Island Bonaire is known by many as “Diver’s Mecca”. Well, is it so? If yes, then Bonaire is the place that every diver must visit at least ones in his “divetime”. I think every fact must be taking into consideration on order to bestow such label to one particular place. I did not travel all over the world… yet… to say, with conviction, that Bonaire can proudly wear the crest of honor. But I can confirm, that as soon as you utter “Bonaire”, you’ll hear warm admiration, “Oh, yeah”,  then you’ll see two firm thumbs up along with reassuring nod, that leaves no room for objection.

Caribbean Netherlands

So in january of 2011, thirteen divers, tired of long, cold and, can I say – actionless winter got together and flew to the island. For some, it was the third time, for some second, but as for me, it was my maiden voyage to the dream island. There is no point to talk long about calamities on our way to Bonaire. We all know that anything can happen on the road. I’ll only tell you that if you can, then choose your travel company wisely. Make sure that someone is always ( including weekends and holidays ) available to assist you in the cases of flight delays or redirections. Yet we made it, basically losing one day of diving, but, thank God, without missing our precious gears. And this is what appeared before our tiresome eyes upon arrival to the Bonaire.

Buddy Dive resort.

Just a day before we sat in the airplane, which was treated with jets of steam, to free its body from layers of ice. And now … few hours later and 50 degrees warmer, we had arrived to this.

Buddy Dive resort. House Reef dive-site.

Buddy Dive

Resort is conveniently located on the west side of the island, with an excellent view of the Caribbean and, what is more important, easy access to the ocean as well as to an unlimited supply of compressed air. Just a few easy steps down the stairs off a wide, wrapping main building platform, and you are at your first dive site – “Buddy’s Reef”.

Just a last week we were plunging into 39′ ( 4′ C ) waters of Atlantic, wearing a dry suit, thick insulation and 40+ pounds of lead. Yeap, that’s New England’s winter diving for you. But now … all of that was simply forgotten, now we are in Bonaire, bathing in a gentle, soothing air of the Caribbean, listening calming sound of the ocean accompanied by mollifying rustle of the tall palms trees.

Buddy Dive resort. The battery of tanks for unlimited diving.

The motto of the resort  – “Eat, Sleep, (Buddy) Dive”. And who are we not to follow such a profound philosophy?  As wisdom proclaims, keep general rhythm if you don’t want to fall out of chorus  So we kept it. We ate, slept and dove as often as we could. Buddy of mine, roommate, Ray Founier, and I have managed 18 dives in 6 days. The following picture is the map of dive-spots around the island.

2011.Bonaire-Dive-Map.04-2-796x1024

Bonaire Dive map. Mouse over to zoom.

I’ll come back to this map, but here I’d like to tell you what was included into our package, that cost around $1600-1700.

Round trip airline ticket.
Airport transfer.
Daily breakfast.
Free unlimited air or nitrox.
Unlimited shore diving.
Pick-up track per room with unlimited mileage.

The truck was a really cool benefit if you’ve noticed how many dive sites are available to explore right from the shore. You get into the car, drive through the air station, get as many tanks as you wish and … adelante … forward, drive yourself to the site of your choose.

Dive spots

Contrary to the marking on the map ( red/white flags ) actual dive spots are indicated by yellow stone markers with a name of the site. Just like on the following picture …

The very first place we drove to.

I am sure that most of the names of dive sites have some relationship with surrounding areas, reflecting some historical event or has a connection to a famous character, whose noteworthy effort deserved  to be carved on stone. Here is an example.  This is what you see.

One more picture… and please, don’t pay attention to the preferable location of the real estate. Who cares about ocean views after a long day of hard labor and thankless servitude.

And here is the name of the dive site …

Got it?

Here is another location …

Looks beautiful, isn’t it? How do you get down to it with all necessary outfit? Tanks, weights, fins, cameras and all. Well … you walk, of course. But at least you get a fair warning, sometimes even in stereo.

Here is another dive site.

I’ll leave it up to your imagination to come … no pun intended … up with your own explanation regarding name origin for this particular location 😉

The following picture is the site not too far from the one I’ve mentioned above. First, seeing it from a distance, I thought that it was an accolade to a captain of the “Hilma Hooker,” but, upon arrival, my mind, as well as a bit shattered male dignity, finally rested. It was just a beacon. And the name of this location was Willemstoren Lighthouse.

By the way, in case if someone would like to know the true story of “Hilma Hooker” and her last excursion, click here and get the latest “gossip” (check Hilma’s picture posted on Wikipedia. I also like description under the shot – “Divers on the Hilma Hooker”)  By the way, you can follow her on Facebook as well … if she only knew …

Conclusion

All of that was great. We had traveled to the north and dove at Karpata, on the east at “Willemstoren Lighthouse” and then some in-between. You park your car, get your gear organized, strap new bottle and begin exploration. Well, and this is where it gets a bit slippery. Because I liked diving in Bonaire and do not want to say anything negative about this island, but what I personally felt, traversing along those shores, that I was constantly revisiting the same dive-site again and again. Remember the map? Almost all of them are fairly close to each other. Sometimes I saw some different species of fish at different locations, but in general, every time you dive at “new” site – deja vu. And premonition “been there, done that” settle within me after fourth or fifth submersion and kept its presents to the end of our trip.

There was one spot that differed from the rest, leaving an impression as new and exciting. We dove there twice, ones at night and other time it was our last day on the island and we went there in the afternoon. It was called Salt Pier. Oh, and Hilma Hooker, the ship wreck, was different too. But what I am trying to say that with the exception of two – three sites the rest were almost identical. And maybe it’s a good thing, no big surprises.

As a counter-argument, one can always say that practically all islands, with reef formation along its shore, will offer, more or less, the same habitat and topography. And it would be compelling reasons. Yet, for instance, diving at the shore reef of Grand Cayman was quite different. Somehow each new site felt … new, unknown and interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I’d go back to Bonaire again and enjoy it thoroughly. But I would wait a least for couple of years before I entertain an idea of the return trip. And next time, I think, we should try to dive more around Klein Bonaire and at Bonaire National Marine Park. Many divers were saying that it’s an unforgettable experience.

So, wrapping this up, can Bonaire be called Diver’s Mecca? I think so. Geographically – very convenient, weather is great year around, people are friendly and aim to please. Diving is plentiful and, especially considering free pick-up track, easy to get to. Air, nitrox, weights and plenty of smiles are included. Rooms ( talking of “Buddy Dive” ) are clean and spacious. I also remember well and highly recommend to try one of the local restaurants located fairly close to resort, “Bistro de Paris” it was really nice.

So all you’ll do in Bonaire is eat, slip and dive. Therefore visiting this island, I imagine, is like going to the diver’s paradise – peaceful existence, great diving, plus … you get all versions of an attractive reef.

p.s. As we visited Bonaire in january of 2011, few years did past and we may schedule another trip in a near future.

Shots were taking with Panasonic Lumix LX 3, 10 Bar underwater housing and two YS-01 Sea&Sea flashes.