Caribbean Freediving: Bonaire the (free)divers paradise
Even the license plates in Bonaire say ‘divers paradise’. Bonaire, a famous destination in the scubadiving world, not so much in the freedive world (yet…). So let’s explore the potential of Bonaire as a freedivers paradise! This little southern Caribbean Island is blessed with rough natural beauty above as well as below the surface. Besides curiosity, my main reason to come to Bonaire was to take my freediving skills to the next level. Best move I could make! I love to share with you why. Here’s 12 reasons to make Bonaire your next freedive destination, whether you’re a freedive novice or looking to go like a pro.
- 1. The water: Deep, clear, warm and calm
- 2. Beautiful protected reef, all around
- 3. AIDA freedive training center
- 4. Freedivebuddies
- 5. Safety Facilities
- 6. Freediving in caves
- 7. Relaxation maximization
- 8. Exploration options
- 9. The coolest training pool
- 10. Healthy tasty delicious food
- 11. Cross training options
- 12. The people
1. The water: Deep, clear, warm and calm
The contrasts of blue’s between depth and shallow waters is spectacular. 50 meters from the shore the reef drops big time. Right away you can already train up to 30 meters depth. 100 meters from the shore you can train 50 meters depth. Just a little further depth reaches 120 meter. Opportunities for every level. The shape of the island gives Bonaire a big protected harbour. It is blessed with 24 miles of leeward coast, out of the wind, with hardly any currents. This makes the visibility suberb! Water temperature is around 28 degrees up to 30 in summer.
2. Beautiful protected reef, all around
Bonaire (and Klein Bonaire, the little island infront of Kralendijk town) is almost completely surrounded with a dropdown reef, including vertical walls. Very early the island realized this beauty should be preserved and taking care of. Since 1979 the entire coast is a protected marine park. Therefore the quality of marine flora and fauna is still suberb! The destination has one of the most diverse and plentiful fish population of the West Indies. Every reef visitor contributes to the conservation of marine park by buying a tag from STINAPA park management (divers $25, freedivers/snorkellers 10$). From the shore you can access endless exploration spots for fun Caribbean freediving. More than 60 shore diving spots are marked by yellow painted stones at the side of the road. 1000steps beach and the South Pier are a must! No spearfishing (except for lionfish) and anchoring is allowed. But with more than 100 moorings there is still enough possibilities to attach your boat or freedive float.
3. AIDA freedive training center
I progressed in 2 weeks how I otherwise may have progressed in a year. I did my AIDA 3* and 4* course with DeepSea Bonaire, the school of world champ Carlos Coste. No regrets! I learned SO much from him. With 13 years of freedive teaching and multiple records to his name Carlos offers a top level training opportunity. Whether you’re a newby, want to take your freedive skills to higher level, or looking to train for some very serious depth, DeepSea Bonaire can help you push the limit. Carlos can also help you out with boiys, training buddies, oxygen, FRX training. Check Deep Sea Bonaire to see what freedive events and courses are coming up. This June Carlos is doing a world record attempt for variable weight. There’s an opportunity for 12 athletes to come train and compete for an official AIDA record. Learn more about that here.
Not always easy to find a freedive buddy to train with, right? In Bonaire you won’t be the only freediver in the Caribbean freediving scene! Although scubadiving dominates in this place, freediving starts to become more popular. Open apnea trainings are organized by DeepSea Bonaire. There is a Bonaire freedive Whats app group (managed by Carlos & Gaby). This june 2015 maybe the freedivers will dominate with the AIDA competition and world record attempt!
5. Safety Facilities
All spots are swimming distance from shore. There is a hospital with a hyperbaric oxygen room and enough specialism around in decompression sickness. Not too unimportant.
6. Freediving in caves
There is a huge underground ecosystem to explore on this island and not many people know about it. Bonaire has 300-400 caves, many of them still to be discovered. Fascinating fossilised coral formations, stalagmites, stalactites, crystal clear waters and many hidden corners where you can dive into, bringing you to other cave rooms! The top layer (+/-2,5m) is freshwater when diving below this you’ll get to the salty layer. Incredibly cool and a MUST for every adventure seeker and freediver to go caving when coming to Bonaire! Contact FlowBonaire for this adventure. Owner Leo is a freediver too. He fully understands your eagerness to dive to the bottom of the cave and is happy to let you do so, safe and secure.
7. Relaxation maximization
As with freediving, the more relaxed you are the better the freedive performance. No stress in this place. With no traffic lights and little traffic even the iguanus and donkeys are chilling on the street. With only 16.000 islanders, Bonaire is a very relaxed, uncrowded peaceful island. For after diving chill-out you can go for a boulevard evening stroll, open air cinema, picknick on the beach or spoil yourself with a fresh seaside dinner.
8. Exploration options
On your freedive day-off there’s loads to explore, below as well as above the surface. Basically wherever you go it’s beau-ti-ful and you surely discover something unique. Wild donkeys, parrots, pelicans, flamingos, cliffs, secluded beaches. I was happily surpised by the rough beauty of Bonaire nature. It’s a unique mix. You can (& should!) go on safari in Washington Slagbaai national park. Combine the exploration with some action. Go kayaking or snorkeling in the mangrove forest; sail, swim or kayak to the unhabited island of Klein Bonaire; go for a hike in ’the cactus outback’; explore Bonaire by mountainbike; go for some rockclimbing, or just rent a car and cruise around. Bonaire is also a top destination for kitesurfing and windsurfing. If you stay a long time you may want to give it a go. Don’t miss out on the local ‘snacks’, which are the caribbean style bars. They are especially fun in the afternoon. Have a drink with a local and absorb the Bonairean ambience. With all this happening mostly in the day you can chill away in the evening, sleep early and be ready for next day training.
9. The coolest training pool
Infront of the boulevard in Kralendijk there is a swimmingpool and it’s the coolest I’ve ever seen. It’s natural with a white sandy bottom and tropical fish swimming around. Lines have been rolled out so you can focus and train like in a a real pool. There are lines for 50m and 1 for 70m. In a setting like this it makes dynamic training a lot more fun! And: it’s free! Unique in Caribbean freediving!
10. Healthy tasty delicious food
Bonaire is a multipot of cultures. You’ll find food and ingredients from all over. Colombian Ceviche, Venezuelan arepas, Surinam Roti, Creole dishes, Dutch bread, or the local stobas (stews) or funchi (steamed corn). There are ‘snacks’ (local bars), take-aways, charming restaurants, seaside dinner places or just make your own picknick. Definitely try the local lion fish, the most responsible fish to eat! It’s tasty, healthy and threatening the ecosystem so go for it. Last but not least, on Ti Amo beach in front of freedive practice spots the Kite City Van serves delicious fish until sunset. Straight from your training you can eat the catch of the day on the beach. Food tip: GoGreen Ayurveda restaurant, serving the most delicious pure foods. Check out this handy directory to find your preferred food.
11. Cross training options
To be a good freediver we have to work on aerobic and aenarobic training. Learned all about that in the AIDA freedive course;). There are numerous gyms in town offering grouplessons, TRX, yoga. Name it, you can train it. There are massage, accupucnture, yoga, and spa places. A waterfront run on the boulevard is also quite nice for a change!
12. The people
No one walks by you without saying Bom Dia (goodmorning) or Bom Tardi (goodafternoon). That’s the vibe and ambience of a little uncrowded island. Bonaire is a nice mixture of locals, import locals who fell in love with the island, active travellers, water sports enhusiasts, artistic people and creatives. You fit right in!
And all of this, ALL YEAR ROUND! No hurricanes in this part of the Caribbean.
See you in Bonaire?
A few more Thoughtful Travel Take-aways:
- You can drink the tap water. The quality is superbueno! So just bring 1 bottle and re-fill!
- Spearfishing is probited. The only fish that is allowed to be speared is the lionfish that is unbalacing the ecosystem. Check STINAPA for more info about that!
- Get a car or scooter to get around. It’s not a must but it can bring you to every corner of the island. Especially more inland you’ll discover the cool local places to eat.
- Where to stay in Bonaire? Anywhere in or near Kralendijk is a good location. On the waterfront is fantastic! A few places that caught my interest: Medium budget: Blue Diver. Wow factor: Summer dream Ocean Club. Wow 2 with boat pick-up service from Deep Sea: You & Me appartments. Check Flipkey and Homeaway to browse rental houses in Bonaire
- On a budget? Check couchsurfing and AirBNB (-<25$discount) to stay with a local for budget accommodation in Bonaire.
- Staying Long-term? Ask on the Bonaire housing facebook group. There are many people offering housing and appartments
- Keep the receipt of the STINAPA Marine tag and bring it with you when going to Washington Slagbaai National park. It saves you 10 $ on the entrance fee!
- On the first sight, Bonaire is not for the budgettraveller. Which is good. It will never get crowded here. Though if you happen to be on a budget, and look around the corner, behind the restaurants on the first row, meet locals, ask locals and buy locally, you’ll manage, and it’s de-fi-ne-te-ly worth the freedive progression!
- Locals speak Papiamentu, some speak Dutch, some speak Spanish, some speak English. Some speak it all. Learn a few local language phrases and you’ll make some local friend. Goodmorning: Bom dia, Good afternoon: Bom tardi. Thank you: Masha danki. Bye: ajo. Hopi Bon: very good.
- Being 11 degrees north of equator, the sun is super strong. Best to dive in the mornings or afternoons and wear loads of (ocean friendly) suncream.
Disclaimer: All recommendations in this post on Bonaire Caribbean freediving are my own, as always. I don’t earn any money from writing this. I hope that Bonaire will receive more freedive fanatics in the future. I do earn some pesos for the adventure fund from affiliate links on this website. Thank you for clicking through:).