Background Information on Bonaire

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Bonaire is part of the ABC Islands, along with Aruba and Curacao.  Bonaire lies 30 miles to the east of Curacao and 50 miles to the north of Venezuela.  Bonaire is approximately 39 km long and between 5 – 8 km wide.  Bonaire is a largely flat, dry, river-less island, which is below the Caribbean hurricane belt.  The temperature is generally 27 degrees Celsius or 81 degrees Fahrenheit.


All of the Bonaire and Klein Bonaire’s surrounding water forms a National Park that has been protected since 1979. For those who wish to dive or snorkel, there is a nature fee of $25 for diving (included in the diving fee is entrance to the Washington Slagbaai National Park) and $10 for all others interested in water-sports such as snorkeling, swimming, windsurfing, kiting, etc. With easy access to diving and snorkeling from the shore, as well as clear, calm water, Bonaire attracts many tourists to its waters.

A Brief History of Bonaire

Bonaire’s first inhabitants were Arawak Indians who sailed from Venezuela around 1000  AD.  The first European settlers were the Spanish, who claimed Bonaire for their country in 1499. The Spanish found little value to Bonaire, however, enslaving the local Indians to work on plantations on other islands, leaving the island largely unoccupied. In 1526, cattle were introduced to the island, and later sheep, pigs, horses and donkeys joined them. These were raised more for their skins than their meat.

Bonaire, along with Curacao and Aruba, were taken by the Dutch in 1633.  Curacao was the center for slave trade and Bonaire became a plantation island for the Dutch West Indies Company, who used the African slaves to propagate maize and harvest salt.  Remnants of those days can still be seen today with the salt pans and slave huts on the south end of the island.

Although Bonaire changed ownership numerous times, it was in 1816, as a result of the Treaty of Paris, that it returned to Dutch ownership.  Salt was an extremely valuable commodity in the early days as a way to preserve food, and was an endless resource. Slaves were used to harvest the salt until slavery was abolished in 1863, causing the salt harvesting to slow for nearly a hundred years until Cargill revitalized the industry, leaving it operational still to this day.

Bonaire, along withB Saint Eustatius, Saba, Aruba, Saint Martin and Curacao, made up the Netherlands Antilles until 2010, when the constitutional structure changed.  Since 2010, Saint Martin and Curacao have become separate countries within the Kingdom, much like Aruba did in 1986.  The Kingdom is officially made up of four equal countries; the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao and Saint Martin.  Saint Eustatius, Saba and Bonaire chose to remain as part of the Netherlands, alternatively dubbed as the ‘Caribbean part of the Netherlands’.

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