is associated with Yellow Sub, has a good selection and Sam is very knowledgeable. To learn to dive or do guided dives, the staff at Yellow Sub are great. If you have your own tanks, they will fill them cheaper than if you use their tanks. There is no cost difference for air or nitrox and you can buy prepaid packages that will save you even more. You can also store your dive gear in their secure gear rooms to hang and dry rather than bringing it back to your boat. They have rinsing tanks and a shower as well.
3. Other stuff - the Bonaire Super Store is located just down the road from Dive Friends Retail and has just about anything you can imagine from plastic containers to appliances and electronics. Fish Eye Photo is good for camera stuff and chargers, located behind Yellow Sub just to the east. If you need help with a small stainless project, or some other machine shop type project, Max at the Muffler King (not like the one in North America) is a good source. Addo’s Book Store, located along the same road as all the supermarkets, is the best place to purchase the Dive Bonaire guide.
This is really what it’s all about in Bonaire. Whether you are a seasoned diver, someone who wants to learn, or anything in between, Bonaire is a great place to be! By the time we departed, I had logged more dives in Bonaire than all previous dives combined. In order to dive or snorkel, you need to purchase the Marine park tag ($25 for the year). The paper receipt you get with the tag will provide entry into the national park (so keep track of it).
There are over 90 marked dive sites and it’s tough to find a bad one, but we did manage to pick a few favourites.
1. Leonora’s Reef (X)
2. Capt. Don’s Reef (K)
3. Small Wall (25)
4. Andrea I (23)
5. The Cliff (26)
6. Salt Pier (49)
7. Angel City (44)
8. Yellow Sub or Something Special (32) basically right under all the moored boats.
9. Joanna Sunchi
10. Oil Leap
We rented a pickup truck for around $60/day from Caribe Car Rental, also located on the same street as all the grocery stores. A truck is needed if you want to do the National Park at the north end of the island. Remember to bring your STINAPA receipt so that you won’t have to pay an additional entry fee. Some of the farther dive sights are easier to access by vehicle than by dinghy and the rental place will provide a rack for dive tanks to go in the truck bed.
Some of the other things to do or see on the island (other than diving) if you have a vehicle are:
Washington Slagbaai National Park
Donkey Sanctuary (we didn’t get to this)