Welcome to Bonaire cruise port!
Bonaire is an attractive Caribbean island and a popular cruise port due to its natural treasures, stunning beaches, desert-like sceneries, rich cultural heritage, and the Bonaire National Marine Park – one of the most spectacular scuba diving destinations in the world.
It is a lovely little island located in the Leeward Antilles, in the Southern Caribbean, around 80 km (50 miles) north of the Venezuelan coast. Together with Aruba and Curaçao, it forms the ABC islands and has the status of a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands. The Bonaire population counts a little bit over 20.000 residents, among which more than 80% are of Dutch nationality. The capital is Kralendijk, a colorful town and the main port where the cruise ships dock.
I came to Bonaire many times while I worked as a Shore Excursion staff onboard a cruise ship, and in this article, I want to share with you the information and knowledge I have on Bonaire that I consider very useful and helpful for cruise ship passengers! Read about:
- Bonaire cruise port (cruise terminal info, how to get around in port)
- Best things to do in Kralendijk
- Best beaches in Bonaire near the cruise port
- Port highlights & best shore excursions in Bonaire
Bonaire Weather – What To Expect
What makes the ABC islands so attractive is their climate – the islands are located outside of the hurricane-affected Caribbean areas, and the weather is pleasant throughout the whole year. The Bonaire temperature has little variations, and is constant all year round, with an average of 24 to 30 °C (75.2 to 86 °F), and a lot of hours of sunshine per day. Although the island’s climate is dry, the Bonaire rainy season lasts from October to January, and that’s why cruise ship passengers might experience rain and showers during their stay in Bonaire in the wintertime. It’s very windy too, as the island is flat, so always make sure you have suitable clothes and accessories when coming to the destination. Finally, what you’ll love about the island is the Bonaire water temperature – it varies from 25 to 28 °C (77 to 82.4 °F) year-round!
Bonaire Cruise Port Info
Bonaire Cruise Terminal
Bonaire cruise terminal is located on the southwestern coast of the island, in the heart of the Bonaire capital of Kralendijk. The pier is very simple and doesn’t have any building or sheltered area except for the tent where the security gate is and that the security staff normally uses.
When it rains, this is often challenging for the guests joining cruise ship shore excursions, as their meeting place is normally in front of the ship on the pier and they have nowhere to hide. I experienced this many times when I worked as a Shore excursion staff – Once it happened to me that it rained six times during the day, while I was a person on duty and needed to stay on the pier all day long. When you add wind to it, trust me, it isn’t a pleasant experience at all.
My advice would be to always bring an umbrella and light windproof jacket/raincoat with you, and keep your hat in your hands when the wind is too strong (I’ve seen so many hats flying away). The Bonaire weather is unpredictable, and don’t get tricked by the excessive heat and sunshine – it can change instantly!
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Upon getting off your cruise ship and exiting the Bonaire cruise terminal, you’ll spot the South Pier Mall that consists of various jewelry and souvenir shops, and there is a charming little café right across your cruise ship. Over there, besides shops, you’ll find the ATMs and a tourist information desk where you can get Bonaire maps and all the information you need. The South Pier Mall looks very attractive and is usually packed with people, but in my opinion, most of the items are overpriced. I would advise you to first check out some shops downtown (which is literally a 5-minute walking distance from the dock), and then if you haven’t found anything, shop in the mall in front of your ship.
When you exit the mall area to your left, you’ll spot numerous local vendors selling tours and excursions. The prices can also be higher than the regular ones because the locals know that cruise ship passengers are not aware of the real prices and are willing to pay more to go on a tour. If you want to go on a tour, I would recommend you to either join your cruise ship shore excursion (the safest option), or book it with a reliable independent tour operator (normally they are experienced in handling Bonaire cruise excursions, so you shouldn’t have any issues).
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Best Things to Do in Kralendijk
However, if you decide to stay in Kralendijk, and don’t want to explore the rest of the island, I would suggest you visit several places and historical landmarks:
- Fort Oranje – Upon leaving the South Pier mall area, turn left, follow the waterfront promenade and after 300 meters (less than a 5-minute walk), you’ll reach Fort Oranje, or Fort Orange – a small, 17th-century fortification built by the Dutch for the defensive purposes, although throughout history it has been mostly used as a government center, police and fire station. You can take some nice pictures in front of the stone lighthouse overlooking the turquoise waters of the Bonaire marina.
- Bonaire Arts and Crafts Market – Only a few minutes walking distance from Fort Oranje, you can explore this lovely market where the locals sell handmade products, such as cosmetics, jewelry, scarves, clothes, paintings, souvenirs… You can try delicious authentic food, and get to talk to the friendly locals who are always more than happy to help! The prices are decent, so make sure you have some cash on you. I always enjoy this place and highly recommend you to visit!
- Kaya Grandi – Located only a few minutes away from the Arts and Crafts Market and around 600 meters from Bonaire cruise terminal (less than a 10-minute walk), Kaya Grandi, or the “main street” is full of shops, restaurants, and bars. A great place for a walk, shopping, or cocktails, although you can find some great cocktail bars along the promenade as well!
- Bonaire Museum of Natural History – The museum is a nice place to visit and is located around 1 kilometer away from the Bonaire cruise terminal (or a 15-minute walk). The museum is situated in a small orange house, and the entrance is free of charge. The owner is very knowledgeable and will guide you through the history of Bonaire, the archaeology of the island, its people, customs, and share information on the biodiversity and ecosystem of Bonaire. This is truly an authentic experience, and the museum is well worth visiting!
- San Bernard Catholic Church – The church is one of the main religious landmarks of the city and is usually included in Kralendijk sightseeing shore excursions as one of the stops. It is located 1.2 kilometers from the pier (or a 15-minute walk), right by the Museum of Natural History. It was built in the 20th century and painted in yellow. A very charming place to visit!
Bonaire Beaches Near Cruise Port
The island of Bonaire is small – 38 kilometers from the south to the north, and between 5-8 kilometers from the east to the west, which makes it relatively easy to reach any place on the island within a 30-45 minute drive. There are several beaches in Bonaire near the cruise port that I would like to mention, and the best way to get there is by local taxi. Sometimes, the taxi vehicles are minivans that can accommodate up to 6-8 people, and in that case, they have fixed prices that they charge per person. The taxi rank is outside the Bonaire cruise terminal, and very easy to find.
- Sorobon Beach – This is the best beach in Bonaire for windsurfers, kite-surfers, kayaking lovers, and all those who enjoy water sports! It is located on the southeastern coast of the island, only 10 kilometers from the Bonaire cruise terminal (a 15-minute drive). When I went there, I remember that a taxi driver charged us around 6 $ per person one-way (we shared a vehicle with a few other people). It is a very popular and busy beach, and there is a beach club (I think the name is Beach Hut Bar & Grill) where the parking lot is, so the taxi drivers usually drop you off there. Sorobon beach has a unique watercolor and quite shallow water that is not really good for swimming, but if you are into watersports – you’ll find it ideal. The food and drinks at the beach club are great, and the prices reasonable. I had a lot of fun on that beach!
- Lac Bay – This beautiful sandy beach is nestled in the peaceful lagoon on the southeastern coast of Bonaire, 11 kilometers (a 15-minute drive) from the Bonaire cruise port, and only around 300 meters from Sorobon Beach. It is popular for windsurfers, but it’s also a nice spot for swimmers!
- Lac Cai – The beach is located on the opposite side of Sorobon Beach and Lac Bay beach, on the other side of the bay. The distance between the Bonaire cruise port and Lac Bay is around 10 kilometers or a 20-minute drive. The whole area is part of the protected Bonaire Mangrove reserve and Lac Bay National Park. The beach is secluded and peaceful, not very crowded, and boasts postcard-perfect crystal-clear water ideal for swimming and snorkeling. There is one beach bar at the beach – Lac Bay bar, offering great food and a variety of drinks.
- Te Amo Beach – This is the closest beach to the Bonaire cruise port (around 3 km away from the pier), located on the southwestern part of the island. It is perfect for snorkeling, so make sure you bring your water shoes, mask, and snorkel! In case you get hungry or just want to refresh yourself, you can get some delicious food and drinks at the food truck at the beach. A very nice and relaxing beach with an outstanding view of the capital of Kralendijk, and gorgeous sunsets.
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- Palu di Mangel beach – 3.5 kilometers away from the Bonaire cruise terminal and only 500 meters further down Te Amo Beach, Palu di Mangel beach has a lot of natural shade, which makes it perfect for families with kids and locals. It is great for snorkeling activities as well, so make sure you bring your snorkeling gear, including water shoes as the shore is quite rocky. The Bonaire airport is right by, so you’ll often see airplanes flying over and landing nearby. This beach is also called Donkey beach, due to the great number of donkeys on the island, and the Donkey Sanctuary located in the vicinity of the beach.
- Bachelor’s beach – This secluded beach is located 4.5 kilometers away from the Bonaire cruise dock, and it takes less than a 10-minute drive to get there. It is located further south of Palu di Mangel beach and is known for its thin strip of sugar-white sand from where the divers can easily access the coral reef. A beautiful place to relax if you want to avoid crowds and have more privacy.
- Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino – Within 600 meters walking distance from the cruise terminal, Divi Flamingo resort offers a lot of facilities such as pools, casinos, dining areas, bars, spa, scuba diving, and snorkeling activities… If you enjoy this type of resort, you’ll have a fun-filled and amazing day here! A few other resorts located in the vicinity of the pier (2-3 kilometers, less than a 10-minute drive) that you can check out Coco beach club, Spice beach club, Eden beach resort, and others.
- No Name beach – This beach is located on the Klein Bonaire islet that belongs to the protected area of the Bonaire National Marine Park. The beach doesn’t offer any facilities, but the snorkeling site is absolutely extraordinary! Make sure you bring your Go Pro camera (of course, I didn’t have it and regretted it) because what you’ll see underwater will take your breath away! You can reach Klein Bonaire islet by water taxi that you’ll find outside the pier, in the vicinity of your cruise ship. Some cruise lines also offer water taxi services, as well as shore excursions to the Klein Bonaire.
Port Highlights & Best Bonaire Shore Excursions
1. Catamaran Sail and Snorkel
Catamaran sail and Bonaire Marine Park snorkeling are a must if you are visiting Bonaire for the first time! I did several tours in Bonaire, and the catamaran tour with a snorkel is my number 1. Normally the cruise lines offer catamaran shore excursions, but these are usually fully booked, so if you want to join your cruise ship shore excursion, make sure you book in advance!
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There are various boat/catamaran tours offered, and I prefer those with lunch or drinks included. There are normally between one and three stops for snorkeling at the most amazing snorkel sites. It is truly a unique experience that I would definitely recommend if you want to combine water activities with extraordinary views of the Bonaire coast and swimming/snorkeling in the fascinating Bonaire Marine National Park.
Whether you choose to book a tour with your cruise line or with an Independent Tour Operator, make sure it’s cruise ship friendly and that you return to the ship by All aboard time.
TIP: These tours’ activity level is moderate! You need to be able to walk around 10 minutes to reach the dock where you’ll embark on your catamaran. Snorkeling is optional – you don’t have to snorkel if you don’t want to. Stops for snorkeling are usually in the open sea and you will use a ladder to go down into the water.
WHAT TO BRING: Go Pro Camera (this is a must – the underwater world is amazing, and you’ll regret it if you don’t film it), sunscreen (make sure it’s biodegradable, because you’ll snorkel in the Marine Park), beach bag, towel, hat, sunglasses.
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2. Bonaire Island Sightseeing Tour
Bonaire is a very scenic island boasting a variety of natural treasures, and rich flora and fauna. There are many sightseeing excursions offered by the cruise line, but you can also opt for a more personalized, customized tour where you get a fully private, local experience!
The sightseeing tours normally include stops at several Bonaire highlights:
- Goto Lake (Gotomeer Lake) – Located in the north of the island, 22 kilometers (a 30-minute drive) away from the Bonaire cruise port, Goto Lake is a saltwater lagoon and one of only a few pink flamingos nesting places in the world. The guide will take you to the observation point from where you can see flamingos in their natural habitat. From there, you can also enjoy the views of the Washington Slagbaai National Park, an ecological reserve covering a large area of the northern part of Bonaire.
- Rincon Village – Situated in the north of Bonaire, around 19 kilometers (a 25-minute drive) from the Bonaire cruise port, and only a few kilometers away from Goto Lake, Rincon is the oldest village on the island, founded by the Spanish in the 16th century.
- 1000 Steps – This is a beach that you can reach by a steep staircase, but don’t worry, it doesn’t have a thousand steps! It is a beautiful sandy beach surrounded by limestone cliffs that you can also visit if you are into diving or snorkeling – sea turtles can often be spotted in its crystal clear, shallow waters! This is a frequent stop in the sightseeing tours of the north of the island due to the gorgeous views of the coast. The beach is located on the way between the Bonaire cruise port and the Rincon village (9.6 kilometers away from the cruise dock).
- Kralendijk – Sightseeing tours normally include a panoramic drive through Bonaire’s capital. Scroll up for more information on what to visit in Kralendijk.
- Slave Huts – Old slave huts are located in the south of Bonaire, 12.4 kilometers from the Bonaire cruise terminal (a 15-minute drive). The Bonaire slave huts were constructed in 1850 during the slavery time, and are located along the main road in the vicinity of the salt flats, another Bonaire’s attraction. The huts were built for the slaves who were extracting salt from the salt ponds, which was exported from Bonaire as one of the island’s major export products. Six slaves used to share one hut – they slept here and kept their personal belongings and working equipment. The huts represent an important historic heritage of Bonaire and are impressive to see, but the story behind them is dark and sad.
- Salt Flats – Located in the southern part of Bonaire, less than a 15-minute drive from the Bonaire cruise port, salt flats are a truly stunning place to visit. Some of the purest salt has been produced in the Bonaire salt flats, and in the distance, you can see white salt pyramids. There is a Flamingo Sanctuary a few kilometers away, and sometimes you can spot these fascinating birds as well, although they are quite far. During the sightseeing tour, the bus normally pulls over and you get some free time to take pictures of the area.
NOTE: The buses in Bonaire are smaller than regular ones and cannot accommodate a lot of people (in the picture below). The roads are bumpy sometimes, and it can be challenging for passengers with serious back or neck issues.
WHAT TO BRING: Check if the water is included in your tour package. If it isn’t, make sure you bring water or refreshments. A hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, comfortable shoes, towel, swimsuit, and snorkel gear (in case the tour includes beach time).
3. Washington Slagbaai National Park
Established in 1969, Washington Slagbaai National Park was the first ecological reserve in the former Netherlands Antilles. This fascinating wildlife sanctuary covers a large area of northern Bonaire and boasts an impressive flora and fauna that you can explore in the presence of a tour guide.
The reserve can only be accessed by 4×4 vehicles, so get ready for an off-the-beaten-track exploration of the nature reserve, with stops at the visitor center museum, secluded bays, beaches, lighthouses, blowholes!
Washington Slagbaai National Park Tour is perfect for thrill-seekers and those of you who would like to explore the off-road Bonaire hidden gems!
The tour is not wheelchair accessible. It is normally a full-day trip and before booking it, check your cruise ship arrival and departure time!
4. Clearbottom Mangrove Kayak & Snorkel
Bonaire boasts a Mangrove reserve that is located in Lac Bay National Park, a 20-minute driving distance from the cruise port. This is an area of untouched nature that you can enter only with a professional tour guide. I had the opportunity to visit the Lac Bay national park and the Mangrove reserve, and I can tell you – if you are in search of peace, silence, and the nature of extraordinary beauty, this is a perfect spot!
The kayaks are see-through, and the underwater marine life truly fascinating to explore, so I am sure you’ll have an unforgettable time in this tranquil oasis! These excursions are usually organized in small groups, which makes the whole experience more comfortable and personalized.
NOTE: These tours are not for guests with mobility issues and are not wheelchair accessible.
5. Bonaire Scuba Dive
Bonaire National Marine Park is one of the best snorkeling and diving destinations in the world! If you are a licensed diver or you want to try diving, this tour is a must!
Cruise lines normally offer scuba diving tours as an option, and you can choose between professional scuba diving and an amateur one, often called Discover scuba diving. For professional diving, a PADI Certificate is required, but for the second option, you normally don’t need it.
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Some of the private independent scuba diving tours include equipment, but most of them don’t. That’s why I recommend booking a trip with your cruise ship because you can get all the necessary information from the Shore excursions department and a diver onboard.
Royal Caribbean cruise line has a PADI dive shop onboard their cruise ships, where you can also buy equipment and talk to the professional dive instructors.
6. Land Sailing Experience
This adventure guarantees a fun, memorable, and absolutely one-of-a-kind stay in Bonaire! I haven’t done it myself, but I’ve had so many guests coming and saying they had a hilarious time on their land sailing tour. You get to discover the wild side of Bonaire and enjoy a unique land sailing experience. The best part is – the tour is family-friendly and everyone can join it, as you control your own speed and it’s super safe! You are provided with the helmet, gloves, safety equipment and briefing, so all you have to do is relax and wait for the adventure to start!
To Wrap Up
Although it’s small in size, Bonaire is such a wonderful place to visit, full of natural beauties, and an incredible underwater marine world! All the attractions of the island are within a short driving distance from the Bonaire cruise port, which makes it an attractive Caribbean cruise destination and easy to explore in one day!
However, what I liked the most in Bonaire are the local people: kind, friendly and helpful, they will do their best to make your stay nice and memorable!
If you want to read Aruba and Curacao cruise guides, check this out:
Enjoy your Bonaire cruise and share your Bonaire experiences in the comments below!
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