A well-known ‘Diver’s Paradise’ (it even says so on the license plates!), the island of Bonaire, a Dutch ‘special municipality’ floating close by Aruba and Curaçao in crystal-clear Caribbean waters, makes for a safe and eminently child-friendly stay. What it lacks in wide, silky-soft beaches (most are narrow, and some coral-crunchy) it makes up for with its warm, snorkel-happy waters, friendly locals, and a lovely, laid-back perma-holiday vibe.
Daan Strijker and Bart Breukelman, our locals in-the-know, have lived on the happy isle for three years, along with their little ones Enzo (9), Jari (7) and Lima (3). Bart is a police detective, working for the Dutch government on cases throughout the Caribbean and South America, while Daan runs a Batik business and workshop, selling her gorgeous wares at the Art and Craft Market in the capital city of Kralendijk. Below they share with Seven Suitcases their favourite family-friendly spots on beautiful Bonaire.
What do you love most about Bonaire as a place to spend time with your children?
Bonaire is such a relaxed place to live: you largely live outdoors, and the kids have endless opportunities to participate in sports and play on the beaches. The bars are largely on the beaches, too – making them great spots to relax and meet people: a birthday party is never thrown indoors at home! Also, there’s a sense of freedom here, with few rules: for instance, there’s no such thing as ‘private’ beach property, so you can visit any beach or resort that you like, making for less of a ‘gap’ between tourists and locals.
Can you give us a run-down of your top spots on Bonaire to take your little ones?
- Sorobon Beach Resort A beach and resort on lovely Lac Bay: the reef-protected beach, with its shallow water, is perfect for the little ones. There is also a bar, with live music and other activities from time to time.
- Spice Beach Club A beach bar/lounge near Kralendjik, beside which you’ll find fine snorkeling, with lots of fish. They also rent equipment for lots of water sports: water skiing, jet skis, boats…you name it. There’s often live music or DJs in the evening, and a great weekend happy hour (Friday-Sunday, 6-7pm) for the parents.
- Jibe City Set on gorgeous Lac Bay, this is THE location for your kids (and you!) to learn how to windsurf. Its Hang Out Bar is a fantastic place to do just that. Great atmosphere!
- Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire A delightful place to spend a day with the family, in the company of 400 rescued donkeys. There’s a little souvenir shop (proceeds help the donkeys), a garden where you can meet the iguanas and tortoises, and a café from which you can view flamingos on the sanctuary’s salt lake. Open daily, 10am-5pm.
- Lac Cai A lovely beach on a lagoon on the south-east coast, which makes a great place to kayak and fish with the kids.
- Kayak Trips from the Mangrove Information Centre on the way to Lac Cai (see above): their excursions are great for kids to do, since they’ll learn all about the mangroves and wildlife on the island.
- Rincón The oldest town on the island (founded 1527), with lots of history and original little houses. There are also lots of small restaurants, for tasting traditional dishes like goat stew and funchi (a polenta-type cornmeal), and some good beaches nearby.
- Take the Coast Road Drive the coastal route around the island; stop off every so often to enjoy the views, take a dip, or – if you’re brave – jump off a rock.
- Washington Slagbaii National Park Here you’ll find Caribbean nature (including lots of cacti!) at its most unspoilt: you can hike, bike, kayak (rent them elsewhere and bring them along), bird-watch, and snorkel in waters teeming with underwater life (open 8am-5pm; under-12s free).
- Pekelmeer Salt Flats Beautiful! In this surreal landscape, you’ll spot flamingos and see the little slave huts at Kabayé and Peliké (dating back to 1850) and learn their sad story. Near here, there’s kiteboarding at Atlantis Beach, where our kids love watching the swooping sails.
- Wilhelmina Square and Kaya Grandi (‘Main Street’), Kralendijk In Bonaire’s capital ‘city’ (the population’s about 3000), Kralendijk, we like to take an evening stroll around the shops and the Art and Craft Market, where I sell my batiks. A little something sweet from an ice cream shop is also a must.
Where would you recommend friends visiting with children stay on Bonaire?
- Sorobon Beach Resort The most relaxed place on the island to stay with children, and right on the beach.
- Plaza Resort Lovely rooms, a swimming pool, tennis court , beach, dive store and playground.
- There are lots of private apartments and homes for rent on Bonaire, like these on Airbnb.
Could you recommend your favourite places to eat with little ones on the island?
Bonaire is big on fresh fish and barbeque, and you’ll find an abundance of beachside places to grab a bite. Most of the island’s best eating places are in the capital, Kralendijk; here are a few of our favourites.
- Gio’s (Kaya Grandi, Kralendijk) Home-made gelato ice-cream and great coffee: need we say more?
- Joe’s Grillhouse (Kralendijk) Grilled fish and BBQ with a nice outdoor dining area. All-you-can-eat BBQ on Sunday nights; kids pay their age.
- Bobbejans BBQ A tiny place, open weekends only, with great bbq and papas fritas!
- Divi Flamingo Resort The breakfast buffet here at the resort’s Calabas Restaurant, just outside Kralendijk, is great for kids
- For local food, head out to Lac Cai (see above) on a Sunday for the Sunday Party (great food, music and partying, from mid-afternoon onwards), or eat goat stew and fish at the well-hidden, totally authentic Maiky Snack.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found about life with children on Bonaire?
- The most surprising thing is that it’s so easy to live here: I always notice that when newcomers arrive and adjust: compared to life in the modern world, it just isn’t that complex. Kids are more relaxed and happy too; school-days end at 12.45pm, so there is so much time to enjoy the day and the simple things, like playing outside.
- Since Bonaire is never in a hurry, you live very much in the present: not in the future. It’s also very safe: we often don’t lock our cars or front doors during the daytime – that gives you a terrific sense of freedom.
- Finally, the locals are really friendly. If you speak a few words of their language (called Papiamento: ‘Thank you’ is ‘Danki‘; ‘Good morning’ is ‘Bon dia‘) they are so happy!
What would you recommend travellers to Bonaire bring – or leave behind – when travelling here with children?
Don’t bring much: you won’t need it (and leave your cold-weather clothes behind)! Sun cream and mosquito repellent are very important items, along with t-shirts to cover children’s shoulders; but you can buy all those things here too. Don’t forget to pack your sunglasses and snorkelling gear, if you have it.
What’s the best (and funnest) way to get around the island with children?
I think your own (rented) car is the best: just fill it up with your snorkelling gear and all the toys for the beach. Alternatively, you can rent a golf cart for about $35 per day, or take a tour around by ‘Bon Tuk,’ (electric versions of Asian tuk-tuks!).
What would you suggest families avoid on Bonaire?
- The mosquitoes! They come out at dusk, so close your doors (and windows).
- Though Bonaire’s really safe, there are occasionally, unfortunately, some rental car break-ins, usually at tourist spots (for example, at the “1000 steps” dive site). If you’re out on a daytrip, don’t leave fancy equipment or personal belongings in the car.
What are your children’s favourite things about living here?
- Enzo (9): “What I enjoy most is that you never have to wear winter clothes, and that you can always play outside, jumping off rocks into the sea!”
- Jari (7): “That you just can walk around naked and jump into the pool, or the sea, whenever you’d like to. And that you can always play with friends on the beach until late, while your parents have their drinks.”
- Lima (3): “Lima’s too little to say, but she likes to swim and play with Anna (her day-carer), and with her friends – and eat lots of bolo (a local cake, really sweet!). And that she never has to be in the car for more than half an hour…”
When you travel away from the island, where do you head?
- There are lots of places nearby. First of all, there are the other two islands of the “ABC”: Aruba (20 mins by plane), and Curaçao (15 mins by plane) Then there are the Leeward Islands (including the Dutch islands of St Maarten, Saba and St Eustacia; known, in Dutch, as part of the Boevenwindse Islands), and other small islands like St Kitts and St Bart’s.
- There are also some great opportunities for travelling to nearby countries: in Central America, Panama, Costa Rica, Cuba, Belize are all just a few hours from Curacao. In South America, there’s Suriname, Colombia (1 hour from Curaçao!), Peru, Bolivia, Argentina….
And finally, you have a lovely babysitter for the evening. What does your perfect date-night consist of on Bonaire?
- First, we’ll stop in for happy hour at a beach bar: Spice Beach Club, Jibe City, and Karels’ Beach Bar are all great.
- Second, we’ll pick a good restaurant in Kralendijk: At Sea (Mediterranean, with an amazing cheese course), It Rains Fishes (fresh fish and seafood), Mona Lisa (try the cheesecake!), La Guernica (fish and tapas), or Appetite (meat and seafood; veggie and vegan options too).
- Finally, we’ll hit the nightlife: Little Havana (with its famous pop-quiz and jazz night), or back to Jibe City (live music by Jeroen and band on the beach), Karel’s, a local bar (known as a “Snack”), or one of the locals’ various salsa music tents.
Thanks, Daan and Bart!