This is a trip report on my first visit to Bonaire. This was actually my first trip to the Caribbean so I don't have other Caribbean diving to compare it to (except a day diving off Key Largo).
We decided to stay at Captain Don's primarily on the recommendation of a good friend that had stayed there many times. Overall, we were not disappointed. It was very relaxing and the diving was sensational. My wife and I both enjoyed our stay even though my wife is not a diver.
The room we had was referred to as a Deluxe Studio Villa. It had a bedroom with a connected small kitchenette and small bathroom with shower. Everything worked ok (although it took us a little while to figure out the air conditioner which wasn't on when we arrived at the room). The room was clean although not in the least bit luxurious. It did, however, have folding french doors onto a covered patio right on the ocean with a beautiful view.
The room had a queen size bed, although it actually seemed a little small for a queen, but was reasonably comfortable. There was a bedside light on only one side which made reading in bed a little difficult. This is definitely a down to basics resort - there is no television or telephone in the room.
The resort was swarming with cats, at least a couple dozen of them. To cat lovers like my wife and I, this was a positive addition to the experience. My wife enjoyed sitting on the couch on the patio outside our room reading a book with one or two cats sprawled out next to her. The cats were not a nuisance. They would go away when they knew they weren't wanted.
There were a few bugs and mosquitoes although they were not particularly bothersome. You might notice the mosquitoes if you are coming from California where there really aren't any, but wouldn't be in the least bit bothered if you are coming from New England.
Captain Don's has one restaurant which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open other times during the day for snacks. The food was fairly good although not the kind of place you'd go just for the food. One particular lunch special - a shrimp sandwich - was actually quite delicious. Two of the dinners were buffets, the others were menu service. The table service was a little slow, but reasonable considering the relaxed pace of the whole island.
Captain Don's requires that you attend a briefing and do one shore dive (to check out your equipment) prior to going on any of the boat dives. The briefing was scheduled for 9:00AM and generally covered the logistics of signing up for dives and checking out tanks, as well as information about the various dive sites, currents, marine life, etc. The briefing took about 20 minutes and I did not think it was time wasted (although if I were a repeat customer, I might).
For my checkout shore dive, I buddied with another gentleman that was at the orientation. We hit it off well and ended up sticking together for the entire week. The shore dive was great, and we got back in plenty of time to have lunch and make the early afternoon boat dive.
Air tanks are available 24 hours a day. Just pick one up from in front of the dive shop. If you're taking it in your car, you just need to sign out the tank(s). Nitrox tanks are also available, but they are behind a gate that is only unlocked between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM. If you want a tank for a night dive, you have to check it out before hand. To use the Nitrox tanks, you have to have a Nitrox C-card and sign an additional waiver. For each tank you take, you have to personally test the FO2 and sign the tank out from a log book. I'm glad that they are enforcing this safety precaution.
Captain Don's has boat dives three times a day - two in the morning and one in the early afternoon. Each dive is a one tank dive since you can make all three boat dives every day if you want to. This means that you can select which dive site you want to go to for each dive individually. There are sign up boards that are put out the previous afternoon for all dives. I didn't have a problem signing up for great dives even waiting until the morning of the dive. If they run out of space on the boats, they will add another boat.
Night boat dives are also available on some days. These generally go to the Town Pier (more on this later).
Dive lockers are available right next to the boat pier, and about 15 steps down from where the tanks are available (unless you're diving Nitrox, you don't have to worry about your tanks for boat dives - they will load enough tanks for everyone). Locks for the dive lockers are available at the dive shop, or you can bring your own.
Large tables are available for spreading out your gear, and a half dozen rinse tanks are available (two just for cameras) to rinse everything off.
You can't go wrong on Bonaire when it comes to diving. I enjoyed every dive site I went to. They were all easy dives with a gentle drop off to 100 ft or more. On most dives, I went down to 70 to 80 ft and swam up current for 20-25 minutes, then swim toward shore to about 30 ft and swam back to the boat. Most dives were just under an hour total. The currents were very light down deep, and picked up a little near the surface. At no time did I feel like I was fighting currents, although there were a few times that I had a little trouble staying in one spot to take a picture in the shallows.
I dove EAN32 Nitrox in the supplied 72cf tanks for all dives. Here are the notes from my log book on each of the dives I did:
Checkout Shore Dive - Nice easy dive. Rope leads from pier into deep water making it easy to get back. Saw flamingo tongue nudibranch - very colorful. Small sailboat wreck with grouper hiding out inside. Beautiful corals. Max depth 101 ft, bottom time 51 minutes.
18th Palm - First dive with an underwater camera. Tried my 60mm macro lens. Shot pictures of several christmas tree worms, brittle stars, a goby, and a couple bubble tipped anemone. A large (~12in) French Angel was a real ham, trying to get in all the pictures. Max depth 80 ft. Bottom time 50 minutes.
'Ol Blue - Tried my 20mm lens. Lots of purple sponges and gorgonian corals. Eventually figured out that the best shots using the wide angle are taken looking up toward the surface. Experimented a little with balancing flash exposure with ambient light. Not my favorite dive sight, but still nice. Max depth 76ft. Bottom time 54 minutes.
Yellowman's Reef - I can't believe I left the lens cap on the camera, only to discover this at 60 ft. I'll never make that mistake again. Beautiful dive site. Probably the best corals of all the sights I dove. I wish I had had a chance to go back here. Max depth 75 ft. Bottom time 62 minutes.
Town Pier - This was a night dive. I used my 60 mm lens and clamped a light to the top of the camera. There were probably 30 divers under the pier at the same time and it was a little crowded. A lot of divers were kicking up silt from the bottom as well. Even so, there was some interesting marine life which I haven't seen before, particularly arrowhead crabs, yellow polyps, and shrimp. Great sponges as well. Max depth 32 ft. Bottom time 59 minutes.
1000 steps - Another nice dive sight with many soft corals, fish, and coral shrimp, although not as good as some. I took a few photos of coral shrimp, although most were hiding so as to make photographing them difficult. Max depth 92 ft. Bottom time 58 minutes.
Barcadera - The place to see sea horses. Saw a couple - other divers saw more. Took some photos but these are shy creatures. They kept on turning away from me. Max depth 70ft. Bottom time 58 minutes.
Hilma Hooker - This was the first wreck dive I've been on. The wreck is in nice shape and well encrusted with corals and sponges. It's wresting on its side so you get a good view of the top as you swim along it.The wreck is ~150ft freighter caught smuggling drugs and intentional sunk. Not quite enough light for distance wide angle shots. Max depth 94 ft. Bottom time 44 minutes.
Forest - I think the angel we saw at 18th Palm was back. I took some nice pictures of a flamingo tongue nudibranch and a corkscrew anemone. One of the nicer dive sights. Max depth 75 ft. Bottom time 58 minutes.
Shore Dive - My last dive was another shore dive at dusk. Incredible streams of fish moving along the reef. This was one of my best dives, I think partially because of the time of day. I took some nice pictures of a blenny sticking its head out of a coral (see my underwater gallery), as well as several moray eels. Max depth 68 ft. Bottom time 47 minutes.
I was only there for five days and didn't want to dive on my last day. I dove between two and three dives each day. I could have done more, but my wife is not a diver and we wanted to spend some time together. I'm looking forward to a return trip.
The snorkeling was also great right off the beach. The water level dropped quickly to about 30 ft. with great visibility to the corals and fish below. My wife did a lot of snorkeling around the resort while I was diving. She also came on two of the boat trips with us and snorkeled off the boat. One of these had pretty tough currents near the surface so she got quite a workout, but she enjoyed both.
On my day off from diving, my wife and I rented a car and drove around the island. Bonaire is relatively small, so it's actually quite easy to drive from one end to the other in an easy day. Our first stop was Washington Slagbaai National Park. If you're going to take this drive, I strongly recommend you rent a four wheel drive with lots of ground clearance. We didn't. Instead, we had a small Toyota, and I'm sure we took 10,000 miles off its life on the short 15 mi drive through the park.
Washington Slagbaai park is rough desert scrub with lots of Cactus and Eucalyptus and a few wild (or at least stray) goats and donkeys thrown in. There are also hundreds of lizards. My wife made a valiant effort to avoid hitting the ones that would sit in the road or dash out in front of the car, but I'm afraid we hit at least a couple. The primary attraction of the park, besides just seeing the scenery, is the birds that hang out in the salt bogs, particularly the wild flamingos. You've never seen PINK flamingos until you've seen them in the wild. And seeing a flock fly overhead is about the funniest thing I've seen in the wild. We only saw a small number of flamingos on our trip, and never were able to get that close to them, but it was still worth the drive.
Another interesting feature of the island is the salt company. The gather salt by evaporating bogs filled with sea water until the salt is so thick that it can be bulldozed up. There are heaping piles of salt at least a hundred feet high. It is quite a site.
We stopped at the Plaza Resort for lunch. This is definitely an upscale resort compared to Captain Don's but I'm not convinced the diving operation is as good based on a VERY brief look. If you're looking for more amenities (such as telephone and television), this might be the place to try. The lunch was excellent, by the way.
Most of the flights from the US (if not all) are on ALM (Antillean) Airlines. The only flights I was able to find went through Caracao. In our case, the stopovers in Caracao were well over an hour even though they were only scheduled for 45 minutes. The aircraft were a little old, but the service was OK. Three of the legs of our flight were on jet aircraft (MD-80s); the fourth leg (from Caracao to Bonaire) was on a twin prop plane.
We flew in and out of Miami, but ALM does have flights from other east coast cities.
We had a wonderful time and will definitely return in the future (hopefully in the next 12-18 months). I can definitely recommend Captain Don's if you don't mind the relatively rustic accommodations.