Bonaire's Practical Secrets

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As part-time Bonaire residents, my husband and I have picked up a few things we’d like to share with all visitors. These tips are not endorsements, simply things we’ve learned in the past 16 years, sometimes the hard way. You can find restaurant, hotel, and dive operation reviews on the Internet but I hope this short guide helps you in other areas. Please let me know what we have left out!

Tires: First, bring a tire-pressure gauge. No kidding! In all our years of renting cars or trucks, not a single one has had four tires inflated to 32 psi. They ranged from 12 to 80, sometimes on the same car. Gas Expres on Kaya Nederlandia has free air (Kaya Nederlandia is the connector road between the main coast road, Bulevar Gob. Debrot, and Kaya Korona). If you need to buy a gauge, Napa Auto Parts has them. If you get a flat tire, you are responsible for fixing it. Lisa and Gas Expres offer tire repair, or you can seek out Ito, the king of tire repair. Ito’s outdoor shop is next to his house on Kaya Sabana, the street behind San Bernardo, the big Catholic church in town.

Fitness: For those divers and dive widows who consider working out an important part of their day, Bon Bida is a new gym on the island equipped to U.S. standards. It offers treadmills, upright and recumbent bikes, an elliptical, a Wave trainer, Techogym machines for every body part, free weights (barbell and dumbbell, a sauna, lockers and, best of all, it is air- conditioned. The trainers on staff have years of experience in fitness. Painted bright blue, Bon Bida is located just north of the traffic circle across from the Sand Dollar hotel on Bulevar Gob. Debrot, and is walking distance to most of the northern dive hotels (Den Laman, Sand Dollar, Buddy, Habitat, Hamlet, etc.). It is not cheap but I found the price an incentive to go often and work hard. Bon Physio, just north of town on the main road, is also air-conditioned and well-staffed. Many folks like Fit for Life at the Plaza as well.

Shoe and luggage repair: The airline rip your baggage straps? Your favorite sandals come apart? Zapateria Rincon fixes shoes and bags — if you can find it. Here’s how. Despite its name, it is not in Rincon but in the center of town. You will find it behind Harbourtown Realty on Kaya Grandi, opposite the farmacia and Littman’s. Enter the alley next to Harbourtown, then go left on the tiny alley on which there is also a crafts shop; the Zapateria is tucked away on the left. The owners are Spanish-speaking but happy to speak English as well.

Fresh foods: Did you know that the container ship comes in Thursday mornings and that fresh dairy, produce, etc. is usually on grocery store shelves Friday? That’s why Bonaireans shop on Fridays and Saturday mornings. Also, Warehouse on Kaya Industria has a bakery producing hot croissants on Fridays and Saturdays. Just try not to eat them while you shop! More for Less on Kaya Nikiboko Nord features fresh organic veggies from Ecuador. The Venezuelan fruit and veggie stand next to Town Pier also sells fresh, cheap produce. One caveat: When cruise ships call during high season, they sometimes block access to the piers, making the container ships late.

Local condiments: Most stores carry great, local spicy sauces, particularly the West Indian brand Matouk’s. Bonaire Gift Shop offers its own line, and you would be remiss to ignore the many sambals and sauces from Indonesia available in every market. In the mustard-mayo section, you can find delicious relishes we don’t see in the U.S. In Papiamentu, spicy is “pika” and they aren’t kidding!

Laundry: If you ask your hotel to do laundry for you, they will take it to Caribbean Laundry Services, on a dirt road off Kaya Croes, just southeast of the town stadium. You can take it there yourself and save money. The fluff and fold service charges by the kilo. They have wash and iron service, dry cleaning and, if you prefer DIY, coin-fed machines. It’s hot inside, so bring water. It’s family-owned and over 16 years, they have continued to make us happy.

Nuts and bolts:
Though it’s unlikely you’ll be doing house repairs, if you need hardware, light bulbs, etc., try Kooeyman on Kaya Korona, Boomerang off Bulevar Debrot on Kaya Princes Marina or MTech on Kaya Nederlandia.

Watch repair: Littman’s on Kaya Grandi in downtown has certified watch repair and they also repair jewelry. They pressure-test dive watches, a service you don’t find everywhere.

Manicure/pedicure: If you are like me, you can’t stand it when sand and dive gear chips the nail polish. Many spas and salons offer good mani-pedis; I go to Diana at Beverly Bioaesthetics at the Plaza hotel. Owners Cesar and Judith speak virtually all languages, run a clean and professional operation, and Diana is fast and thorough.

Spirits: If you forgot to pick up something at duty-free, you can find good wines and spirits on the island. Antillean Wine Company on Kaya Industria carries all kinds of wines, and has a large chilled room for high-end bottles. They also sell fine olive oils, as does Ristorante Capriccio. Bonaire Gift Shop (on Kaya Grandi and in the Bonaire Marketplace on the traffic circle north) carries wine and booze. Try the Nicaraguan rums; some are as good as old cognac. Beer is everywhere and it’s all good.

Hair: My record is patchy on haircuts and color jobs. My advice: Get a good short cut before you leave if you’re staying for a while!

Internet and phone: Many resorts have wi-fi. If you didn’t travel with a laptop, and need to get on the Internet, go to Chat n’Browse at the Sand Dollar strip mall. Owner Mike Gaynor knows computers; you can rent one of his or use your own for a reasonable fee. If you have a headset, Skype usually works. Mike rents wi-fi adapters for your laptop that piggyback onto the cellular network, and he also rents and sells cell phones. Save money on local and international calls by using Skype and a local cell. The iPhone is cool but the rates for calls made on it from Bonaire are high.

Health: If you get sick, your hotel is your best resource for connecting you with the right doctor (everyone has an opinion about who is best, so go with your hotel’s advice). Also—and this is important—wear a strong bug repellant with DEET. Dengue fever is now on Bonaire; there is no vaccine and is only prevented by not being bitten. We have several friends who have had dengue and can vouch for its nickname “bonebreak fever.” Finally, the H1N1 virus (swine flu) has appeared on the island. Tamiflu is not easily available on the island at this writing so if you have access to it, you should carry your own out of courtesy to islanders who only can go to the local farmacia. We make a practice of taking medications like Tamiflu and Ciprofloxin with us, and at the end of the trip, leave them with responsible persons like dive shop or hotel managers.

Kind acts: Bonaireans always greet each other when entering shops, hotels, etc. Make it your practice to greet them back before launching into business. English if fine but a Papiamentu “bon dia” or “bon tarde” is always appreciated. If you see someone with whom you are acquainted, it’s kind to ask after their family (“famia”) as well. Many shops sell the helpful booklet “Getting Around the Island in Papiamentu.”

Mary “Mel” McCombie lives in New Haven, CT, except for three months of the year, when she and her husband are living in Bonaire in a cottage she and her husband built 11 years ago. She is a PADI divemaster with more than 2,200 dives, 1,000 of which have been in Bonaire.

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10 comments for “Bonaire's Practical Secrets

  1. Daniel Crawforde
    September 2, 2009 at 4:36 am

    A very concise, accurate, and informative report on Bonaire. I’ve been going to Bonaire once or twice a year for a week or two weeks at a time since 1995. This report hits the nail right on the head. Very good.

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  2. Tom
    September 7, 2009 at 4:17 am

    Good advice. I’ll be going there in October – my 6th trip there and over 20 trips to Caribbean total. I’m from Michigan. Any chance you can help me relocate and find a job and a place to live on Bonaire? Seriously, I’d relocate if I could figure how.

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  3. Hap Minshall
    September 9, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Just the type of information I’ve needed on just about every dive trip I’ve ever taken. If only someone would start a web site with this type of info for every dive destination in the world . . .

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  4. October 8, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    Mel, I must say, nicely done… but nothing less than expected from you…. Its been a long time, email me when you can, i was thinking of you recently and of course i am sure we have some stories to share… Tim Webb

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  5. corey colla
    December 21, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Have been to bonaire and your comments are right on Will be visiting again unfortunately by cruise ship do you know of a good dive site near the docks that we could walk to from the pier anddo a couple dives I heard the yellow submarine area is pretty good any comments thanks

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  6. Mel McCombie
    July 20, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    Hi, Corey. It’s Mel. There are a couple of great dive sites walking distance to the pier; our favorite is just next to the cruise ship pier, ChaChaCha beach in front of Dive Friends/Yellow Submarine. Easy access in and out, too.
    Tim Webb, if you read this, please email me! I’ve written to Caradonna but not heard back.
    BTW, a few more tidbits: Alda and Rydell at The Spa at Habitat also do great manicure-pedicures. And don’t forget your DEET; it rains more than you’d think, and the mosquitos are ubiquitous and can make you sick.

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  7. November 7, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    Excellent website. It absolutely was pleasant to me.

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  8. December 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Mel- glad to see this piece! Our oldest will be scuba diving and snorkeling this summer in Australia– love to get some advice as this will be his first time! It has been a while– hope you are well! Best, your former student, Marie

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