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Bonaire Family Vacation: Dive Into Adventure

By Nancy Schretter, Editor

If your family is looking for a vacation filled with adventure, watersports, fine dining and natural beauty - look no further than the Caribbean island of Bonaire. This laid-back little gem is certainly a diver's paradise, but there's so much more to this destination than what's under the sea. Bonaire has a broad range of attractions that are sure to meet any active family's vacation demands.

Many families think of Bonaire primarily as a place to travel for scuba diving. My recent mother/daughter trip to Bonaire proved that notion to be far from the truth. My daughter and I packed more exciting activities into our five-night vacation than I could have ever imagined. Bonaire offers everything a family looks for in a vacation, both above the water and below.

What To Do

Bonaire is a perfect vacation destination for ecotourists, adventure lovers and watersports enthusiasts. Located just 50 miles north of Venezuela, Bonaire has always been one of the world’s leaders in the conservation and the protection of marine life. This unspoiled island is blessed with cooling tradewinds, abundant sunshine, low annual rainfall, superb underwater visibility, pristine coral reefs located close to shore, and average year-round air and water temperatures of 82 degrees.

This unique setting provides a wide variety of activities and learning opportunities for families, including:

* Diving and snorkeling. Diving and snorkeling are two of the most popular activities in Bonaire. For many years, Scuba Diving Magazine readers have voted Bonaire as the best destination for both beginners and advanced divers in their Readers' Choice Awards. Bonaire has miles of protected marine life and underwater formations, warm water temperatures and excellent diving conditions. In addition, the Bonaire National Marine Park has well over 80 top diving and snorkeling spots from which to choose. Each of these sites is marked with a yellow painted rock listing the site's name, and many are easily accessible from shore. All divers and snorkelers accessing the Park must pay a Nature Fee and will receive a Marine Park Tag, which also provides admission to Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Nature Fees can be paid at resorts, dive centers, tour operators, and at a variety of Park admission areas.

* Windsurfing. Lac Bay, a shallow protected cove with clear water, is one of the best places for windsurfing on earth. In fact, the Pro Kids Bonaire windsurfing competition is held there each year. The bay's sandy entry, shallow depth and steady trade winds make it perfect for beginner and advanced windsurfers alike. Families can head to Jibe City or Bonaire Windsurf Place for lessons.

* Land sailing. Land sailing is a great sport for families and Landsailing Bonaire has the largest track in the world. Blokart sailing is one of today's fastest growing eco-sports and it's my favorite land-based activity on Bonaire. Learning to sail a blokart takes less than 10 minutes and once you try it, you'll have a hard time tearing yourself away from the track. Land sailing is extremely popular in Bonaire and the Landsailing Bonaire track tends to be packed on days when cruise ships are in port. Make sure to call in advance to make your reservations.

* Hiking and mountain biking. Hiking and mountain biking enthusiasts are particularly fond of the spectacular beauty of Washington-Slagbaai National Park, a 14,000-acre nature sanctuary located at the northern end of the island. The area includes beaches, salt pans, blowholes, historic areas, hiking paths, and the highest point on Bonaire. Over 190 species of birds - including flamingos, parrots, and parakeets - can be spotted within the reserve along with wild donkeys, herds of goats, iguanas and other reptiles. Make sure to bring plenty of water for your day in the park and don't forget to wear sunscreen.

* Island tours. No visit to Bonaire would be complete without seeing the island's resident pink flamingos near Bonaire's salt pans or around Goto Lake in the northern section of Bonaire. About 10,000 to 15,000 flamingos make their home on the island. Animal lovers also enjoy visiting the island's Donkey Sanctuary, a refuge for more than 400 donkeys located about five minutes from downtown Kralendijk. Other popular sightseeing spots include the historic town of Rincon as well as the slave huts, lighthouse and solar salt works located in island's southern section.

* Beach escapes. Klein Bonaire is a pristine uninhabited island just off the coast of Bonaire and is easily accessible via water taxi. For beach lovers, visiting Klein Bonaire is a must. The island's white sand beach is spectacular and the snorkeling there is excellent. The two shaded pavilions on Klein Bonaire are quite small and there are no concessions available, so make sure to bring water and wear plenty of sunscreen. Other good beaches on the island of Bonaire include Pink Beach and Sorobon Beach at Lac Bay.

* Shopping. A small selection of shops and souvenir stores, including Littman's, Atlantis, Best Pearls Bonaire and the Bonaire Gift Shop, can be found along Kralendijk's Kaya Grandi. Shops are generally open between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and often close for lunch between noon and 2 p.m. daily. Bonaire's local art studios, such as the JanArt Gallery and Kas di Arte, are also well worth a visit.

Other great activities include horseback riding, kayaking through protected mangrove areas, bird watching, cycling, caving, and fishing.

Where To Stay

Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino was the perfect home base for our mother/daughter trip. The resort features roomy guest accommodations and spacious studio units with kitchenettes, two pools, two restaurants, a small beach, a spa and complete fitness center, a digital photography shop stocked with underwater camera equipment, and Divi Dive Bonaire - a PADI gold palm dive center. Divi Dive Bonaire is the island's oldest dive operator and is well equipped with five custom dive boats, an extensive dive shop, and a highly experienced dive staff. Having a superb family-friendly dive center on site was important to us, as we have always wanted to learn to dive and planned to take the plunge while we were there.

Learning to dive together is an incredible bonding experience for families. Divi Dive Bonaire's half-day PADI Discover Scuba Diving Resort Course is available to parents and children ages 10 and older. Our classmates were two girls ages 10 and 11, both of whom were as excited and nervous as we were. Under the watchful eye of our patient dive instructor, our small group learned to master the use of our gear and was soon welcomed to an underwater world of breathtaking beauty. We found ourselves pointing out fascinating sea creatures to each other and trying to stop grinning from ear to ear.

Both Bonaire and Flamingo Beach Resort proved to be ideal choices for learning to scuba dive. The perfect water conditions, easy ocean access and knowledgeable instructors were just what we needed to master our fears and enter a whole new chapter of exploration together. Divi Flamingo's onsite digital photography shop is a plus for beginning and advanced divers, and their staff is available to capture underwater memories on video or in photographs.

At the end of each day, my daughter and I found ourselves returning to the Divi Flamingo to relax by the beach, watch the spectacular sunsets together, and talk about all that we had learned. Scuba diving, windsurfing, and land sailing -- who could ask for more? It's unusual for a small island to be able to captivate families of all ages and interests, but Bonaire does it with ease and eco-friendly style.

If You Go:

* For more information about the island of Bonaire, visit www.tourismbonaire.com.

* For more information about the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino, visit www.diviflamingo.com, call 011 (599) 717-8285, or send a fax to 011 (599) 717-8238.

* Washington-Slagbaai National Park is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily, except on Christmas and New Year's Day. The latest entry into the park is at 2:45 p.m., and takes approximately 2 hours to drive around the park.

* The Donkey Sanctuary is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (no entrance is allowed after 4 p.m.) and donations are appreciated. For more information, visit www.donkeysanctuary.org.

* Be aware that one or more cruise ships may be arriving in Bonaire on selected days of the week between October and May. The island can become quite crowded when this happens, so plan your activities in advance and avoid popular sites when cruise ships are in port. To find out when cruise ships will be arriving, visit this website: http://cruisett.com/ports.php.

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