“Untouched” is often a word you’ll hear used to describe Bonaire—and it’s well deserved. While tourists often flock to its neighboring islands of Aruba and Curaçao, the easternmost island of the “ABC” trio is also the least developed. That’s made possible by a series of governmental initiatives to keep out large chain hotels and preserve natural sanctuaries like the island of Klein Bonaire, which is part of the Bonaire National Marine Park and serves as a turtle nesting ground.
Rich in marine life, the reef-lined island is a scuba and snorkeling paradise, offering nearly 100 dive sites to choose from and over 50 coral species brimming with life. The cuisine, architecture, and music of Bonaire are reflective of its residents’ diverse backgrounds, producing a medley of Spanish, African, Dutch, and Portuguese influence around the 112-square mile island. Bonaire’s capital seafront city of Kralendijk is the pastel-colored home to open air markets, museums, and mural filled walls.
Read on for some of the best things to do on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire.
1. Watch for (and respect) wildlife
Bonaire has a population of less than 25,000, and there are ample opportunities to immerse yourself in its natural surroundings and wildlife, from the protected Marine Park, to desert landscapes and salt water flats that are home to its pink national bird, the flamingo. View one of the island’s most social residents at two local sanctuaries, including Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire.
Avid bird-watchers can book a personalized tour with Bonaire Bird Photography Tours, including an in-depth experience to spot the lora—a yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot—out in the wild. The island’s colorful underwater world includes three globally endangered species—the green turtle, queen conch, and mangrove trees—all found on the protected inlet of Lac Bay in the southeast. “Here on Bonaire, we live close to nature and in harmony with it. All you have to do is sit quietly, open your eyes, and look around you. There’s a plethora of animal life surrounding you: birds, fish, lizards, colorful butterflies. They are all patiently waiting for you to notice them,” says Susan Davis of Bonaire Bird Photography Tours.
2. Explore colorful downtown Kralendijk
The colorful, traffic light–free capital of Bonaire is bustling with bars and restaurants and is home to events such as the Taste of Bonaire and annual Grand Karnaval Parade. Take a self-guided Street Art & Street Food Tour by car or scooter from Bee Caribe, or discover popular street art sites throughout town, including a flamingo made out of recycled marine waste by Dutch artist Maria Koijck and local schoolchildren.
There’s also the Bonaire Arts and Crafts Cruise Market, which features island-made products like coconut earrings and scented bath salts. Grab a juicy burger at chef Thamara van der Vlugt’s Cactus Blue Food Truck or try Brass Boer, an oceanfront bistro serving fresh dishes like roasted watermelon with yuzu, and grilled snapper with artichoke, celery, and smoked bacon.
3. Catch some air in Bonaire: Learn to windsurf or landsail
Bonaire’s signature trade winds and calm warm waters make windsurfing a popular pastime. Head to Sorobon Beach and sign up for a lesson at Jibe City, then grab a drink at an island favorite, Hang Out Beach Bar. “Some of the world’s best windsurfers are from Bonaire and they are passionate about sharing their knowledge and experience with others,” says Donna Hudgeon of Bonaire Landsailing Adventures, whose blokarts are capable of sailing up to three times the wind velocity at two inches off the ground, propelled only by the wind. “Landsailing is an up and coming sport and Bonaire hosts the largest purpose-built blokart landsailing track on Earth, located right on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. And don’t forget kiteboarding! Get down to Atlantis Beach for your first session. Bonaire has excellent instructors and ideal conditions,” Hudgeon adds.
4. Sail the sea
Some of the best things to do in Bonaire are on the water. Set sail with a number of tours around the island, including a catamaran ride and snorkeling through sparkling coral reefs with Epic Tours. At Karel’s Beach bar, water taxis are available to go to sandy havens like Klein and Coco Beach. Pack a picnic and snorkel gear for the ride. For a highly curated on sea experience, Melisa Sailing offers a luxury wooden sailboat ride excursion with a six-course chef’s tasting menu and unobstructed sunset views.
5. Taste the global and local cuisine
Bonaire’s growing gastronomic scene earned it the title of a Culinary Capital in 2022 by the the World Food Travel Association (WFTA), which chooses destinations based on five criteria: culture, strategy, promotion, community, and sustainability. From food trucks to chef’s tables, you’ll taste Bonaire’s global flavors of recipes from Italy, Japan, and the Caribbean.
Try to get a highly coveted reservation at the 16-seat Chefs, or savor local dishes of slow-cooked goat stew at Posada Para Mira or lionfish burger from Cactus Blue Bonaire. Another signature dish on the island is guiambo, a soup made of okra and seafood that is reminiscent of a bowl of New Orleans gumbo. For a different kind of spirits experience, Cadushy Distillery offers tastings of liquor distilled from cactus and award-winning rum.
6. Visit historical sites and natural wonders
Salt pyramids, naturally drawn from the sea and dehydrated by the sun, are present all around the southeastern end of Bonaire. Cargill solar salt facility is based among the pastel colored salt dunes, and the area is full of flamingos that consume food that the saline ponds produce. You can view the birds at Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary, one of only four areas in the world where flamingos breed.
Also important to note is the role slavery played to create these island’s famous salt flats and economic advancement as a major importer to the world. Under Dutch rule, enslaved Africans were forced to harvest salt, dye, wood, and other items under brutal conditions. The remnants of this history can be viewed in Rincon and Cabaje, where huts that enslaved people slept and worked in still stand.
At the Mangrove Info Center, visitors can paddle a kayak through the clear, shallow waters of Lac Bay. Other natural wonders on Bonaire include over 300 caves that can be seen with Cave Tour Bonaire. Lookout point Seru Largu offers a panoramic view of Kralendijk and the little island of Klein Bonaire.