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Whether traveling for work or pleasure (or both!) our staff members are always on the go and we want to share their experiences with you! In this new series, Out of Office, we’ll bring you their stories, highlighting the best things to do and see in destinations around the world, as experienced by a real Viator Insider.
The Traveler: Patricia Pagenel, Director of Content
What’s your role at Viator? I am manage the team responsible for all content published on Viator.com – tour descriptions, destination attractions and recommendations, travel blogs, and customer generated content.
The trip: One week on Bonaire in May, 2015
Why did you choose this destination? What appealed to you about the place?
We were looking for a destination to kitesurf and dive in May, and Bonaire is a great place for both.
Located north of the Venezuelan coast, Bonaire is a tiny island in the Caribbean and a municipality of the Netherlands—definitely an interesting combination. There’s world-famous diving and snorkeling, hiking in the north of the island, kayaking, horseback riding, kitesurfing and windsurfing in the south, making Bonaire a paradise for outdoor lovers. We could have stayed another week and still have plenty to do!
What did you do on the trip?
We spent most of our afternoons kitesurfing but reserved two days for diving and exploring Bonaire’s extensive shores. The rest of our mornings were spent discovering the island—walking along Lac Bay and its mangroves; hiking in Washington Slagbaai National Park, an ecological reserve on the northwestern side of the island; exploring Ricon, Bonaire’s oldest town and a Spanish period legacy; and learning about Bonaire’s history of salt harvesting and slavery through colonial Dutch buildings and ruins.
What was the best experience?
The diving is really fantastic—all the shores around Bonaire are part of the island’s marine park and are in pristine shape. Thanks to little rainfall and an arid climate, the waters are amazingly clear, making it ideal for underwater photography. The whole leeward side of the island is packed with about 90 dive sites, one after another marked by yellow stones. Most of the dives are from the shore, allowing immediate access to underwater cliffs and colorful corals. Boat dives can bring you to fantastic sites around Klein Bonaire, a minuscule island just off Kralendijk, Bonaire’s main town.
We did five dives, including the famous Salt Pier, where we were lucky to see two green turtles. The pillars of the pier and the clarity of the water make you feel like you are in a huge cathedral, with the lights beaming through and illuminating schools of fish swimming nearby. Other friendly encounters during our dives included seahorses, green moray, tarpons, moray eels, lizard and rock fishes.
One of our dives was a UV Light Night Dive. This was truly a different experience, discovering a new world through ultraviolet light. Wearing a special mask and lamp, we could admire the coral, fish and surroundings in a literally new light!
What surprised you the most about the destination?
Bonaire is mostly known for its diving but has a lot to offer culturally as well. The island’s earliest history is present through archeological remains of the Caquetio Indians (late 1,000AD) but its most notorious elements date from the Europeans—first the arrival of the Spanish (around 1,500AD) and the creation of the town of Rincon, one of the oldest still-inhabited settlements of the island and very much alive to this day. Then by the Dutch conquest over the Spanish in 1636, leading to the expansion of slavery on the island for the harvesting of the salt; this somber part can be witnessed today through the remaining slave quarters and saltpans across the southwest coast, at Blau, Witte and Oranje Pans.
Bonaire’s mixed ancestry can be experienced through a Dutch-flavored dinner served on a Spanish-influenced green-painted house terrace, all the while facing the turquoise Caribbean Sea…
What sight, activity, or experience would you tell people they should not skip?
Washington Slagbaai National Park is a must-see when visiting Bonaire. Less than 30 minutes from Kralendijk on north tip of the island, the park is quite big and a full day could easily be spent there. We hiked to the top of the Kasikunda Climbing Trail, truly climbing through rocks and uneven trail, to reach the volcanic hill and a 360-degree view of the park. Other trails take you through sand dunes, mangroves or to the highest peak of the island, Subí Brandaris at 241 m (784 ft.). The park has a large flamingo population, which we admired from different salt lakes, in addition to several iguanas, parrots and other exotic birds. Boka Slagbaai is the perfect location for a midday brunch—the old harbor and historic buildings’ yellow colors contrast sharply with the turquoise sea on one end and the white salt pans and pink flamingos on the other.
What was the best thing you ate or drank?
Bonaire’s strong Dutch history is very present in the day-to-day culinary offerings, such as huge Gouda wheels, spiced bread, pumpkin soup and cured meats. But the local dishes still very much reflect the Caribbean influence with local fish served fresh from the sea: barracuda raviolis, wahoo sushi, and the occasional lionfish, an invasive species that local fishermen can fish and sell to local restaurants. Other local tasty specialties include goat stew and iguana burgers—the latter was served during a cultural even, built in 1824 by the Dutch government for storing merchandizing, the Mangazina keeps the traditions on Bonaire and hosts local events where we had the opportunity to try creole passion fruit punch and chicken beignets and buy handmade crafts made by local artisans.
What are your top three recommendations to any visitor?
- Rent a car and drive around; it doesn’t take long and you will be surprised to see so much beyond the dive shores
- Try a new sport. Take your PADI Open Water Dive certification or try kitesurfing; though the wind is offshore, kitesurf shops keeps an eye on you all the time and can come to the rescue if need be
- Learn some Papiamentu. One of the few Creole languages still spoken today in the Caribbean, Papiamentu combines Spanish, Dutch, French, and some Arawak Indian and African. Speaking a few words will get you smiles from the local residents. Bon Dia!
Where are you off to next?
Bonaire was our second trip in less than two months, the previous being dog-sledding in Inuvik above the Canadian Arctic Circle, so we are still reviewing options for the rest of the year. On the short list are more diving and kitesurfing in the Florida Keys or Belize, heading to Bhutan for Buddhist and Himalayan experiences, or to New Zealand for its natural landscape and outdoor activities.