Way back when, Bonaire was just an outcropping of a vast coral reef. As time passed, the exposed reef died and eroded, became encrusted with vegetation and Bonaire was born. Originally inhabited by the Caiquetio Indians (thought to be part of the Arawak Indians of the Caribbean) who traveled there from Venezuela, the island was visited by the first European, Amerigo Vespucci in 1499. In only 15 short years, the Caiquetio population had been enslaved and moved to work the plantations on Hispanola. As a result, Bonaire was virtually uninhabited.
It wasn't until 1526, when then governor Juan de Ampues brought livestock to the island to raise for their hides, that some of the Caiquetios returned as laborers tending to the free-roaming donkeys, goats, pigs and horses. For the next 100 years, Bonaire was used primarily as a penal colony inhabited by convicts from other Spanish colonies.
When the Dutch took possession in 1633, Bonaire became a plantation island and many African slaves were brought to the island to work as laborers. Bonaire changed hands again and finally in 1816, was returned to the Dutch by the Treaty of Paris. In the following years, Bonaire's major natural resource, salt, was cultivated and brought the island needed income. Slavery was abolished in 1863, and Bonaire struggled to keep the salt industry alive. Today Bonaire still exports salt, but tourism has replaced it as its major money-maker.
Bonaire's patchwork history may have had at least one major benefit its marine environment was left virtually undisturbed throughout most of its history. As a result, Bonaire has emerged as one of the world's most regulated and best-maintained underwater reef systems. And while Bonaire might be one of the most popular diving destinations in the world today it's also an island dedicated to preserving the fragile reefs that circle it. One of the first nations to name its entire coastline and reef system a national park, Bonaire has been committed to saving the pristine nature of its underwater environment since 1979, when the Bonaire Marine Park was established. For more on Bonaire's colorful history log on to infobonaire.com.
Bonaire is located in the Dutch Caribbean, just outside of the Caribbean's "hurricane alley" and only 12 degrees north of the Equator allowing Bonaire to escape, for the most part, wild weather fluctuations. Other climate highlights:
- Average temperature is about 82 degrees fluctuating only about 2-3 degrees seasonally
- Rainfall is about 20 inches annually, with the most rainfall occurring during October through January
- Humidity ranges around 76 percent
- Winds blow from the east 95 percent of the time, offering a nice breeze that helps keep the temperatures relatively constant.
- Water temperatures average 78-84 degrees
- Visibility ranges 100-150 feet