ABC ISLANDS, CARIBBEAN: Bonaire with Kids – Situated deep in the Southern Caribbean, just fifty miles off the coast of Venezuela, Bonaire is part of the island string known as the “ABC Islands” of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. With its pristine reefs, Bonaire has long been known as a diver’s paradise.
It’s one of the best places in the world to experience diving right from shore, without the need for a boat. But it’s only in recent years that non-divers have discovered the treasures this 113-square mile jewel of the Caribbean has to offer. As you might expect, Bonaire has incredible places to snorkel with kids from shore as well.
If you’re looking for a Caribbean destination where your family can gently push everyone’s water sport comfort levels–maybe even have the kids learn to scuba–Bonaire may be just the place. The uncrowded beaches are surrounded by turquoise water. And the best part? The trip doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. The island’s airport is served by weekly flights on United from Houston and Newark and on Delta from Atlanta, with most flights priced around $500 round trip.
If this sounds like the ideal family vacation to you, here are my recommendations for 4 great things to do, 1 incredible place to stay, and 1 yummy place to eat when you vacation in Bonaire with kids.
Activity 1: Snorkel at Tori’s Reef, Windsock, or Andrea 1
Great shore diving means there will also be great snorkeling at Bonaire. Free maps are available on the island with the best sites for diving or snorkeling marked. Most of the island’s car rental companies will provide one for you. You then just match the site names on the map to the yellow painted rocks as you drive along the coast roads. It really couldn’t be simpler.
Tori’s Reef is one of the easiest shore-entry snorkeling and diving spots on the island, great even for beginners or those with open-ocean jitters. The entry point is via a small canal that maintains the flow of seawater to the nearby salt pans. Step down on three or four large rocks straight into the canal, which is slightly protected from the waves that roll at other sites.
Snorkeling is good both in the canal and along the shore just beyond the canal in both directions. Advanced snorkelers can make the swim over the sandy bottom to the reef just off shore roughly 25 feet below the surface. Expect to see turtles, eels, rays, and an abundance of fish.
Windsock is a lengthy beach across from the airport. It’s one of the best swim and snorkel beaches on Bonaire. Entry into the water is easy anywhere along the sand beach, which has some great shady spots. The beach is very popular with divers and will be crowded on days when cruise ships are in port, as well as on Sunday afternoons when locals barbeque with friends and family.
Many maps don’t show the site called “Andrea 1” as a snorkeling site, only a dive site, making it perhaps one of the best kept snorkeling secrets on Bonaire (click here to see it on a map). Access to the site is via a paved road through a gated community. The entrance from the coast road is well marked. You drive to the bottom of the hill below the homes (some of which are vacation rentals) where you will find a small sandy parking area. Park around the edges, careful not to hog too much parking space.
Your entry into the water is easiest at the yellow stone marker for divers, roughly thirty yards north of the parking area. Good water shoes or booties are recommended here as well as at most Bonaire sites because of sharp rock outcroppings. Upon entry, turn toward your left and snorkel along the shallow reef, looking for octopus, seahorses, and turtles.
TIP: There are no facilities at most of the diving and snorkeling sites. Pack a picnic or at least snacks and drinks in a collapsible cooler. And don’t forget to reuse one or two-liter drink bottles by filling them with tap water that you can warm on the roof of your rental car while you snorkel– creating a quick “shower” afterward.
Activity 2: Blow Bubbles While Learning to Scuba
Ready to push beyond snorkeling for a closer look at life under the surface? Dive Friends Bonaire has a plan for almost everyone, ages five and up, making an introduction to diving a snap even for children. Well-trained and friendly instructors and dive masters make everyone feel right at home, both in the water and at the five Dive Friends locations scattered conveniently along the island’s coast.
Certified divers in your family can purchase week-long air packages that allow pick up or drop off of tanks at any of the locations. Gear rentals are available for everyone. You can even rent a digital underwater camera to record your family vacation memories under the sea.
Activity 3: Cruise the Shore of Bonaire in a Rental Boat
Bonaire Boat Rental is a fun way to see the island from just off-shore. Choose to water ski, wakeboard, ride a tube, or just sightsee in a speedboat. Keep a keen eye on the waves. The island’s resident dolphin pod may pop up right alongside your boat for a little sightseeing of their own. Be sure to bring a picnic and plenty of drinks. And don’t forget your snorkeling gear; you never know what the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean may have waiting for you.
Activity 4: Escape to Bonaire’s National Park
The Washington Slagbaai National Park is the place to explore hidden beaches, see the wild east side of the island, with its blow holes and tide pools, and admire stunning views from atop the island’s highest points.
The sheer size of the 14,000-acre park makes it feel almost uninhabited as you wind your way over the rough roads between points of interest that include historical structures and fascinating geological formations. Short trails lead beyond the roads and parking areas to view the blow holes, the lighthouses, and the beaches.
A camera with a good long lens may be the best piece of equipment you take on this trek. Photo ops include native parakeets, flamingos, and wild goats. Other than that, take food and drinks, plus your always-ready snorkel gear for a day of exploration. Click here to see the park on a map.
1 Great Place for Families to Stay on Bonaire: El Pueblo Villas
What would qualify for a most amazing place to vacation on Bonaire with kids? How about your own private pool and breathtaking views of the ocean? El Pueblo Villas #9 and #12 each offer three bedrooms, full kitchens, private pools, and endless views. The kitchens are fully equipped, allowing you to save money by preparing at least some of your own meals. Local grocery shopping is easy, with several full-service grocery stores, as well as small markets and bakeries to choose from.
The villas are located a few miles north of the city of Kralendijk in a private and quiet community. The villas perch atop cliffs, but access to the shore for ocean fun is a short drive away.
Prices during the peak season (mid-December to mid-April) for a family of four start at $2,400 per week. Summer is low season, so you can take advantage of even lower rates and include Grandma and Grandpa for a multi-generational week of water fun.
1 Great Place For Families to Eat on Bonaire: Capriccio
Between picnicking at the beach and home-cooked meals at your villa, treat yourself to at least a few meals out. An elegant, yet kid-pleasing option is Capriccio. You can’t go wrong with pizza and spaghetti, right? Mom and Dad can choose from the extensive authentic Italian menu and extensive wine list. The location is perfect for enjoying the buzz of life in town in Kralendijk near the cruise ship port and views of the waterfront.