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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Bonaire 2021

We went to Bonaire for Rob's big birthday in July.  We came up with Bonaire as a destination by intersecting places that were open for travel with places we would want to dive.  There were a couple of other places in the running (like Maldives) but none of our favorites (Fiji, Philippines) or places on our list of places to go soon (PNG, Indonesia) were open.  But we figured something was better than nothing.  This was my first flight since before the pandemic, so that was exciting.  We were traveling with our friends John and Cookie (who are "vacation divers").  Rob continuously reminded me that Bonaire is a Tier 2 (or did he call it Tier 3?) dive destination and we were only there because of the pandemic.


We stayed at Den Laman Condiminiums, which is where we stayed on our previous two trips.  They no longer rent them out directly, but there are a couple rental agencies that rent several of the condos each, so finding two condos there was no problem; and you can still do a combination deal with a condo plus a dive package.  When we first stayed there ~15 years ago, it was all shiny and new.  It's still nice, but the furniture in at least our condo was definitely looking worn out.  Also, they repainted the outside of the building which used to be 3 shades of Dutch island pastels, to 3 shades of grey, and I must admit, this makes me like the place less :).  On the plus side, there were some resident kitties that hung out near the dive shop.

Bonaire is way way more developed than it was when we were last there, both north and south of town.  I'm guessing there are tons of nice houses/condos that you could rent there now, though the proximity to the dive shop and the excellent house reef is still a good reason to stay at one of the dive resort/condos closer to town.  On the topic of the dive shops... the dive shop by Den Laman is now Dive Friends Bonaire, which seems to have a near-monopoly on dive shops on the island.  This is great, because if you have a package with them, you can get tanks from any of their (eight) locations.  We took advantage of this at least once on the trip. 

One other development since our last trip to Bonaire is that the trucks are now automatics (good for me, disappointing for Rob).


On our previous trips to Bonaire, finding places to eat each night was not a thing that really required much advance thought.  We found out the hard way that this is no longer the case.  Maybe it's because stuff was just re-opening after the pandemic and not at full capacity, or maybe this is just the way it is now.  But the first night we wandered around looking for a table at several restaurants and could not get one.  So after that we got a bit more organized and made reservations.  On the plus side (maybe), it seems that there are a lot more upscale places to eat in Bonaire now.  I guess this goes along with the new development. 

We ended up eating at the following places:

  • Lunch
    • IRIE Jamaican Cuisine: We went here for lunch one day.  It was great.  We liked it enough that I think we wanted to go here a second day, but it was closed that day of the week.
    • Stoked Food Truck: Food trucks are a thing on Bonaire now, which I'm a fan of.  I had the pulled rib sandwich, which was good.  And the mango punch was a hit with everyone.  The food truck is a double decker bus, and in theory there is seating on the second deck, but it was closed (not sure if that was pandemic-related or what).  
    • Posada Para Mira: This is supposed to be authentic local food on the north side of the island.  We had trouble finding it, and in fact a local kid (on his bike) kind of led us part of the way until we were back on the scent.  I think some of the things we had (goat stew) were good and others (iguana stew) were less well-liked.  The service was also pretty slow.  It seemed like we were there forever.
    • Doner Station: Kebab place right across the rotary from Den Laman.  It was awesome.
    • Mi Banana: We got very different advice on whether to go here or not.  It was a very local/authentic place that was kind of like a taqueria vibe but with Caribbean food.  I liked it.
    • Between 2 Buns.  We went here for breakfast the last day.  It was good.  They had very good looking desserts, but we didn't try any.
  • Drinks/Snacks
    • Gio's Gelateria & Caffe.  We ate a lot of gelato -- my usual goal on vacation is to eat ice cream everyday.  I ate at least the following flavors: cheesecake, salted caramel, marzipan, coffee, snickers, hazelnut, and pistachio.
    • Breezes n Bites (the restaurant at Den Laman).  We went here for drinks and snacks before dinner a couple of times.  It was perfectly adequate for that purpose.
    • The Bar at Captain Don's.  We went here before dinner the last night.  The drinks were fine.  Some of the customers were obnoxious.
  • Dinner
    • La Terrazza: We ate here the first night, when we couldn't find any other place.  It's an interesting concept; they don't have a menu, you just say what your allergies/preferences are and courses start coming until you say you don't want any more.  It was delicious -- we had wahoo ceviche, shrimp skewers, and chicken stew.  And wine pairings with some of those.  We went here a second time later in the week.
    • At Sea: This place is an example of how there are more upscale restaurants in Bonaire now.  We did the 4 or 5 course surprise menu, and it was good, but it kind of seemed like the restaurant was trying too hard to be fancy.
    • Blue Garden: Brazilian place that is more down to earth than the previous two dinner places.  I can't remember exactly what we got here, but it was some mixed grill sort of thing.  I remember there was a ton of food, the table was totally packed with stuff, and it was good.  But we still managed a night dive afterward!
    • Sebastian's:  This was a fancy place.  It was really good, had a nice view, and they had good cocktails, but it was SO slow.
    • La Cantina: Another more down to earth dinner place.  I thought it was pretty cute inside, and had some interesting things on the menu.  We were doing a night dive, so sadly we could not sample their cocktails.
    • Brass Boer: We went here for Rob's birthday, and did the tasting menu, and it was very good; a good choice for the big night.


And last but not least, the diving!  We did 3 or 4 dives a day.  I am not going to do a full blown dive report for each dive, but will summarize the places that we went:
  • Bari Reef (House Reef).  This was a big reason that we stayed at Den Laman, and it did not disappoint.  I believe that we did six dives here, including two night dives.  There were tons of eels, and at least two resident frogfish (one of which we were able to find over and over again).  At night, there were lots of lobsters, basket stars, and huge tarpon.
  • Hilma Hooker (twice).  Big tarpon and lots of barracuda.
  • Andrea I and II (once each).   Lots of lettuce sea slugs, and these shaggy jelly creatures all over the place on one of the dives.
  • Salt Pier (twice).  Really good viz, tarpon, barracudas, huge green morays.  We were hoping for turtles but never found them.
  • Alice in Wonderland.
  • Captain Don's Reef (Klein Bonaire). Nice sloping reef, with a sand slide with lots of soft (and non-soft) corals along the side of it.
  • Mi Dushi (Klein Bonaire). Rob saw a turtle and squid but I didn’t :( John found an eel out in the open, it was light grey with white spots. Tons of soft corals right on the edge of the drop off. 
  • The Invisibles (twice).  Neat sand chutes on both inner and outer reefs. Tons of fish.
  • Oil Slick Leap.  It was a little sporty on the surface/getting out, but the jump in is always fun :)
  • Tolo (Ol Blue).  This seemed more like a real beach dive than most sites in Bonaire.
  • Cliff.  This is the house reef at Hamlet Oasis, but there is a Dive Friends here, so we could access it (and even use their tanks).  There is a section with a very vertical wall, which has a lot of whip corals on it.  Worth a visit.
  • Something Special.  This is the easiest shore entry on the island.  Rob found a really cool slug here.
  • Margate Bay.  Tons of soft corals along the top edge of the drop off.
  • Tori's Reef.  We tried to go here earlier in the week, and went to Invisibles instead, because we couldn't figure out the entry.  Well we were looking in the wrong place (wrong side of the bridge).  You walk down rocks that kind of make steps. Tons of orange elephant ears.  Drop off is a little deeper. Finally saw a turtle.
We went to a lot of places that we hadn't been before, and it was a good variety.  Only doing 3 or 4 dives a day gave us more time to go further afield for some of the dives.  We only went out on the boat once, and we probably would have gone out at least once more, but it turned out that it was hard to get spots on the boat.  I wish we had been told this when we first showed up; we would have reserved spots earlier in the trip if we had known.

Even though Rob claimed Bonaire is a Tier N dive destination, he got a lot of nice photos, and I had trouble choosing which ones to post here.  Check all of them out on his blog.

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