In Bonaire, divers can linger over a late breakfast and still enjoy a morning dive. Unlike many Caribbean destinations, which require an early departure and a long boat ride to access the reefs, the corals of Bonaire come almost to your doorstep. The island's typical underwater profile is a collection of patch reefs sloping from two to 20 feet, followed by a fairly steep, coral-encrusted slope from 20 to 100 feet, where the bottom levels off onto a flat, sandy plain. This topography is why Bonaire is best known for its high-quality shore diving. At present, there are 55 cataloged shore diving sites scattered along the island's protected western coast.
At many resorts, the dive sites are literally within a stone's throw of your room and entry involves little more than a short walk down a sandy beach or to a ladder at the end of a pier.
To access the rest of the island's coastline, divers often rent a car or a van and create their own dive schedule. Maps and roadside markers provide clear directions to the many entry points. Exploring a new underwater site is as easy as parking, gearing up and stepping in.
The freedom to dive when and where you want, combined with easy water access and benign conditions, make night diving a popular activity in Bonaire. Many of the dive operators leave freshly filled tanks on the pier or beach specifically for evening excursions. Nighttime navigation is also easy, as the reef parallels the shore and your depth along the slope indicates your proximity to shore.
Bonaire has been called the "macro capital of the Caribbean," as the reefs support a tremendous diversity and abundance of small marine creatures. Anemones can be seen everywhere, growing on the bottom, on pier pilings, under docks and all across the shallow coral reefs. These multi-tentacle creatures provide shelter for a variety of small shrimp.
Spotted morays are also abundant and can be found hiding in coral crevices. The more rare golden tail moray and the chain moray are also residents of these reefs. Octopus are quite plentiful and divers may encounter schools of small squid in the shallow waters near the shoreline.
Underwater photographers know Bonaire is a good location for sighting some of the rarest and most beautiful Caribbean fish. These include a large population of frogfish in a variety of colors -- yellow, orange, green or brown. Other rare species include batfish and the gold spot snake eel.
Another signature of Bonaire's undersea ecosystem is the multitude of sponges. Seasoned photographers and Divemasters can usually recognize an underwater picture taken in Bonaire because of the unusual sponge growths.
The island is best known for its long, slender purple tube sponges that grow in clusters and sometimes reach a height of 6 feet. These clusters seem to grow everywhere along the slopes of the fringing reefs.
Still another form of sponge that is found in abundance is the very large elephant ear sponge. These are easily recognized because of their luscious orange color and amorphous shapes.
In addition to offering full support for shore-diving activities, most of Bonaire's dive operators conduct daily dive boat excursions. The most popular dive boat destinations are to Klein Bonaire, a small, uninhabited island one mile off the coast of the main island. Recently, this island was designated as a nature preserve for seabirds and wildlife, and the surrounding reefs and marine life fall under the protection of the Bonaire Marine Park.
There are 24 dive moorings located around Klein Bonaire. As a result, operators can find sheltered water regardless of the wind direction or sea conditions. In addition to lush mid-water reefs, Klein Bonaire offers some of the Caribbean's best shallow and fringe reefs.
Good and Easy
Calm water, easy shore access, flexible diving programs and a safe, low-key island environment make Bonaire an ideal destination for new divers and diving families.
But Bonaire is not just for beginners. In fact, this island attracts an equal number of professional underwater photographers and experienced divers -- including many who return time after time.