Bonaire . . . Where? There are very few people that I have met over the years that have heard of this small, well kept secret in the southern Caribbean. Bonaire is an island that lies fifty miles north of Venezuela. The island is owned by the Dutch Netherlands Antilles government and is part of the “ABC” island group of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. It lies outside of the hurricane belt in the Southern Caribbean and is quite small at 24 miles long by 3-7 miles wide. There are NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS! Instead what you find is a laid back, gorgeous piece of Caribbean paradise that boasts no nightclubs, and has earned the reputation for being one of the most environmentally conscious islands in the Caribbean. There are extensive areas of rural and protected land—are protected by law. The island is surrounded by ironstone, not sand, which makes for some of the best reef diving and snorkeling in the world. There are dozens of sights that can be accessed by car with no boat needed.
We visited at Christmas and have been traveling to Bonaire at Christmas for the past 30 years. This is an ideal time to visit the island. The climate has an average yearly temperature of 82 degrees, water temperature of 80 degrees, and approximately twenty-two inches of rain a year. It is sunny year-round, located north of the equator. Daylight averages twelve hours. The currency has recently switched to US dollars and English is spoken widely on the island, in addition to Dutch, Papiamentu, and Spanish. Papiamentu is a Creole language that traces its roots to West Africa in the mid-1400’s and is indigenous to Bonaire and the Dutch Antilles.
Our weather this year was truly perfect with temperatures ranging in the mid 80’s with moderate ocean breezes. We had one afternoon rain that lasted about twenty minutes in the two weeks that we were there. In the years that we have been traveling there the weather has always been good. There may have been one or two years where it rained more but the showers are short in duration and if anything, it makes for better photographic opportunities.
I would have to say that the best time of day to photograph is between 4:30-7 pm (only because I never made it out of bed early enough to do morning shoots! 🙂 . . .). It is especially good when white bulbous clouds drift overland or after a mild rain shower has swept through. I find myself drawn to the mined salt mounds on the southern part of the island (salt is one of the island’s main exports by the huge conglomerate Cargill)—the lighting changes by the minute when clouds are out and this makes for some wonderful opportunities. Also there are many coastal shot opportunities. I like the southwestern coastal areas where you can be on a peninsula with salt flats, pelicans and flamingos on one side of your car and the ocean on the other side. The eastern “wild side” is very different from the calm tranquil western side of the island. The “wild side” has a lighthouse and waves and a tremendous amount of spray and sea birds. There are slave huts that are too small for a person to stand in, that are a grim reminder of slaves that inhabited the island when it was a member of the Dutch West Indies Company in the 1400’s.
You can also travel inland to Lac Cay or Lac Bay where they host the world championship wind surfing competitions. There’s a wooden bar that extends into the bay and you can sit and watch spectacular wind surfing while trying to keep iguanas from nipping at your toes while they beg for food. There’s Washington National Park on the Northern part of the island is accessible provided there is not too much rain, where you can spend an entire day with spectacular cliff views, giant candle cactus tress reminiscent of Arizona, flamingos, parrots, herons, iguanas, and many other varieties of tropical plants. It provides a protective nesting ground for four species of sea turtle found on the island.
Enjoy macro, telephoto, or landscape photography while visiting there. Just bring patience if planning on doing macro as the onshore breezes can make it challenging! Underwater photography would be spectacular as well since visibility is phenomenal. The trade-off is little to no sand beaches so if you are looking for luscious sand, you may be disappointed. There’s also a donkey sanctuary where you can travel by car as if you were in an African Safari and feed the hundreds of donkeys with carrots as they crowd the car—hold on to your camera or you may find it taken by a fast munching donkey!
The only caution I would say is NEVER leave anything unattended in your car and ALWAYS leave your car unlocked. If you are planning on swimming, leave your wallet at home or hide a bill under a rock. Otherwise the window will be broken because petty thieves will go looking in locked cars. I take a backpack and carry everything when I go out to take pictures. This is not meant to deter anyone from going to Bonaire because it truly is a jewel that is unspoiled and well protected. Also you must bring a pair of thick-soled booties if you plan to snorkel or dive because entry is over ironstone and it will cut your feet if unprotected. For underwater photographers this island is second to very few worldwide. Oh, and not to worry if you get stung by a scorpion. My daughter has one sitting in a paperweight on her desk that was hidden in her bath towel two years ago. She was stung that day, and after several frantic hours we realized that the black scorpions are nonpoisonous, no worse than a bee sting! Just wear shoes and don’t pick up too many rocks!
The photographer Kim Stines provided the details and images for the Bonaire destination.
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