Bonaire is the second largest of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) in size, but is a distant third in terms of population. While Curacao has a population of about 150,000 and Aruba has a population of more than 80,000, less than 15,000 people live on the island of Bonaire. While not as blatantly touristic as its two neighbors, Bonaire still boasts quite a bit to draw in visitors.
Originally settled by the Caquetios Indians about 1000 AD, Bonaire was discovered by the Spanish in 1499. They maintained a settlement there to raise cattle for leather. In 1633 it was conquered by the Dutch during the Eighty Years War. Later, during the time of Napoleon, the Dutch lost control twice to the British, until finally regaining control by treaty in 1814. It currently is part of the Netherlands Antilles in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The official languages are Dutch, Papiamentu and English, although English is not used much for official purposes. Education in the early grades is mainly in Papiamentu, with more Dutch added in later grades. Spanish is also spoken on the island.
Bonaire is most famous for its ecotourism, particularly for the preservation of the excellent system of reefs that surround the island. So much so that it is estimated that about 50% of the visitors to Bonaire are there to enjoy the scuba diving and snorkeling. Bonaire is consistently listed in the lists of the top ten locations for scuba diving, and in many categories ranks number one year after year. One of the main draws is that much of this natural beauty and wonder is easily within reach, just a few feet from shore. The entire coastline has been proclaimed a marine sanctuary.
However, not all of the attraction to Bonaire is found underwater. Visiting the beaches, sunbathing, swimming and other water sports like kayaking, windsurfing and sailing are also very popular. In addition to the water sports, the island contains many wonderful sites and activities inland. A visit to the Washington/Slagbaai National Park offers opportunities to see the beautiful countryside, to see the local wildlife, including abundant iguanas, as well as to engage in bird watching of about two hundred species of birds. Bonaire is especially well known for its Pink Flamingo population.
There are many adjectives used to describe Bonaire and most of them relate to the tranquility of the island. It is often described as unspoiled, as unhurried, as a diver's paradise and one of the Caribbeans best kept secrets. While it isn't quite so geared to the casual tourist as the other two islands, it is interesting to note that an estimated 55% of the visitors to the island are repeat visitors. One major reason given for why they keep coming back is that there is so much to see and do that one trip just isn't enough.
Although laid back and tranquil are both accurate descriptions of Bonaire, there are still options to enjoy a little nightlife. With excellent restaurants in a variety of styles, a number of clubs and cafes and a casino, there is something for nearly everyone.
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