Where the Action Is
On Bonaire, nature loving is more than a recreational priority; it's a way of life. Residents and visitors alike share a deep respect for the rustic landscape and its inhabitants. Wildlife is protected and flourishes: You'll find up to 15,000 flamingos posing and preening on the lakes and ponds, while endangered green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles graze on the grasses of Lac Bay. Donkeys originally brought in for transportation placidly roam the hills (and feed in residents' gardens), and the entire island is surrounded by Bonaire National Marine Park (011-599-717-8444; stinapa.org), which guards the surrounding reefs in perpetuity.
Although most visitors come for underwater adventure--snorkeling and diving on dozens of sites, many of them accessible right from shore--topside activities are really taking off in popularity. Lac Bay and Washington Slagbaai National Park (011-599-785-0017; washingtonparkbonaire.org) are the best venues for bird-watching, kayaking, windsurfing, mountain biking and hiking.
The latest thrill is screaming across salt flats in a wind-powered adult version of a Hot Wheel with Landsailing Bonaire (011-599-786-8122); landsailingbonaire.com). Strapped into the three-wheeled cart, you steer with one hand and work the sail with the other--the old salts claim they can teach newbies to tack and track in less than 10 minutes. Costs $40 for a lesson and about 50 minutes of zoom time.
The sleepy restaurant scene on Bonaire is finally coming alive. Along the oceanfront in Kralendijk, Salsa Bonaire (011-599-717-8286; salsabonaire.com) is a steamy hot spot on Friday nights when a trio plays--you guessed it--salsa from 6 to 9. On Sunday night the pace picks up again with the pulsing beat of steel drums. Try an appetizer of spring rolls or tuna sashimi with a rum drink at the bar, then head upstairs for a dinner of jumbo garlic shrimp followed by a mouth-puckering lime pie topped with lime syrup and lime ice cream.
Another welcome surprise is Den Laman (011-599-717-4106) overlooking the slice of beach next to the Sand Dollar Resort. This new open-air eatery has a string of tables perfect for sipping a cocktail at sunset. And the kitchen serves top-quality seafood and continental fare.
Cactus Blue Bar & Restaurant (011-599-717-4564; cactusbluebonaire.com) is causing a scene downtown with its high-octane Cactus Potions. Select from Cactus Lemonade, Cactus Banger and Cactus Juice. The outdoor grill delivers fresh wahoo with grapefruit salsa; end the meal with melted double-chocolate cake.
Just completed are the Den Laman Condominiums (800-382-1094; denlaman.com). Accommodations include studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms decorated in European style, accented with wicker and equipped with balconies, wireless Internet, LCD TVs, and spacious modern baths and kitchens. The restaurant of the same name is attached. Dive, kayak and mountain bike with next-door Bonaire Dive & Adventure (011-599-717-2229; bonairediveandadventure.com).
The beachfront Plaza Resort Bonaire (800-766-6016; plazaresortbonaire.com) is reopening its casino, and rooms are being updated for 2007. On-site Toucan Diving (toucandiving.com) has a slew of courses, including an intro to tech diving. Check out one of their guided cave-snorkeling trips between dives.
Buddy Dive Resort (866-462-8339; buddydive.com) just doubled its capacity by purchasing the neighboring Lions Den Hotel; it's now one large compound of studios, and one-, two- and three-bedroom units set among flourishing gardens. Two boats were added to the fleet, and a digital photo course is in the works.
EAST SIDE STORY
The east coast of the island had been all about windsurfing (with ideal calm conditions inside Lac Bay and wild wave jumping out on the reef) and kayaking through the mangroves in the lagoon. Divers didn't chance it until Larry's Wild Side Diving (011-599-790-9156; larryswildsidediving.com) came along. Just beyond the breakers, their 10-passenger boat delivers experienced divers to Blue Hole and other pristine spots along the east and north coasts to see rays, turtles and large schools of fish.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication