Bonaire is well known as a do-it-yourself diver’s paradise with over 60 stellar dive sites, most accessible from shore. This Dutch Caribbean island caters to experienced scuba divers who typically rent pickup trucks, load them with tanks and gear, and drive to small gravel parking lots leading to underwater adventures at dive spots such as “Angel City” or “Vista Blue.”
Divers then suit up, walk across rocks, sand, and piers, and step into bright, turquoise waters hiding hundreds of fish varieties, 57 species of soft and hard coral, and even a shipwreck with drug-smuggling infamy.
And although self-navigated shore diving is Bonaire’s claim to fame, it can be hard work to rent a truck, haul heavy tanks and gear, suit up on shore, and teeter on foot along sharp rocks and coral into the water. (No matter how you go, you’ll want to bring hard-soled shore shoes.)
There is an alternative: a guided diving boat tour, which can give you a short respite from shore diving or be a stress-free alternative where all logistics are handled for you. It’s all the underwater eye candy without the hassle. Here are six ways diving tours in Bonaire can enhance the diving experience for all skill levels.
Talk to the divers in those sandy, salty pickup trucks and you’ll learn about all the “work” that goes into a self-guided shore diving vacation. Renting transport and equipment. Planning dives. Assembling gear. Carrying gear. Washing gear. Refilling air tanks. You can avoid a lot of that labor and save time by booking a tour that includes transportation and provides gear. You are on vacation, after all. And if you want to maximize your time and get in more dives per day, tours are your best bet.
Klein Bonaire is a small, uninhabited island a short hop west of Bonaire. While you can visit on your own by water taxi, only one dive site in the north (No Name Beach) has shore access once you’re there. To dive or snorkel the other 25 sites, you’ll need a boat and you’ll want a dive guide, particularly to get to pristine southwestern sites such as Southwest Corner, Forest, and Munk’s Haven. The sites on the southwest corner are advanced since the current picks up. A dive guide can point out the highlights and keep you safe at the same time.
“These sites have very healthy coral, a variety of hard and soft corals, and very active marine life,” says Daniël Molenaar, managing director of Aqua Fun Bonaire, which offers small-group guided dives by speedboat. An experienced guide can help you navigate the moderate to strong currents that come with this area’s biodiversity and great visibility, so you can relax and focus on what you’re seeing.
Groups of two or more are required for recreational diving in Bonaire, so tours with a dive guide are convenient for solo travelers or for those with travel partners at a different skill level (or uninterested in going under).
Dive conditions on Bonaire are generally more tranquil than most other dive destinations around the world, but the sea does have a mind of its own. Each day and dive site can come with currents, waves, surge, and challenging entries to work through. An experienced dive guide helps to ensure you navigate them safely.
Plus, self-guided diving requires a certain comfort with natural and compass navigation so you start and end your dives in the right spots. If you haven’t yet tackled those skills, you’ll be happier learning from an expert leading your dive.
Dive tours are staffed by experienced divemasters and instructors, many of whom have been diving around the world and chosen to make Bonaire their home. They’re deeply familiar with the island’s sites and its animals—tell them what you want to see, and they’ll try to make it happen for you.
“We know where the turtles are, and seahorses, frogfish, and big groups of fish, too,” says Aqua Fun Bonaire’s Molenaar of his trips to Klein Bonaire. “If you are very lucky, you can dive with dolphins.”
The west coast of Bonaire has the sweeping turquoise shallows that are the makings of tourism posters and Corona beer ads. Head to the wild east coast, however, and you’ll see the darker blue and tall crashing waves that pump up your adrenaline. Here’s where you’ll see the bigger fish—sharks and rays—that hunt in the deeper depths. Unless you’re a very experienced diver, a guided boat dive is the recommended way to see this stuff.