BONAIRE WITH YOUR FAMILY

Posted on by Felicia da Costa

We were all in desperate need of some vitamin D and family time. But where to go in March? Most destinations in Europe are way too cold for beaching with the kids, many wishlist places were enjoying their last days of summer before drifting off to autumn and just as many places are hurricane prone during that month.

So- you know me- I suggested Curacao. Definitely a no-go… BUT: little neighbor Bonaire did pass the test and after some investigation we decided to go for it. I had not been there in over ten years so it felt like quite a ‘new’ experience to me too!

Getting there:

Truth be told: it is a long journey. Alba always handles that pretty well but we were not so sure about little George- never not moving… However, we vowed never to let that get in the way of our travels and so we prepared well, which definitely helped!
We booked our seats (yes, George got his own seat, ouch…) with KLM as the schedules are quite ok (a daytime flight from Amsterdam and a night time return flight), no delays like the cheaper airlines and they offer proper aircrafts. The fair is a bit more costly than other airlines offer and we did not go for a package deal, but as it is a long trip I find it worth it.

Make sure to book well in advance, especially during the holidays, as prices tend to go sky high and availability is less. An early booking also gives you the opportunity to book Economy Comfort which is slightly more expensive but if you can afford it it does give you some much needed extra space. If not, try to book the seats next to the pantry as they are a bit more spacey as well!

As mentioned before, we always take special airplane seatbelt for the kids (CARES Child Aviation Restraint System) with us, which are easily installed once you enter the plane. Still not very well known but we find it to provide some extra safety and comfort so check it out here!

As it is a 10-hour flight (make sure to book the direct flight and not the one with a stopover!-unless you want to include a detour in your holiday) I cannot stress enough that preparation is key to have a smooth flight, so you might want to check our packing tips below:

First of all, leave your Bugaboo/Joolz/Easywalker/whatever brand you have at home and buy yourself a stroller! You are allowed to take this one to the gate (do check that in advance), it is a thousand times less heavy and so much more practical. No more dragging, no hassle and so much more convenient than the huge prams we use at home. We use the Koelstra Simba and it has been serving us very well during the last three years. It is very lightweight and the back can be pushed down all the way so perfect for naps. Do invest in a proper flight case, as the stroller is normally not being handled with care at any airport.
Hand luggage is essential! Take extra clothes (both for the cold during the flight and the occasional accidents- leaking diapers, air sickness, etc etc), toys (especially if it is a daytime flight- you have to keep ‘em busy) and favorite stuffed animals. And food! Some airlines offer warm meals, but baby food and bottles are easily heated and allowed in the aircraft. Snacks are also important; we took lots of plain crackers, fresh fruits, sandwiches and some rice crackers as well. Just think about what they normally eat at home and try to take enough stock. Tupperware does the trick! Our youngest still gets two bottles per day so do not forget to take a small container with formula with you.
As Alba barely watches tv at home, watching movies during the trip is always a big treat for her- start putting on the earphones a few days in advance so they can get used to the earphones (we bought Urbanears and they fit both of them very well).
Try to stick to your daily routine as much as possible; they slept and ate as they do at home (more or less, but it does help), and in between we played and read and sang songs like we always do. We took their favorite books and lots of crayons and coloring books. Do not forget to bring duplicates of all favorite stuffed animals; nothing as stressful as having to search for a new duckie during your holiday… and if needed a few pacifiers. No matter how you put it, little ones will sense the different environment so things will be a lot easier if you go with the flow and come prepared. To say that it was a walk in the park would be a lie, but honestly, apart from George jumping up and down on my lap for like two hours, things actually went very well! No screaming, no angry passengers, and two happy toddlers….
 

Where to stay?

Well, that totally depends on what you are looking for. So this can either be a resort, a proper home or villa, a hotel, a B&B or an apartment. We have tried staying at hotels quite a few times but we always (always!) come to the conclusion that, at this stage in our lives, we prefer renting a house, as the kids can have their own room(s), we can put them down for naps and still be able to sit outside for a while (thanks to our baby monitor) and we really love cooking at home, trying all the local food and ingredients. Luckily, we were able to rent a wonderful, amazing villa owned by dear friends, so that was settled. But again, choosing where to stay is very personal, as you might like the extra service and options that come with a hotel stay.

You will find many rental homes all over Bonaire- try to decide what you are looking for first. There aren’t as many sandy beaches as you will find in Curacao and Aruba, so you might want to take that into account. There are some, but they are either fairly small, a bit remote or belong to a resort (and you have to pay for access). So a pool is quite a prerequisite in my opinion…

As there are so many places to stay you might find it hard to decide. It really comes down to what kind of holiday you have in mind. Are you looking for peace and quiet and not planning to leave the compound that much? Then you might consider staying at one of the resorts or villas with (private) beaches and/or pools. Just a few ideas:

Should you want to be closer to the city (Kralendijk) so you can walk around, have a coffee or go out for lunch/dinner and do some shopping? In that case, the area around Kralendijk offers more than a few hotels, villas and apartments (please note that not all of these have a beach or pool available). Many of them still aren’t at a walking distance but a short drive from the centre of the town. You might want to look into the following options:

If you feel like staying in a more Dutch oriented part of the island and focus on water sports and family beaches, you can look into one of these accommodations:

The further south you go, the windier it gets (you will pass areas with names like ‘Windhoek’ which translates as windy corner)- this is where most of the kiting schools/areas are located and the area is quite remote. If you will spend your days kiting, this is definitely a good place to explore; apart from the above mentioned Windhoek Resort you will find quite a few smaller (boutique) hotels and villas, such as a villa by the renowned Piet Boon.

Should you definitely want an oceanfront villa and your budget is not too tight, please check out this website as well: http://www.bonaireoceanfrontvillas.com/nl/alle-villas.

Note: many ‘beaches’ on maps of the island are quite rocky ones, with no easy access to the sea. So either bring water shoes for the entire family or specifically ask a local before you decide to visit one! Some are rather remote, which brings me to the following: I find it essential to rent a car during your visit. Public transport does not function very well, you can hardly find or reserve a cab and should you want to go and explore you do not want to depend on shuttle busses. Biking is an option (there are actually many bike rentals and lots of people do it all the time) but the roads aren’t that well kept and traffic is somewhat different to say the least, so I would definitely rent a car, especially if you are traveling with children (do not forget to ask for carseats in advance! There aren’t that many available and we actually had to go and buy one- safety first!)

What to pack:

As for your toddler(s):
See ‘Getting there’ for the necessities during your flight.
The following (non exhaustive!) list of things proved very handy to us:

– Favorite toy and/or stuffed animal (if possible, take a second pair as these items easily get lost)

– At least two Sippy cups/bottles

– Your own formula if still needed. We tend to take enough for two or three days so that we have time to find a supermarket and check out the available brands there. Most of the time it is perfectly accepted by your kiddo but make sure to look up the different name so you won’t end up looking for a familiar name and not being able to find it

– At least three pacifiers if needed; attach them to the stroller/maxicosi/car seat and your own handbag

– Enough diapers to get you through a few days- and nights! And follow the same directions as above-mentioned formula

– Sunscreen! We rubbed them in every morning and repeated the whole process every two hours- the sun is extremely harsh and dangerous!  And some baby body lotion to keep their skin hydrated after a long beach day. I took my own but love to browse local shops and pharmacies for (organic) brands

– Sunglasses (preferably good ones and do not forget those little chains so they will not fall of their tiny faces all the time!) and several caps

– UV protective swimwear. As the skin is so very delicate and sunburn prone, it is absolutely mandatory to shield your kid(s) with at least a t-shirt. Especially when in the water, as it reflects the light

– Medicines! You do not want to go looking for a drugstore should your baby get sick, catch a cold because of the air conditioning or get sun burnt. We brought aspirin, nose drops, suppositories, after sun, cough syrup and of course her daily vitamin D drops. And you might consider taking tablets against seasickness as well, should you have plans to rent a boat or sail out to Klein Bonaire. It may sound a bit overdone but it saves you so much time and stress…

Note: Mosquitos are a nuisance in the entire Caribbean (and the zika-virus and other diseases are still around), so we had to take a few precautions on that matter. As kids under two years old are not allowed to use products that contain deet, we brought Care Plus NaturalJaico offers products with less deet as well, so we used that for ourselves, as I did not want to use 40% deet for two weeks straight. It seemed like a hassle at first, but we really did not want to get sick and once you are used to using the product as soon as you wake up until you go to bed, it is not that big of a deal. We used the available mosquito nets during every nap and I sprayed their pj’s with a special  fabric repellant as well (Mosquitno). Better be safe than sorry!

– As mentioned before, bring a (lightweight!) stroller. Trust me, we have considered (and tried) taking our huge pram several times but a small stroller is so much easier to pack, travel with and store when not used. We have a Koelstra and it is perfect. You can take it with you until after the gate (do check that explicitly with your airline!! Some are very vague when it comes to taking them that far and you do not want to be surprised while checking in) and they bring it up again immediately after leaving the airport at your destination. You can take long strolls as they are smaller and more flexible and maneuverable for city walks and they fit in every cab or rental car.  And it can also be used for midday naps on the beach, as long as you place it in the shade of course…

– Airy shoes or flipflops for your little one(s); Havaianas has very cute ones with an elastic band around the heel; shoes by Veja, Superga, Converse and Mini Melissa (water shoes that can also be used for strolls!) are great as well

– Swim gear and some little toys for the beach. You can also buy them there, but I hate spending the first few days looking for stuff like that. And do not forget proper inflatable armbands! Very important and obligatory when being near to water. My friend advised us to try Sevylor Europe’s Puddle Jumper Deluxe and it was perfect- Alba felt very safe and comfortable

– Water shoes for the entire family. Many beaches are rocky and access to the sea is quite a challenge to say the least. They will also come in handy when you go snorkling, as there are many rocks and coral in the water

– An inflatable little bathtub; we love Mommy’s Helper inflatable Froggie baby bath. You can easily place it in the bathtub or shower and fill it with water

– Some slightly warmer vests or sweaters, as the nights (depending on the season) tend to be a bit windier, and some long-sleeved shirts and pants to prevent mosquitos from having a feast during dinner

What to do:

Even though the island is fairly small, there are so many things you can do! Bonaire is very child friendly, so most of the time you don’t even have to think about whether a place or activity will be suitable for your toddler (there are some exceptions, of course… kitesurfing, snorkling or scuba diving doesn’t go well with babies).

Just to give you an idea of all the activities you can undertake:

If you are interested in the history of the island (and the whole region, for that matter), you should definitely visit the slave huts across the saltpans in the south. A horrible memory of a time not that long ago…

There is also a very nice historical and archaeological museum right in the center of Kralendijk: Terramar.

As there are many ancient landhuizen (Plantation Houses) on the island, you can actually go for a tour to visit most of them. Some are being renovated or used as B&B, restaurant or museum, while others are on the verge of collapsing, which is a pity but they are still so so beautiful.

If you feel like experiencing nature, you have many options. Visit the Washington Slagbaai National Park  for a hike, a selection of beaches (great for snorkling, scuba diving or relaxing) or go for a biking tour (there are numeral bike rentals all over the island). Visit the zoutpannen (salt lakes) at Lac Bay and watch the beautiful flamingoes. A boat trip is always a good idea; either to stop and snorkle at Klein Bonaire for a while or to just enjoy the beautiful waters surrounding Bonaire. A drive from north to south along the coast is amazing as well; you pass beaches with nestling turtles, small rocky beaches with beautiful shells to go snorkling, and beautiful pink waters surrounding the salt factory in the south. And I did not even mention the Aloe Vera farms and the herbal gardens you find at several locations on the island. So much to do!

I am not a scuba diver myself, but Bonaire is world famous for the incredibly beautiful fish and corals. There are quite some diving schools and many resorts offer packages as well. And the diving sites are endless..
Snorkling is a somewhat more relaxing and easy option to explore the underwater world, so make sure to take your gear (and your kids’ too!) everywhere! The amount of fish you see is amazing and so beautiful…
Oh and did I mention horseback riding? Several stables offer guided tours that take you either to the beach or other cool places; try Rancho Washikemba.

We visited the donkey sanctuary with the kids and it was amazing. What started out as a shelter for poor and sick donkeys (there are so many on the island), is now a huge area with healthy and naughty donkeys in all sizes. You start the tour by driving through the park, and afterwards you can actually get out of the car and cuddle and feed the animals. There are about 600 of them! And you would not be the first to fall in love and adopt a cute donkey…
For the less adventurous members of the family there are also huge turtles and iguanas to admire. Definitely worth a visit!

Right in the middle of Kralendijk you will find a cute little square, surrounded by restaurants and facing the port. We were lucky enough to be just there when Taste Bonaire started. Countless stalls with fresh local food and dishes, music and activities for kids. Imagine us walking around with a beer, watching our happy kids… Pure bliss!

As I mentioned earlier, the beaches are slightly less sandy than you will find them at neighboring Curacao and Aruba. So you need to investigate before you head to one of the many playas, in order to avoid being ‘disappointed’ (which will never be the case as all the places are so incredibly stunning and the water is so clear, but the kids most probably will want to run into the sea without hurting their little feet). Several sandy beaches belong to hotels, which means that you will likely have to pay for access and definitely not be alone, especially during weekends and holidays. However, the perks of these fees are comfortable beach chairs, restaurants where you can have lunch or drinks, toilets and sometimes even massages or mani-/pedicures.

There are numerous ‘public’  beaches to visit, but our favorites were:

Coco Beach (next to Eden Beach)
Atlantis Beach (home to the kite surfers)
Klein Bonaire (reachable by boat-see below)
Pink Beach
Lac Bay- Cai (this is a more local spot, whereas Lac Bay-Sorobon is busy with tourists at all times)

Another great activity is the above mentioned daytrip to Klein Bonaire, a small deserted island just 15 minutes by boat. You can easily take a water taxi (we took the ‘Caribe’ which departs at Eden Beach, but you can also take the ‘Kantika di Amor’). Be sure to bring a cooler with lots of drinks, some food and an enormous amount of sunscreen, as the sunburns are quite famous- and dangerous, a hat and your camera. Although it has become a bit more developed in the last few years (in the older days there was literally nothing, but now there are some shades), it is still a wonderful place to enjoy some (relative) peace and quiet, fantastic snorkeling, strolls around the island and a pristine white beach. Again: don’t forget your sunscreen, UV shirts for the kids, hats and sunglasses and drink lots and lots of water!

There is this cute little playground right in Kralendijk at the Kaya Grandi, which is just a stroll away from so many restaurants and bars, so a great place to go before or after dinner or even just while having an ice cream.

As you can see, you can easily spend weeks on this island, dividing your time between lounging by the pool, undertaking activities and visiting beaches. I love the fact that you can combine all aspects of island life and recharge your battery. It is a lovely place for little children as they will be so happy playing on the beach and cooling off in the warm and calm ocean, and people are very child friendly and considerate. Children are simply a part of every day life and you can feel that everywhere. So mom and dad can relax too!

People in Bonaire love their food; the typical food (‘Krioyo’) is a mixture of many different people and cultures; think African, Jewish, Dutch and South American influences. That is why the food is quite diverse and interesting. We had great fish as well, and all the different types of food are so good….

There are so many nice restaurants I will not even try to mention them all, so I will give you a list of our favorite places to go for lunch, dinner, drinks and ice creams.
Oh and don’t forget to have a pastechi, preferably accompanied by a Polar or Amstel Bright!

Ice cream:
We actually tried three different locations. The first one is Gio’s, located in Kralendijk. You can either sit inside or out on the patio, and they have a good selection. We liked it! But we kept going back to Luciano right at the waterfront in Kralendijk. Their ice cream is homemade and delicious…
The coconut ice cream and milkshakes at Between 2 Buns are definitely worth the detour as well!

Lunch:
Harbour Village (service is slooooow, but food and wine are both really nice)
Lac Bay-Cai (they serve local fish and dishes, really simple, as less is definitely more)
Eden Beach (literally on the beach, nothing fancy but excellent location)
Kite Bonaire (best.burgers.ever. Seriously. Very simple food truck with two really nice guys)
Capricio (our favorite Italian- excellent food and amazing wine list. Go there!)
Sorobon Beach (very simple and a bit Dutch, but sometimes you just feel like snacks, don’t you?)

Dinner:
Capriccio (great. wonderful. perfect wine list, amazing staff, good for kids as well!)
Rum Runners (nice location, good pizzas, take away as well)
Monalisa (lovely spot in the middle of Kralendijk, great for people watching, fresh food)
Cuba Compagnie (right on the cute little square, great with kids as they can play while you eat)
Bobbejans (best bbq and ribs in town, open during weekends only)
El Fogon (great little Argentinian spot, not easy to find, very authentic)
It rains fishes (nice fish restaurant; very suitable for kids as well)

Note: many of the above mentioned restaurants offer both lunch and dinner but as we spent most afternoons at the beach, I focused more on the dinners at night. That said, we love to cook so we bought a lot of local food and amazing meat and used the bbq quite a lot. In that way we could spend our entire afternoons on the beach before going out for dinner.  We are quite spoilt when it comes to food and wines and we particularly liked Capriccio because of that.  That said, it also totally depends on what you are looking for and the mood you are in. The places where they serve local dishes are definitely great as well, as the Creole cuisine is so fresh and simple yet very tasteful; it is totally my kind of comfort food…

Grownup fun:

Wow… where to start! Many people regard Bonaire as a typical family holiday destination, but I think you can have so much fun without kids as well.
For starters, it is the perfect spot to go kite surfing; we took some lessons at Kite Bonaire (at Atlantis Beach) and it was great! IF you prefer to go wind surfing, you should go to Lac Bay- Sorobon, as the water is shallow for about 500m before starting to get deep. Excellent spot to take lessons as well and end the session with a cold beer and some snacks!
There are countless sites to go scuba diving or snorkling; you can either just start at one of the beaches, or take a boat to a good spot and jump in. We have never seen so many beautiful fish in our lives and it is a very good thing that the waters around Bonaire are Unesco Heritage.
Or just simply rent a boat! Go to Klein Bonaire, boat around the island and stop for a plunge or to look at the magnificent sundown…
There is a great old school open air cinema as well, Empire Cinema, where you can enjoy a movie while gazing up at the stars. I don’t know about you, but living in a rather cold country makes watching a movie outside sound rather great! Warm breeze, cold beer and good company. Yes!
As there are so many good restaurants, you can also go out for dinner quite often. Capriccio is my favorite spot, both for lunch and dinner, as the setting is really cozy and romantic, and you can eiter sit in- or outside and watch the big cruises and stars. Service is great, as is the food and wine, and we kept going back. And what about enjoying the cocktail hours at almost every venue and beach (club)? We had the best sundowners at Coco Beach– nothing fancy, but you can get great drinks there and watch people play beach volley until you need to focus on the most amazing sunset you have ever seen. Beer in hand, feet in the salty water. Bliss!

Other great grownup sports activities on the island are water skiing, hiking or biking through the Washington Slagbaai National Park, jogging at either sunrise or sunset (make sure you only do that in designated areas as roads are badly lit and actual pavements are hard to find) and playing tennis or golf.

Personal Rating

Bonaire on a whole:
I am a huge fan! As stated before, last time I visited the island was over ten years ago, still in my twenties and without any children or husband. However, looking at the island through the eyes of a family with kids, I still think it is a very, very nice place to go and enjoy some quality time with your better half and kid(s). The weather is perfect most of the time (hurricane season is from August until March/April, so you definitely face a risk of rainy days and very hot temperatures during those months), it is very child friendly and  -accessible, and apart from the many beautiful beaches you can still enjoy lots of other activities. People are fluent in English, Spanish and Dutch, and, although you may find service slow, very friendly and helpful. The island has been developed quite a bit over the last few years, but it is in no way glamorous (or slick, however you like to call it); it still has quite a ‘rough’ feel to it, and you need to know where to go in order to find and enjoy the many gems Bonaire offers. It is way smaller than Curacao and Aruba, which also means that everything is just a stone throw away. I like the raw vibe as it means you can relax in so many ways; you don’t have to dress up during the day, you can walk around barefoot, drive with the windows open and the salty wind in your hair. Nothing is polished nor extremely touristy, which gives me such a happy and carefree feeling. Curacao remains my first love, but Bonaire is definitely my second!

Our rental villa:
We would rent this house again in a heartbeat. It was comfortable, big, breezy and airy, had great views and the area is nice, well kept and safe. However, as it is a family house it is only available to friends and family… but if you look up rentals in the Sabadeco area, you will find lots of nice villas and apartments. As we like to be ‘close’ to town for all our ice cream outings, shopping and restaurants, this neighborhood is great. It is a bit residential, so if you are looking for more action, you should check out other venues!

Child friendliness:
Just like in Southern Europe, Southern American countries and their people embrace little children and babies. Bonaire is definitely no exception; the only time we did not take Alba and George to a restaurant or other place was simply because we felt like spending a night together without having to worry about her. All shops, restaurants, museums and other places are totally equipped for children and the staff is mostly very helpful when it comes to small children. Be sure to rent and use a decent car seat for you little one(s) as people drive like maniacs. Many beaches are child friendly as well, as is the food, the many activities and, well, about everything else….

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