Family Vacations to Bonaire

Brittle Stars: One of the brilliant underwater sights you'll catch in Bonaire (Kathryn McAdoo)

Bonaire Family Travel Tips

  • Snorkel and dive right from the beach.
  • Take short boat trips to reefs teeming with scores of rainbow-colored fish.
  • Catch sight of flamingoes and parrots at Washington-Slagbaai National Park.
  • Enjoy the soft, white sands of Sorobon Beach.
  • Go windsurfing at Lac Bay, one of the Caribbean's top places to learn.

Bonaire, an autonomous part of the Netherland Antilles 50 miles north of Venezuela, has notoriety as a diver's and snorkeler's paradise. The island boasts superb reefs and relatively unspoiled surroundings. Neither lush with vegetation nor lined with beaches, Bonaire features an arid desert-like landscape and a dearth of sandy spots. Since 1970, the reefs surrounding the island have been part of the Bonaire Marine Park preserve. Ships can't drag their anchors and divers must respect the coral. As a result, Bonaire delivers a spectacular underwater fantasy for scuba and snorkeling devotees.

Because the reefs begin directly off shore, young ones new to masks and fins can test their skills in shallow water, while the more experienced may take a short boat ride to rich coral formations. Many of the 80-plus dive sites lie within a 15-minute boat ride from the coast. And with the water's excellent visibility, many dive sites deliver underwater wonders for snorkelers too. Walk-in (from the shore) sites include 1000 Steps, known for its iron formations, where parrot fish, blue tang, and surgeon fish congregate; and Mangroves in Lac Bay, where baby barracuda often hang out. Klein Bonaire, a small island a few minutes away by boat, features lots of brain coral, gorgonians, angelfish, and the occasional turtle. First-time snorkelers should start in the sandy shallows off Klein Bonaire.

To learn more about the underwater plants and creatures that you snorkel or dive by, book a guided dive or snorkel session with marine biologist Caren Eckrich, from Sea and Discover. Caren points out fish mating behavior, explains why a big chubb hovers over a coral head (to be cleaned by juvenile fish), and spots the hard-to-find flounder, sponges, squid, and other shy critters.

The reefs off Washington-Slagbaai National Park, a 13,500-acre preserve known for its bird watching, also appeal to snorkelers. Near the entrance, Salina Mathijis, a salt flat, typically has scores of feeding flamingoes. At Put Bronswinkel, a watering hole, catch sight of several parrots, scores of parakeets, and yellow warblers.

White-sand Sorobon, the best beach on the island, also appeals for its superb windsurfing. The wide, calm bay rocks as one of best Caribbean locations for families and other first-timers. The water is relatively shallow—two to four-and-a-half feet deep for a long way out—and the constant breezes always blow towards shore. The Windsurf Place offers group and individual lessons, kid-sized equipment, and patient instructors. Pretty soon you and your kids will be shouting, "Hey, look at me, I'm windsurfing!"

Tip: Try night diving or snorkeling at Kralendijk's Old Town Pier, where pilings glow with orange- and rust-colored corals. You see lots of shrimp and crabs too. The downside: The water near the shore smells of fuel from the boats, but is less offensive further out. Book this trip in advance as you need a guide and only a limited number of people are allowed.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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