Bonaire, the Dutch Caribbean island just off the coast of Venezuela, is famous for its laid-back environment, sustainability efforts, and world-renowned scuba diving at Bonaire National Marine Park. Though flights to the island are limited and scuba diving can be spendy, there are plenty of ways to plan a budget-friendly trip to Bonaire. Here’s how to make it happen:
When to Go
The best time to visit Bonaire is during low season, from April to November, when flights and hotels are 20-50 percent less expensive. The island has limited direct flights from U.S. destinations like Newark, Houston, Atlanta, and Miami. Since most flights arrive and depart every Saturday, a seven-day vacation is the most affordable and convenient for travelers. The average cost of a non-stop round-trip flight is about $800, though you can sometimes find flights with multiple stops that are anywhere between $650-$750. The airport does have flights during the week, which could allow for a shorter trip and a layover in Aruba or Curacao, but it’ll most likely cost extra.
Where to Stay
You won’t find mega resorts in Bonaire, which keeps lodging more affordable. Courtyard by Marriott Bonaire Dive Resort offers rooms for approximately $108 per night in the off season. Unlike some of the smaller hotels, this property has a full range of amenities from a pool to a gym, a restaurant and bar, and a dive center. The best way to save is to book a diving-and-room combo package, available year-round. For $193-$220 per night, it includes stay in a Deluxe room, a breakfast buffet for two adults, six days of unlimited shore diving for one or two divers, a free upgrade to Nitrox for certified divers, and one double cabin pick-up truck rental for six days.
For those who are working on a smaller budget, a stay at City Inn Bonaire costs about $50 per night. It’s location in Kralendijk, the capital, is a selling point, as are the ensuite kitchens (available in every room) and free wifi. There aren't many additional amenities here, but it's perfect for guests looking to meet their basic needs at a good price.
While it's possible to navigate Bonaire by taxi, there aren't many on the island (meaning long wait times) and the major attractions are far from one another. We recommend renting a vehicle to get the most out of your stay. If you plan on diving, a double-cabin pick-up truck is the best choice; rentals cost about $350 for a week, however, discount sites like Expedia do offer cheaper rates at about $50 less. For those who don’t need a pick-up truck, compact car rentals are far more affordable—typically around $200-$250 for a week. Remember to look for discount codes and promotions online before booking, and check if your travel credit card offers discounts at rental car partners or covers insurance (many do).
If you're feeling adventurous, you can save even more by exploring the island by scooter (rentals from $110-$150 per week) or electric bike (around $105). And don't worry about transporting your luggage: The Courtyard by Marriott offers free shuttles to and from the airport, to downtown Kralendijk, and to the beach twice a day.
What to Do
Scuba diving is the top activity in Bonaire, and with about 60 shore diving sites around the island, you don’t have to spend extra on renting a boat to dive. Those who are certified and have their own gear can save by purchasing unlimited air for six days of diving for as low as $140. Alternatively, it’s about $220-$350 to book lessons and rent gear. Ask if your hotel has a discount with one of the local dive centers.
While scuba diving can add up, snorkeling is a great alternative for exploring Bonaire’s coral reef, which is close to the shoreline and easily accessible. Many hotels offer snorkel equipment for a small fee or even for free.
Free activities in Bonaire are plentiful. Soroban Beach is popular for windsurfing and swimming, as the water is clear and the shore is sandy. Stop to see the surreal pink salt lakes, and head to the Goto Meer observation area or Seru Largu for unsurpassed views of the island. Window shop in Kralendijk, or rent a kayak for $50 and paddle over to Klein Bonaire for a day exploring the uninhabited island. While Washington Slagbaai Park costs $25, the fee covers entrance for the entire calendar year, and offers plenty of hiking and biking trails, picturesque beaches, blowholes, and historic sites that are well worth the cost.
Where to Eat
Like many islands, Bonaire receives most of its food from neighboring islands and countries, often inflating the cost. Save by stocking up at local grocery stores, like Bondigro, the cheapest on the island, and prepare a few meals in your hotel. If you come across an Island Tokos, Bonaire's minimart, grab a few pastechi, fried dough pockets with cheese and/or meat, which make tasty, inexpensive snacks or a light meal.