Bel Mar Apartments, Happy Holiday Homes, Toucan Divers, Limestone Water Resort
Curacao report still in progress
Author: Scott Roberts
Bonaire is supposedly "Divers Paradise", so I decided to see for myself what
all the hype was about. What follows is a summary of our eight night stay in
Bonaire and two nights in Curacao. My wife Cherie and I flew down on frequent
flyer miles from Seattle. Our
friends, Rob and Heather flew down to meet us the day after. Cherie and I are
both PADI Advanced Open Water certified with just over 60 dives logged in the
last 4 years. Half of our dives are in the cold water here in the Pacific
Northwest and Canada. The rest are in Jamaica (North and West Shores), Little
Cayman, French Polynesia., Baja, Monterey, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii. Our friends took
their Open Water referral courses in Seattle, and the plan was to finish their
certification in Bonaire. If you want more information about the islands or the
diving, you should check out the DiveAtlas.com
Bonaire and Curacao indexes. There you will
find links to some island information. We really donít like vacations where all
you do is dive, so there is some good information in this report if you enjoy
other activities as well.
We left Seattle at Midnight on Friday. The connections on American to Curacao
were very tight, but we made them all just in time. Make sure you take the
TrAAin in the Dallas airport. Itís a big airport, and it will save you time if
they recommend you take it. We arrived in Curacao at about 2pm. Our flight to
Bonaire on ALM left at 7:20pm, so we had some time to kill. Iíll talk more about
ALM has a horrible reputation. People talk about lost baggage, cancelled
flights, and virtually anything bad. Itís hard to tell from just one experience,
but we did not have any problems. The flight was about five minutes late.
Everything went fine and we were in Bonaire at 8pm. Customs was very easy and
didnít even ask what was in our bags. We did see them stop someone who had an
entire suitcase filled with miniature liquor bottles.
This was before the September 11th terrorist attacks, so things may be a bit
We rented a 4-door pickup from AB Rentals. It wasnít the newest of cars, but
it ran fine, and the AC worked. The young lady from the car rental agency was
waiting for us and lead us to the office to fill out the paperwork. The 4-door
pickup was a great choice. They say it fits 6, but 4 seemed fine to me. The back
seat is a bit cramped. Throw the tanks and your gear in back and you are
ready to go. The tailgate provides a great place to gear up for your dive. Throw
your wet gear in the back after the dive. Couldnít be more simple. They say not
to leave any valuables in the car. We left no more than water bottles, T-shirts
and towels in the car unattended, and we always used the provided club. We left
it unlocked. That way no curious thief would have the urge to break our windows.
We did see broken glass on the ground at a few dive sites. This suggests that
petty theft is still a problem. We didnít have a problem and the island is small
enough that you donít need to bring much with you on your travels. The cost for
eight days was $275. We declined insurance because my credit card covers that.
This is by no means a comprehensive description, but it will help let you
know what Iím talking about. For more detailed information check out the
Bonaire Index at DiveAtlas.com. The majority of
the diving is along the Western shore of the island. Dive site maps can be
found at several locations on the internet. The map to the right is from
This is the main city in Bonaire and it is located in about the center of the
island along the West coast. The town is centered around one main street. Itís
small, but you can find most everything you would need in a pretty small area.
There are a few banks in town with ATMís that accept most major credit cards. US
dollars are accepted everywhere we were. Some places may have difficulty with
large bills though. Most places accept credit cards. There are many small shops
that have pretty much the same tourist garbage for sale. My wife was able to
find a nice little gallery that was selling reasonably priced prints. They also
had some original pieces if that is what you are looking for. We used the
Cultimara grocery store in town for our liquor, postcards and groceries. We
didnít do a tremendous amount of research, but I hear that there are cheaper
grocery stores around. Cultimara supposedly has the best selection, and it was
very good for a tropical destination. Prices were about 15% more than in
Seattle. There are several restaurants in town offering everything from ribs to
Old Inn: This was our favorite. This is absolutely fabulous
Indonesian food. We ordered the family style special that comes with seven
entrees. Each one was unique and well prepared. You will not go away
hungry at Old Inn. We had some great leftovers as well. Old Inn is
located directly across from the Plaza Resort, just South of town.
Richard's: This place is hyped up in a big way on the internet.
Although the fish is very fresh and well prepared, the recipes lack creativity.
The setting is beautiful being located right on the shoreline and just south of
town. A great place to hang out and enjoy the sunset. It was fairly
The Blue Moon:
Located across from the water at the south end of town, this restaurant
creates a great laid back atmosphere. We were serenaded by a Columbian
guitar player who actually spent some time in Seattle. The people were
great, and the food was pretty good.
Amadeus Restaurant: Located on the north end of town, Amadeus specializes
in ribs. For this reason, they also specialize in begging dogs hanging out
on the sidewalk. The ribs were OK, the dogs were entertaining, and the drinks were pretty bad.
You may want to skip this one.
North of Kralendijk:
Located at the North end of the island is Washington-Slagbaai National Park.
There are a few dive sites in the park, and it is worth a trip just to check out
park. There are many cool rock formations, a ton of cactuses, tropical
birds, lizards, flamingoes, and beautiful views along the Caribbean. Between the
park and Kralendijk are some of the best dive sites on the island. We dove
Karpata, 1000 Steps and Andrea 2 during our stay (more about that later). The
town of Rincon is immediately South of the park. Itís a cute little town worth
taking a little time to explore and take some pictures. The drive along the East
side of the island, North of Kralendijk , is quite spectacular. The sea was
angry that day (Costanza 97í). The waves are huge and they come crashing into
the cliffs that line the shore. Itís very impressive, and makes you glad itís
quite a bit calmer at the dive sites. Immediately North of town are where most
of the large dive resorts are located. If you enjoy the larger resorts, there
are plenty to choose from. We like traveling on our own time somewhat outside of
the main tourist areas, so we decided to stay South of Kralendijk.
South of Kralendijk:
Driving south from town you run into the Divi Flamingo casino. They have
slots and blackjack. The resort was pretty run down, and the casino smelled like
an air-conditioned ashtray.
Unless you really need to gamble, skip this visit.
South of the Divi is the Plaza. Their casino was closed during our stay, but if
the hotel is any indication, I would think that it is quite a bit nicer. It was
pretty luxurious inside, and if youíre looking for luxurious accommodations this
might be your best bet. A couple of minutes past the Divi is the Airport. The
airport is small, but services the largest of planes. KLM, American Eagle,
Canada 3000, Air Jamaica, and ALM all fly into Bonaire. Iím sure other charter
airlines may do so as well. Just down the road from the Airport there are
several dive sites which stretch all the way to the South tip of the island. The
residential community of Belnem is located just South of the airport. There are
several smaller establishments in this area for those who prefer a more private
place to stay on their vacation. Past Belnem you will find salt production
fields, some historical former slave quarters, Pink Beach, flamingoes, and a
lighthouse. The drive down South is quite nice, so itís worth it just to say
youíve seen the whole island. If you follow the road around the Southern tip of
the island, you will eventually get to Lac Bay. This is where all of the
windsurfers hang out. Although Iím not a windsurfer, it didnít look too
spectacular to me. It was very shallow, the wind was steady, and it was very
calm. I guess it might be a good place to learn, but I would think that advanced
wind surfers might get board with it. I'm sure there is easy access from this
bay to more advanced areas. This is also where you can snorkel the
mangroves. There are a few dive sites in this area that donít sound too
Donkey Alert: There are donkeys all over
the place! If you are scared of donkeys, stay home. Bonaire is known
by donkeys as donkey paradise. They were going to put that on the license
plates, but they thought that diver's paradise would be better for tourism.
This decision does not appear to have hurt the donkey population.
So now I suppose you know your way around. The nice thing about Bonaire is
that itís pretty simple. You can go there having done very little research and
find your way around just fine. At the same time, there is plenty to keep you
occupied for a week if you are diving. We stayed 8 nights, and could have used a
couple more. I would say that a 4-night stay is plenty if you are not diving,
unless relaxing and visiting restaurants is your thing. I prefer a more active
After receiving or rental car, we were off to our first nightís
accommodations at the Happy Holiday Homes. This establishment is family built,
owned, and operated, and has been around for about 14 years.
Happy Holiday Homes
is situated at Punt Vierkant in the residential neighborhood of Belnem.
consists of several 1 to 3 bedroom cottages. Each cottage includes air
conditioning, full size kitchen, living room and bath. All the units are very
nicely equipped, and the owners can pretty much get you anything you need to
make your stay enjoyable. The property is surrounded by a wall and is 1 block
inland from the Caribbean. For this reason, there are no views from the units,
but the wall gives you a lot of privacy.
Happy Holiday Homes is a great place to stay if you are on a budget and plan
on diving quite a bit during your stay. The cottages are very spacious, extremely
clean (probably the cleanest I've seen in the Caribbean), and well maintained.
The three bedrooms are plenty big for five people, and our one bedroom was more
than enough for us. Each cottage is well equipped for the diver. There are
washing facilities and washing tubs available for your use. There are several
cottages that support large groups as well. This would be a great place to
go with several friend and dive your brains out. You can find all the
information you need at their web
site. If you have any questions, they are an
e-mail away, and are very
We were exhausted from our 17-hour trip, so we hit the hay as soon as we
unloaded our bags. The next morning I had a chance to sit down and talk with the
owner and view the various cottages. She was a very friendly woman, and it
sounds like you are in good hands if you choose to stay
there in the future.
They make tremendous efforts to make sure everything is maintained properly, and
are constantly making small improvements.
We were scheduled for a 9am checkout dive with
Toucan Diving. They have a satellite
shop located at the BelMar.
This is where we were staying the remainder of our time on Bonaire.
The BelMar is located within walking distance of Happy Holiday Homes. It is a
beautiful apartment building located right on the shoreline. All of the
apartments have views of the magnificent blue Caribbean with Klein Bonaire in
the distance. Tropical plants and birds are everywhere on the property. There is
also a small pool on the patio in front of the apartments. Directly in front of
the building there are steps leading down to an H shaped dock that is elevated
about 5 ft over the sea. One side of dock hosts a thatched roof umbrella with
four lounge chairs that are a perfect place to hang out and enjoy the warm
breeze and an ice-cold Corona.
Beer Tip: Aside from a few bad canned beers, you will find Heineken, Amstel,
and Corona. Personally, I donít find any of these to be too great, but a Corona
with a lime will do just fine.
We always opted for the Coronaís because they
came in 12oz bottles. Amstels and Heinekens come in tiny 8 oz. Bottles and they
are pretty much the same price. If you have no strong preference, go with the
The snorkeling in front of the apartments is average. Most of the coral was
destroyed by the waves generated by Lenny in 1999. There was a lot of
interesting marine life though. This is the case with most of the island,
although the sites up North around Karpata were sheltered from these waves. If
snorkeling is your thing, you should probably head up there or go to another
island where snorkeling is better. The diving was very good. There is a buoy
about 200 ft out from the dock. This buoy marks the unofficial dive site that is
the BelMar Reef. At the Buoy, the reef slopes down at about a 30-degree angle
until you reach a sand bottom. This dive site is one of the many in the area
that boasts the double reef system. If you continue past the sand bottom you
will reach the second reef. This reef is very similar to the first one. The
coral is magnificent, and you will find all of the typical Bonaire marine life.
On our three dives on the BelMar reef we encountered a turtle, box fish, eels,
trumpet fish, grouper, tangs, trigger fish, damsels, gobies, puffer fish, French
and queen angel fish, parrot fish, and various wrasses. Although not quite as
spectacular as Karpata, this dive is definitely worth doing quite a few times
during your stay. I found the reef to be a little bit nicer to the North of the
buoy as opposed to South.
Toucan Diving dive shop is located directly behind the apartments. It shares the
same building as the BelMar office. At Toucan, you can find pretty much anything
you need. You can book guided dives, boat dives and snorkeling tours. There are
also equipment and tank rentals. The tank rental program is extremely
convenient. They provide you a key that opens the room with the tanks. There is
also a drive up facility where you can pull up our car and load tanks 24
hrs/day. We found that there were always plenty of tanks available at all times
of the day. It is very convenient, and their prices are similar to other dive
shops on the island. You can purchase unlimited tanks and weights for $120/week.
The staff at the BelMar
Toucan shop was very friendly and informative.
The BelMar Unit:
note that the dock has been rebuilt since this picture was taken. It's
basically the same, but it's a little larger and there is a very nice thatched
roof hut on the dock closest to us in this picture. We chose unit #2
because it was slightly cheaper than unit #1. It was right next to the
stairs, it was on the ground level, and it was more private than the other
units. It was absolutely a perfect location. Unit #1 is great too, but itís a
little bigger and more expensive. If you go, I would recommend unit #2 highly,
although Iím sure the others are just fine as well. Our unit included two air
conditioned bedrooms, each with private bath, a living room, kitchen, gear
storage closet, and patio. It was all very clean and well maintained.
There were some things that could have been better, but the setting and the
convenience more than made up for the shortcomings. Tiny ants would appear on
the counter if you left food out, but it wasnít a problem unless you were messy.
The kitchen area was poorly configured which made it crowded if you had too many
cooks in the kitchen. The art on the wall was pretty bad (sorry if the artist is
offended). The storage closet was outside the front door. They could use one on
the sea side of the apartment. That way you wouldnít have to walk through the
apartment to stow your gear after a dive on the BelMar reef. I canít
overemphasize how nice it was to kick back with some margaritas on the dock.
Our apartment was ready early, so we were able to unpack away. After
unpacking we walked over to the dive shop for the mandatory Bonaire checkout
dive. Itís a good idea and I wish other places did it. First we were given a
brief overview of the island including recommended dives, tips about not keeping
valuables in your car, what kind of marine life was to be expected, etc. Next,
we grabbed a couple of tanks and walked over to the dock. Here we were briefed
on the BelMar reef. Basically, go out to the reef, turn against the current,
explore until your tank is half empty, and turn around. It was very simple,
similar to all the dives we experienced throughout the week. To make it even
easier, there was a submerged rope which lead you from the dock to the buoy. See
the dive site descriptions for more information. The dive master watched from
shore, and we were issued our park passes after the dive. Iím not sure if they
usually go out with you or not. We have about 60 dives logged, advanced
certifications, and cold water experience, so maybe they just assumed that we
knew what we were doing.
They don't call Bonaire diver's paradise for nothing. This is some of the
easiest and most accessible shore diving in the world. We chose
Toucan diving for our tank rentals.
The process couldn't have been easier, and the staff was very friendly.All of
these dive sites are detailed at
I have included my own brief review as well as links to
reviews. Their reviews are great, but I find their navigation structure a
bit lacking. On all the dives, you can expect to see turtles, box fish,
eels, trumpet fish, grouper, tangs, trigger fish, damsels, gobies, puffer fish,
French and queen angel fish, parrot fish, and various wrasses. I will
highlight what was different on our dives. Finding the dive sites couldn't
be easier. Get a map from one of the dive shops. All of the dives
are marked with yellow stones. During our stay we dove the following
sites. A collage of our diving experience is located to the right of the
dive site descriptions. Click on the images for a larger view.
This was my favorite dive of the trip. The coral is more healthy,
the fish are bigger, and the slope of the reef is more dramatic. At
the beginning of our dive a huge French angel was following me. It was
actually too close to get a good picture. This was a very friendly
fish. The entry is fairly easy, but be careful traversing the rocks.
1000 steps was similar to Karpata, but the slope of the reef was less
dramatic. The entry is a little easier being crushed coral as opposed
to rocks. 1000 steps is still a great dive. The steps are long,
but it's no big deal if you are in decent shape. Try lugging 40lbs of
weight down to Sunrise beach in a dry suit.
Now that is hard work.
Less steep than 1000 steps, but there is an abnormally high number of
blue parrot fish here. The entry is a piece of cake.
Hilma Hooker: The attraction here is the huge wreck and
the huge tarpon that often hang out here. We made the mistake of not
setting our compass heading. It's hard to believe, but we couldn't
find it for a while. We wasted a lot of time and energy swimming
around the reefs to the south of the wreck The entry is a little
difficult with some slippery rocks to navigate, but if wreck diving is your
thing this is a good site. The huge tarpon (6 ft long) are quite a
This site was a little different than the others. It's a bit of a swim
to get out to the reef. There are a ton of garden eels just before you
get to the reef. If you've never seen them, it's quite interesting.
They look like grass flowing in the wind. We also saw some sand divers
at this site. These are very interesting prehistoric looking fish.
This is one of the dual reef dives on Bonaire. The entry is easy. Once you
get to the reef go to about 50ft and you can see the sandy bottom. Keep
going straight across the sand another 70 ft and there is a 2nd reef that
hosts some bigger fish.
BelMar Reef (Between Bachelor's Beach and Chez Hines):
This isn't an official site because you have to be staying at the BelMar to
dive here. It's a very nice reef, and it's part of the double reef
system as well. Watch for turtles here. I found the reef to the
north of the buoy to be a little more interesting than to the south.
Good dive, and you can't beat the convenience. Giant stride in, take
the ladder out.
Town Pier (Night Dive): This dive requires a guide, but I highly
recommend this night dive. Orange cup corals cover the pilings.
There are sponges of all colors. Watch for tarpon, eels, and frogfish.
Your eyes almost hurt after this dive due to all the blinding colors at the
site. Toucan diving was unable to find a guide on the day we wanted to
dive, so we went with Green
Submarine who are located on the south end of town. They hooked us
up with a local dive master on very short notice.
Green Submarine was great, and
I wouldn't hesitate to use them if you weren't staying somewhere that
provided tanks. The convenience of
Toucan at the BelMar
was hard to beat.
Captain Don's Reef (Klein Bonaire Boat Dive):
The life at this reef is similar to the shore dives up near Karpata.
The coral are a bit more healthy than the other sites, and the fish are a
little bigger. I don't think it's worth the expense to do boat diving
more than once during your stay. I find shore diving easier if you can
believe that. You don't have to deal with people getting in your way,
and you are sometimes the only one at the site, which is not the case with
boat diving. We did see a seahorse at this site. Unfortunately,
the other 8 people on the boat saw it as well. Visibility suffered,
and the seahorse stayed hidden in the soft coral.
Sand divers at The Invisibles
Orange Cup Corals at Town Pier
Town pier night dive
Coral at BelMar Reef
Garden Eels at the invisibles
Sand Diver @ The Invisibles
Sea Horse at Captain Don's reef
Spotted eel in BelMar shallows
We did do one boat dive during our stay. We wanted to experience the
Toucan dive boat, and we wanted to see Klein Bonaire, which is a small island
about a 15 minute boat ride from the BelMar dock. If you are staying at
the BelMar, be sure to ask them if you can catch the boat directly from the
dock. If the seas are calm enough and you can get enough people, they will
do it, and it's extremely convenient. The boat is well set up with a nice
dive platform off of the back.
We had a great time in Bonaire. The people are very friendly, it's
about the easiest foreign travel destination I've experienced, and the diving is
incredible. Will I go back? Maybe... It's a long trip, and the
marine life gets pretty similar after a while. I think we have pretty much
done everything we wanted to do topside. If you are a patient diver, and
enjoy looking at the smaller things, there might be a lot more to keep you
interested. I'm not extremely patient. Maybe they will start diving
the East side of the island. I'm not sure how easy that would be, but
Toucan said they were working on it. It is very rough over there, but the
diving is supposedly spectacular.
If you go, consider staying at the BelMar.
If you are on a budget Happy Holiday Homes
is a good bet. I just don't see any reason to stay at the larger resorts
in town or North of town. You get the ultimate in diving convenience at
the Toucan diving BelMar store, and
you don't get the crowds you get up North. The setting for the hotel is
spectacular. You also get a kitchen which will save you money in the long
run. Everything is within driving distance, so location is not a huge
concern. Rent a truck, and come enjoy the shore diving and traveling
freedom that Bonaire has to offer.
The report on Curacao is still in progress. It will be posted upon
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