Imagine waking up in a tropical paradise, grabbing your dive gear, loading a couple of tanks on the back of your pick-up truck and heading out to explore the wonderful treasures hidden underwater around the island! This is what your average day looks like in Bonaire! No time limit, no tank limit, just you and the ocean.
Last month we went on an adventure, to explore the shore diving capital of the world, while learning UW photography from a skilled professional and having a blast!
Buddy Dive Resort and Dive Center
The week surpassed all of our expectations. We arrived to Buddy Dive Resort, a lovely complex which feels more like a small and pleasant village.
We were greeted by a charming lady at the reception named Carmelita, who took us to our room. We took the Studio, which was very large and included a great little kitchenette, small desk with a couple of chairs and a very comfy bed.
You can also choose to get the 1-br unit, which includes a large living room in addition to the above.
Shortly after checking in, we received our pick-up truck, as part of your Dive n’ Drive package. To get a sense of the true freedom of diving in Bonaire, you want to get a truck. With your truck you can roam the island freely, diving wherever and whenever you please!
Once we’ve settled in the room, we headed out to the dive shop for a mandatory introduction and filling out forms. Bonaire has been a nature reserve since the 70s, so they take conservation very seriously and make sure each diver knows what they’re doing and adheres to all the instructions.
At this point you will also get your marine park tag ($25), which you will need to wear on your BCD at all times, to prove that you have listened to the introduction and know the rules.
Buddy Dive Resort is all about, what else, Diving! Even the pathway lights throughout the resort are made out of recycled scuba tanks.
Once you walk down the staircase leading to the dock and dive shop, a whole world is revealed – plenty of rinse tanks, with dedicated tanks for regs and cameras, endless rows of lockers for your gear, hanging space for wetsuits and helpful staff ready to assist with any questions or recommend dive sites. Most importantly – infinite supply of tanks, Nitrox and Air, at your disposal, available day and night! Whenever your heart desires, simply grab a tank and jump into the clear blue water right out of your room. It can’t get any easier than that!
My favorite thing about the resort is by far the Tank Drive-Through (Dive-Thru). Enter with your truck, load a couple of tanks, check your air and go diving! When you return you can wash your gear there, change tanks and hit the road again! FANTASTIC!!
Bonaire Scuba Diving – How does it work?
Upon check-in, you will get a map of the dive sites. Bonaire’s dive sites are all neatly organized along the beach, marked with a yellow rock with the name of the dive site painted on it. Of course, adventurous divers can always go “off-piste” and explore the unmarked sites.
We had an excellent local guide called “BONAIRE Shore Diving Made Easy”, by Susan Porter, which offers a short description of each dive site, best entry point and how to plan your dive. Even if you don’t have the book, you can always ask the ever-so-helpful dive staff at Buddy’s.
Frankly, most dive sites are super-easy! Find the best entry point, swim to the buoy marking the dive site, descend to the bottom, go against the current for half a tank, turn around and return to the buoy!
The greatest advantage by far, is that nobody is rushing your during the dive! You can basically take all the time you want, dive to whichever depth you choose and stay there for as long as you want! Well, as long as the charts and air supply allow…
We were an all-photographers group (+1 very patient diver), so nobody was in a rush, and there was plenty of time for each member of the group to get the shot they wanted.
The first dive of the week is a mandatory check dive, at the resort’s house reef. Luckily, Buddy’s house reef is very impressive! The slope starts about 75 feet from shore, going down to 120 feet of depth. The top part of the slope is around 30 feet. All along the slope you can find beautiful formations of corals and sponges, swarming with hundreds of species of marine life, from colorful Parrotfish and huge 6ft Tarpons, to tiny Coral Banded Shrimp. There’s even a small wreck, situated upside down at 33-40ft.
On our very first dive we saw a free swimming Octopus and a couple of huge Tarpons, 6ft each. If you’re not ready for them, you could easily mistake them for Sharks. Cool fact – during night dives, the Tarpons are attracted to your dive light, which helps them hunt, so don’t be surprised when they pop out of the darkness and brush up against you!
We even saw a Turtle at the house reef! The great thing about this site, is that it’s right in the resort, so you can basically jump in the water from your balcony, give or take a few steps.
Entry and exit is super easy, with 2 broad staircases leading to the water, and plenty of sink tanks to wash your gear throughout the premises.
Our package included unlimited dives, but we decided to go on only 3 dives a day, since we also had 3 topside classes, one-on-one sessions with our photography instructor Ran, and photo review at the end of each day.
When leaving for shore dives outside the resort, we picked our gear up from the shop, loaded a couple of tanks at the Dive-Thru and headed toward the Southern dive sites.
Towards the end of the week, we were planning on diving one of Bonaire’s most famous dive sites – Salt Pier. The site got its name from the huge pier which runs through it, used to transport salt from the salt mine across the road, to the cargo ship which drops anchor there for a couple of days every week. The site is popular for a reason. Diving under the pier is a fantastic experience, with huge impressive pillars and large schools of Grunts hiding beneath it, as well as many Barracudas and plenty of other marine life. Even though this is a private pier, a permit is no longer needed to dive there, but whenever the ship is there, diving is forbidden. You can’t always anticipate on which days the ship will be there, so you just need to drive over there with your fingers crossed.
To our disappointment, the ship was indeed there on our first try, but luckily, our plan B turned out to be our best dive of the week! We ended up diving a bit North of there, at a site called Invisibles. The reef was teeming with life, with enormous Brain Corals, Mushroom Corals and Fan Corals. We spotted large Moray Eels, a Turtle, AND a big Eagle Ray swimming right next to us. Overall, excellent plan B!
Other notable dive sites
The Hilma Hooker is another popular dive site in Bonaire. This is a large 240ft cargo ship, sunk on 1984, laying on her side between the two reefs of the Double Reef System, at 50-100ft deep. When swimming from shore, you will first encounter the ship’s bottom side, but once you go around it, you will get the full view of the great wreck and the reef – an impressive location to stretch out your wide angle and get some dramatic shots with the small divers floating beside the enormous wreck.
You can easily explore the open parts of the ship (I recommend bringing a flash light / video light on this dive) and don’t miss the large Tarpons who can be frequently spotted inside the hull and circling the ship.
For those of you who love small critters and macro photographers, I recommend devoting extra time for Bari’s Reef. This dive site can be slightly misleading at first. As you enter it you will notice mosty sand and rubble, but venture slightly further and deeper, to discover one of the most interesting and vibrant reefs, with more species of fish than any other dive site in Bonaire, and plenty of small critters to practice your new close-up lens on!
We dove the southern part of the site, entering through the small piling visible from the beach and swimming south towards the 2 buoys. Even as you enter, you can find hundreds of small Blennies hiding in every crevice and posing for you! We only went down to ~40ft and saw Lobsters, Crabs, different kinds of Shrimp, Moray Eels and more! The most impressive spot is a small canyon further south, at around 40-50ft deep, which holds a high concentration of marine life everywhere you look. I’d recommend marking that spot as your turn-around, and lingering there as much as possible to take photos.
Boat Dives in Bonaire
Our package included 6 boat dives during the week. At the dive shop, just next to the counter, you can see the boat schedule for 2 days in advance and sign yourself up for a morning or afternoon boat. We made sure to sign up all the group for the best dives up front, with the help of Augusto, the dive shop manager who was extremely attentive and helpful, even though he had to juggle through the week with a group of 80 Brazilians! Thanks to his excellent planning, we didn’t even feel the crowd.
The board also marks very clearly where your boat will dock, so that it all works like clockwork and there is no confusion.
Most boats go to Klein Bonaire, or sites that are difficult to reach from shore, but of course this may vary according to weather. We were lucky enough to get excellent weather throughout the whole week, so we got to see plenty of excellent dive sites around Klein Bonaire.
Before heading out, the guide and captain consults with the group as to where they want to dive, making sure nobody repeats a dive site that they’ve already visited during the week and making sure everybody is happy! Luckily, there are so many dive site that this is quite an easy task.
Our favorite dive site from the boat was 18th palm. Even though it can be done from shore, our crew highly recommended it, so we gladly accepted, and boy was it worth it!
The dive site is protected from the wind thanks to the hook shaped beach and reef, making it a good choice even in choppy seas. The reef starts at 20ft and drops down to 100ft. It is FULL of life! We spotted giant Lobsters, Sea Horses, Turtles, chubby Moray Eels, monster Parrotfish, Scorpion Fish and schooling fish of different types. Diving from the boat instead of shore is fun since you drop straight into all the action.
Where to Eat in Bonaire
After a full day of diving, we were pretty exhausted, but there’s nothing like wrapping up the day at a good restaurant with a glass of wine.
Here are a few gems we ate at during the week:
Osaka Sushi & Teppan Yaki
(Kaya Grandi 52E)
Amazing Japanese restaurant! Best Sushi on the island by far, and all the dishes we tried were superb.
The restaurant is only open Tuesday to Saturday, 18:00 – 22:00 and it’s best to make reservations a few days in advance. The décor is Japanese and includes a fresh Sushi Bar and a Teppan Yaki plate where you can see the chef skillfully cooking your meal to perfection.
In case you never heard of it, Teppan Yaki is a style of Japanese cuisine, that uses an iron griddle to cook food. The process of cooking is almost as impressive as the end result, which is fantastic!
Take into account that the dishes are not very big, and the prices are on the higher end, but it’s worth it.
New Wei Taai Bar Restaurant
(Kaya Gobernador N Debrot)
This is a local Chinese / Surinamese restaurant, serving very large meals for a very affordable price! Sure, it’s always packed and you have to wait up to 30-45 minutes for your food when it’s full, but it’s worth the wait. We went there twice and the food came much faster the second time. I highly recommend the Surinamese dishes. They’re more unique than the common Chinese ones and very good.
Italy in the World
(Kaya G. Debrot.)
While officially a wine bar, this boutique restaurant is quite a little gem. We arrived there late, when all other restaurants were already closing and we stumbled upon this little place. The walls are loaded with various types of wines and the atmosphere is very Italian. The pasta dishes are incredible! We had pasta with Truffle sauce and olive oil, as well as the Mushroom Tagliatelle which were both perfect, and the wine recommended by the waiter was precisely to our taste. Be prepared to pay twice as much as you would expect for a pasta dish, but these guys know what they’re doing.
There are plenty of great restaurants in Bonaire, we wish we had time to visit them all! Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments.
If you prefer cooking, Buddy’s apartments are fully equipped with everything you need, and there are several large supermarkets on the island where you can get your groceries.
To sum it up, we had a fantastic week of great diving, excellent restaurants and plenty of underwater photos to edit back home! Bonaire is truly a shore diving paradise and a must-visit spot for every diver!
We hope you will join us next year on another adventure in the beautiful reefs of Bonaire!
More photos from this trip: