Bonaire - February 2009
Had another great week at Bonaire - how could you not, right?
Arrived in Bonaire on a Delta flight direct from Atlanta. Very convenient, especially if you ever spent the half day layover in San Juan waiting for the American Eagle ATR to take you over.
Splurged a bit and stayed at Belmar apartments a few miles south of the airport, and sitting right on the water. Even have their own reef named, not so coincidentally, Belmar Reef.
In my humble opinion, this place was well worth a little more money! We got the “dive and drive” package, which included airport transfers, a pick up truck for the week and all the air you can suck (Nitrox was a bit extra... about $100 for the week). Another option included boat dives for each day, but we opted for the freedom of all shore diving... it is always amusing to see boats moored at sites we are diving from shore.
The trucks were later model Toyotas without a radio (which was actually a good thing because on my last trip to Bonaire in 2008, the radio was stolen out of the truck and the rental agency charged $300 for it) - we were picked up at the airport by a Belmar rep, delivered to the apartments and given the keys to a truck and the room.
The apartments are very spacious and comfortable - there are AC units in the bedrooms only... the back sliding glass door opened out onto a large porch area which in turn led out onto the swimming pool deck... across the pool deck were stairs leading down to a deck and from there, more stairs leading down to the water. (The apartment floor is all smooth tile, so you need to put towels down at the doors... all of us at one time or another about busted our asses slipping on the floor!)
(There are also nice TV’s in each apartment, unfortunately, but no word on the best locations to bury Sean Hannity fans (just kidding Regis!).)
A line on the bottom led down to the reef. The line had plastic coke bottles tied to it so it is easily seen... very convenient for night dives as well.
Our unit had a large closet outside of the apartment to hang gear, however once the door was closed, there wasn’t enough air circulation and gear dried slowly and there was a musty odor... better to hang wetsuits on the back porch on the hanger provided... dried quickly, and I had not heard any reports of theft... there was a security guard lurking around most of the time anyway.
Briefing Sunday morning included a little orientation to Bonaire, filling out liability waivers and paying the park fee (Once paid it is good for one calendar year). I was a little disappointed to find out that the Town Pier and Salt Pier dives were both closed due to severe damage from hurricanes.
The check out dive, required by the National Park Regulations was simply a dive on the Belmar reef. No pressure... don’t drown, and you are checked out.
There are several grocery stores on the island, and with a little flexibility, you could eat exclusively from them, but there are also many great restaurants on the island as well... a few I could recommend are Richards, Patagonia, and Casablanca’s. Another notable place was Papaya Moon, but they were changing locations and names... Paradise Moon, Maybe?
For those that have never been, Bonaire diving is easy and very laid back.... no boats to catch, no dive briefings, no playing follow the leader with 12 other divers on a crowded boat, swarming over every poor critter that is unfortunate enough to be found out by the dive leader, and no dive masters hurrying you into or out of the water. Get into the truck when you feel like it, get some tanks, and pick a site... all sites are marked with yellow painted rocks and have the name of the site also painted on them... ample parking areas, and short walks into the water... most dives start shallow, so if you want to save air, you can snorkel out, then descend when the water gets deeper.
Water temperatures seemed to average 79F in February... I wore a 5 mm full wetsuit and was fairly comfortable... but I chill very easily.
The only larger pelagics we saw were a few eagle rays on a dive on the northern part of the island, “Oil Slick Leap.” Overall the diving was very good... lots of schools of fish, healthy corals, lots of eels, although we didn’t see any green morays this trip... had heard there was a disease that was the result of storm run off that was killing them, but I never confirmed that.
Departure tax is collected at the airport before you check in... payable in cash or credit card.