By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor
BONAIRE — With a whopping 89 dive sites, 350 species of fish, and 57 types of coral, Bonaire is a bonafide diver’s paradise. But you don’t have to go deep to appreciate it. Here are 9 ways to enjoy the Dutch Caribbean island, no regulator required.
Sample Iguana Soup
OK, this might not sound like the most appetizing dish but come on, you have to try it! Locals have been eating the island’s ubiquitous amphibian for years, and at lunchtime at restaurants such as Rincon’s Rose Inn and Maikey Snack in Kralendijk it sells out fast. So fast, in fact, that I didn’t get a chance to sample it while I was there. So do me a favor and give it a try; I’m told it tastes like a bonier version of chicken soup with a few scales thrown in for extra texture. And if it turns out not to be to your taste? Well, at least you’ve got an interesting story to tell at your next cocktail party.
Washington Slagbaai National Park
This 5.6-hectare natural park is one of the most fascinating landscapes in the Caribbean — although, at times, you’ll think you’re on a far-off planet. Great for hiking, off-roading and adventure.
Visit The Slave Huts
Many of the slaves who were forced to work Bonaire’s salt flats back in the 19th century lived a seven-hour walk away in the town of Rincon. So they slept in groups of four or more in tiny Spartan huts opposite the flats, and made the trek back home on Sundays after working a six-day week. Visiting the now-restored cramped beachfront huts (in two villages, called White Slave and Red Slave) and stepping into their cramped quarters is a moving and unique experience you shouldn’t miss.
Browse at Bamali
Some travelers experience a destination through its food; I’m all about the local shopping. And although I had low expectations for the shopportunities on Bonaire, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and diversity of shopping in the capital, Kralendijk. One of my favorite finds is a tiny Kaya Grandi boutique called Bamali, which sells fashion-forward resort wear in silk, linen and cotton by Caribbean designer Marjorie Kort, as well as accessories and jewelry. Must buy: the versatile fabric-and-leather hip belts that convert into super-cool strapless tops.
Take the Cadushy of Bonaire Tour
The Caribbean’s only cactus liqueur is manufactured on Bonaire, and since the factory tour is free – and the samples are generous – you’d be crazy not to venture to Rincon to check it out. Made from a local variety of the succulent known as kadushi, the green liqueur has a distinctive floral/herbal taste and makes a great souvenir. And the smaller 40 ml size is carry-on friendly, too.
Ride The Wind at Sorobon
If you’re into windsurfing or kite surfing head straight for the east coast where a constant breeze and shallow turquoise waters have made Sorobon a water sports mecca. There’s a string of water sports outfits along the shore that offer lessons and equipment rental. And there are plenty of beachfront restaurants to satisfy people like me, who’d rather take in the wet and wild action under the shade and in the company of an Amstel Bright.
Spread Your Towel at Harbour Beach Village
If you’re desperately seeking sand and also short on time – just visiting on a cruise, perhaps – you’re going to want to get the most beach bang for your buck. So head to the strand at Harbour Beach Village, the island’s fanciest resort, where for a day fee of $47 (which includes a $15 credit at the resort’s restaurant) you can spread out on a white-sand sweep; chill in a hammock slung between palm trees; or grab a paddleboard and kayak and set a course for Klein Bonaire, the nearby offshore isle.
Gorge on Ribs at Bobbejan’s
Want to eat like a local? Of course you do! So pull up a chair at Bobbejan’s, a popular barbecue restaurant and takeaway on Kralendijk, and get ready to chow down. The 14-year-old eatery owned by Curaçaoan Robert De Haseth (aka Bobbejan) and his wife Maggie is only open Friday to Sunday between 6pm and 10pm yet still manages to get through as much as 330 pounds of pork ribs each week. Taste a tender rack and you’ll understand why.
Taste the Tuna Tartare at La Balandra
I stayed at Harbour Beach Village for four days back in November and ate the tuna tartare at their Balandra beachfront restaurant every single one of them. It was so flavorful, so simultaneously refreshing and filling, and so darn good that I just couldn’t find a reason to try something else. Sure, call me addicted. But if you’d tasted that tangy fresh tuna, creamy avocado and crispy yucca fries combo, you would be, too.