Adjust your flippers. Pull your mask over your eyes. And jump off the jetty into the turquoise water. You spot parrotfish and needlefish immediately. A barracuda swims by on your right. Big lobsters crawl along the top of the sand. That might be an eel ahead. Pretty good sightings for your first twenty seconds of snorkeling.
Known as a diver’s paradise, the natural wonders of Dutch Bonaire are easily accessible. No need to swim until exhausted or spend hours on a boat to find colorful reefs and strange-looking sea creatures. On a clear day–and most days are a constant 81 degrees and clear–you can see shadows moving in the water from your balcony at Bellafonte Chateau de la Mer when you wake up in the morning. Then it only takes a few minutes to grab your gear and jump in the water. Maybe stopping to brush your teeth first. An iguana on the deck turns his head as if to see what the hurry is.
The most popular diving and snorkeling site–actually a collection of sites–in Bonaire is just offshore. Take a water taxi to the uninhabited islet of Klein Bonaire. There are no facilities on the island, only the ruins of slave shelters. But you’ll find a perfect white-sand beach, a pristine coral reef, and maybe nesting turtles. What else do you need, really? Check out the giant orange elephant ear sponges and lavender stove-pipe sponges at Ebo’s Reef. Swim among elkhorn coral and staghorn coral, as well as large groupers at Sharon’s Serenity. And try to spot a green moray eel hiding in the boulders of the Rock Pile.
Since you skipped breakfast, your stomach starts growling early. Head to Atlantis Beach on the south shore for a burger and an ice-cold beer at the Cactus Blue hut. The chef will fill you in on must-see snorkel sites along the quieter, windier north shore. Hang out on the beach until you digest your burger and find the nerve to take a kite boarding class. It’s easy, right? Everyone in the water seems to be able to keep their kite up. At least for a few minutes.
Pass the Flamingo Sanctuary and the salt flats as you head back toward Kralendijk. In the small capital, you’ll find Fort Oranje, a World War II monument, and Wilhelmina Park. Plus a lot of dive guides. Kaya Grandi, the main street, has souvenir shops that attract the passengers of docking cruise ships. Grab an outdoor table at It Rains Fishes for a ceviche sampler and gambas with coconut curry sauce. And watch the sun set from the deck of Karel’s Beach Bar.
Over a Karel’s Special and merengue music, you compare fish and coral sightings with fellow divers. Now you know exactly where to head in the morning. You’ll share the location . . . after your dive.