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Dive Review of Belmar Bonaire in
Bonaire

Belmar Bonaire: "Casual diving with the usual Bonaire fish", Feb, 2020,

by Joel Snyder, AZ, US (Sr. Contributor Sr. Contributor 29 reports with 30 Helpful votes). Report 11433 has 4 Helpful votes.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 5 stars Food N/A
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 5 stars
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving 5 stars
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 5 stars
Advanced 4 stars
Comments Bonaire Trip Report
Feb/2020

We visited Bonaire for 2 weeks during the middle of February, 2020.

Getting to Bonaire (and returning) has become much less convenient than it was when we first started coming in the 1990s. Ignoring the flights to/from Amsterdam for the moment, United is about the only airline that lets anyone W of the Mississipi arrive in a single day, through Houston. Delta's flight from ATL and American's flight from MIA both leave the US too early in the day for most connections. There are inter-island flights, mostly via Curacao, but even with that option it can be difficult to get there. Finally, no US airline offers 7-day service, meaning you have to arrive and depart on the weekend. I'm not sure why AA and DL are making it harder (and more costly) for their customers to take them to Bonaire, but there you go.

Previous years, we have always stayed at Habitat (Captain Don's), taking advantage of the 3-boats-a-day convenience of their dive operation, but this year we elected a more casual vacation staying at the Belmar Apartments (in Belen, about 5 minutes drive SOUTH of the Airport on the coast). The apartments are mostly (perhaps entirely) privately owned, but then rented back to the resort for guests when the owners are not staying. There are 22 units, 1, 2, and 3-bedroom options, all with balconies that look directly out on the water. Each apartment has a living room with kitchen, along with its complement of bedrooms. For those looking for a 2-bedroom, ground floor units 1 and 10 are the best for divers: super easy access to the dock (for boat diving or just doing the house reef) and your pickup (for shore diving), along with slightly more space inside and on the patio. The third-story penthouses (with huge balconies and 3 bedrooms) look good, but if you're a diver, they are actually not that convenient.

We paid about $2000/person for 4 people in a 2-bedroom apartment for 2 weeks, including car rental, 6 2-tank boat dives, and unlimited shore dives.

Belmar has no restaurant on-site, although they did volunteer to do food and liquor shopping for us. A low-end supermarket is within walking distance, with virtually no fresh food, but the "supermarket row" on Kaya Industria is only 5 minutes away, including the new Van Den Tweel supermarket (open 7 days, 8AM-8PM), with fresh food selection better than many US supermarkets, at fairly reasonable prices for most goods. Fresh mint for your mojito is not a problem anymore. On the same road: BonDiGro, Fresh Market, Warehouse Bonaire, Best Cellars, Lucky Supermarket and the Bonaire Cheese Shop. NOTE: If you want to participate in Bonaire's new glass recycling program, Van Den Tweel is the closest place to bring your bottles with large yellow bins in their parking lot.

We elected to do 3 boat dives each week, plus shore or dock diving all other days. Water temperature was an almost constant 79F at depths of 10 feet and below, with very rare drops down to 77/78 or up to 80F. Surface water temperature was usually 81F.

Our impression of Bonaire's reefs and marine life is that it is little-changed over the last decade. Some reefs are in worse condition than others, but going far north (Karpata) or far south (Red Slave) takes you to wonderful sites rich in hard and soft corals and with a fairly diverse set of reef fish, large and small. Klein Bonaire sites are also in very good condition, generally better than the sites closer to town.

We were told that some of the reefs have damage from the surge and particles that the cruise ships stir up (more on cruise ships later), in particular the Divi Flamingo reef. Because we were already south of town, we did most shore diving further south; our only north dives were at Karpata. Salt Pier is open to everyone when they are not conducting operations; Town Pier is completely closed to divers.

Belmar diving is easy because of the on-site dive shop, which shares space with the reception area, a small classroom and dive shop. Tanks (32% nitrox or air, yoke valve) are available 24/7, both at the road level for fast loading into a pickup, and at the dock level for dives on the house reef. Belmar is part of the Buddy Dive empire, so there are packages for boat diving directly from the Belmar dock, or you can select a less expensive option and drive up to Buddy Dive resort (about 15 minutes) and jump on one of their boats.

The boats that leave directly from Belmar are called "valet" and have a list price of $100/person (2-tank dive); packages and discounts are available. With three divemasters in the shop at Belmar, we established a good rapport with the guides who would go with us on the boats and who were also responsible for local equipment rentals, advice, etc.

The boat dives were off of "Little Buddy," a fairly slow boat with room for at most 8 divers. Our group, usually 4 to 6, was the only one on the boat 5 out of 6 times, and thus we were able to select the destination ("Klein, please") and the crew always went along with our choices--occasionally warning us of a choppy crossing. The boat dives are time-limited to 60 minutes, and the dive guide expected divers to stick approximately with him/her during the dive, plus or minus 100-150 ft in every direction. All of our divemasters stayed at around 40-60 ft. and were very good on pace (slower is better, much slower is much better, with Flavia taking the prize for slowest/bestest divemaster we have ever had). Because of the short time limit and relatively hot fills from Buddy (3000 PSI was the minimum, 3200-3400 not uncommon), we often tagged along deeper, doing most of the dive at 70-90 feet.

Shore diving in Bonaire is the same as it has been for 30 years: throw tanks in the back of the pickup, drive along the shore road looking for the yellow rocks, and walk in to do an incredible dive. I don't have much to add on this, other than that the rental agencies still warn you to leave windows down and no valuables in the vehicle, although the Belmar Front Desk team told me that they had not had a problem in over a year. Still, it's an annoying part of Bonaire that I wish they would deal with, one of the few flys in the ointment.

Belmar's house reef was probably the worst dive we did the entire week. Although it has some very nice spots---a beautiful soft coral forest in shallow waters near the dock, for example---overall the dive was the least interesting, day or night. On the other hand, stumbling out of your bedroom, grabbing your gear and walking 10 meters to a dock where tanks are already waiting to do a 90+ minute dive... perhaps I am being too picky.

One new complication to shore diving is the cruise ships, which appear almost every day, dumping as many as 10,000 visitors onto Bonaire for the day---all are gone by 7PM. These cruisers can now rent golf carts and head around the island, clogging the narrow dive access roads and stopping in the middle of the street to take pictures as if it were an actual golf course. We narrowly avoided mowing down some people who didn't bother to look while walking backwards onto asphalt, staring intently into their phone-cameras. Perhaps the cruise ships need to cut back on liquor before 10AM. We also found cruisers all over the island clogging lunch spots, which led us to do most of our lunches out of our Belmar apartment kitchen.

Our gang was keen to try some of Bonaire's restaurants, both old and new, so we went out 10 times during our two weeks. The in-town restaurants continue to be expensive, around $50/person with wine, while bargains ($20 or so each) on very good food can still be had up in Rincon (at the relatively new Posada Paramira) and in town at Bobbejans and IRIE. Our favorites were Mezze, Italy in the World, and Ingredients (at Buddy Dive). Capriccio, Patagonia, and Blue Garden all turned in good food, but I ranked them lower. We also went to Sebastian's for the Pier Table (reserving WELL in advance, weeks or months, is critical), enjoying the amazing view and environment especially. Expensive, but recommnded for the sunset especially.

We saw both other high-end and mid-priced places newly open during our stay; Bonaire has definitely growin up from the sleepy little island it was 30 years ago.

At the end of our trip, we stopped to consider the merits of a 2-week "casual" vacation (about 2.5 dives a day) compared to the more frentic dive-dive-dive 1-week trips (more than 3 dives a day) we've done in the past. Both types have their merits, and I would go back to Bonaire for either type of trip. Divers with non-diving partners or children will definitely find the 2-week version more compatible with family harmony; those with super-tight schedules who want to do nothing but dive as much as possible probably will find a week at a resort like Habitat (or Buddy or ...) to be a better fit.
Websites Belmar Bonaire   [same]

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Asia; Carib; Mexico; Hawaii; Red Sea
Closest Airport BON Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, rainy Seas calm
Water Temp 79-79°F / 26-26°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 40-60 Ft/ 12-18 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions Time limit 60 minutes on boat dives; otherwise unrestricted.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas None
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 2 stars Large Fish 3 stars
Large Pelagics 2 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]
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Report currently has 4 Helpful votes

Subscriber's Comments

By Greg Bruce in WA, US at Feb 26, 2020 15:19 EST  
Nice report Joel. Thanks for taking the time to post.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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