Take The Plunge Into Shore Diving With Bonaire’s 10 Best Scuba Sites

Take The Plunge Into Shore Diving With Bonaire’s 10 Best Scuba Sites

Bonaire is a dream destination for scuba divers, with dozens of marked sites boasting a bit of something for every skill and comfort level, from the newest of newbies up to seasoned pros. The island offers some of the best dive sites in the world, as it’s surrounded by a protected marine sanctuary famous for colorful coral gardens and abundant marine wildlife. Sea turtles, eagle rays, and vast schools of reef fish are common, as are smaller and harder-to-find species like seahorses, octopus, and frogfish. This is considered the planet’s shore diving capital, offering anytime access to steep walls and sprawling reefs, plus underwater attractions, including a wreck and coral-encrusted pylons at the legendary Salt Pier.

Visitors here enjoy unparalleled freedom, renting their own trucks and tanks, and exploring the island independently. Guided dives and boat dives are also available, as are specialty experiences like blackwater diving, bonfire diving, and trips to see the island’s otherworldly ostracods. Read on to discover why Bonaire is a top scuba diving destination through its many can’t-miss dive sites that showcase the very best this island has to offer.

10 Alice In Wonderland

Bonaire is famous for its double barrier reef, with two individual formations separated by a wide sand channel. At Alice in Wonderland, the gap between the two is larger than elsewhere on the island, making the outer wall more challenging to find and less frequently explored. Schooling reef fish, hunting barracuda and tarpon, and all sorts of pelagics make occasional appearances here.

Newer divers should stick to the shallows and spend a bit of time exploring the sand at this site. Peacock flounder, stingrays, and other bottom dwellers are common. And the outer reef starts at around 60 feet (18 meters). If this dive appeals, head to nearby sites like The Lake and Invisibles for a similar underwater experience.

  • Highlights:
    Double reef, healthy coral

  • Best for:
    Divers of all skill levels

Related: These Are The World’s Best Dive Sites For Scuba Diving With Sharks

9 Bari Reef

Bari Reef is one of the first sites that new divers on Bonaire explore – and it’s one of the island’s most underrated areas for finding hard-to-spot wildlife. Park in the spacious lot before making an easy shore entrance just to the left of the jetty. Then, head either left toward Front Porch or right, where a lovely shallow coral garden can be found.

While it may be tempting to head to the drop-off here, divers will actually spot more wildlife if they stay shallow. This is one of the island’s most renowned sites for small species, including seahorses and frogfish, usually found in just a few feet of water. Conditions are calm enough at Bari that the site often serves as an underwater classroom for new scuba students, and it’s a nice spot for snorkeling, with plenty to see from the surface!

  • Highlights:
    Frogfish, seahorses, reef fish

  • Best for:
    Divers of all skill levels and snorkelers

Related: Tropical Snorkeling: Tips To Remember & What Not To Do

8 Hilma Hooker

The Hilma Hooker is a 236-foot Dutch freighter, originally christened the Midsland in 1951. After changing owners several times over the following decades, this vessel eventually became evidence in a smuggling case, with over 25,000 pounds of marijuana having been found onboard. After being confiscated by the local government, Hilma began to take on water and was eventually scuttled to create a dive site.

Today, visitors will discover this wreck lying in 60 to 100 feet (18 to 30 meters) of water, resting on its starboard side. While penetration is possible here, the wreck’s exterior is interesting enough to spend a whole dive exploring it. Divers can also take advantage of a rare phenomenon on a few select evenings each month when ostracods (a type of bioluminescence) can be spotted here in the shallows. Bioluminescence is an extraordinary phenomenon and there are many places worldwide to see it.

  • Highlights:
    Wreck diving, healthy coral, night diving

  • Best for:
    Divers of all skill levels

Divers should never enter a shipwreck without proper training and certification.

7 Candyland

If wading into potentially high surf, passing through a narrow coral channel, and descending onto a plunging wall swarming with life doesn’t sound too intimidating, this dive site is an absolute must. Divers are likely to encounter pelagics like sea turtles and eagle rays here. And every so often, supersized wildlife like whale sharks have been sighted.

The reef here is one of the healthiest on Bonaire, famous for its kaleidoscopic colors, vast schools of colorful fish, and fascinating creatures like crinoids. While sharks are uncommon around the island, this is one of the few sites where divers do occasionally spot one! Timid Caribbean reef sharks and nurse sharks are the two species most likely to turn up.

  • Highlights:
    Pristine coral, pelagics

  • Best for
    : Experienced divers comfortable with a challenging shore entry

Related: 23 Little-Known Facts About Sharks They Would Never Show On Shark Week

6 Something Special

Bonaire isn’t known for its muck and macro diving, but this site is definitely an exception! Something Special offers an effortless shore entry and a short swim to a large sand plateau. While the area doesn’t look like much during the day, after dark, it is utterly transformed, becoming a hotspot for small and strange organisms.

Stay shallow to spot octopus, nudibranchs, frogfish, and all kinds of minuscule crabs and shrimp. Tarpon are also likely to show up during night dives here, using divers’ torches as spotlights for hunting. Head left to explore a series of large moorings perched along the drop-off. Then, head back in the shallows for a chance to spot stingrays and other interesting bottom-dwellers.

  • Highlights:
    Muck and macro, night diving

  • Best for:
    Advanced certified divers comfortable with exploring after dark

5 Red Slave

Named for the colonial slave huts found near its entrance, this dive site has a reputation for strong currents, big tidal shifts, and a difficult entrance with moderate to high surf. It’s surprisingly also one of the best places on Bonaire to spot a seahorse! Walk slowly and carefully down the coral embankment toward the water’s edge before wading in. Then, swim out and descend over the sand.

Keep an eye on the current here, as heading too far left will leave divers stranded around the corner near the island’s southern lighthouse. A beautiful sloping coral wall is Red Slave’s main attraction, with some of the island’s most impressive coral. But the shallows can be fascinating, as well. Keep an eye out for seahorses on lone coral branches and rubble pieces strewn in the sand.

  • Highlights:
    Eagle rays, seahorses, healthy coral

  • Best for:
    Experienced shore divers who are comfortable in a strong current

Related: These Are The Best Places In The World To Dive With Manta Rays

4 Salt Pier

Though Bonaire lies south of the Great Mesoamerican Reef, which is a top snorkel site in the Caribbean, it hosts many of the same species found there. And no site on the island is more biodiverse than Salt Pier. The shallows here are home to a wide variety of sand dwellers, the pylons play host to cool macro creatures and stunning soft coral gardens, and just about anything might pass by in the blue.

Wade in on either the left or right of the main pier, swim out, and descend. This dive site is too large to explore in just one tank, so choose either the left or right side and save the rest for later. Consider visiting close to sunrise or sunset for the largest amount of wildlife and the lowest number of divers on the reef.

  • Highlights:
    Healthy coral, fish life of all kinds

  • Best for:
    Divers of all skill and comfort levels

This is a working pier, and divers are not allowed in the water when a ship is docked.

3 Boka Bartol

This is Bonaire’s northernmost dive site, found inside Washington Slagbaai National Park. It’s also one of the island’s most remote places to take the plunge, over an hour by car from Kralendijk. Visitors can park on the side of the dirt road and enter through the sand channel alongside the large boulder sitting at the water’s edge. Because this is one of the area’s more seldom-explored reefs, encounters with big fish like barracuda and pelagics, including eagle rays and sea turtles, are common.

Divers who don’t want to make the trek all on their own can also join boat dives in this far-flung corner with multi-tank trips exploring the park. While Bonaire isn’t famous for its shores like neighboring Aruba and its stunning beaches, the island’s northern reaches do boast a few stretches of pristine white sand that are absolutely worth visiting in between tanks.

  • Highlights:
    Healthy coral, reef fish, mild to moderate current

  • Best for:
    Divers who want a site all to themselves

2 La Dania’s Leap To Karpata Drift

This moderate drift dive combines two of Bonaire’s best dive sites – La Dania’s Leap and Karpata in one. Starting at La Dania’s, divers will enter the water by making a slightly larger-than-usual giant stride. The reef begins almost immediately here, with colorful coral gardens leading out toward a steep sloping wall.

Plan to drift with the reef on their right for 45–60 minutes, depending on the day’s current before looking for the exit point. Unlike La Dania’s, the reef at Karpata has a large number of sand channels – this change in scenery is a good indication that it’s almost time to ascend. A large anchor can be found at around 30 feet (10 meters) in depth, marking the ideal area for a safety stop.

  • Highlights:
    Healthy coral, plummeting walls, moderate current

  • Best for:
    Advanced divers who are comfortable in a current

Divers will have to leave a car parked at Karpata and walk to La Dania’s. Drop heavy dive equipment off first to make the journey easier.

Related: Where To Dive With The Ocean’s Biggest Fish: The Majestic Whale Shark

1 White Hole

Bonaire’s remote east coast is also home to fantastic diving, but exploring from shore is a challenge that few visitors are up to. Instead, guests hop aboard a dive boat and head out through the breakers to a site known as White Hole. This massive dent in the reef is filled with white sand, hence its name, and forms an underwater amphitheater loaded with marine wildlife.

Unlike the island’s shore diving sites, this area is all about spotting larger animals, with eagle rays and tarpon present nearly every day. For the second dive of the day, head over to turtle city, a neighboring reef flat known for incredible concentrations of hawksbill, green, and loggerhead turtles.

  • Highlights:
    Sea turtles, eagle rays, tarpon

  • Best for:
    Advanced and adventurous divers

Boat rides on the island’s windward side are often rough; divers should take seasickness tablets if they’re prone to nausea.