We recently went to Bonaire for the main purpose of scuba diving there. Here are a few thoughts on our experience, and I shared a few thoughts about the Island here.
The reef is close to the shore and easily accessible on the west side of the island – something extremely rare for good diving. This means that the culture has made it really easy for tourists to come and dive on our own. We rented a pick-up truck with a plywood tank rack in the back, and purchased a 6-day unlimited tank rental from the dive shop near our Airbnb. They even had tanks stored in a shed, gave us the code, and we could pickup tanks anytime we wanted. We met a couple staying at the same condos and they liked to go diving at midnight!
For anyone uncomfortable diving on their own, shops are happy to take you along with a dive master. There are also many dives only accessible by boat; we chose only to dive at the sites we could get to on our own.
We had a great book to help us choose and find dive sites. Sites are also marked by yellow rocks painted with the site name, and there are maps available on the island.
Even though they are accessible from shore, it doesn’t mean that all sites are easy to get to. Most of my diving experience has been with a dive operation using a boat. Often the staff carry my dive gear around, and sometimes they even set it up for me. (I am slowly learning not to like this help, but it’s what I started with). If you have a similar experience, any shore diving excursion is a lot more work, even if the terrain is easy. The terrain in Bonaire is not always easy.
Only a couple of sites have entrances on the sand. Most of them are quite rocky or covered in sharp coral, and potentially in significant surf. A number of them required steps (more than just a few) to get to the water. One that we did required a decent walk followed by a leap into the water. (That was probably my favorite).
You will want good booties with a thick sole and open-heel fins. Don’t even think of using anything else. We saw people with full-foot fins (that you wear on your bare foot). They attempted to get to the dive site in flip flops and then leave them on shore. That looked miserable! And given that I fell on coral our first day when wandering around after diving, I wouldn’t want to be at risk of more falls and more skinned toes and knees.
Once in the water, we experienced a big variety on our different dives. The visibility wasn’t spectacular – though I think sometimes it is. The reef was quite lovely, but not the most magnificent I’ve seen. It was fun. Saw beautiful things. Enjoyed time under water.
The best part was the adventure of diving when we wanted, where we wanted, and the fun of the difficult access points. It was incomparably cheaper than paying for boat diving, and we could dive all we wanted!
I would return for sure for a super fun vacation, with lots of good diving at a relatively low cost. It was simply a nice, solid, experience.