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A tiny island with an arid landscape, Bonaire is a municipality of the Netherlands in the southern Caribbean Sea. Together with Aruba and Curaçao, it makes up the ABC Islands that lie off the northwest coast of Venezuela. Boasting beautiful bays, mangrove forests, and a coral reef teeming with marine life, the island is famous for its watersports, including scuba diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing. Beyond its water activities, Bonaire—with temperatures that hover consistently at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 C)—delights visitors with other outdoor recreation such as hiking through the desert hills and birdwatching in the national park. With a less exclusive attitude than Aruba’s Oranjestad or Curaçao’s Willemstad, the capital of Kralendijk offers unpretentious hotels, lively beachside eateries, and quaint boutiques along the shopping street of Kaya Grandi.
The island—just 24 miles (38.6 km) long and at most 5 miles (8 km) wide—is split into 2 cities, the capital of Kralendijk to the south and rural Rincon to the north.
Kralendijk — Making up the largest part of the island, Kralendijk is Bonaire’s resort destination, centered along the central-western coast. The majority of the hotels sit right along the beach and can be reached within 5 minutes of the airport. Colorful architecture dots Kaya Grandi and Kaya Gob. N. Debrot, along which you can find island-style shopping, energetic music venues, and restaurants with an emphasis on traditional Caribbean flavors. The Terramar Museum displays a collection of artifacts, photos, and interactive exhibits that highlight 7,000 years of Caribbean history.
Rincon — Sitting on the north end of Bonaire, Rincon is the more rural part of the island, serving mostly as a gateway to Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Here, lodging options are extremely limited, though you can find a small selection of snack bars and eateries around the intersection of its 4 main roads. Popular attractions in the area include the Echo Parrot Sanctuary, the Cadushy Distillery, and the Mangazina di Rei Cultural Park. The last—a site dating back to the slave days of the 1800s—now serves as a museum dedicated to the nature and history of Bonaire, as well as how it evolved during and after slavery. On the last Saturday of every month, the museum hosts a cultural market with live music and local food.
Once you’ve soaked in the natural beauty of Bonaire, immerse yourself in the region’s significant history with a trip to see the slave huts on the southwest coast of the island. Built during the mid-1800s, these tiny homes served as camping facilities for the slaves who worked in the salt pans, collecting and shipping one of Bonaire’s biggest exports. With permanent homes in Rincon, the slaves would hike 7 hours every Friday from the south to the north end of the island to spend Saturday with their families before walking back down the next day. Rent a car or join a tour for a drive down the coast to see these homes and gain a better understanding of this dark yet important time in the island’s past.
See many of Bonaire’s must-see sites with a half-day tour to some of the most popular spots on the island. With a local guide leading the way, travel to historic landmarks like the government mansion and defensive cannons in downtown Kralendijk. Continue south along the brilliant Caribbean Sea, passing by pink-sand beaches, white salt mounds, and sparkling lagoons with nesting flamingos and turtles. Next, head north through Rincon before winding to the top of Seru Largu hill for views over Kralendijk and Klein Bonaire island.
To explore the lesser-known side of Bonaire, join a tour for a journey along the rugged eastern coast of the island. From Kralendijk, travel over rocky dirt roads to the Spelonk Lighthouse and ultimately a system of spectacular caves. Here, deboard your vehicle for a walk inside the caves to see the ancient hanging rock formations and the well-preserved drawings left by the indigenous people. Next, a drive through the desert landscape brings you to the “Longest Tree of Bonaire,” a weird yet wonderful tree that has grown horizontally along the sand. Admire a field of unusual boulders from the top of Bara i Carta hill before returning to central Kralendijk.
Of course, no visit to Bonaire would be complete without a trip to see the otherworldly scenery of Washington-Slagbaai National Park. On a scenic hike with a guide, traverse dusty trails past towering cliffs, dramatic blowholes, and habitats of flamingos and parrots. Along the way, you can stop to swim or snorkel at the one of the picturesque beaches before sitting down to enjoy a picnic lunch. Cap off your tour with a hike to the summit of rocky Brandaris hill. Upon reaching the top of the small mountain—the highest point on the island—you’re met with views of the Caribbean that stretch in all directions.