Popular Bonaire Shore Excursions
Flamingo spotting: These tall pink birds can be found in the north at Gotomeer, a saltwater lagoon inside of Washington Slagbaai National Park, which serves as a popular flamingo hangout. At the southern end of the island is one of the more unusual preserves -- a flamingo sanctuary in the midst of the solar salt works. Massive mounds of blindingly white salt -- ironically waiting to be loaded on ships to melt ice on northern roads -- are next to the 135-acre sanctuary for the delicate pink birds. Today, thanks to careful conservation efforts the colony is flourishing. The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is one of only four places in the world where flamingos breed, and while visitors aren't allowed inside, you can spot them with binoculars from the road.
Bonaire National Marine Park: The waters surrounding Bonaire and nearby Klein Bonaire (a five-minute boat ride from the capital) are all part of the marine park. Everyone who will be using the park needs a Marine Park tag. It is available at all dive shops and includes admission to Washington Slagbaai National Park. There are 86 marked dive sites, and many are also excellent for snorkeling; the majority are accessible from shore -- look for the yellow painted rocks with dive site names. If you are lucky you will spot a sea horse or a sea turtle. Guided diving and snorkeling can be arranged through dive shops. Try Captain Don's Habitat (yes, that's the Don Stewart), Divi Flamingo Resort or Plaza Resort.
Donkey Sanctuary: The sanctuary is just 10 minutes from Kralendijk near the airport, and down the road from Bachelor's Beach. It is the brainchild of Marina Melis, a Dutch woman who has had a lifelong appreciation for donkeys. Distressed to learn that many donkeys had been abandoned, she set up the refuge with her husband in 1993, where more than 600 donkeys now live -- all have been named and receive loving care. There are usually a couple of babies on hand, and visitors can help feed the donkeys. Bring fruit or bread for a special treat for the animals. (Kaya IR. Randolph Statius van Eps, Kralendijk; 599-956-0767; Open daily, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Donations welcome.)
Go Fish: Go reef, deep sea or bone fishing with Captain Chris Morkos, who has been fishing Bonaire for more than 40 years. Half- and full-day trips are available through Piscatur Fishing Charters. Everything is supplied including tackle and bait. Pickup at the ship pier is included. Captain Chris speaks fluent English, Dutch, French, Spanish and the regional Papiamento. (Kaya H. J. Pop 4, Kralendijk; 599-717-8774)
Washington Slagbaai National Park: Bonaire's national park occupies the northern tip of the island and is a wild, undeveloped park with diving and snorkeling sites, the highest peak on Bonaire (784 feet), a lighthouse and bird watching (including flamingos). Pickups, vans and Jeeps are best for driving on the rough roads. The drive from where your ship is docked takes about 35 minutes. (599-788-9015; open 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Entry must be before 2:45 p.m.)
Lac Bay: This bay, a protected cove on the east coast (a half-hour from port), is ideal for windsurfing. Novices will find it especially comforting since there is no way to be blown out to sea. Lessons and rentals are available. Sea kayaking is also here and guided tours of the mangroves are offered through Bonaire Windsurf Place and Jibe City.
Visit a local ranch: The Rancho Washikemba at Kunuku Warahama, also known as Horse Ranch Bonaire, offers two trails for horseback riding: one goes to the beach with a stop for swimming, while the other goes to the mangroves and flamingos with a stop at the caves. Morning tours of the ranch are available from 9 to 11 a.m., and again from 3 to 5 p.m. The ranch is a 15- to 20-minute drive from the cruise port. (Kaya Noorwega 1; 599-788-8668; rides by appointment)
Terramar Museum: Terramar is the passion project of Dutch archaeologist Ruud Stelten, and documents 7,000 years' worth of Southern Caribbean history. Housed in a greatly renovated historical building more than a century old, the museum's exhibits tell a story of indigenous tribes, slavery, colonialism and life on the island and surrounding islands. The museum is within a short walking distance of the port; spend about 45 minutes here exploring both levels (there are arrows that take you throughout the entire museum). A discount on the $10 admission can be found by grabbing coupon vouchers at downtown vendors like It Rains Fishes restaurant. (2 Kaya Isla Riba; 599-717-0423; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Sundays)
Don't expect Aruban-style stretches of wide dazzling white sand. Bonaire's beaches are small but there are 22 of them; the shore is mostly coral and rock outcroppings. The best hotel beach is at Harbour Village Bonaire or Flamingo Beach at Divi Flamingo Beach Resort. (If you tire of lying in the sun, the island's only casino is nearby.) Take the southern scenic route to Pink Beach with good snorkeling and scuba diving. Lac Bay/Sorobon Beach is the windsurfing beach. No Name Beach on Klein Bonaire is accessible via water taxi. There is no shade, so be sure to bring sunscreen, a hat and water, but there is good snorkeling from the beach and turtles are often spotted.