VISITING BONAIRE – welcome to the Diver’s Paradise of Bonaire! The moment you arrive you’ll sense the tranquility of the island and the absence of crowds, and you’ll be amazed at the clear waters and the spectacularly easy diving and snorkeling – much of it just a few feet from the shoreline! Bonaire is a small island, part of the Netherlands Antilles (an autonomous state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands) located just 50 miles off the coast of South America, and outside the Caribbean’s “hurricane belt.” Bonaire is home to approximately 20,000 residents, and the island’s culture is a wonderful mix of European, Caribbean, African and American influences. The island is well-known for nature conservation and environmental protection.
Bonaire definitely has its own unhurried island rhythm and way of life. It’s important to keep in mind that things will be different – after all, that’s why you’re going on vacation! – and that you shouldn’t expect things to run exactly as they do “back home.” Be assured that visitors are most welcome, and that you will be treated with warmth and friendly hospitality during your stay. Papiamento, Dutch, English and Spanish are widely spoken on the island.
Bonaire is on Atlantic Standard time (the same as the Eastern US during daylight savings time, or one hour ahead of the East Coast during standard time. Bonaire does not observe daylight savings time).
DOCUMENTATION – U.S. citizens are required to have a passport to re-enter the USA, so you’ll need a valid passport to travel to Bonaire. Citizens of other countries please check with Bonaire immigration with any questions regarding entry requirements: +599 717-6880. Please be sure that you are carrying correct documentation.
FLIGHT INFO – airlines sometimes make changes to flight itineraries, and it is VERY IMPORTANT that you verify your flight times prior to departure. International flights require check-in at least 2 hours prior to departure. If you miss a flight, immediately contact the airline to arrange another flight!
CUSTOMS AND IMMIGRATION – there are now no immigration forms required for US/Canadian citizens. Carrying any contraband, like guns or drugs, is a very bad idea (Bonaire’s drug laws are NOT lenient, as in the Netherlands). Visitors are allowed to bring 2 liters of liquor and 2 liters of wine (though both are available on the island, of course). There is a US $35 cash exit tax that’s now included in most airline tickets.
TRAVEL INSURANCE – We always recommend spending a little more and buying travel insurance to protect you against financial loss in case of emergency or unplanned circumstances. Things happen: you or a family member gets sick and you’re unable to travel at the last minute (and hotel/dive packages are almost never refundable once paid for). Weather prevents you getting to the airport and you miss your flight, and you have to buy another ticket. You miss a connection and arrive two days later than planned. An airline cancels your flight, and you incur unplanned hotel expenses. An emergency back home forces you to cut your trip short. Your luggage is lost and you have to buy new clothes to wear. You get sick and have to go the hospital, and your home insurance doesn’t cover all your expenses. All these and more happen every single day, and travel insurance would cover these circumstances. Check what the policy covers before buying, of course – travel insurance isn’t perfect, but the more expensive and the more complex the trip, the more important it becomes. Travel packages can cost thousands of dollars, and route deviations can get very expensive. Please protect yourself in case of emergency!
TRANSPORTATION – Getting to your hotel: transportation from the airport to your hotel is normally included in your package (we’ll go over this with you at the time of booking). Your package may include a rental vehicle, and we’ll tell you in advance whether you should pick the vehicle when you arrive at the airport, or whether it will be waiting for you at your resort.
There are a few taxis on the island, but rental cars are much more common. Vehicles come in all shapes, sizes and states of repair. IMPORTANT – Check the vehicle from top to bottom in the presence of the rental agent before you drive away, and note any existing damage, scratches, missing equipment, etc. on the rental form: you will be held responsible for any additional damages when you return it (including flat tires!) We recommend buying the local insurance offered with your rental. If an accident occurs you’ll be glad you didn’t try to save a few bucks.
If you have connecting flights through Curacao, if be sure to print your boarding passes for your connecting flights in advance, so that you can travel as an “in transit” passenger and won’t have to officially enter & exit Curacao.
WEATHER – Usually balmy breezes all year, with rare dips into the 60s in the winter. Normal high temperatures in the summer (April-November) are about 90F, and in winter (December-March) about 80F. Nighttime lows are usually about 10 degrees less. The wind is easterly more than 95% of the time, with an average wind speed of 15-20 mph (making Bonaire a windsurfer’s paradise!) Bonaire is a desert island, with average annual rainfall of 20 inches (about half of that falling between October through January). Important: the sun is very strong and sunburn can happen in minutes – you will need sunscreen!
LUGGAGE – Important – airlines may charge you for checking bags! AIrline policies differ and change frequently – if you are unsure about your airline’s baggage charges check the airline’s website, or we’ll be happy to assist. Most airlines enforce a 3 bag limit, including one carry-on that must fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you. Checked bags are usually limited to 50 pounds each. Dress on Bonaire is generally casual and informal (however, beach wear is not appropriate downtown. Some items to remember: several swimming suits, shorts and tropical-casual wear, comfortable shoes, flip flops, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, windbreaker or light jacket. As a safety precaution, don’t pack your valuables in checked luggage (or just leave non-essential valuables safely at home!) Airline security regulations prohibit using locks on your checked baggage – instead, use tie-wraps to secure them.
MONEY – Most people spend US $75-100/day, allowing for eating out, cocktails, and shopping, but you might bring extra. Credit cards are accepted in most stores and restaurants. There are ATMs on the island. If you use traveler’s checks, keep a record of their serial numbers in a safe and separate place. The local currency on the island is now the US Dollar.
TIPPING – much as in the USA (and of course, tipping depends entirely on the quality of service you receive). Dive boat personnel: $10 or more for a two-tank dive; a few $$ for a one-tank dive boat (usually paid to the divemaster, who will split the tips with the rest of the crew.) Some people prefer to tip daily, since boat crews and divemasters may change from day to day. Many people in the tourism industry depend almost entirely on your tips to earn a living… if you’re pleased with the service, consider tipping a bit extra. Some restaurants on the island automatically add a 10-15% service charge; ask if you are unsure.
CRIME – you’re safe walking around on the island most anywhere, anytime. Still, take sensible precautions… as you would anywhere. Don’t leave valuables lying around, don’t flash large amounts of cash in public, and lock your hotel room doors (use the security pins or bars in the doors, if provided). Your hotel has a safe-deposit service for your valuables – take advantage of this service, for your own peace of mind, even if they charge you a few bucks a day. NEVER LEAVE VALUABLES IN YOUR UNATTENDED RENTAL CAR, especially while you’re shore diving in a remote area! A rental car is an easy and tempting target, especially while you’re underwater for an hour. Plan your shore diving expeditions well; don’t bring unnecessary items so you’re not leaving anything at risk in your vehicle, and leave your rental car unlocked so you send a very clear message that the vehicle contains nothing of value.
ELECTRICITY – 127 volt, 50 cycle: that’s a bit different than in the US, though you won’t need a plug adapter. Most US appliances (hairdryers and radios, for example) will work fine, though they may run a bit hotter. Voltage spikes can cause problems with more sensitive equipment, especially older laptop computers and battery chargers that don’t have built-in adapters that can moderate variations in electric current (check the voltage input specifications on your equipment – if you see something like “Input: 100-240V ~ 50/60Hz” you’re generally safe to use your charger). Dive shops and resorts offer charging stations for recharging camera batteries (and your laptop, if you must bring it on vacation!) – feel free to use them with your sensitive equipment.
MEDICAL & CHAMBER FACILITIES – Bonaire has hospital facilities and full medical and dental care are available. There is a hyperbaric chamber adjacent to the hotel (admittance via the emergency room entrance). The telephone emergency number for ambulance service is 114.
EATING & DRINKING – The water’s distilled from sea water, and perfectly safe to drink. The food on Bonaire is excellent and not necessarily expensive, though island prices may be a little higher than what you’re used to at home. You’ll find food of every kind on the island, from seafood, burgers, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, and almost anything else you can think of. Fresh seafood is abundant, naturally; fresh vegetables and salads less so. You’ll find a variety of restaurants and watering holes located at the island’s resorts and in the downtown area. Enjoy!
SHOPPING – Bonaire is not known for extensive shopping opportunities as in some Caribbean ports, though there are several stores downtown offering duty-free goods. Many of the resort properties on the island offer kitchen facilities, and having some groceries and drinks on hand can be fun & very convenient (and can save you quite a bit on restaurants!) There are large and well-stocked grocery stores. Stores may close for a couple of hours in mid-afternoon, and close entirely or just open for a couple of hours on Sundays, so plan accordingly!
WILDLIFE – Bonaire has a fascinating variety of animal life, including wild goats, iguanas, parrots and parakeets, and still a few wild donkeys.
CASINO – Plaza Resort and Divi Flamingo both have casinos. Good luck!
PROBLEMS – Staff at the hotels and dive shop will be able to help you resolve almost any problem that comes up. If you’re unhappy with your hotel room for any reason, tell the front desk or manager and ask them to resolve the situation (they can’t help if they don’t know you’re unhappy about something!) For serious situations, emergencies, or assistance with problems you can’t resolve locally, call us at Bay Adventures (Miami) at +1-305-892-4280 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. IMPORTANT: if you believe you are being charged unfairly for something, get a receipt and the name of the person who insists on payment – otherwise there is no recourse for getting your money back!
COMMUNICATIONS – Hotels offer cable TV, with several channels in English including CNN, ESPN, Disney, and others. Internet service is available at most hotels. Telephone service is good on the island, and direct dialing is possible from most resorts (though calls from your hotel room can be expensive – several dollars a minute, depending on where you’re calling). Your US or Canadian cell phone may or may not work on Bonaire; check with your carrier first.
Here are some useful phone numbers. For local calls on the island, dial only the 7 digit number. To call Bonaire from outside the country, dial 011-599 then the local 7-digit number.
THINGS TO DO – when not eating, drinking, sunning, napping, diving, or telling “big fish” stories… Bonaire is not only a Diver’s Paradise! There are many other eco-adventures available, including windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, mountain biking, parasailing, bird-watching, and cave and cavern exploration. Take a day trip to Slagbaai National Park, the mountainous northern section of the island (go early, there’s no entry after 3pm). For any and all activities, just ask the friendly staff at your hotel or dive center and they’ll point you in the right direction.
AND A FEW MORE SUGGESTIONS –
Use our advice as a starting point for your own exploration, and you’ll find that friendly people, great sunsets, exhilarating diving, and the beautiful waters of the Caribbean are only the beginnings of a great vacation.
HAVE A GREAT TRIP!
Bay Adventures Inc. | P. O. Box 530745 Miami Shores, FL 33153-0745 | 888-599-3483