Above: At Sea in Bonaire (All photos by CJ)
By Alexander Britell
BONAIRE — THE DUTCH CARIBBEAN island of Bonaire has long occupied the space as the Caribbean’s top diving and snorkeling destination.
With clear waters, a cornucopia of marine life and dive site access unmatched in the region, it’s a title that has always been well-deserved.
Quietly, though, Bonaire has been developing as another kind of destination — one of the Caribbean’s Meccas for food.
Above: colourful Kralendijk
While its capital, Kralendijk, is tiny, the city might have a greater variety of culinary delights than any other in the region — whether it’s fresh Peruvian ceviche or modern contemporary that would give any European city a run for its money.
At the top of the pack is At Sea, the work of husband-and-wife team Kim and Rick van den Broek, who started the seaside eatery two years ago, occupying a station just outside downtown that has become Bonaire’s most sought-after table.
Above: on the waterfront in Kralendijk
At Sea, which is, naturally, located just across the street from the sea, features superb dishes that are simple and fresh yet exceedingly creative: from split pea soup made with Barracuda to pork in a pumpkin chutney.
They’re the kind of dishes that exemplify Bonaire: traditional Caribbean infused with European modernity.
It’s not unexpected for a territory that remains part of the Netherlands yet stands just about 50 miles from the northern coast of Venezuela. (Indeed, despite heavy Dutch influence, Venezuela’s Polar beats out Heineken and Amstel as the island’s most popular brew).
“Bonaire is a melting pot,” says Patrice Rannou, who debuted his excellent Bistro de Paris adjacent to the luxury Harbour Village hotel in 2004. “It’s a mix of local people with a lot of European nationals that get along all together — everyone speaks at least two to three languages so there’s no problem of communication.”
Above: Bistro de Paris
Of course, good food is natural common ground: Rannou himself emphasizes classic French mediterranean cuisine and, going with the local trend, stresses freshly caught fish.
Downtown Kralendijk has a mishmash of cultures and cuisines — local take-away spots like Bobbejan BBQ, more formal ones like Plazita Limeña, a Peruvian eatery that is Bonaire’s must for ceviche and Italian restaurant Capriccio, home to Chef Andrea Magni, the youngest chef in Italy to receive a Michelin star.
And for lovers of French Fries, in true Dutch fashion, you can find exceptional ones just about anywhere on the island.
“We have great restaurants,” says Ethsel Pieternella, director of the Tourism Corporation Bonaire, who originally hails from Curacao. “I have experience as a tourist — and I can tell you we have surprisingly great restaurants on Bonaire.”
And when you’re done sampling all of them, you may even find time to sneak in a dive.
How to get here:
United operates a weekly non-stop flight to Bonaire from Houston, TX and a weekly non-stop flight from Newark, NJ (The Newark flight is seasonal.) The Houston flight departs on Friday nights, arriving into Bonaire on Saturday mornings. The return flight departson Saturday mornings arriving into Houston later the same day. The Newark flight departs Friday nights, arriving into Bonaire on Saturdaymornings. The return flight departs on Saturday mornings arriving into Newark later that day. Delta operates a weekly non-stop flight to/from Atlanta on Saturdays. Insel Air operates a weekly non-stop flight to/from Miami on Saturdays and a weekly direct flight to Bonaire on Saturdays from Charlotte via Curacao. Other flights from North America generally arrive in Aruba or Curacao, both of which are exceptionally quick connections. Flights between Bonaire, Aruba and Curacao are available on Dutch Antilles Express (DAE), EZ Air, Insel Air and Tiara Air. Divi Air flies between Bonaire and Curacao.
Where to stay:
The Buddy Dive resort, popular among diving tourists, has modern rooms and a pair of waterfront restaurants at affordable rates.
Buddy Dive Resort
Kaya Gob N Debrot 85
599 717 5080
The island’s most exclusive hotel, Harbour Village, home to the very good La Balandra restaurant, has the best beach of any hotel on the island.
Kaya Gobernador N.Debrot No. 71