Dive Festival, Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean

From the plane, the island of Bonaire, in the Dutch Antilles, appeared like a dramatic black and white photograph, its hills silhouetted against an overcast sky. Minutes later, when we landed, everything was wet and fresh and the clouds provided a shield from the hot sun which made its appearance later in the day.

The occasion for my visit was for what was billed as a Dive Fest. I was curious. My single previous scuba diving experience was at the Great Barrier Reef several years ago when I had taken a resort diving course at Hayman Island. For just an hour, I had explored the breathtakingly beautiful aquatic wilderness of the Coral Sea. What I had anticipated on this trip was a week of scuba diving and snorkeling by day and “fiesta-ing” at night. This happens all year ’round in Bonaire, but this was not the focus of this Dive Fest. It was much more serious. It ultimately dealt with saving the planet, beginning with saving the oceans and aquatic life.

This was definitely an Eco-trip with all kinds of experts in the field and “save the sea” organizations participating.

Recognized worldwide as an exemplary marine park, Bonaire National Marine Park governs the use of the water surrounding Bonaire in order to protect its marine life. It provides a model for protection of marine environment while maximizing safe levels of use for recreation and commerce. More than 100 public moorings are maintained and scientific research is regularly conducted, providing information to divers including. human and natural impacts on the sea.

For divers, Bonaire is a paradise because of the lack of strong currents, crystal clear visibility and abundance of colorful marine life. For underwater photographers, photo opportunities are plentiful.
Our group of 200, most of whom were expert divers, were given instructions on our mission by Captain Don. Early one morning we boarded boats departing from the Harbour Village Beach Resort where we were staying to paraticipate in a fish census. I donned snorkel gear for the occasion. Each of us received a booklet and pen made especially for underwater use. Pictures of various types of fish were included along with their names. We were to indicate if we saw one, a few or a school of each of the types of fish which crossed our watery paths.

One of the many things that makes Bonaire unique is the access for divers and snorkelers who may simply walk from the beach into the water and find themselves in the midst of a coral forest and all kinds of marine life swimming about. Bonaire’s coral reefs often begin just inches from the shoreline where there are many dense coral formations in very shallow water. These fringing reefs are home to a myriad of fish , crustaceans and marine plants.

As a snorkeler, I found myself swimming in close proximity to lots of brightly colored fish and swaying plant life. I diligently tried to identify all the creatures swimming around me and found the job fascinating. To accommodate snorkelers, more than 12 sites, based on the different types of coral terraces and attractions where non-divers enjoy unique aquatic experiences, have been identified around the island.

Divers, meantime, had gone into the watery depths to discover and report on different sea life. Two popular dive sites include Alice in Wonderland, a double reef complex of rare black coral trees and the site of the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, a 250 foot freighter, resting in 90 feet of water.

Another day, deemed clean-up day, each of us received net bags used for collecting trash. We gathered at a dock, situated close to several waterfront restaurants. Divers and snorkelers came up with quite a few beer and wine bottles, twine from fishing rods and other objects, both large and small. The area covered was relatively small, but we made a dent in doing our share to rid the ocean of waste.

While at the Harbour Village Beach Resort, certainly the most luxurious hotel on the island, I availed myself of another resort dive lesson. My dive master kept me tethered to him during the entire dive which emanated from the hotel’s beach. We simply donned our equipment and walked into the sea and headed underwater to swim with the fish in the watery wonderland of unusual sea creatures including turtles, delicate sea horses, undulating squid and exotic vegetation.

The five-star Harbour Village is situated on 100 acres of private land, an enclave on the leeward side of Bonaire, 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela. The resort is known as one of the best aquatic retreats in the world. In addition to a PADI and NAUI certified Dive Center, the hotel also includes a quarter mile of sandy white beach shaded by imported palms, a fully equipped spa and fitness center, tennis courts, swimming pools, shops, restaurants and 64 exquisitely furnished rooms, suites and villas. The 60 slip marina is able to accommodate vessels up to 200 feet in length. The spa offers an array of body, beauty and skin care treatments complemented by fitness/wellness programs. Some of their special service include outdoor massage, relexology, body polishing, algae body masks and the Bonairean Salt Exfoliate.

In addition to water activities and hotel amenities, I took a drive around the island on a sightseeing excursion. I passed Pink Beach, which I was informed was the best swimming beach on Bonaire. There, several gorgeous bare-breasted women soaked up the rays. Further along we viewed mountains of salt which were harvested from the sea. Originally, slaves and donkeys were imported into the island for the task of salt hauling. Injured donkeys were turned out into the wild to fend for themselves. Eight years ago, a Donkey Sanctuary, which is open to visitors, was founded where the injured animals are cared for and when healed, sent back into the desert wilderness of Bonaire.
Strangely, this island has a desert climate and is filled with cactus plants. Along the road I spotted wild donkeys, wild boars, herons and bright coral-colored flamingoes, of which there are some 15,000 on the island. I stopped to kayak into the mangrove swamp, slathering myself with plenty of mosquito repellent prior to embarking on my swamp tour. Before returning to the hotel, I stopped by the Eco-Fair in Wilhelmina Park near the town’s commercial area and then walked the main shopping street lined with pastel colored boutiques of Dutch architectural design.

My visit had been a unique experience, and one I shall treasure.
The crescent-shaped island, located below the hurricane belt, boasts a variety of resorts, hotels and includes more than 60 world-class dive sites. Bonaire sets the standard to bring tourism and the environment harmoniously together like no other island in the Caribbean.


Harbour Village Beach Resort
P. O. Box 312
Kralendijk, Bonaire
Netherlands Antilles

Air Jamaica offers daily departures from more than 10 U.S. cities into Montego Bay, Jamaica, connecting to two weekly flights (Wednesday and Saturday) to Bonaire.

Coral Reef Alliance
2014 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, Ca 94704-1117
P.O. Box 246
Key Largo, FL 33037