Windsurfing in Bonaire: January
We spent a week in Bonaire
(January 13 – 20). Our primary objective
was to get in some windsurfing and perhaps get a little better at it. If the wind failed to materialize, then we
would partake of some of the other offerings of Bonaire,
such as snorkeling and several types of nature tours.
Getting there and back:
Travel arrangements were made with the assistance of Ann Phelam (Caribbean Wind and Sun Vacations)
, who is very knowledgeable of Bonaire,
especially for windsurfers. Flights to Bonaire are somewhat limited with connecting flights
required. We used Air Jamaica which flies out of Atlanta
and connects in Montego Bay to and from Bonaire. Our flights were comfortable and reasonably
close to on time, typically ending up 30 – 60 minutes late. Well, comfortable except for the seats on the
aircraft (Airbus 321) used from Montego Bay and Bonaire:
the seat cushions badly needed renovations.
On the return flight a different, newer, aircraft was used and it was
fine. Ann had reserved a car through
Budget but no car was available when we got there, so they gave us a “quad-cab”
pickup instead. It was a little rough
around the edges, but functioned just fine.
Bonaire is the easternmost of the "ABC islands": Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
Bonaire is the middle sized island of the
three, and has the smallest population (about 15,000). It is about 50 miles north of Venezuela
and the weather (and surrounding water) is always warm. It is mostly a dry desert-like island with
lots of cactus growing in the open areas. However, we were there during the
rainy season and we got some a little rain several days, but it didn't really
get in our way very much. Much of the
local vegetation was green while it will be brown during the drier months. Besides tourism, the main industry is sea
salt; there are large salt evaporation ponds on the eastern end of the
island. There are some hills on the
northern and western sections of the island and they offer some nice views. The island is very rocky (it appears volcanic,
but is not) in nature and the soil is hard and relatively poor. As in Aruba,
most of the population speaks English, Spanish, Dutch, and the native Papimento so there are seldom any language issues. US dollars are welcome, but you will often
get change in N.A. Florins (also referred to as Guilders). The exchange rate is about 1.8 Guilders to
the US Dollar.
We stayed at the “Bellafonte Chateau de la Mer” and had a very comfortable “junior suite” with a nice
living area with kitchen facilities and a slightly small bedroom with the
bath. We had a great view over the ocean
and part of the harbor and several times we relaxed on the small dock over the
water. The Bellafonte is very new and I
believe it is actually a group of condominiums (20 units) which are normally
rented as hotel facilities. It was very
comfortable except for one factor: it is about ¼ mile from the end of the
airport runway. I didn’t really expect
this to be a problem as I assumed there would be no flights leaving late at
night, but I was wrong. From 2 to 4 loud
jet aircraft took off each night between midnight and 7 AM.. If it had just been the jet noise, we
probably would have usually slept through it.
However, the sound wave pressures caused our entry door to vibrate in its’
frame, creating a rather loud and “wakeful” noise. I suspect this loud vibration noise was
unique to our unit as others reported not being bothered. The good thing was that, after windsurfing
much of the day, we usually got back asleep quickly.
The main reason we went was for some windsurfing. Bonaire’s Lac Bay
has a large very shallow area on the windward (eastern) end of the island and
is well protected by a reef. The result is an almost ideal windsurfing environment:
a good onshore wind, shallow water, and little waves. Although Bonaire is best know for its’ diving, the windsurfing
environment and facilities now attract a significant number of visitors.
There are two windsurf outfitters at Lac
“Jibe City” and “Bonaire Windsurf Place”. For several reasons, we chose Windsurf Place this
time and were glad we did. We used Jibe City
on our first visit in 2004 and the two outfitters are right next to each other
on a limited section of beach so they are easy to compare. While they both offer quality equipment and
good instruction, Windsurf Place
provides much more comfortable “off the water” facilities with both lounge
chairs on the beach and a comfortable covered deck with chairs and tables. They also have a simple but very good “Beach
Bar” that serves drinks and both normal snacks (salads, sandwiches, etc) and
meals of local foods. While all the food
we had was good, I highly recommend the local variety that the beach bar offered
each day. They also had a weekly
(Wednesday evening) bar-b-que with windsurfing videos
and pictures. We had the opportunity to
talk to the owner (Rogér) and chief instructor and, I
believe, partner, Elvis (yes, Elvis) and were impressed by both their business sense as well as their almost
total dedication to providing the best windsurfing experience possible to their
customers. They had many stories to tell that kept us entertained between
Of the six days available for windsurfing, we had 4 good
days (17 – 23 knots), one mediocre day (12- 16 kts)
and one slow day (8 – 12 kts). We used the slower days to practice our jibes
and such, so the time certainly was not wasted.
There is also a very good snorkeling spot in the bay within wading
distance of the windsurfing facilities.
Other activities on Bonaire
There are many other activities available on Bonaire, either for the slow days or possibly for a
non-windsurfing spouse. As previously
mentioned, SCUBA diving is “king” in Bonaire. Probably 75 – 85% of the visitors come for
diving or snorkeling. The “standard”
rental car is a pickup truck to carry the diving gear. Many of the diving locations are accessible
from the shore, so the pickups also come equipped with a simple wooden frame to
hold diving tanks in place in the bed of the truck. There is also a large national park that has
sights to visit, many walking and biking trails, sailing charters, kayaking,
and just plain relaxing.
In our two trips to Bonaire
we have not had a “bad” meal: certainly some were better than others, bit all
were good. Breakfast options are
limited. Most visitors who are not in a
large resort visit a local store and stock up on breakfast materials and just
take breakfast in their rooms. We ate
lunch most days at the Beach Bar mentioned earlier (except for days we were
eating “leftovers”.) I’ll provide a brief
“day by day” review of where and what we ate.
“It Rains Fishes”
Because of the flight times, we were a little off schedule and
decided to grab an early dinner. We
found and chose “It Rains Fishes” and Susan had a good grilled fish dinner
while I felt like a large Greek Salad.
Both were good and prices reasonable.
We went to Capriccos on out first
visit, and it was just as food this time. We had a table inside in a little “romantic”
nook and enjoyed our meals. Their wine
selection and knowledge is impressive.
Monday: Mona Lisa:
We had tried (unsuccessfully) to get to and into Mona Lisa
on our first visit, so we made sure we got there this time. Although they featured a three course
special, we just ordered ala-cart and had a very nice salad plus an entree. I had a Barracuda dish and Susan had
Wahoo. Definitely recommended, but
either make reservations or get there early.
bills itself as a Argentina Steak House, and it
probably comes close. We decided to go
for the “mixed grill for 2” but I think we’d order something different if we
return. The mixed grill featured
quantity over quality: there was a tremendous amount of meat, including a whole
chicken, several sausages, two different varieties of ribs, and several kinds
of steaks. There was probably over 5
pounds of meat: but although it was all good, there was nothing special or
exceptional. While it is certainly a
good “price performer”, we definitely prefer “El Gaucho” in Aruba
for our Argentina Steakhouse. As we have
done at El Gaucho, the “leftovers” from Casablanca
provided lunch for the following two days.
Beach Bar BBQ
The BBQ offered your choice of three of the four available
meats: fish (Wahoo), chicken, sausage,
and ribs along with some salad. At $15
(USD) per person, it was one of our least expensive meals and was all very
good. Of course, it does have a “unique”
atmosphere: very open-air, sand floor, and picnic tables. But for a bunch of avid windsurfers, it was
While the food and service was very good, the high-point of
Salsa was the view. The dining area is
on the 2nd floor overlooking the harbor area. During or just after sunset it offers one of
the best views in town. We had a mixed
fish platter for two and, although it was good, the method of serving it in
3-tierred serving trays made it a little challenging. Any couple ordering this should know each
Friday: La Guernica
They offer Spanish style tappas
and full meals. We had two different tappas, then the entrees.
Susan had Barracuda and I had Dorado.
Both were very good and were actually probably the best prepared and
presented dishes we had all week. Highly
recommended, but get there early or make reservations.
I suspect it would be difficult to get a bad meal in Bonaire. All our
eating experiences have certainly been good.
With the possible exception of the mixed grill at Casablanca, the emphasis is definitely on
quality, not quantity. We seldom left a
restaurant feeling “stuffed”, but more like “pleasantly full”.
The people you meet:
One thing I have to comment on is the interesting and very
nice people you tend to meet on a trip like this. I don’t know if it is because people that go
to Bonaire are just “different” or if we’re
just lucky, but we met and got to know slightly a number of people. Although I don’ know many of their names, we
will remember them. The couple (one of
three couples) we sat next to on the flight from Montego Bay to Bonaire who were also staying at
Bellafonte and who made some excellent recommendations for dining. We also saw and talked to them on the return
trip. The windsurfing couple from Calgery who we talked with between sessions on (and in)
the water were very interesting. (Their first time to Bonaire.) The lady next to us on the flight from
Montego Bay to Atlanta, originally from England, now living in S. Carolina, had been in
Bonaire and was just a please to talk to.
Both Rogér and Elvis at Windsurf Place were personable and always
had an interesting story to tell: especially Elvis, including about his three
times meeting and “escorting” the Queen of the Netherlands (one time barefooted).
The woman who ran the Beach Bar at the Windsurf Place was also very pleasant and
helpful. She “loaned” us $2. one day for ice cream snacks when we didn’t have
Something always goes wrong, and of course we had a couple
While Susan had a windsurfer board in use, she noticed that
the front 40% had basically broken off.
Not completely, but the bottom fiberglass layer was acting as a hinge
and the whole front of the board was flopping up and down. Rogér charged us a
reasonable damage/repair fee. We’re
pretty sure Susan did not cause the break (it must have been badly cracked
previously), but as the “user of record” when the break appeared, we were
On our last morning (Saturday) we didn’t really have time to
windsurf or do many other activities before we had to check out, so we decided
to take a drive through the central and northern part of the island, stopping
at places with good views or such. We
stopped at one such place, along a relatively isolated section of the road, got
out, locked the doors, and immediately realized the key was still inside. There were some divers nearby, but they
didn’t have a cellphone or other means of calling the
car rental agency. Time was getting
short… we had to get back to check out and head for the airport; we couldn’t
wait much longer for help to arrive. So,
I grabbed a large rock and hit the rear side window… it bounced off! I hit it harder, and it bounced off
further! I finally found a larger rock,
wrapped it in the plastic floor mat (to protect my hands) and after repeated
HARD swings, finally broke the window in thousands of small and smaller pieces.
We cleaned the glass from the inside of the truck cab, picked up what we could
from the ground (and placed a mound of rocks over what was left) and drive off…
I can report that Budget Rent-a-car charges $147 to replace the rear side
window of a small truck
Such mis-adventures just make the
trip all the more memorable (and more expensive).
All in all, an excellent trip… We got in some good windsurfing and improved
our windsurfing skills considerably, which was our intent. We had numerous good
meals and plenty of time to just relax.
We plan to return soon…..