Bonaire: Arrow Crab
An arrow crab makes a home in a sponge
Mostly desert topside, this island draws divers for the treasures beneath the waves. Healthy reefs consistently rank highest in the Caribbean for fish diversity, including quirky inhabitants like frogfish and seahorses. Out of the hurricane belt, it’s popular with shore divers year-round, and also draws windsurfers and kiteboarders; together, they support a burgeoning colony of multi-ethnic eateries in the main town of Kralendijk. Divers will note yellow-painted, numbered rocks planted along roadside mark sites, and that the island lacks sandy beaches — bad for sun seekers but great for visibility.
For the Foodie
Listening to the locals gives you an idea of what to expect on your plate: The eats are as eclectic as the dialects. From food trucks to fine dining, the main fare ranges from ribs and pizza to sushi and tapas. Most menus feature a catch-of-the-day; at It Rains Fishes, the accompanying sauces range from mango coriander to Cuban adobo. For people-watching and fine wines, try La Guernica Fish and Tapas — and be sure to try the crepes.
For the Beginner Diver
With a reef drop-off sloped as gently as a doorstop and almost nonexistent currents, Bonaire offers kind conditions. Because the reef runs parallel and close to shore, most on-the-water hotels recommend their house reefs — a boon not only because these sites are steps away from the breakfast buffet, but also because instructors dive them almost daily and can dish up GPS-like coordinates on critters. Easy entries can also be found at the sites Ol’ Blue, Center Front Porch and South Tori’s Reef.
For the Advanced Diver
Challenges exist for those who look: Besides the obvious of increasing depth or dive time, more-experienced folks can head to sites with rockier, steeper entries and positions more prone to current. At Red Slave, the current attracts schooling jacks and barracuda. North Karpata is a top pick among those looking to go deeper — it falls away to nearly 300 feet, and also offers overhanging shelves, sand chutes, old anchors and more.
For the Adventure Seeker
In lieu of casinos and duty-free shopping, this Dutch outpost offers thrills powered by wind, gravity and human strength. Year-round, steady trade winds make Lac Bay on the southeast side of the island ideal for trying windsurfing or kiteboarding; the shallow depth means it’s easy to wade back and reset to starting position. Mountain bikers will enjoy the 21-mile trail with sea views through the rocky hills of Washington Slagbaai National Park.
For the Bird Lover
Quiet and largely undeveloped, Bonaire is a sanctuary where birders can check off several jewel-colored species, from the blue-tailed emerald to the ruby-topaz hummingbird. The salty lagoons on the island’s southern end of the island are known for sheltering hundreds of flamingos. They aren’t habituated to people, so pack binoculars or a powerful zoom lens. Guided walks through Washington Slagbaai National Park are enjoyable for those who might be unfamiliar with bird habitats. — BM