July 1998 Bonaire Trip Report
Text and images copyright (C) 1998 David M. Read
From July 18 through July 25 of 1998, I visited Bonaire with my wife and two friends.
This is a report of that trip.
We arrived late in the afternoon on the 18th, having left
Dallas at 6am, flying American Airlines through Miami and on to Curacao, where we changed
airlines to ALM. We checked our bags through to Curacao, where we picked them up, cleared
customs, and re-checked them with ALM. Our total checked-baggage weight was 83 kg, which
resulted in an excess-baggage charge of about $20, which we paid at the counter. The
flight to Bonaire was unremarkable, and we arrived (with all of our bags) only about 30
minutes behind schedule.
We checked in at the Carib Inn that afternoon, and my wife and I went for a short
snorkel right away. The Carib Inn is a lovely little place, with just 10 rooms and maybe
25 total guests. Their prices are completely reasonable; my wife and I paid $100
(including taxes) per night for our poolside kitchenette-equipped room, and $100
per person for tanks & weights for the week.
The Carib Inn is located just south of Kralendijk, the main town on Bonaire, but north
of the airport. It fronts right onto the water, with its own dock and a small area for
shore entry/exit. The only complaint I had about the Carib Inn is with the way tanks are
provided for shore diving. When you check in, you are assigned a tank, which is uniquely
numbered. When you use a tank, you bring it back for a fill. In general this doesn't
present too much of a problem, but if you want to dive the more remote locations (such as
Red Slave or Invisibles on the south end, or Karpata or 1,000 steps on the north end),
taking enough tanks for a couple of dives would be nice. Driving the 20 or 30 minutes back
to the CI, and then waiting another 30 minutes for a tank fill, really limits the number
of dives you can do in a day.
Armed with our loyal 1.0 liter Suzuki Super Carry (which we nicknamed the POSPIA), we
drove all over the island, hitting as many different dive sites as we could manage. The
only shore sites we dove more than once were Salt Pier (one day, one night), and the reef
right in front of the Carib Inn (Calabas reef). Individual dive descriptions follow the
rest of this text.
||The island itself is nothing to look at. If not for the
ocean surrounding the island, I would have guessed it was West Texas; lots of scrub brush
and cactus, and not much green. However, there are plenty of interesting buildings and
animals on the island. The south end has some beautiful seascapes and a picturesque
lighthouse, and the north end has a flamingo sanctuary.
As for diving, I have to say that I was a little disappointed, overall.
There was very little in the way of big fish. We did see a few turtles, three seahorses,
and lots of little fish of various description. I was hard pressed, however, to find
anything I really wanted to photograph. Maybe that says something about my photographic
skills...but the 60mm macro lens I carried wasn't long enough to photograph the little
fish, and there wasn't much in the way of larger fish for me. I was amazed to look at 15
rolls of slides when I got home, discovering that most of the frames made me think
"so what?" In addition, the visibility, while hardly
"awful," never exceeded 80 feet or so. There was also a lot of large
particulate matter in the water which limited the long-range vis and made photography
difficult. The water temperature was great, running 83 to 85 F on almost all of the
I had heard about Town Pier long before I started planning the trip, but
several people also told me about how great Salt Pier was. Salt Pier turned
out to be disappointing, but Town Pier lived up to every rave I have ever heard about it.
Even with the hordes of divers in the water, the pier was one of the most amazing dives I
have ever done. Seahorses, numerous juvenile spotted drum, free-swimming morays, all sorts
of shrimp & crabs, etc. Town Pier at night is not to be missed.
One of the things which sets Bonaire apart from many other Caribbean locations I have
visited is the number and quality of restaurants. We ate only a couple of mediocre meals;
most were good, and several were excellent. The best restaurant on the island was easily
Richard's, which was just three or four doors down from the Carib Inn. Below is a list of
the restaurants we visited, along with prices, ratings, and comments. Be advised that
Bonaire is definitely on "island time," so even lunch typically runs an hour or
more. Dinners can take 2+ hours.
Restaurant Ratings: this is a list of the places we visited during our stay. Some
places we visited more than once. The numbers are on a 1 to 5 scale; 1 is "low",
5 is "high." Higher numbers are better, except for the price. "Rating"
is what we thought of the food. "Price" is what it cost us; the '5' scale
represents dinners over $100 for 4 people; 1 would be under $50 for 4 people. 'Speed' may
or may not be important to you. '5' = "US restaurants", '1' = "island
||Great seafood, snappy and friendly staff.; Richard works the
tables himself, making sure that everything is right. He also searches out the best,
freshest seafood on the island. This is one of the better restaurants I have visited
anywhere. We liked it so much that we made two trips there during our stay.
||Middle-of-the-road fare, slightly higher prices than it
deserves. Due to the popularity of the place, it's best to visit at lunch
||Great italian food in the center of town. Priced well, served
quickly. Generally a thumbs-up, and probably the overall value winner of the places
||Bad food, slow service, snotty staff. You'll never catch me
||Pizza, and pretty decent. Be prepared to wait, but what
you get is worth eating.
||They have a 'traditional' menu, but the real treat is their
fabulous Indonesian food. Get the huge meal ('rijnstaffel'), which is a many-course meal
which literally covers the table. Unforgettable egg rolls.
||Not sure what they serve, as they didn't seem to have much of
anything. Supposedly they're known for their goat dishes, but the day we were there, they
were out of everything except smoke tuna and Krab ("kay-rab" to us) salads. Skip
||Great lunch spot near Town Pier. Sandwiches, burgers, etc.
My wife tells me that the sandwiches are very European. I loved both lunches we ate
Onto the diving. Here are excerpts from my dive log.
|Dive #1: Calabas Calabas is the house reef at the
Carib Inn. The dive starts off very shallow, as you have to swim 25 yards across a sand
flat to reach the shoulder of the wall. It goes as deep as you like; the coral stops at
about 100 feet or so. Soft corals everywhere: sea whips, sea plumes, etc., all inhabited
by fish & critters. Trumpetfish are incredibly numerous here. Lots more anemones that
I am used to seeing. Anne found a cleaner shrimp in one of the anemones. I expect we'll
see a lot more of that. We also found a giant anemone at about 20 feet. It had long
tentacles with big purple balls on the end. The fish species list is too long to list
exhaustively: blue & brown chromis, dusky, threespot, bicolor and yellowtail
damselfish, morays, peacock flounder, scorpionfish, fairy basslets, a red hind, french
grunts, juvenile french angelfish in profusion,rock beauties, juvenile spotted drum,
smooth trunkfish, etc. One of the juvy french angels was cleaning a parrotfish!
||Dive #2: Salt Pier The pilings are not as covered with coral and
sponges as I had expected, but there is plenty of other stuff to see. The ground under the
pier and around the pilings is ripe with corals both soft and hard, which provides plenty
of places for fish to hide. The bigh finds for this dive were things we had never seen
before: a chain moray and a 4-foot jewfish, two adult spotted drums, and a spotted
trunkfish. There was plenty else to see, though: 2 Queen angels, a white scorpionfish, a
whitespotted filefish, many banded cleaner shrimp, zillions of trumpetfish, a tiger
grouper, and all the small critters you could ever want. There's a steep wall at the edge
of the pier, very cool.
|Dive #3: Salt Pier (night dive) Dull dive,
altogether, although I hesitate to call any night dive "dull.". I suspect that
8pm was too early to start this dive. The reef hadn't shifted into "night mode,"
so many of the night critters were absent. There really isn't much to report from this
dive, other than a large basket star on top of one of the sea plumes.
||Dive #4: Karpata Karpata is the nothernmost dive site
before you get to Washington Slagbaai park. This is the first true wall we've seen on
Bonaire. The wall starts at about 25 feet, and drops off as far as the eye can see. The
coral is in great shape, with lots of whip coral and plenty of sea fas, rods, and plumes.
There were a few sponges, too, and lots of fish. We spotted a couple of barred hamlets, a
large peacock flounder, and a large crevalle jack cruising the shallows. Also saw another
couple of adult spotted drum.
|Dive #5: Mi Dushi (Klein Bonaire) "Mi
Dushi" is papiemento for "my sweetheart," and a sweetheart of a dive this
was. We saw our first seahorse on Bonaire. It was a little bigger than I expected, maybe 5
or 6 inches long. It was anchored to a finger sponge at about 50 feet. Very cool. Then we
saw more neat stuff near the boat: 2 slender filefish and a solitary reef squid, followed
by a hawksbill turtle. There was lots of good stuff in the shallows, including a huge
field of staghorn coral, a couple of harlequin bass, and a truly mammoth trumpetfish.
||Dive #6: Calabas Just a short dive before dinner. Went
deep (100') to check out the sand flats, where we found a bunch of garden eels. I waited,
lying in the sand for 10 minutes, until one of the eels came out of its hole for a photo.
Found another peacock flounder, this one down deep.
Calabas (night dive) We stayed shallow by the Carib Inn dock for this one, and
had a blast. We started off under the dock, looking at the tubeastria coral, and then
headed for the wall. The reef at the top of the wall did not disappoint us: a giant
tarpon, plenty of belted cardinalfish, several puffers and all sorts of other night fissh.
The real fun was finding an octopus, and then playing with it for a few minutes, and then
we found a 4" batwing coral crab. Finally we saw a small (~ 18 inch) spotted moray
free-swimming in the shallows.
|Dive #8: Alice In Wonderland Alice In Wonderland
sports an easily accessible double reef structure. A sand flat separates the two reefs at
around 80 to 90 feet, then the second (outer) reef rises to about 50 feet. The second reef
is sort of dull, with only hard corals, and a lot of it seemed to b over-run with algae.
The first reef, OTOH, is pretty interesting, especially in the shallows. We saw lots of
flamingo tongues above 20 feet, and two slender filefish in a sea plume. Also lots of
rough fileclams in crevices in the coral heads.
||Dive #9: Hilma Hooker The Hilma Hooker is amazing. 235
feet long, parked on her side in roughly 100 feet of water, lying in a sand flat at the
bottom of the wall. She lies on her starboard side, and her ~40 feet of beam means you can
swim on top of the wreck at a depth of about 50 feet. Lots of whip coral hanging from the
bottom of the hull. Lots of sponges and other life all over. Altogether an awesome dive.
Be sure to look up at the wall as you swim along the top of the wreck!
I had a close
encounter with a turtle on the way down to the wreck; a 3-foot hawksbill swam within a
couple of feet of my lens, and posed for a photo or two. Also saw a very large (6-inch
diameter) atlantic thorny oyster attached to the hull near the bow. It closed up as soon
as I got near it. How did it know?
|Dive #10: Calabas
Short dive, kind of fun. The
biggest find was a sharptail eel and a scorpionfish, both towards the end of the dive.
Quick visit from a large tarpon. First sighting of an orangespotted here on Bonaire. Lots
of white-spotted filefish so far, but this was the first orangespotted. Shot a couple of
frames of peppermint gobies.
|Dive #11: Town Pier (night dive) Town Pier is not to
be missed, a total eye-opener. The species list is too numerous to write, but the big ones
were a seahorse, an octopus, a manytoothed conger, several ocellated swimming crabs (cool
spots), zillions of spotted drum (juvenile, sub-adult, and adult), a couple of spotted
morays, many HUGE banded coral shrimp, and more.
This was one of the great dives of my
life. Even when the waters got crowded, there was plenty to see. A must-do dive!
The scene under the pier is incredible. All the junk at the bottom houses life of some
sort. Every tire has a crab, a shrimp, a moray, or at least some coral or a sponge. The
pilings are alive with sponges of all types. Even the ground seethes with fish. On our way
out, we saw a three-foot porcupine fish.
|Dive #12: Margate Bay The dive started off dull, but
got good at the end. Despite the site's name, we saw only one margate. We also saw a HUGE
spiny lobster (possibly the largest I have ever seen), and a slender filefish floating
among a finger sponge. Later I saw another slender filefish in the shallows. There were a
few azure vase sponges, which were irridescent purple-blue tubes no more than 10 inches
tall. The highlight of the dive was near the end, when a 3-foot hawksbill turtle swam by
and played for a few minutes.
|Dive #13: Ol' Blue Ol' Blue is north of 1000 steps,
south of Karpata, and has an entry much like that of Karpata. Same kind of terrain, too,
although the fish life is a little different. We saw several queen angelfish, a couple of
morays, a few pearly razorfish, another barred hamlet, and a couple of yellowtail hamlets.
||Dive #14: "Dave's Place" We couldn't find a marker for this
site, so we named it ourselves. We pulled our POSPIA off the road just behind the airport,
next to a small rock jetty, and entered the water in the shelter of the jetty. There is a
barrier reef which creates a small lagoon, so we had to swim in shallow water (3 feet or
so) to get around the barrier reef and on to deeper water. Lots to see, lots to
photograph. Queen angels, flameback angels, graysbys, cleaner shrimp, etc. etc. This site
goes very deep; the sand flat at the bottom is at 150 feet. There's lots of whip coral
below 100, along with plenty of sponges.
|Dive #15: Small Wall (boat dive) Small
wall is a large experience. The wall, very steep --vertical, in fact--starts at about 40
feet and goes only to 65 feet or so. It's more of an underwater cliff than a wall. There's
a small cave at the bottom, big enough for someone to crawl into and maybe lie down
lengthwise. The top of the wall is covered with soft coral and small sponges. One of our
group found a seahorse at about 40 feet, on top of the wall. There's also plenty of action
in the shallows, where juveniles of several congregate. It's worth mentioning that
Small Wall should be considered a boat dive, because the owner of the Black Durgon Inn
(where the site is located) is a first-rate jackass who won't let other divers across his
property in order to dive the site.
||Dive #16: Forest (Klein Bonaire) Our last dive on Bonaire, kind of
sad. Great dive, though. We saw lots of black coral starting at about 45 feet, and spent
lots of time looking for frogfish. Saw a huge (4') black grouper swim by, then we saw him
again at a cleaning station. Also saw another tiger grouper, some mahogany snapper, a dog
snapper, and several young & playful black durgons. Found a very small goldentail
moray in the shallows. We had fun watching a trumpetfish use a parrotfish as hunting
||House reef at Carib Inn. Getting wet, checking weighting.
||"Deep" end, near drop-off, seems to be the best part.
||Night dive! Great basket star.
||Peacock flounder, amberjack, spotted drum.
||Klein Bonaire, complete with seahorse.
||Night dive! Tarpon, cardinalfish, octopus.
||Alice in Wonderland
||Stay on the inner reef; The outer reef is not worth the swim.
||Awesome dive. Best part was swimming along the top of the wreck,
looking back towards the wall.
||Sharptail eel, scorpion fish, orangespotted filefish.
||Night dive! Probably the most exciting dive of the trip.
||Several slender filefish, big hawksbill turtle.
||Pearly razorfish in the shallows, lots of queen angels.
||Cleaner shrimp, arrow crabs, lots of sea whips deep.
||Exceedingly cool dive. Another seahorse.
||Big grouper, mahogany snapper, friendly black durgons.
Last updated 12/24/98