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How to Enjoy Bonaire with the Whole Family

Take a family-friendly trip to the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire, home to flamingos, salt pans, and national parks.

Washington Slaagbai National Park, Bonaire
Hi, I'm Narasu!

Narasu Rebbapragada is a marketing professional, freelance writer, and avid traveler who lives in San Francisco, California. She got the scuba-diving bug 10 years ago and is a PADI-certified rescue diver. Her favorite sea animal is the parrotfish.

As a Caribbean vacation destination Bonaire often flies under the radar, despite having plenty to offer to those seeking adventure and relaxation alike. Rather than the high rises of nearby Aruba and Curacao, Bonaire—part cactus-strewn desert; part flamingo–filled tropics—offers ecological diversity, dozens of scuba dive sites, and a year-round dry climate which makes it ideal for those with kids. Here’s how to make the most of a family trip to Bonaire.

Plan for rocky beaches

An iguana sits on a rock at the beach in Bonaire.
Bonaire is home to a number of rocky beaches.Photo credit: sebastianvelezvilla17 / Shutterstock

Think snorkeling, not sand castles.

Formed by tectonic activity that pushed reefs above sea level, most of Bonaire’s beaches are rocky, made of fossilized coral and limestone. The upside is that tropical fish and coral are just a short swim from shore. The downside is that you’ll need hard-soled footwear to get into the water. If you want a safer sand beach for kids to run freely, book a resort that offers one.

Rent the right vehicle

A vehicle is parked in Bonaire.
Renting the right vehicle is essential to getting the most out of a Bonaire vacation.Photo credit: blue-sea.cz / Shutterstock

Give yourself permission to split up.

Getting around the island can be tricky if you’ve got a lot of scuba diving gear to take with you. While it’s definitely worth renting a 4WD to get your gear to where it needs to be, you might find there’s not much room left for, well, the kids. Consider sending some of your party on an excursion with hotel pick-up included, while you take the car and meet them there or head off alone. You can always reconvene in the evening to swap stories over dinner.

Choose the best dive site

Visitors prepare to dive in Bonaire.
Bonaire has plenty of diving and snorkeling sites suitable for all the family.Photo credit: Ben Schonewille / Shutterstock

There are plenty to pick from.

There are officially 13 dive sites on Bonaire, which are also designated snorkeling spots. One such site is 1000 Steps, but don’t be intimidated—there aren’t 1000 steps! In fact, there are about 70. Head to the bottom of the staircase and you’ll be rewarded with aqua shallows for swimming, snorkeling, and diving potential. The long beach is also suitable for walking, but lack of shade and the rocky shore might discourage sunbathers. Alternatively, take a water taxi to No Name Beach on the nearby uninhabited island of Klein Bonaire.

Enjoy a picture-postcard beach day

Exterior of the Sorobon Beach Club in Bonaire.
Relax at the Sorobon Beach Club on Bonaire.Photo credit: StephanKogelman / Shutterstock

Don’t forget the bug spray.

For a true white-sand, beach-chair, fruity-cocktail-in-hand experience, head to Sorobon Beach in Lac Bay on the south of the island. This beach has an incredible length of shallow water that’s great for wading, says Blair Campbell, a magazine editor and mom from California. “My daughter and I walked really far out to an anchored raft. It was so cool. We also paddleboarded together.” The Sorobon Beach Club also offers food, drink, and shade, while the protected bay is ideal for snorkeling, windsurfing, and kayaking through the mangrove forests.

Don’t miss the national park

Visitors tour The Washington Slagbaai National Park in Bonaire.
The Washington Slagbaai National Park is a must when in Bonaire.Photo credit: Gail Johnson / Shutterstock

Visit independently or on a guided tour.

A visit to Washington Slagbaai National Park is a must. Situated at the north tip of the island, the 14,000 acre (5,665 hectare) park provides an all-in-one snapshot of Bonaire’s land and sea diversity. Expect everything from Bonaire’s signature tranquil turquoise bays to unsheltered winds which provide spectacular views of high surf crashing into jagged rocks. The high terrace of Seru Grandi even has a Mars-like feel that comes from 200,000-year-old geological rock formations. The easiest way to visit Washington Slagbaai National Park is to book a tour, although you can navigate the unpaved and hilly roads yourself.

See the animals with a side of salt

View of the Bonaire salt pans.
The Bonaire salt pans are otherworldly.Photo credit: Peter John Watson / Shutterstock

Make the most of Bonaire’s natural diversity.

When driving around Bonaire’s south side, you’ll be treated to views of dazzling white mountains behind rose-colored ponds. In reality, these are salt pyramids and evaporating pans, where pink flamingos often graze. Part of this area is a Flamingo Sanctuary, which you can admire from the roadside near Pink Beach. Bring binoculars. Alternatively, head to the Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire, which is home to hundreds of rescue donkeys you can feed with carrots.

Honor Bonaire’s dark past

Beachside huts that once housed enslaved people sit on the beach in Bonaire.
These beachside huts once housed enslaved people on Bonaire.Photo credit: Gail Johnson / Shutterstock

Pay your respects to the peoples who were once enslaved here.

We’d be remiss if we let you leave Bonaire without paying homage to the history that shaped the island. Much like neighboring Curacao, Bonaire played its own part in the slave trade. Two beaches, White Slave and Red Slave, tell the story with placards and small huts facing the sea. These plaster structures—roughly the size of large tents—look almost idyllic until you realize that they slept up to six people who worked in the pans hauling salt for export.

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