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The Worlds Best Shore Diving – Bonaire National Marine Park

Bonaire has been voted the Best Shore Dive Destination 22 consecutive times by the readers of Scuba Diving Magazine. In the 2015 awards they also places first for macro, advanced, and beginners in the Caribbean and Atlantic region. Add in three top-five finishes for overall best destination, overall diving and for underwater photography.

When you start looking at reserving a Bonaire dive trip, you will see some unique aspects that being the best shore diving destination brings. The main island is surrounded by a marine park. The Bonaire National Marine Park dates back to 1975 making it one of the longest established marine parks in the world. It extends from the high water mark out to the point were the water is 60 meters deep. There is 63 designated dive spots mostly on the islands west coast. Only a few can not be dived from shore.

bonaire national marine park 1,000 step dive site
Dive Site 1,000 Steps- 64 Steps Going Down but Seems Like 1,000 Coming back Up photograph by janderk

Each of the shore dive spots is marked with a painted yellow rock with the name of the dive site. The rock shows the best point to enter the water. In the water will be a buoy that the dive boats can moor to. The island of Klein Bonaire which is just 800 meters from the main island is entirely under the control of the Bonaire National Marine Park. Boats including kayaks are restricted to landing on just one beach as the fringing reef surrounds the island all the way to the shore every where else. There are 26 additional dive sites around Klein Bonaire.

One of the items you might see in your planning is that pick up trucks are available from the rental car companies and the trucks include tank holders. You will also find that many of the resorts offer dive packages that include accommodations, unlimited shore diving and a truck rental. Feel like going for a dive at four in the morning? No problem, as many of the dive centers are open 24 hours for pick up and return of dive cylinders.

Bonaire National Marine Park

There is one man who is seen as being the father of Bonaire’s tourism and scuba diving industry. On 21st of May in 1962, A heavily storm damaged 69 foot twin mast schooner the Valery Queen made land fall in Bonaire. The captain and owner was Captain Don Steward. The island had only one fledgling hotel and the 2,000 tourist each year arrived by ferry from Curacao a day and a half away or aboard a private boat. Captain Don had a half a dozen dive tanks and using them he explored the waters around the islands. Within a year he started the islands first dive center and within a few more years the first dive resort. Today there are 24 dive operators providing round the clock diving.

Don Steward is also said to be instrumental in the development of the Bonaire National Marine Park. He established strict guidelines for protecting the environment. It has been said that those who violated those guidelines got a stern lecturer. Repeat offenders were escorted to the airport.

The rules and regulations of the Bonaire National Marine Park are fully enforced. There is a user fee for both the marine park and the Washington Slagbaai National Park (WSNP). The Washington Slagbaai National Park is a 5,643 hectares nature sanctuary located in the northwest part of the island. Anyone entering either park must have a permit. To use the beach or other water sports, except scuba, the user fee is $10. This fee does not allow entry to the WSNP but it can be applied to the $25 permit fee for the national park. For scuba divers the permit cost $25 and is good for a year. However, before purchasing a dive permit, the diver must attend a marine park orientation and have a check out dive. The orientation and check out dive, like the permit, is valid for one year. The scuba permit allows access to the Washington Slagbaai National Park.

Bonaire national marine park
Dive Bonaire Photograph copyright by Tourism Corporation Bonaire

Bonaire National Marine Park Dive Sites

When you start looking at the dive sites and listening to divers talk about the sites they like best, it is easy to see why Bonaire is the best destination for shore dives and in the top five for dive destinations. The list of “best” sites is too long. Here are a few sites for you to consider:

  • 1,000 steps: It is really only 64 steps but after a dive most divers say it feels like a thousand. They also say every step is worth it. The dive site ranges from 20 feet/ 6 meters to 100 feet/ 30 meters. The site is noted for its star coral formations that rise like a building from the sea floor as well as other coral types. Barracuda and turtles call the site home along with a many different species of reef fish. In season this is one of the better sites to perhaps site a whale shark.
  • Tori’s Reef: This reef does not seem to pop up as much as some of the others in the writings about the dive sites. The entry point of this shore dive is the outflow canal of the salt works. Divers need to be careful of the fire coral as they head out to the coral reef, however, it pays to take a close but careful look into the crevices of the fire coral. Many species of smaller marine life hide around the coral. There are scatter elk horn corals before you reach the main reef. Once there you will be mobbed. Tori’s reef has the second largest biodiversity of the Caribbean. Great site for macro photography.
  • The Double Reef: Not really a single dive site but a few different ones close together. A set of double reefs provides some very interesting diving. The wreck Hilma Hooker is located here with the top being in 60 feet of water and resting at 90 feet. The dive sites Punt Vierkant, Alice in Wonderland and Angel City are also right here. Each site has a different experience waiting the diver.
  • Karapata: this site is noted for it excellent visibility and wide angle views. It is a favorite for underwater photographers, especially for those who enjoy including models. The massive elkhorn coral formations make stunning back drops. The site also has some old huge ship anchors that are embedded in the corals.
  • We could continue this list with dozens of other sites that are outstanding. Take a look at the Marine parks dive map and select your own choices for your bucket list dive destination Bonaire

The combination of boat and shore diving as well as a range of accommodations ensures that this is a great destination for any diver looking for an Caribbean vacation.

Cover Photo: Bonaire Shore “Zoomy Sky” by Flickr User:  Knight725

Charles Davis
Charles Davis
Charles Davis is an active diver for over 19 years who enjoys writing about his favorite activities, Scuba Diving and Travel. Also known as the Scuba Diving Nomad


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