Our Annual Trip to Bonaire

January - February 2017

The Set-up

Our regular trip to Bonaire in January has become a bit of a tradition for us. We head to Bonaire in Mid-January and stay until early February ( three weeks) to avoid the worst of the winter in the Atlanta area. (Yes, I know some people would say that Atlanta does not truly have a “winter”, but we grew up in Florida so we’re a couple of winter wimps.) Of course, the fact that Bonaire provides generally great windsurfing conditions and excellent restaurants helps also. This year the winds were not quite up to their normal levels so we had a number of days in which to pursue other activities, which I’ll cover in some detail below.

Getting there, staying, and back

Delta has a couple of non-stop flights from Atlanta to Bonaire each week, normally on Saturday and Sunday and these are very convenient for us. We drive 30 miles to the Atlanta airport, get on the plane, and get off four hours later in Bonaire (and warm windy weather). The downside is that Delta thinks highly of these flights and prices them accordingly, at about twice the fare of Delta flights to Aruba which is almost an identical distance. This year, as we did last, we used my Delta frequent flyer miles to pay for the tickets so the pain was not too great. The flights down and back were on time and as comfortable as four hours in a coach seat can reasonably be. Unfortunately, you cannot ask for much more these days.

A view of the southern end of Bonaire on approach with the salt hills and salt pans in distance.

We went through the process to get Global Entry status a couple of years ago and it does make both the TSA security easier (“PreCheck”) outbound and customs/immigration quicker on the return trip. Unfortunately it does not help in Bonaire but the immigration process there was reasonably quick (quicker than the baggage handling) and security leaving Bonaire was only a little complicated by a breakdown of the x-ray machine.

Staying at the Sonrisa

As in the past quite a few visits, we stayed at the Sonrisa “Boutique Hotel”. The hotel is modern with comfortable beds and facilities. The manager, Viktor, is very friendly and helpful and was joined this year by a helper, Miranda. They cooked breakfast each day with a choice of eggs (Viktor makes a very good omelet), pancakes (try the banana pancakes), or cereal and yogurt. The fresh coffee machine is kept busy and there is usually some fresh fruit, orange juice, yogurt, and bread available.

The landscapng has grown up around the Sonrisa, making it seem a bit more private.

We normally like to stay in the one bedroom “apartment” rather than the “hotel rooms” since the smaller rooms get a bit cramped after a week or so, but this year the apartment was already reserved for the last week we were to be there so we had to move to a hotel room for that last week. After being spread out in the larger space, this took a little adjustment but it also enabled us to realize the rooms had some common problems. Each year they add something to the Sonrisa and this year it was a large umbrella by the pool and a raised platform for some chairs and palapa toward the rear of the property. One other unintended addition was a couple of young cats. The cats actually lived next door but they frequently came over to the Sonrisa to visit and get attention. They were friendly and obviously used to being around people so we made friends with them quickly but refrained from feeding them as that would probably encourage them to come over the Sonrisa even more. Well, we usually refrained…..

The cats were young, perhaps a year old, and very friendly.

Viktor mentioned that the Sonrisa has been open for 9 years and it is showing that age in both good and “not so good” ways. The landscaping has matured and filled in giving the property a more lush and private feel. On the other hand, nine years of being a rental property can be “hard on the hardware”. Water faucets tended to drip and probably just needed new washers. Likewise, the flush mechanism on the toilets needed an overhaul and several of the window shutter crank mechanisms no longer worked. (In an area where the electricity for air conditioning is so expensive, I’ve never understood why almost all windows are so drafty and inefficient.) None of these things seriously impacted our enjoyment of the Sonrisa but you still notice them.

Around Town

It appeared that the economy and things in general were going well in Bonaire. New hotels had opened up (like the Marriott Courtyard close to the airport) and there was a lot of construction going on. There were several “in process” construction projects on the “back road” to Lac Bay. One aspect of this construction is the importation of huge quantities of sand and gravel, reportedly from Curacao. At least four times during our stay a bulk freighter would dock and be unloaded a dump truck load at a time. We watched and noted that it took the trucks 6 – 7 minutes to go to where they were dumping the sand or gravel, dump the load, and return so they could not have been taking it very far.

We saw the bulk caarrier and the dump trucks frequently. Perhaps too frequently..

It appeared to take all day ( 8 – 10 hours) to unload the ship with about 8 trucks and the single unloader working continuously. One problem was that their route took them past the Sonrisa, only about 200 feet away, so they generated quite a bit of noise. Since the Sonrisa was built a number of other projects have been built down the same road so it has gotten busier and the road noise in the area has increased noticeably. Since our last visit a new relatively large building has opened by the waterfront containing shops on the ground floor and apartments (condos?) on the upper three floors. Several of the shops have businesses in them but there seemed to be few occupied apartments.

Unlike the prior several years, Bonaire had been getting lots of rain in their rainy season. It rained some the first few days we were there and all the vegetation was much greener than we had seen it in years. Last year the sorghum fields looked dry, brown and pitiful. This year they were thriving and surprisingly colorful

Healthy and growing sorghum is surprisingly colorful.

Windsurfing (and windsurfing people)

I’m not sure if the biggest attraction for us is the windsurfing or all the friends we have made and see through windsurfing, so I’ll cover both together. As usual. we sailed out of Bonaire Windsurf Place, largely because we know so many other windsurfers there and we have become friends with all of the staff. Their front deck also provides a more comfortable place to relax and talk with our friends when not out on the water, compared to Jibe City next door. The conditions at Lac Bay have not changed much except that there seemed to be more seaweed along the beach this year. The staff was good about cleaning it up every morning, but there was more than in previous years. Also, either the water level is rising (unlikely) or Windsurf Place is losing some sand in front of the shop; the water keeps getting closer and closer to the buildings. There were some new windsurf boards and sails to try, although I mostly stuck with my “tried and true” boards.

In addition to windsurfing ourselves, it is always fun to watch the really good sailors on the water. For an example, one day while I was out taking pictures, Natalie (the “Nat” of the “Nat and Pat” couple) was taking a lesson from Patoen (one of the Windsurfplace owners and a former Olympic windsurfer) on doing carving jibes. This required them to sail full speed across the bay to work upwind and get up to full speed and it was a delight to watch them going back and forth “in formation”

Natalie and Patoen

We had the normal cruise ship crowds again this year, but they did not seem to be much of a problem for the windsurfers. The exception was one day when they were clogging up the walkway around the water grass and leaving no room for the windsurfers to bring the boards and sails in and out. This is not just an inconvenience to the windsurfers, but also dangerous to the cruisers as an unexpected gust of wind can easily send a sail flying and potentially hitting someone.

Most of our friends from previous years were there: Tim and Peter from Canada were there when we arrived, with their two friends, Alan and Paul. Peter had to return home early when his mother became ill and we missed him. Sue and Ian, from Guernsey Island were also there ahead of us and we enjoyed joining them for dinner one evening. Our German friends, Heinz, Werner, and Wolfgang arrived a week or so after we did and we saw them several times around town.

One night we found Heinz, Werner and Wolfgang dining at Capriccio.

It is always good to see Janet as she is both friendly and also from Florida, as we originally are. She alternates between windsurfing and diving, depending on the conditions: a perfect combination for Bonaire. Caprice and Christoph had been at their beautiful villa on Bonaire for several weeks and we saw the couple a number of times. Caprice may have been best known this time for her color coordinated sailing outfit: her shirt almost perfectly matched her sail.

I'm not sure which came first, the shirt or the sail but they match nicely.

Ellen and Jack were there again along with their friends and regular Bonaire windsurfers, Cheryl and Heidi. As mentioned above, Natalie and Pat were there and I have never figured out just how Pat can go for his daily run out along the roads by Lac Bay in the middle of the day; it is just too hot for that kind of behavior! The list of people can go on and on, like David and Kath, Walter and Janette, Al and Joyce, Felix and a couple from Poland, Gabrysia and Piotr (English equivalent names would be Gabriella and Peter) we had not seen before but who were excellent windsurfers. Gabrysia also provided very good nurse services when I gouged my forearm on the corner of a locker.

A couple of times during each visit I take my waterproof camera out into the windsurfing area and try to get some photos. Once the windsurfers realize what I'm doing, I usually am presented with plenty of "photo-ops". The Germans are especially helpful in giving me plenty of photo taking practice. Occasionally they also give me practice in dodging fast moving windsurf boards!

Werner likes to give me some good close-up photos.

The wind did not behave well this year and we had quite a few days when we did not even bother going out to Lac Bay but instead found other things to so. I’ll cover some of these next and there will be lots more windsurfing photos at the end of this report.

A drive in the Park

About a third of Bonaire, on the northwestern end of the island, is a national park: Washington Slagbaai Park. We had not gone to the park in quite a few years (since our first trip to Bonaire in 2004), partly because you have to have a truck or SUV or other vehicle with high ground clearance to go into the park since the “roads” are so rough. We happened to end up with a truck this time (small pickups are the favored vehicle for divers) so on a low-wind day we decided to visit the park again. We took the long way to the park, going up the west coastal road past the diving spots, past Gotomeer (“lake Goto”) where quite a few flamingos were hanging out, through Rincon and into the park.

These flamingos were in Gotomeer (lake Goto).

There are two main roads through the park, the short road and the long one. On our previous visit we had taken the short road so we decided on the long one this time. Besides, it goes along the coastline for much of its length so we thought it might be more interesting. The road quickly got over to the east coast part of the island where the coastline is much more ragged with large waves crashing onto the rocks and cliffs.

Most of the weast coast is rocky, barren, and pounded by waves. .

The park provided a pamphlet with information about the various rock formations and geology of the area along with a map indicating the locations of various sights that were a little off the main road. (I use the term “main road” very loosely as it was really just well-traveled ruts through the dirt.) One such sight was a “blowhole” that would force water out and upward when the waves hit it.

Some holes in the rocks created a nice little blowhole effect.

There as an old lighthouse and interesting geological formations caused by the varying levels of the ocean waters along with more active things such as the wild donkeys and goats. Toward the end of the road is a beach with a number of buildings that used to be a daytime beach retreat but I think it has been used very lightly in recent years years.

On weekends the buildings and beach might be used for picnics and partys.

As we exited we took the road through Rincon and back through Kralendijk to the Sonrisa. It was an interesting ride but the last few miles of rough “road” in the park got to be a bit long and we were glad to be back where we could enjoy our wine and cheese out by the Sonrisa pool.


On another low wind day we decided to go snorkeling. We got our gear together and headed to one of our favorite snorkel sites, at the little beach across from the airport between the fuel dock and the Port Bonaire complex, where the Kite City food truck hangs out. There is enough of a sandy beach here to make entry/exit a bit easier than at many Bonaire snorkel sites.

A school of small Yellowtails staying close to the coral.

The visibility was very good and there were plenty of fish around. The coral is not great, but there is some live coral and I think it is recovering from a storm several years ago.

Follow the leader!

We paddled around for an hour or so and agreed that it is an excellent and easy place to snorkel.


Looking for some more exercise, we rented a couple of bikes and went riding for two days. This time we rented from a bike shop in town and they had relatively new off-road bikes in good condition. I was able to adjust mine fairly well but after a few miles Susan decided that hers was a bit too large for her. The first day we had the bikes we made our normal “southern loop” around the salt pans, to Lac Bay and then the straight road back to town and the Sonrisa. The first real sight you run into on this route is the mountains of salt awaiting loading onto a ship.

The hills of salt awaiting shipment were becoming mountains!

There had not been a ship to pick up the salt in a while so the “salt hills” were turning into mountains. A ship did finally come and picked up a load of salt the last few days we were on the island, but the salt hills were still pretty good size. We made our normal stops, first at the kite boarding beach (also known as Atlantis beach) but the wind was so low that even the kite-boarders were not out. We stopped at both of the sets of slave huts (by the time we got to the second group of slave huts we were looking for any excuse to get off the bikes for a few minutes.) The lighthouse had not changed any but we noticed that with the low wind there were fewer waves and the ocean was almost calm, which seldom happens along here.

A stop for a picture of the lighthouse is mandatory.

A little past the lighthouse, the road starts to turn westward so the wind turns into a tailwind rather than headwind and things get a little bit easier. We stopped by the Windsurfplace at Lac Bay for a rest and to refill our water bottles and then headed back to town. For most of the ride back to town the wind is at your back and it is fairly easy riding, but by the time we turned the corner and went past the airport, we were tired and the wind was hitting us again and the ride gets really long about that time. One problem was that, although the ride was almost completely on roads, the bikes were offroad bikes which made it more work and less comfortable.

The next day we decided to take a ride more appropriate for the bikes and ride out to Lac Chi, the area on the opposite side of Lac Bay from the windsurfing area. We had driven out here several times before but had never ridden bikes. The first part of the ride was a couple of miles on local roads and then we got on the Lac Chi road which is really a wide dirt road. Here the bikes were on in their element and, although it was still fairly hard riding, it just seemed like a better ride. There is one area where we have seen Flamingos close to the road on previous trips and they did not disappoint this time.

There were more Flamingos here than out at Gotomeer.

We stopped at the facility where the “mangrove kayak tours” start and noted that there was probably a kayak tour on the water then (based largely on the stack of shoes next to where you get into the kayaks). We rode on out to Lac Chi, dodging potholes, cars and tour trucks (there was a large ship in port and this is one of the excursion destinations). We noticed some new facilities around the rather ramshackle buildings at Lac Chi and one apparent new kind of tour.

The raft looks a little crowded to me, and where is the guide's PFD?.

There were about 10 people plus a guide in an inflatable rubber raft that appeared to be powered by a small electric motor. There are frequently sea turtles in this part of Lac Bay so perhaps that is what they were looking for or perhaps it was a tour of the mangroves without having to paddle a kayak. We turned around and headed back, dodging the potholes and puddles again and made it back to the Sonrisa. We rested a few minutes then road the bikes back to the bike rental place and returned them, done with our biking for this trip.


We have always said that Bonaire has a surprising number of very good restaurants for its size which continues to be true, but we also like to watch the rise and fall of restaurants, which ones are there for the long haul and which ones tend to only be a flash in the pan. As usual, there were several changes again this year. I’ll run through the restaurants we visited in no special order. As a general rule, all the restaurants seemed to be busier this year: a reservation was needed to get into the more popular restaurants where that had generally not been needed previously.

Capriccio: It is not a surprise that Capriccio continues to be our favorite restaurant on Bonaire. The combination of wonderful food, a nice setting, great service, and an unbelievable wine list is hard to beat. We visited Capriccio four times over our three week visit: on the first and last nights on island we had their fresh homemade pasta dishes, on another visit we had fish, and one night we had pizza. Lola and the rest of the staff recognize us now and we always have a good visit. Chef (and owner and husband of Lola) Andrea produces some wonderful dishes in his kitchen. After eating I always try to get back toward the kitchen and get his attention through the windows and give him a big “thumbs up”.

The front of Capriccio in the evening. Inside and outside dining is available.

While Andrea takes care of the food, Lola takes care of the wine and the wine list would do any fine restaurant proud. The “wine cellars” take up two walls of the restaurant and I’m pretty sure there are some bottles in the walls that are not in the wine list; only Lola knows for sure. I always enjoy just looking at the wine list (more of a book) and Lola is very good at recommending a wine to accompany any dish. If you get the impression we like Capriccio, you are correct. I’ll blame it on my Italian ancestry.

Wil’s Gril: We got to Wil’s Grill one evening when there was a strong threat of rain and found the tables all set inside the building for a change. Wil’s cold smoked marlin appetizer may be his signature offering and he always has some kind of fresh seafood. The menu changes almost daily depending on what he finds available. His wife Sue is a very capable hostess and they make a great pair. Wil always makes it a point to come out of the kitchen and talk to all the guests to make sure they are happy. Normally we would have gotten back to Wil’s a second time but they had a death in the family and were gone for much of the time we were there.

Sebastian’s: We first went to Sebastian’s last year soon after it had opened when Elvis (one of the owners of the Windsurf Place) told us he had caught some fresh fish (Wahoo, I believe) and taken it to his friend Sebastian. I’m not sure where Sebastian is getting his fresh fish this year, but the fish dishes we had were still very good. The setting and view is wonderful, along the water’s edge where you can watch the sunset over the water. The prices are a little steep as I suspect you are paying a premium for that view, but the food and service is very good also. Last year our Canadian friends Peter and Tim arrived at Sebastian’s while we were eating and this time our German friends Heinz, Werner, and Wolfgang arrived and were seated about 10 feet from us.

Mezze: Mezze was a newly opened Middle-Eastern restaurant which was getting quite a bit of talk. Most people said that they liked the experience so we decided to give it a try. Susan had a special that was a skewer with big chunks of fish, potatoes, and some citrus fruit to give it a bit of a bite: she reported that it was very good. I had their Moroccan Chicken and it was also very good. We were seated at a table in front of the restaurant at one end of the seating area and I think we had a bit of a “out of sight, out of mind” service problem: when things got busy we were left to ourselves for much too long a time.

There has been a high turnover at this location but we hope Mezze stays a while.

A week or so later Sue and Ian asked us to join them for dinner and said they wanted to try Mezze, so we gave it another try. This time we had some stuffed grape leaves for an appetizer (delicious) and Susan had the baby octopus while I had the Turkish Kebab and both were very good. The four of us were seated in the “mainstream” of the restaurant and service was consistent and very good. Mezze is located in front of the southern cruise ship dock in the space that used to be occupied by N-Joy, and Four Seasons before that, and Bambu before that. Hopefully Mezze will be around for a while.

Patagonia: While we’re in the area, let’s cover Patagonia. Patagonia has moved again and is now right next to Mezze. Patagonia is basically an Argentine Steak House and they do a good job of it. We always have steak here and, as before, our sirloins were correctly cooked and very tasty. The bottle of Argentine Malbec wine went well with the beef. This location is a bit larger than their last facility and they seemed to be doing a good business so I hope the stay at this location for a while.

Patagonia is immediately next door (to the left) to Mezze. A nice combination.

At Sea: This one requires a little history. At Sea opened several years ago to generally very good reviews for their somewhat different style, presentation of foods (several small buites with each meal), and excellent service. Just before our visit last year, the owners of At Sea opened a new restaurant, La Cantina, which while very good, was still having a few “growing pains”. In the past year the owners of both restaurants sold At Sea to new owners and took the head chef and much of the wait staff with them to La Cantina.

At Sea was generally busy but we thought it had lost its edge.

While still very good and worth a visit, At Sea no longer has quite the “edge” it used to have. We both had fish (Wahoo and Barracuda) and they were both good, but rather plain with no special sauce or spice or other flavorings. It needed something else to give it the zip that we had previously gotten there.

La Cantina: On the other hand, La Cantina has come into its own. La Cantina was now the restaurant that people were talking about the most. We had to try it and quickly recognized some of the wait staff, or should I say they recognized us. The service was very good, the food we ordered was delicious, and the little extra “bites” had the zip that we used to get at At Sea.

La Cantina, on the other hand, had picked up the edge and was running with it.

I did wonder a bit at one dish: we ordered ceviche appetizer and it was good, but why the several ( 4 or 5 ) popped kernels of corn? They added some volume to make it look like you got more, but certainly added no taste. Just seemed strange. Anyone at all serious about eating and fine food should definitely visit La Cantina.

La Guernica: At our last several visits to La Guernica we had gotten a couple of tapas and one entrée to split. This time we just went “all in” and got five tapas plates, and the requisite bottle of wine, of course. The tapas were all delicious and fun, the Pinot Grigio was crisp and fruity, the service attentive, and the view over the harbor was beautiful: what wasn’t to like?

King of Ribs / Ribs Factory: OK, what is the correct name of this restaurant? It appeared that the restaurant known as the Ribs Factory for many years was changing its name to “King of Ribs”, I’m guessing it is to match the name of a couple of restaurants in the Netherlands. We had gone to the Ribs Factory several years ago and it was good, but we had never gotten back then one evening, as we walked around town, we ran into Tim, Andy, and Paul. They said they had just eaten at Ribs factory and it was really good, better than Bobbejan’s, which has been our standard for many years. With that recommendation, we had to try it.

Our view from the King of Ribs over Karels pier and the ocean.

The ribs were very good, more like we think of BBQ with a tomato based sauce and the French fries and coleslaw were good. Service was good, not great, but then we had a great view from the second floor overlooking Karels pier and the harbor, so we didn’t mind a little “island time” at all.

Blue Garden Brazilian Grill and Pizza Gormet: That is much too long a name so we just called it the Blue Garden. As we were seated at the Blue Garden we saw some windsurfing friends, Al and Joyce, were there also. We decided to all sit together at a different table and this may have confused someone. Joyce and Al had already ordered so we ordered some drinks and our entrees. After a somewhat long wait, Susan and I got our entrees but Joyce and Al still did not get their pizza. It turned out that a server, actually the manager, had served their pizza to an adjacent table. There were many apologies and they prepared another pizza as quickly as possible and the manager gave us all a cup of lobster bisque and some cheese bread balls. After all that though, I really remember very little about what we had to eat.

Joe’s Grillhouse: Nothing fancy here, just good food at reasonable prices, the same as last year. The one thing unique here was that they had the new “Bonaire Blond” beer available so we had to try it and we agreed that it was pretty good. Bonaire Blond is the namesake beer of the new brew-pub, “Bonaire Blond” located adjacent to La Cantina.

Cuba Compagnia: Three are still no Cuban foods on the menu so the name still makes no sense, but on nights when we want a lighter meal or something simple, it is a good choice. It is getting to be more popular though, so I’m afraid that we may soon start having to have reservations to dine here.

Luciano: Earlier I mentioned the new building by the waterfront with shops and restaurants on the ground floor. One of these restaurants was Luciano, a combination coffee shop, sandwich shop, restaurant, and ice cream shop. After a large lunch one day we just wanted something simple/small and, on Viktor’s recommendation, decided to try Luciano.

One of the newest restaurants in town, Luciano.

We just got a couple of sandwiches and I thought the prices were a little high for what we got, but the food was nicely prepared and flavorful and the services was prompt and friendly. Another day we tried their ice cream and, while it was good, we agreed that we prefer Gio’s.

The Barrel Wine Bar: On a sadder topic, I have to note the passing of the Barrel Wine Bar. It opened last year about the time we arrived and we visited it several times enjoying the different approach to wine and food. We had high hopes that it would be successful but it apparently closed as a wine bar last November and reopened while we were there this time as a “normal” restaurant. We went there one time and were greatly saddened by the limited menu, mediocre quality of food and pitiful wine list. We were there on their “grand opening” night so perhaps the food and service would get better, but we could not bring ourselves to go back.

The Wrap-up

It was another great trip to Bonaire: excellent food, good windsurfing, and wonderful friends. You can’t beat that combination.

Bonaire Sunset: Chapter 1.

Bonaire Sunset: Chapter 2.

More (lots more) Windsurfing photos

In alphabetical order (more or less).

Al is one of a few windsurfers who prefer the old Pro-Tech boards.

Cheryl was back and did not bruise any ribs this year.

David is trying one of the (colorful) new boards.

Ellen always just makes it look so easy.

Gabrysia (from Poland) is an excellent sailor and a good nurse.

Heidi almost seems to be thinking 'Ho-hum, can't this go any faster?'

Heinz: have you ever noticed how many windsurfers are smiling when sailing?

Janette (of 'Walter and Janette') always seems so poised when sailing.

Kath is another sailor who always looks poised and in control.

Nat (Natalie) doesn't believe in doing anything halfway!

Peter is another sailor who is always smiling.

Piotr was taking advantage of the good (and warm) conditions in Bonaire instead of Poland.

You can usually identify Sue from a distance by her black outfit and pink cap.

Susan had it going pretty good this year also.

I think Walter just realized that I was standing where he planned to sail.

Werner gave me plenty of opportunities to get good pictures of him.

There was a rumor going around that Wolfgang is much older than he looks: we didn't believe it.

And of course I have to get one of myself in here.

And some more photos that I though deserved being seen.

Contact me via mike@hammocktree.us