Bonaire may not be the favorite island of the ABC but a paradise for divers and snorkelers. When I planned this trip, I didn’t have Bonaire in mind because I thought there was nothing much to do except diving. I was in the neighboring islands Curacao and Aruba, and my curiousity took me to this beautiful island even with a crammed itinerary. So, I have seen the three islands of the ABC.
But what are things to do that are not involved in diving? Don’t fret, this colorful, friendly, and relaxed sphere island has so much to offer. It makes sense, the sea is used to a large extent for these actions. As for cultural and sightseeing holidays, Bonaire will certainly not disappoint you. So in this post, you will find things to do that don’t include diving. However, if you plan a trip to Curacao, which is genuinely worth a visit and is only 30-minute fly from Bonaire read my separate post on Curacao.
Maybe interested: The best thing to see and do on colorful Curacao
Important notice when arriving at Bonaire airport
You may already hear that since July 2022, all visitors arriving at Flamingo airport must pay a tourist tax of 75 USD and 10 dollars for children up to 12 years old, except for those arriving on a vessel. Cruise passengers visiting Bonaire were lucky as they could evade the tourist tax.
How does it work for the tourist tax? You can fill in the form online one week before or the day you travel and pay with a credit card. A caution reminder, the tourist tax website needs to be fixed for payment. I couldn’t pay online, but on the last page, they will let you choose to pay at the airport. The QR code is essential because it’s the first thing they check at the airport. Be careful of fraudulent websites! This is the official Bonaire visitor tax.
Should you visit Bonaire even if you are not a diver?
I’m not a person who dives, but I genuinely enjoy my trip to the island. Bonaire is a beautiful destination in the Caribbean. So whether you love cultural stuff, want to experiment with food, or if you are like me, a nature lover, this is the place to be. And to be honest, I prefer Bonaire to Aruba – I’m not overstating. Some will argue with me on this because Aruba is the favorite of ABC islands. In fact, my four days were too short despite being a non-diver.
Rent a vehicle to get around.
I wasn’t thinking of renting a car in the first place, but everyone says, foreseeing transport of your own is the easy way of exploring the island. And I agree with others, as I have seen how difficult it is to get around in Bonaire if you don’t have a car. There are taxis to bring you anywhere, but you can’t hail them from the street. You must call or book in advance through your accommodation or at the airport.
Read my other post on Bonaire: Beautiful Bonaire, how to get around on the island!
If you rather not drive a car, is not a problem. There are bike and scooter rentals in Kralendijk. You can decide which one you’d like to go—fairly to say, you can’t go that far without your transfer. Tours are available to purchase, but that will cost you more, and it limits your freedom. Do you want your freedom? then opt for wheels. Of course, a bike and scooter are cheaper than renting a car. Bonaire is a tiny island you can drive from north to south in one day.
Bonaire: the Best Great Tips Activities for Non-diver
Did you rent a car right? The good thing is, if you have a vehicle, you can do whatever you want. So whether you start strolling downtown Kralendijk or drive to the north or south part of the island, you’ll see things for sure before you leave Bonaire, and most of the sights on the island are free unless it is stated. You may already notice that Bonaire is not a budget-friendly destination. Thankfully, you can still enjoy some activities without spending money. In fact, the ABC islands are not budget-friendly destinations, and Bonaire is the most expensive compared to Aruba and Curacao. But that is my opinion, the others might disagree with me.
You might be interested: Curacao: how to get around the island-the easy way!
Walk through the colorful Kralendijk.
The atmospheric Kralendijk is the bustling heart of Bonaire, precisely the same as what you see on the postcards. Kaya Grandi is where you can express admiration for colorful houses used as boutiques and coffee shops. You don’t see high-rise buildings, which reinforce the holiday feeling in the Caribbean style. It striking in many pastel shades and clearly shows the Dutch influence.
By the way, if you’d like to experience Kralendijk, stroll along the waterfront at night the outlook is different than in the daytime. The massive cruise ships are so diverting to look at in a dim light. As for shopaholics, Bonaire isn’t the right place, not only expensive it has a few shops only compared to Curacao and Aruba. There they have an array of shopping malls where you can shop till you drop. However, don’t leave without buying a souvenir, there are sufficient shops selling mementos of Bonaire.
Tip for Parking in Kralendijk
You can park anywhere in Bonaire for free, the only island on the ABC without charging for parking except at the airport. The only one that can aggravate is finding space for your car. That said, it isn’t a disaster, everything is concise around Kralendijk. If you see no room then drive around. There is designated parking downtown Kralendijk.
Drive to Goto Meer (lake)
It lies north on the island, approximately thirty minutes from Kralendijk. Two ways to get there: driving the coastline through Karpata or the road to Rincon via Dos Pos. It is a relatively big lake known for viewing Flamingos. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen one bird during my visit, but a drive along the lake was fantastic. A whole different surrounding area that you would not expect on such an island. Because of its location, almost no one is around. You have all the surrounding area by yourself to enjoy the view of Brandaris in the background, the highest point of Bonaire.
Strolling through Rincon town
Rincon is a tidy town with history and culture, the oldest village of Bonaire. Surely, not everyone has Rincon on their list because they think there’s not much to see. It is in fact, a pleasant place to spend a couple of hours just to get away from the bustle of Kralendijk. I love this place and returned a few days later. I walked around, met some friendly folks, and chatted with them. So interesting listening to a narrative from local people if you want to learn about the island’s history. Anyway, Rincon has a long and eventful history and is replete with traditions. Moreover, the inhabitants are remarkably different and friendlier than in Kralendijk.
Visit Cadushy Distillery
Have you ever heard of liquor made from cacti? Well, if you are eager to know, visit Cadushy distillery in Rincon. They give a free tasting of liqueurs and spirits that distill right on-site. Moreover, if you’d like to know the ins and outs of how the liquor was made, they give an informative tour. By the way, if you are interested in buying some bottles, take advantage of the opportunity to take home an authentic Bonaire souvenir. I’ve seen Cadushy liquor prices at the airport, and they were expensive. So buy your bottle here.
On your way to Rincon, you will see the sign to the cove. It’s free to visit, so take advantage of it. The untouched nature in the area is remarkable, an unknown site of Bonaire that barely visited, and chances you won’t see anyone around. When you get to a place like this, you wonder where everyone goes, while there are some beautiful spots on the island to discover.
You’ll see the turbines in the distance if you drive to the water’s edge. You can get a closer look by walking through the unpaved pathway. In the same area, you will also find the Indian Inscriptions, where you see markings carved on the rocks. The only downside to this place is that you have to go through a bumpy drive, but with a low speed that is doable with a regular car.
Seru Largu (viewpoint) of Bonaire
Who might think an island like Bonaire has a viewpoint? Surprisingly, Seru Largu is a breathtaking elevation of 123 meters. A narrow winding drive through the slope will reward you with magnificent views. At the top, you see the Millennium Monument with a large white cross. To get the best outlook on the island, go up through landscaped viewing terrace, where you can walk around. Some say this is the best spot on the island to watch the sunset, it would be nice, but I don’t dare to drive up here in the dark.
The salt flats
If you’re doing the South of Bonaire drive, you can’t miss the salt flats, an attraction that you won’t see in other places. The salt flat takes up most of the area, and the pink lakes that surround it are one of a kind. However, the history behind it is deplorable. Slaves were brought here to mine the salt flats and treated poorly, but that is the past. Nowadays, salt is extracted the same way as before, but done with machinery. And because it is private property, trespassing is prohibited. The closest you can get is to pull over with your car on the side of the road and take pictures of the gorgeous massive salt mounds.
The slave huts (white shacks)
The Slave Huts were right up the road from salt flats. These small shacks contain some history. This was constructed during slavery time and used as sleeping quarters for people working in salt production on the island. You can visualize what it is like to live in these incredibly tiny huts, not even high enough for people to stand in. The structure can feel the desperation of the past inhabitants that are able to survive these conditions.
Red slave (Peleke)
These are similar to the slave huts but in yellow ochre, it has the same history. A provided shelter for the laborers who worked in the salt industry. The sizes and interior are pretty much identical to the slave huts and are simply a reminder of how human nature the ability to treat people. Seeing these tiny huts on your trip is a mournful experience to look thoughtfully at history. As there isn’t much information about the place, you will be tempted to search for it online. Rather than eliminating these gloomy reminders, they were kept up to give visitors a glimpse into the past.
You can’t miss the lighthouse as it stands out dramatically starkly against distinctive terrain. Although you can’t get in, still an interesting site to have a look at it from the outside. The beautifully painted and restored lighthouse dominates the environment. The silence and the ongoing wind make it a special side of Bonaire. Furthermore, next to the lighthouse you’ll find an empty dwell in concrete that looks like a haunted place. This was the house of the light keeper, which is virtually a ruin. Generally decaying inside, yet has its charm because it stands all alone in this place.
Washington slagbaai national park
The facts about entry fees for national parks on the ABC islands are more expensive. However, this was one of the most famous sights in Bonaire that you wouldn’t miss. The massive national park has a total area of over 5,500 hectares. The best way to admire the park is to self-drive. Some say you need a 4×4 vehicle, but if you already have rented a regular car, is not necessary to get a pick-up. It is really a rough drive but feasible with an ordinary vehicle. I did not have a four-wheel drive.
Take some food and drinks with you because there’s no food service in the park. On the west coast of the park, you have some excellent diving and snorkeling spots, so bring your equipment. As you know, there is much to see and experience. Once in the park, you can choose one of the two routes – the long and the short.
The short drive takes approximately 1.5 and 2.5 hours for the longer route. To fully enjoy the trip, it is sensible to enter early to avoid the heat if you want to hike to Brandiris. The park is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, and the last entry is at 2:00 pm – The entry fee is 45 USD per person. I know it’s quite expensive but truly worth the price.
Swimming and snorkeling
With so many beaches around Bonaire, you can visit them if you have your transport. However, if you don’t want to drive, there are some beautiful beaches near Kralendijk, such as Te Amo, Donkey, and Bachelor’s beaches, but these areas can get crowded if the cruise ships arrive. Most people who don’t have a car rather swim here.
Swimming and snorkeling are great activities on Bonaire. You can snorkel anywhere as long as there is water, lol. Some say the best place is near the pink beach. Oh yes, I’ve seen many people snorkeling around the area, but only if you’re a good swimmer because of the strong current. Lac Bay and 1000 steps are known spots, it’ll insure you see some marine turtles.
As for the quieter shore, Klein Bonaire is ideal to spend all day. The pristine beaches of this uninhabited island can be reached with a water taxi from Kralendijk; it’s 25 dollars for a return trip. See the timetable on the Caribe website. Another option is Lac Cai, just on the north side of Lac Bay. This quaint little spot is relaxing with calm waters and is less crowded. Just a reminder, it’s a challenging drive to the beach. I was surprised because no one mentioned it on a blog about how horrible is the road to Lac Cai.
Good to know! Bring your snorkeling equipment because renting on the spot cost 10 USD. Some hotels let their guest use it for free, but what about if you are not staying in one of those hotels? Are you willing to pay ten dollars every day? I decided to buy one, which cost me 45 dollars.
Spot some wild donkeys on Bonaire
In the 17th century, the donkeys were brought to Bonaire by the Spaniards to be used as working animals. And when modern vehicles were made, the donkeys were left to fend for themselves and chased onto the island. Not all donkeys have been taken from the wild, and you encounter them in the outlying areas. You notice some warning signs on the road about donkeys that can cause traffic accidents. So moderate your speed when touring the island. In fact, you will find more of them in Donkey Sanctuary, where you can cuddle and feed them – the entrance fee is 9.00 dollars.
Landhuis (country house) Karpata
You can combine the visit to Karpata country house and snorkeling, as its location is on the other side of the road. Karpata’s shoreline is one of Bonaire’s most popular diving and snorkeling spots. The country house which was originally called Borneo is now a cultural-historical heritage site on the island. This complex was restored in 1980 with Dutch expense and set up as an ecological center and then opened by Queen Beatrix. Nowadays, the country house was abandoned, dilapidated, and looted, but still worth looking at it.
Where to stay in Bonaire?
Before you made the booking essentially, you have to decide which part of the island you stay in. Kralendijk is perfect if you like to be in the center. Belnem is near Flamingo international airport and closes to the beaches. Lac Bay is a little far out of the capital, and certainly, you need a car if staying in the area. Santa Barbara is remotely located and has much cheaper accommodations, but too far from all the city’s action. I stayed in Kralendijk and booked a self-contained bungalow. My own paradise resort Bonaire was convenient, close to the center, and only ten minute’s drive to the airport.