Bonaire -- 12/96

Bonaire, the least developed of the Dutch ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao) is a flat, dry, desert-like paradise. Bonaire is about 35 miles northeast of Venezuela and offers some diversity from other Caribbean Islands thanks to the Dutch influence.

This was my first visit to Bonaire and certainly won't be my last. Friends made all the arrangements, I was along for the ride - an unusual situation for me. We were to stay at Captain Don's, a dive resort I've heard about but never seriously considered.

Bonaire Map
It was one of the first developed on the island and I assumed it would be showing its age. The stories I'd heard of an eccentric Don Stewart also gave me the impression Captain Don's was run like a private kingdom. It turned out it is and his colorful ways only adds to the charm. He is not shy about telling guests to eat their peas or to get into the water since after all, isn't that what they came for?

The rooms were villa style with a kitchen, living room and separate bedroom. Also available were family villas with two or three bedrooms, a frequent choice for couples traveling together as well as regular hotel style accommodations.

All things considered, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at Captain Don's. His policy of "Dive Freedom" meant frequent trips on an excellent selection of boats and departure times and no baby-sitting! Divemasters were present on each dive and assisted those who needed it. Absent were guided tours and regulated profiles. Most dive briefings included the request that you be back on the boat "in about an hour". The diving was very easy from the boats and was nothing short of wonderful.

Shore diving on Bonaire is some of the easiest I've ever done and was simply spectacular. The road follows the shoreline and the wall is located very close to the waters edge so in Bonaire a shore dive does not mean a hike and long swim. A rental car or van and a drive along the coastal road marked with stones painted yellow are all that's needed to identify great dive sites. Each portion of the island offers different underwater attractions and topography. The further down the road from town, the more virgin the dive site seemed.

A favorite quickly developed for us just past the Solar Salt Works - Red Slave, named for the oceanside slave huts. Here I found sand sloping to a wall densely populated with corals, sea fans and fish schools.
Klein Bonaire, infamous in the dive community, must be accessed by boat. Since it is located directly across from Captain Don's, not a problem. The night diving at Klein was some of the best the Island had to offer with plentiful shrimp, cuttlefish and even frogfish. I got the impression the ocean life here was larger and healthier, perhaps due to less traffic or different ocean currents carrying nutrients.

From my point of view each dive destination offers something different so I don't usually compare different destinations. I'd rather evaluate a location for what it offers as an overall experience.

Bonaire catered to my photographer's eye. Macro opportunities abound, reef and wall life is plentiful and most dive spots are still virtually unspoiled. The wreck of the Hilma Hooker was a very pleasant dive and the legendary Town Pier did not disappoint as a night dive.

I found plentiful subjects with anemones, seahorses, frogfish, turtles and schools of fish. Even a tail-less eagle ray buzzed by to the envy of some locals who had never seen one.

Bonaire is on my repeat trip list, hopefully before the end of 1997 and I will return to Captain Don's for the "Dive Freedom" and generous selection of dive boats and schedules. I think that says it all!

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1997 John Petrak