, , , , ,

Beautiful Bonaire: The Best Kept Caribbean Secret

Bonaire is truly an undiscovered diamond in, well, a seascape of so many beautiful diamonds. However, Bonaire is unique in that it remains a sort of untouched paradise in an over-saturated world.

The least traveled of the ABC islands (which Bonaire makes up along with Aruba and Curacao), it lies just quietly north of Venezuela in the Caribbean. This small island oasis is a snorkeling and diving paradise, as well as one of the most genial and heartwarming places I’ve ever been.

This particular part of the tropical world holds many wonders, a vast and impressive expanse of ocean that entices travelers from around the globe. The secrets in it’s history are both ancient and new, so it’s no surprise that included among the crystal clear waters sits a snorkeling and diving paradise you might not have even heard about; an island so close to Aruba you could reach it by air in less than 30 minutes and Curacao in about 15!

This land of white sand and orange-gold sunsets has a special place in my heart. As a child my grandparents were missionaries on Bonaire, volunteering at the still-operational Trans World Radio studios. I was blessed to spend a few holidays in Bonaire as well as experience my first solo international trip to visit them from my home in the Northeast US when I was thirteen years old.

Since then, Bonaire has thankfully not changed too much. This island retains it’s peace, it’s familiarity, and it’s warmth. The years may pass, but the culture and the soul of the people never seem to be affected by the seemingly ongoing stress of the world at large.

Beauty and the Beaches

Bonaire has long been a hub for professional divers as well as Dutch vacationers, its clear waters and laid back attitude boast an appealing attraction for discerning adventurers from all over the globe, while still remaining a virtual secret to the majority of travelers.

As part of the ABC Islands and the Leeward Antilles (formerly the Netherland Antilles), Bonaire has for decades had the luxury of sitting largely untouched by rampant tourism. Only 24 miles long, Bonaire sits as the top rated snorkeling and scuba diving in the Caribbean. This ongoing oceanic tranquility is carefully maintained by both private and governmental protection of the reefs, keeping Bonaire a paradise since 1979.

There are many beautiful stretches of white sandy beach to choose from, almost all ideal for snorkeling or diving, with the exception of the north side of the island where the waves and currents are enough to knock you off your feet in an instant!

Sorobon Beach

Located in the southeast of the island, Sorobon Beach is a beautiful location for snorkeling and swimming, as well as just relaxing in the sun. One of the best beaches in the Caribbean, here you can kick back with a tropical cocktail and watch the world-class windsurfers who often hit the waves at Sorobon.

Also located here is the Sorobon Beach Resort and the famous and fun Hang Out Beach Bar, a much-loved Bonaire establishment for good times since 1988.

Bachelor’s Beach

This small stretch of white sandy beach is located in the Belnem district, conveniently located just south of the airport. Sitting at the bottom of a short 10 foot cliff, you can park just next to the top of the stairs and make your way down to this intimate and charming spot. This stretch is, like so many Bonaire beaches, perfect for snorkeling and diving.

The steps are just off the road and simple, and a quick descent to the water. The locals advise you just to watch your footing on the last of the steps where the ocean spray may have made it’s mark!

Te Amo Beach

This is one of the favorites of the Bonairean locals, a great place to spend time relaxing in every sense of the word – get a tan, take a swim, and then have a cook out! Like so many other Bonaire beaches, the sea life is abundant and beautiful, and only a snorkel away from the shore. During certain times of the day there is a local favorite stopping by – the Kite City food truck, which serves delicious fresh fish dishes!

Donkey Beach

Bonaire is a unique island in so many ways – one of which is the proliferation of wild donkeys that roam the local (as well as the wild) areas. Although this beach may be a bit of a misnomer, it’s a local favorite, a breathtaking spot for all things swimming and snorkeling.

This locale is ideal for both new visitors and frequent beach goers alike, as the weekends become a lively local spot with music, family fun and an atmosphere of good vibes!

Klein Bonaire (No Name Beach)

In addition to the popular beach spots on the main island, Klein Bonaire is a small, uninhabited island just 15 minutes away. The fastest way to get to Klein Bonaire from Kralendijk is by water taxi via Caribe Watersport, located at the Eden Resort Beach area directly across from Klein Bonaire, itself. On Klein Bonaire’s uninhabited shores you’ll find yourself at “No Name Beach”, a stretch of unbelievably soft, white sand and it’s signature blue waters gently lapping the shore. Make sure to bring your own snorkel gear (rentals are available at the resort as well!), because this beach is ideal for snorkelers of all skill levels as the shallows are easily navigable and the water is calm. No Name Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Bonaire, and one that will bring you the type of seclusion you’re looking for.

Make sure to also bring along a bag of water and snacks, however, because Klein Bonaire is uninhabited in every sense of the word! There are no drinking fountains or vendors, so pack whatever you think you’ll need from the mainland. Luckily it’s only a fifteen minute boat ride each way and the taxis travel to and from every couple hours. On the beach, there is a small pavilion area where you can catch some shade while not in the water or sunbathing, but keep that sunblock handy!

Buddy Dive Resort

This particular area is one of our favorites, despite the lack of sandy sunbathing areas. Buddy Dive has some of the most amazing snorkel and scuba areas we’ve seen on the island. There is a pool area and many beautiful places to relax.

In addition to the beauty, you can rent a waterproof camera for the day, swim to your heart’s content, and then they’ll give you a disc of every picture you took! The variety of fish in this particular spot is breathtaking once you put that mask on and start out down the ladder into the crystal clear water.

One addition to this spot is the restaurant, which offers amazing, fresh food, and you can sit overlooking the water. You may even have an iguana visitor or two looking for a fresh tomato or lettuce scrap. You’re encouraged not to feed them, but don’t worry – they’re very friendly! We snuck a few scraps to our reptile lunch companion a couple times!

Transportation Tips

The beauty of Bonaire also lies in the fact that it’s simplicity only adds to the tranquility. There are just two main roads on the island, one North and one South, which makes for easy navigation if you choose to rent a car from the airport while you’re there, though it isn’t necessary considering the proximity of every eventual activity you’ll be interested in.

Despite the lack of public transportation systems, taxis are very inexpensive and run by the always friendly and largely English-speaking locals. On our last visit we had the pleasure of taxiing around the island many times with Victor, a wonderful conversationalist and friend to everyone at our resort!

If you’re looking for more wind in your hair during your daily escapes, make sure to take a chance to pedal around the island via bicycle, both standard and all-terrain are available, or explore at a faster pace on an electric bike. Check out Scooters Bonaire or Bonaire Eco Cycling to rent your two-wheeled transportation for the day. Bonaire encourages this eco-friendly mode of travel by providing free charging ports in Sorobon, Rincon, and the Wilhelmina square in Kralendijk.

Sun to Sunset on the Island

Beyond the sea life and snorkeling, the island has much to entice any traveler looking for leisure, including beautiful resorts like Eden and Buddy Dive, both within minutes of the late nights of downtown Kralendijk (a fun and festive city so far off the beaten path that spellcheck can’t yet discern it’s name!).

All of Bonaire’s tranquil resorts, as well as the bustling and friendly downtown, cater to relaxation, ambiance and beauty, as well as excitement. At any moment you can find yourself drinking a Pina Colada in the pure definition of paradise, worlds away from any worries, woes, or car payments!

For nightlife in Bonaire, you won’t have to travel too far if you’re staying at one of the beautiful resorts just down the road from downtown. The most enjoyable weekend nightlife we’ve found is at Spice Beach Club, which is part of the waterfront Eden Resort. Offering delicious food as well as very reasonably priced cocktails, Spice lights up the Caribbean-facing cabanas every Friday night with live music, lights, and a genial party atmosphere that guarantees you’ll make at least 10 new friends after just a couple mojitos!

For dance enthusiasts, there are many options to move to the beat of your choosing, including Little Havana, Karel’s Beach Bar, and the Plaza Resort Bonaire which hosts Latin night every Saturday evening. With just a quick registration, the Plaza Resort also offers a free salsa workshop from 6 to 7 pm, after which you can dance with the best of them! If dancing isn’t your thing, head on over to the casino at Divi Flamingo, where you can also test your skills at the tables and slots, open late every night except Sunday. As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Bonaire for even just a long weekend!

While in Bonaire, also make sure to have a few (or a lot!) of their local favorite, Amstel’s Bright beer. A refreshing addition to the beach and sun, Bright is served everywhere and is reasonably priced! In addition to this signature brew, lift a glass of the island’s newly created and brewed “Bonaire Blond”, a light and spicy citrus brew made with locally grown ingredients!

All in all, the nightlife in Bonaire is exciting, fun, and open till the wee hours of the night, maybe even long after you planned on turning in!

Salt Flats and Flamingos

A very unique aspect of this island is that, despite it’s minuscule size and uninhabitable wilderness, there lies one of the world’s only Flamingo Sanctuaries. The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary stands as a breeding ground for the beautiful pink bird, a key area due to the salt flats where they make their nests.

The sanctuary is off-limits to visitors, but while in the area (especially near Pink Beach) you’d be hard pressed not to witness a flock flying overhead. Bonaire’s flamingos hold the special distinction of being some of the pinkest in the world due to their diet, which is rife with red carotene!

Also, keep watch as they fly over, unlike their stunning upper feathers, their beauty is fully seen from beneath where the contrast of their ink-black wings can be appreciated as they fly overhead.

Bonaire’s Lasting Allure

There are so many things that can be said, described, photographed and remembered about this beautiful island. If you get the chance to see it, take it all in! From the warmth and friendliness of the people, to the fresh food, to the sheer beauty of the land and all the Caribbean sea has to offer, there may be no such unique experience to be had in this world.

Untouched for decades, it will remain so, which is just one more endearing and heartwarming quality about this astounding and life changing destination.


, ,

7 Travel Trip-ups and How to Avoid Them

We all have expectations of enjoying ourselves when we travel. We imagine taking great pictures, eating great meals and having memorable experiences, and rarely do we take much consideration to things that could go wrong. Really wrong.

What I’m talking about isn’t missing a dinner reservation or waking up too late to catch the bus to the caves (that second one sounds specific because we’ve done it), but rather something bigger. Big problems. The type of issues that cause one’s pulse to quicken, either because the ramification is that the entire trip and/or your trip home could be down the tubes.

The truth is, we should have expectations of an expansive, wonderful experience when we travel, but the unexpected can (and does). Lucky for you, we’ve ventured out, made a mistake or two and brought back a handful of nuggets to put your mind at ease and avoid the big mistake.

1. Losing your passport

This one is so easy to prepare for, so easy to avoid and the solutions makes so much sense that it makes it surprising that losing one’s passport is still as much of a problem as it is.

Nothing is more unnerving, and more avoidable, than losing vital information while you’re traveling.

Here’s the key – make two photocopies of your passport (front and back) and keep them in separate locations away from your actual passport. In other words, if you’re keeping the passport in your bag in a hostel or hotel room and you step out, only to come back and find that your bag is gone, having a photocopy of your passport in two separate locations outside of where the actual passport is located will save the day. Have one in your wallet, and keep another under your mattress, for example. If you take your passport with you, leave a photocopy with your travel companion and one in your bag back at the room.

Why? The consulate in your destination will be able to track your identification much easier and quickly provide you with safe passage back home if they can immediately check the numbers on your passport against the records in the system. The likelihood is that very few of us know our passport numbers and expiration dates by heart, and even if we did it’s still a poorer form of support than having an actual copy of the document.

To make absolutely sure, you can also take a selfie of you and your passport (passport next to your face and open to the document page where all information is legible) and email the copy to yourself or a friend in some manner as a back-up. If you did all of the steps above it might take you ten minutes, but safe you more grief than you can really fathom.

The moral of the story is this – treat your vital documents like very important information on a server. BACK IT UP.

2. Missing your flight to your destination or back home

The view from here is always better!

This requires a lot less advice if you’ve traveled before, but if you haven’t traveled before you should know this – you’re going to be slow in the airport. Don’t cut it close when it comes to your departure times.

If you haven’t traveled much, you’re probably going to be slower going through the airport. If you haven’t traveled internationally, you can bet on twice as long of a check-in process getting through security and finally getting to your gate. In addition, many international flights close their doors much earlier than domestic flights, and when the doors close, they’re closed.

You will almost certainly be slow getting through security if you have a lot of luggage, and haven’t read our tips on how to backpack virtually anywhere you go. It takes time to get through security if you’re new to international travel, and a good rule of thumb is to arrive three hours before departure.

In the worst-case scenario, you’ll get through security faster than you anticipate, get to the concourse bar and get to enjoy a beer or two before you take off!

3. Getting lost or stranded

Getting lost is easier to avoid that getting stranded, per se, but they can both happen and can both be unnerving. Neither is a major issue 99% of the time, but there are a few things you can do to avoid the problem, and a few keys to remember if it does happen.

The main way to avoid it is to do just a little planning. We’re wildly spontaneous through most of our trips, but getting lost walking around Barcelona is quite different from the Amazon. Know when is a good time to be doing whatever it is you’re doing. More importantly, know when isn’t a good time. Know transportation routes, know public transportation and always carry some extra cash on you for the unforeseen cab ride you might have to take.

If you are stranded somewhere, remember that panicking helps nothing and that a mind under stress us much less effective than an alert mind that’s in solution-finding mode. Understand where you are, calm yourself, retrace yourself, ask for help when you see someone and always try to travel in groups or with a partner to any area that you aren’t familiar with.

One more thing you may want to do is spend a little time learning a handful of sentences in the destination language in case you do get lost. It’s much easier to learn a short list of helpful sentences that will help you ask for help than you might think, and it can help you find your way back to your planned destination.


4. Running out of money

We use a general rule of thumb on trips – because almost everyone tends to overspend on trips, we try to stick to budget fun early in the trip. Nothing is worse and can spoil a trip than blowing most of your budget in the first few days, then look at two weeks in front of you where you have to skimp.

Back-load your budget, and budget at least 10% more than what you feel like you should. Sticking to great, free attractions and splitting meals are great ways to save money on foreign trips.

5. Getting sick

While this seems difficult to avoid, and it is in some ways, a few tricks will help you stay healthy on your trip.

Understand that you’re most likely to catch a “bug” on the international flight, because you’re in tight quarters with a lot of people for a long time. Prepare for that flight by drinking tons of water (an ounce per day/per pound of body-weight) for a few days prior to the flight.

Also, try to avoid bread or anything heavy the day before you fly. Really heavy foods combined with tight quarters and dehydration will drag you down and make it much easier to fall under the weather.

6. Losing your wallet/purse

Pick-pocketing happens. So do drunken nights. They, combined, are the top two reasons for lost wallets and purses. I venture to say the second of those two happens much more often, but it’s easy to still travel safely.

Try to avoid having your purse open in public (ladies), so that it can be easily plucked from by a passer-by, and don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket if at all possible (fellas). Keep things in your front pocket and don’t leave something sitting down out of eyesight.

Also, when you go out at night take as little as possible. Take what you need (and a copy of your passport, just in case), such as a debit card, identification and basically anything else you can keep close on your person. The drunker you get, the more fun you have, the more likely you are to lose something or leave something.

7. In the wrong place at the wrong time

Power is in knowledge. Know where the bad parts of town are, and don’t go there. Don’t walk in back-alleys at night by yourself in a city that has a bad reputation. You can have plenty of fun virtually anywhere, while taking smart, fun chances, without taking the dumb chances that get people in trouble. Visit anywhere you want, and be smart everywhere you go. Have fun, but be smart when you travel.

If you do happen to get confronted by someone that is undesirable, don’t be a hero. If you’ve had a few drinks, don’t start a fight. Ignore whatever negativity is around you and go on about your merry way.

Will you ever encounter any of these situations? Probably not. Traveling, even to some sketchy areas, is almost always much safer than you think. In fact, most bad situations are simply because of a lack of forethought or a mistake made on part of the traveler.

The truth is, in most places the locals want you to have a good time, too. They want you to have fun, spend money, come back, spend more money and help their city grow. You probably want the same.

With these few tips, you don’t have to worry about even the slightest chance that something might go awry. If something do have problems while traveling? You’ll know what to do and how to get through it!

Travel on!

, , , , ,

Forgetting Fear: How to Enjoy Travel in a Changing World

On the afternoon of November 13th, 2015, we were days from taking off for two weeks across three European countries – Austria, Spain and Portugal. First the murmurs came across the news ticker at work, that an attack had not only occurred in Paris, but was in fact still underway. As the hours passed and the gravity of the situation worsened, Tracy and I became gravely aware that the terror had spread into neighboring Belgium and all of Europe was placed on high alert as the situation climaxed.

Often when we travel, family and friends often ask us if we’re worried about our safety when we’re abroad. We’ve been to places before where we haven’t particularly felt safe, but fear hasn’t been something that has held us back. There are reasons for this that we would like to share with you, as it is an unfortunate reality that one does have to consider safety in a changing world that, while wonderful, can oftentimes feel small and insecure.

Be respectful

Before you go anywhere, whether it’s Northern Europe, Asia, South America or Egypt, research cultural norms and try to blend in from an attitude standpoint. Don’t be loud. Don’t desecrate public monuments. Don’t urinate into fountains. Be aware that you are the foreigner in a foreign land. Treat it with respect, as well as the people. It takes five minutes online to get a feel for where you want to go and what the vibe is. Try to match that vibe.

Embrace the locals

Provided that the locals understand and communicate in a language you also understand, don’t be too shy to ask the barista at the coffee-shop or the bartender at the restaurant where to go to and where to avoid. In most places, no matter how culturally different you might be from them, everyone’s basic humanity comes out when there’s an opportunity to help someone or give advice. Seek out that advice and embrace it.

Don’t be stupid

What do I mean by stupid? Being hammered in the wrong part of town at 3am. Not knowing where the “wrong part of town” is. Wearing that jewelry that maxed out your credit card. Flashing money or status. Don’t do illegal things. Don’t pet dangerous animals. Don’t be Ryan Lochte.  Don’t be stupid.

Know your transportation options

Even generally safe areas by day and by afternoon can get dicey at night, so always know how to get out of an area that you’ve gotten yourself into. What time do the trains stop running? What reputation do the cab drivers have? It’s a bad idea to be a half hour from the hotel with a belly full of liquor after the trains have shut down in an area where the cab drivers are dicey. Avoid it by preparation.

Be cognizant of your important documents

Listen to me carefully – do not use your passport in public unless it’s necessary for what you’re doing. If you’re going bar-hopping, find a creative and safe place in your hotel room to hide your passport and use your state or province-issued ID for drinks and entry where needed.

Tracy and I are a little different in that we generally don’t use turn-down service in hotels. After all, we can clean up after ourselves and can ask for any supplies we need at the front desk. You should consider the same, and why? By leaving the “do not disturb” sign on the door, you can safely stow your belongings in the room without fear of them being “lifted”. This hasn’t happened to us, but it’s happened to several people we know and we normally try and learn from others’ mistakes as much as we learn from our own.

In addition, make two copies of your passport. Keep one in your bag, and one in your wallet or purse. This way, if you do happen to lose your passport the process of getting home becomes much, much easier.

In conclusion, don’t forget to have fun. Yes, traveling successfully can take some preparation and forethought to do so safely, but once you’ve put the thought and care into making your trip memorable, MAKE IT MEMORABLE. Fortunately, most of the world is still wide-open for people looking to visit with their head on their shoulders, who respect the culture and who look to give a little something while also being given to.