Bonaire-Buddy Dive, Feb. 17-25, 2018
By Ken Kollwitz
There are very few places that a diver can do some fun and rather easy shore dives, boat dives and explore the island they are visiting on their own time and Bonaire fits that perfectly. If you never heard of Bonaire you probably have heard of the ABC islands which are Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire. There is usually much more tourist activity on Aruba and Curaçao then Bonaire but that is starting to change with the many cruise ships visiting the island now. With all the destruction Hurricane Irma caused in the Eastern Caribbean the cruise ships changed course and when you used to only see foreign cruise ships from countries I never heard of you now see Norwegian, Princess and more in the small port tied up to the town pier. How much will this change Bonaire who knows? One thing for sure is it does and will impact the divers going there which I will elaborate on more shortly.
Bonaire is located about 50 miles north of Venezuela and is part of the Netherland Antilles. With the Dutch influence going back many years the island is very safe, the local people are friendly, the mixed culture is more like the Caribbean Islands and the currency that is used is the US dollar. Most of the tourist that visit Bonaire are from the US and the Netherlands. The languages you most likely will hear are English, Dutch and the local language which is a mix of several in one. Sort of like Spanglish but even harder to figure out.
This was our fourth trip back and third staying at Buddy Dive and what makes Bonaire so appealing is that it is great for families, non-divers and singles all with a casual, fun and safe atmosphere. The dive shops will tell you to leave your vehicles unlocked but honestly, I have yet to hear of any problems plus where would the thief’s go plus by stealing they only hurt their own livelihoods.
I do have short story about this which might prove my point. The last full day on our trip we went to a cultural event in the town of Rincon which is about 30-40 minutes from Buddy Dive. After the event we went to eat and I couldn’t find my business credit card. The event was done so I couldn’t really check there. Anyways, after attempting to contact the credit card company I gave up thinking what happens will happen. Later when I returned to our room there was a note slipped under our door. It said my card was found and to go to the front desk. They called the person who had the card and within 10 minutes they showed up with it. I showed my ID, later checking to see if any charges were made to the card and there wasn’t any. Now how is that for honesty! Also, how did they know we were staying at Buddy Dive? I do not know but I am sure grateful for them doing EXCATLY what I would have done and that is to treat others how I would want to be treated.
Anyways, we had a group of 23 people, 4 non-divers and 19 divers staying in a combination of 1 room apartments, 1 studio and 2 room apartments. The apartments work out great because each one has its own common living room and kitchen with another balcony. Within the apartments the rooms also have their own bathroom and balcony giving you some privacy when needed. Having a kitchen really helps on the cost of eating especially as there are some good grocery stores in town and going grocery shopping in a foreign location is sort of an education. To make it even better each apartment gets a truck or van and I believe Buddy Dive is the only resort that does this.
The resort is setup up great and just outside the main part of town making everything close by and some within walking distance. The resort has 2 pools, breakfast area, nicer evening restaurant which I hear mixed reviews on and of course bar/restaurant near the pool where most of the action happens. In my opinion the food at the bar/restaurant also isn’t the greatest but it is convenient. There are much better places to eat in town but most all require a drive. You can find everything so there are lots of choices and my favorite is Pasa Bon Pizza which has recently moved to a new location in town with more seating. The atmosphere isn’t the same but the food is still EXCELLNT!
Weather was windy most of the time and it rained quite a bit (more at night) coming down in buckets. This was the most weather I have seen in 4 trips to Bonaire and because of the surge it did stir up the visibly some and cause the Washington Slagbaai park to close. There is still plenty of non-diving things to do on Bonaire and we enjoyed most of them. Bonaire is setup perfect for touring the island by car. You mainly have the south end and north end. The south end you drive along the water’s edge most of the way passing by awesome beach dives, windsurfers, and a house made of wood pallets, the lighthouse, rock sculptures and the donkey sanctuary. We got lucky on our last day and seen plenty of the wild donkeys roaming along the beach-maybe they were going to go for a dive?
We also went up to the north end driving along the cliffs where a few abandoned houses still sit. After the dive site 1000 Steps the road turns into a one way and at the intersection to go to Gotomer Lake and the town of Rincon is where the large abandoned site of Karpata is. Lots of cool things to check out at Karpata plus some excellent diving from shore. We then proceeded along the road past the large oil storage facility and along Gotomer Lake carefully looking out for flamingos. We did see some and a small yellow bird trying to attack itself in our car mirror. In the town of Rincon on our first trip up north we stopped at the Cadushy Distillery where we enjoyed some tasty shots of liquors, vodka, whiskey and rum. This was an excellent break not to mention we learned how they made the alcohol from the cactus you see everywhere around the island.
We also, went to a cultural event in Rincon learning about the people on the island and ate at a local restraint that was very good and glad we weren’t in a hurry. Of course we knew the national park was closed but we did get to stop and go through the little museum and we met the main park employee who can date his family back to the mid 1800’s. The stories he could tell and if only we had more time to stay and listen. Afterwards we made our way home along the windy side of the island watching the ocean crash over the cliffs. I wanted to get up to Lac Bay but never had time.
Lac Bay is where my wife and I wanted to go for the mangrove/snorkel tour again but with the cruise ships in town we were not able to get a tour that would work for us. I also wanted to do a cavern tour but when I found out there was a rope ladder I figured my wife would have difficulties doing that so we passed. Some others from our group went and it seemed like they had a blast. The tour has some climbing in a dry cavern and some snorkeling in a wet cavern and I can’t wait to see some of the pictures from their tour.
We had 6 boat dives with our package and the shore dives worked out for everyone. I think the best was the Salt Pier especially after waiting most of the week for the ship at the salt pier to get loaded and leave. My buddy Cindy and I did shore dives at Something Special (always a great dive), Aquarius, Tolo and Pink Beach which was very nice. The ones we did all were very easy entries and for the more rugged person
there are plenty others too choose from. One problem we did have due to Buddy Dive taking on more business from the cruise ships was that our group waiting for almost 1 hour extra at the Buddy Dive dock for our boat and crew to get back from the cruise ships. No one was happy about this especially the crew that went for hours without getting time to eat but at least they did us good by spotting a frogfish and seahorse.
Another big change I noticed is the reef all around Bonaire is starting to show signs of aging and wear and tear from divers. At our briefing the first day they mentioned this and it is so much so they do not want any pointer sticks to be used and only reef safe sunscreen plus I see a new specialty in the future-“Buoyancy for photographers using the no hands approach”. Why, because don’t dare even place 1 finger on a dead area of the reef because people are reporting others doing this and when you get back up to the dock someone just might be waiting for you to let you know to not do it again.
The last hurricane to hit Bonaire was in 2008 and the one before was in 1999 so the possibilities of one happening again within the next few years is high which would impact things even more so go now while you can because flights are getting more EXPENSIVE. One thing for sure is if a trip to Bonaire is in your future don’t plan anything till you know the cost of the flight first and are good with the cost. About the cheapest we could find from LAX was $1100.00 round trip on United and Delta had flights for $1400.00 and higher. The other problem with the flights is there wasn’t any red eye flights any longer so you now get there around 3-7 pm.
Other than the cruise ships and the reefs starting to show wear and tear (what place doesn’t) Bonaire was mostly its normal self. There was some new buildings being built and they now have a KFC.
The main thing is depending on what you are looking for in a vacation Bonaire can still be a good value!