Geography and Landscape


Bonaire is an island in the Caribbean Sea, is part of the Netherlands Antilles and is the most easterly of the Leeward Islands. The island is 40 km long and 5 to 12 km wide.

Bonaire Satellite photoBonaire Satellite photoPhoto: Public domain


Bonaire consists of a core of old igneous and sedimentary rocks that were formed more than a hundred million years ago by, among other things, submarine eruptions. Sixty million years ago, this thick rock rose above sea level and was then surrounded by coral limestone. These geological processes have created an island with a hilly landscape in the northwest, a terraced landscape in the middle and a fairly low and flat landscape in the south. Here you will also find salt pans that can also be found in the northwest. These salt pans were created during the rise and fall of sea levels during the ice ages. Due to the high temperature in combination with the little rainfall, the salt remained behind. The highest point is the "Brandaris" (241m).

Bonaire LandscapeBonaire LandscapePhoto: Bgabel CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

On the west side of the island, off the coast at Kralendijk, the capital, is the uninhabited coral island of Klein Bonaire. In 1996 it became known that a local developer had plans to build a hotel, bungalows, shops, a casino, dive shops and mooring piers on the island. The Klein Bonaire Protection Foundation came into action and it soon became clear that to save the island it would have to be bought from the project developer. After lengthy negotiations, Klein Bonaire was sold around 2000 for 4.2 million euros. In addition to the Dutch government, the World Wildlife Fund also contributed. The Netherlands did set the condition that Klein Bonaire should become an official nature park. Klein Bonaire is a unique area with a fragile eco-system. It is also an important breeding ground for sea turtles and bats reside in the caves on the island. Furthermore, Klein Bonaire has one of the most beautiful reefs in the Caribbean with special and colorful fish.

Climate and Weather

Bonaire SunsetBonaire SunsetPhoto: Greg Tee CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Bonaire has a tropical-arid (= dry and arid) climate with a lot of sun as its main feature. There is also almost always a cooling trade wind. The average annual temperature is 27.5 °C. There is little difference between day and night temperatures and the temperature difference between summer and winter is only two degrees. It is coolest in January and February, 29 °C during the day and 25 °C at night. September and October are the hottest, 31 °C during the day and about 27 °C at night.

There is hardly a day without sunshine. On an annual basis the number of hours of sunshine exceeds 3000. On average, there is about 500 mm of rain per year. Rain often falls in the morning in the form of short, heavy, local showers. Most rain falls in the months of October, November and December. During this period there is about half the average for the whole year. The greatest chance of dry weather is in the months of February, March, April, May and June. Tropical storms are almost non-existent on Bonaire due to Bonaire's location just outside the area where hurricanes occur most often. The seawater temperature averages about 27 °C.

Plants and Animals


Flamingoes Bonaire

Flamingoes BonairePhoto: David Burley CC 1.0 Generic no changes made

Due to the arid and dry tropical climate, plant growth on Bonaire is quite limited. There are about 500 species, consisting of shrubs, low trees and cactus plants. One of those low tree species is the dividivi which looks very special with its wind-determined shape.

It is striking that many plant species and families are represented by only one species. The northern half of Bonaire is more wooded than the southern half. However, these forests are the remains of a much denser and heavier tree growth. From the discovery of the island to the beginning of the 20th century, wood was unfortunately cut on a large scale. Great damage was also caused by the many charcoal fires. Charcoal is an export item to, among others, Curacao. Goat farming also causes a lot of damage to crops.


The animal world on Bonaire is also quite limited. Bonaire is best known for the Caribbean flamingo. This bird places high demands on its habitat and the Pekelmeer on Bonaire is one of the few places in the world that meets all the requirements so that they can breed peacefully.

Barracuda Bonaire Barracuda BonairePhoto: Public domain

Unique to the island is the yellow-winged Amazon parrot, which is, however, threatened with extinction. One species of snake occurs on the island, the harmless silver snake. There are also various types of lizards. Most birds that occur on Bonaire only hibernate there or are on their way to other breeding grounds.

Goats are encountered in very large numbers and to a lesser extent donkeys. The coral reefs of Bonaire are among the most beautiful in the world. The fish stock is also beautiful. Nowhere in the Caribbean are so many fish. This is mainly because the government declared the coastal strip around the island a protected area in 1979. Special sea dwellers are the barracuda, a species of pike that can grow up to two meters long, and moray eels, a snake species that can also grow to be two meters long and lives in burrows in the coral reef. There are also different types of harmless sharks in this area.


Bonaire Coat of armsBonaire Coat of armsPhoto: Public domain

The Leeward Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao originated under the sea some 100 million years ago. The oldest rock formations found on these islands therefore mainly consist of rocks of volcanic origin. Very little is known about the original inhabitants of Bonaire. Excavations have revealed that the island had been inhabited by Indians for hundreds of years in the so-called pre-Columbian era. These Indians, called Arawaks, came from the South American mainland. They used the same tooks and lived and worked in the same way as the Indians of the South American continent. It is believed that there were never more than a few hundred. Until the arrival of the Spaniards, they still lived in the Stone Age, in simple huts made of clay. They lived on fishing and plant food. According to tradition

Bonaire was discovered in 1499 by Alonso de Ojeda. However, real evidence for this has never been found. Amerigo Vespucci is also mentioned as the discoverer. On the very first map of the Caribbean, Bonaire is referred to as Isla de Palo Brasil or "Island of Paint Wood". The Spaniards soon called the Antilles "Islas Inútiles" or "useless islands" because no gold was found and they were also unsuitable for agriculture. In 1515, the Spaniards removed the entire population of the islands to work as slaves on the island of Hispaniola. Only in 1526 did some original inhabitants return to the island.

Around that time, only about sixty Spaniards lived on Bonaire and it took the Dutch little effort to conquer the island from the Spaniards in 1634. At the time, the Netherlands was at war with Spain and needed a strategic foothold in that region because interests in South America, especially Brazil, were growing. The few Indians who still lived on Bonaire fled or were killed. For example, Bonaire was again uninhabited at the end of 1636. That did not take long, because the West India Company (WIC) started on Bonaire with the extraction of salt and paint wood, the livestock and maize culture was developed for the benefit of Curaçao, which was developed into an agricultural colony. After the end of the Eighty Years' War, Bonaire was no longer needed as a military base, and as a result became less and less important for the WIC.

Bonaire Slave hutsBonaire Slave hutsPhoto: V.C.Vulto CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The slave trade flourished, especially in the period 1685 to 1713. Salt production in Bonaire in particular became increasingly important and more and more negro slaves were needed to extract the salt from the salt pans. Besides negro slaves, convicted Indians and other punished people were also put to work and Bonaire became a kind of penal colony. Opposition to human trafficking grew and in 1821 the import of slaves into the colonies was banned. However, it would be a long time before slavery was actually abolished. Economic motives formed the basis for this. At the end of the seventeenth century Bonaire was in its entirety a plantation of the WIC. After the power of the WIC ceased to exist in 1791, more and more white people settled on the island. During the nineteenth century, a new population group came to Bonaire, that of ransomed or set free slaves. The Indian population group slowly but surely became smaller and around 1810 the last Indians left for the mainland. In 1807 Bonaire came under English rule, but was returned to the Netherlands in 1816 during the London Convention. The island continued to hold government plantation status until 1868.

On September 30, 1862 the time had come: on Curaçao the "Emancipation Regulation" was promulgated. This meant that all slaves were set free on Bonaire. After the abolition of slavery it was soon decided to sell the government land to private persons. As a result, the total population became dependent on two large landowners. The bad economic situation on Bonaire meant that many islanders left for Venezuela to work in the salt mines. Due to the rise of the oil industry in Aruba and Curaçao, Bonaire also benefited from the profits that were made. Roads were improved, electricity and telephone were built and medical facilities were improved. In 1936 an airplane landed for the first time on Bonaire. In 1940, Germans and NSB members from other islands were locked up in an internment camp. After the war, this camp was turned into the first hotel on the island, and this was the beginning of the rise of tourism.

In 1936 a new "state regulation" was adopted in which all male residents with Dutch nationality were given the right to vote. The war resulted in the islands being given decision-making powers in various areas. In 1947 a petition was granted asking for the democratic rights of Dutch citizens to be extended to the overseas territories. In 1948 the Dutch constitution was revised and the term "Curaçao and dependencies" was replaced by "Netherlands Antilles". In 1954, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles were given almost complete independence of government. This treaty, called "Statute for the Kingdom of the Netherlands" was amended again in 1975, because Suriname became completely independent. In 1986 another change, Aruba got the so-called "Status Aparte". In the 1980s, independence for the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba was pursued by the major political parties in the Netherlands. However, it is now believed that the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba do not have to become independent if they do not want to. As a result, the future looks a lot more certain.

Bonaire Kralendijk Bonaire KralendijkPhoto: Bgabel at wikivoyage shared CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The small parties did not get a chance in the May 2003 elections for a new island government on Bonaire. The two incumbent parties won all seats. The ruling party Union Patriotico Boneriano (UPB) won a large majority by taking six of the nine seats on the island council. The Bonaire Democratic Party (PDB) lost one seat and got stuck at three seats.

More than two weeks after the Democratic Party of St. Maarten left the Antillean government-Goddett, the Patriotic Union of Bonaire (UPB) also left the cabinet on 9 September 2003. The reason for this, according to party leader Ramonsito Boni, was the coalition's policy towards the new Bonairean airline BonairExel. They were allowed to operate only four flights a week between Curaçao and Aruba. Four flights a day were requested.

In mid-2000, parliament decided that Dutch nationals may settle freely in the Netherlands Antilles (National Ordinance Admission and Deportation = LTU). The only conditions that are set are that the Dutch have a certificate of good conduct and can prove that they have accommodation and sufficient means of support.

By opening the borders, the Antillean government wanted to stimulate the economy. The relaxation of the national ordinance also makes it easier for companies to acquire additional knowledge. This also has a favorable effect on the competitive position, because the economy could be revived, partly due to the influx of economically active persons.

At the beginning of April 2004, the Antillean cabinet fell. Ersilia de Lannooy's National People's Party (PNP) withdrew its support for the coalition. As a result, it lost the majority in the 22-seat States (parliament). The Curaçao trade union party PLKP and the Democratic Party of Bonaire (PDB) also withdrew their support for the fallen cabinet.

In September 2004, a very large majority of the residents of Bonaire voted in a referendum in favor of a direct relationship with the Netherlands. Approx. 59% chose that political structure for the island.

About 25% wanted a status as an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and almost 16% preferred to maintain the current structure: a Kingdom in which the Netherlands, Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles are each independent and in which Bonaire to the Antilles belongs. On October 11, 2006, Bonaire (together with Saba and St. Eustatius) reached an agreement with the Dutch government on a direct relationship with the Netherlands. The island will be a 'special municipality', which means that the Municipalities Act will serve as the basis for the administration, but with a few exceptions in the field of social security, for example. The residents also have the right to vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The target date for new relationships in the Kingdom is set at Kingdom Day, December 15, 2008.

In September 2010, the island government of Bonaire fell after more than a year. The coalition between Anthony Nicolaas and the democratic party PDB was dissolved due to the lack of support from Nicolaas. The new Executive Council would rule until the Island Council elections in March 2011.

The Netherlands Antilles no longer exist since October 10, 2010. Aruba was already an independent country, Curaçao and Sint Maarten became so from that date. Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius became special Dutch municipalities.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands now consists of four countries with their own governments: Aruba, the Netherlands, Curaçao and Sint Maarten. Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius have a separate status within the Netherlands and are called the Caribbean Netherlands, together with Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten they form the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Between 12 and 21 November 2013, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima visited the six islands in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On Saturday, November 16 it was Bonaire's turn. In December 2015, a majority of the population said no to the question: Do you agree with the interpretation given to the direct relationship with the Netherlands? According to Ronald Plasterk, the Minister of Kingdom Relations, the Island Council and the Executive Council should determine how the result of this referendum should be dealt with. In January 2018, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao will face an export ban and a sea, air and land blockade of the islands by Venezuela. In 2020 there is disagreement between Bonaire and the Netherlands about the conditions for a Corona loan from the Netherlands to Bonaire.

How did Bonaire get the name

It is obvious to think that Bonaire means "good air", from French. However, there is nothing to indicate that this is true.

A better explanation seems to be the Caribbean word "banare", which means something like "lowlands". The Indians compared the relatively flat Bonaire with the high mountains of South America where they came from.

The Spanish discovered that the Indians called the island "Boynay". They took over this name and the Dutch gradually changed it into "Bonaire". Another explanation is that Bonaire is descended from "Boy Nayil", the name of the son of the supreme god who was shaped like a silver snake. The Indians called the island "Boy Nayre" which means "house of the silver serpent".


Children Bonaire at HalloweenChildren Bonaire at HalloweenPhoto: Public domain

An important characteristic of the population is ethnic diversity, although the black element is most present. The majority, over 93%, of the inhabitants is of Dutch Antillean descent. This includes the inhabitants who come from Aruba, Curaçao, and the Windward Antillean Islands. About 90% were born on the island. Furthermore, the island has several hundred inhabitants from the Netherlands, the United States and Venezuela. A very small percentage comes from other Caribbean islands, such as the Dominican Republic.

What is striking about the composition of the population is that the average age is currently around thirty.

Recent developments indicate that there has been a substantial growth of the population in recent years. In 2020 Bonaire will have almost 21,000 inhabitants. This is almost entirely the result of a large positive migration balance. Most migrants come from Curaçao. The Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Peru, the Netherlands and the United States are the other countries from which many people left for Bonaire.

It is striking that for the first time more people from the Netherlands are leaving for Bonaire than the other way around.


Dutch Language MapDutch Language MapPhoto: Public domain

Although Dutch is the official language of Bonaire, Papiamento is the most widely spoken language. Papiamento originated from Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French and a little African. The name Papiamento is derived from the word "papia" which means to talk. The basis of Papiamento is mainly of Spanish and Portuguese origin. With the arrival of the Dutch, Dutch was added. English and French descend from the occupiers of other Caribbean islands. The mixed language that developed from this has slowly but surely taken the place of a mother tongue. Bonaire even has an official Papiamento, which, however, differs from the spelling in Aruba. Most people on Bonaire often speak excellent Spanish and English in addition to Papiamento and Dutch.

In March 2007 Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao recognized Papiamento as an official language in addition to Dutch and English. It had taken ten years before a bill to this effect was finally passed.


Bonaire Rincon ChurchBonaire Rincon ChurchPhoto: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Dutch settlers were almost all Protestant. However, they hardly interfered with the population. Catholic missionaries were much more fanatical in this regard, with the result that most people belong to the Roman Catholic Church, about 70% of the population. The second stream is size is the Pentecostal Church. There are also some Protestants, Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses. Church heydays such as Christmas are celebrated exuberantly and there is a lot of attention for rituals such as baptism and marriage. The inhabitants of Bonaire are generally tolerant of people from other cultures and the different religions can be practiced in harmony on the island. There is a certain secularization on the island. It is remarkable that there are almost no Jews on Bonaire, while they are more present on Curaçao.


State structure

Kralendijk Governor's HouseKralendijk Governor's HousePhoto: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The municipalities of Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius have a separate status within the Netherlands since October 10, 2010. The three special municipalities have two administrative layers and are governed as a public body by:

- The island government, which is under the control of the Island Council. Local representatives sit on this council.

- The Dutch National Government. The Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland performs the tasks for the national government on the 3 islands, for example managing the fire brigade.


There is almost no illiteracy in Bonaire. This is due to the good education that is provided. The education system is roughly the same as the Dutch. In addition to the "normal" subjects, students also receive Papiamentu and often English and Spanish. After primary education, one can follow secondary education up to and including HAVO level. Higher and university education is mainly followed in Curaçao, the United States and the Netherlands.


There are no national political parties standing up for all Antilles. Each island has its own parties and leaders. Almost all parties are formed by one strong leader with often ethnic ties. These leaders are, of course, highly dependent on their supporters on the island for elections. The voter therefore finds it normal that the elected person only represents his interests, this is called "patronage". A positive aspect of this is the personal bond between citizen and politician. However, corruption and favoritism are also lurking. For the current political situation, see chapter history.



Bonaire Salt PansBonaire Salt PansPhoto: Paul Arps CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Agriculture (corn) and fishing occupy a much larger place in the economy of Bonaire than in Aruba and Curacao. Livestock farming is extensive and mainly concerns goats, sheep and pigs. Economically important is tourism. Especially the growth of "diving tourism" offers excellent prospects for developing into an attractive destination for tourists. For some years now, the salt industry has contributed to the island's modest economic position. In addition, there is a traditional textile industry, especially important for the employment of women on Bonaire. Since 1975, the (natural) port of Kralendijk has been made suitable for handling oil tankers of 500,000 tons and a tank park has been built for the storage and transhipment of petroleum and petroleum products destined for the United States.

In 2007 it was announced that Bonaire will be the first Caribbean island to switch completely to renewable energy. EcoPower Bonaire is going to build a wind-biodiesel system on the island. To this end, the consortium signed a contract with Water & Energy Company Bonaire.

The largest employer on Bonaire is the government. More than 75% of the working population works in the service sector.


Bonaire Diving TourismBonaire Diving TourismPhoto: Kris Mikael Krister CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Bonaire already started with measures to conserve nature in the 1970s. For example, in 1971 laws were developed to ban spear fishing for tropical fish. Since 1975 it has been forbidden to take or damage coral. And in 1979 the sea around the island was declared a protected area. No more than a hundred thousand dives per year are allowed in the park. The number of hotel beds will also not be expanded, so that a limit has been set for the number of tourists who come to the island. Bonaire has noticed that setting a limit does not mean that less money comes in. Going on vacation to Bonaire has become exclusive. Bonaire is not a mass destination. Tourists now have more money to spend on a holiday to Bonaire. Instead of less, more money is being received by the population.

In mid-2000, parliament decided that Dutch nationals may settle freely in the Netherlands Antilles (National Ordinance Admission and Deportation). The only conditions that are set are that the Dutch have a certificate of good conduct and can prove that they have accommodation and sufficient means of support.

By opening the borders, the Antillean government wanted to stimulate the economy. The relaxation of the national ordinance also makes it easier for companies to acquire additional knowledge. This also has a favorable effect on the competitive position, because the economy could be revived, partly due to the influx of economically active persons.

Holidays and Sightseeing


Diving Klein BonaireDiving Klein BonairePhoto: Michal Strzelecki, Wojtek Strzelecki i Jerzy Strzelecki CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Caribbean island of Bonaire, also called 'Diver's Paradise' and almost always good for sun and pleasant temperatures due to the ever-present cooling trade winds, is one of the top destinations in the world for divers and snorkelers with more than 80 dive sites. Around Bonaire there is approximately 300 km of coral reef where plants and hundreds of often very colorful fish species live that provide an unforgettable diving experience.

Nature lovers will also find what they are looking for on the island itself, for example in the Washington Slagbaai National Park and in the Pekelmeer, where the world famous and unique slave houses can also be found. Goto Lake is home to one of the largest flamingo colonies in the world. Tropical Bonaire also has a number of white sandy beaches where you can relax after a day of diving or water sports, including Pink Beach, Playa Funchi and Sorobon Beach.

Bonaire Kralendijk Fort OranjeBonaire Kralendijk Fort OranjePhoto: JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

For history buffs, the capital Kralendijk has Fort Oranje, the oldest building on Bonaire (1639), and the former governor's house (1837), as well as a number of museums. Located in a 19th century plantation house, Museo Boneriano has a collection of archaeological finds and a large shell collection; Museum Belua is an open-air doll museum; Museo Chichi 'Tan shows traditional Bonairian musical instruments; Museum Kas Krioyo showcases the culture and traditions of the village of Rincon. A number of monuments also give a picture of the history of Bonaire: the Walbeeck Monument in memory of 300 years of Dutch rule on Bonaire; the Betico Croes Monument, the politician who meant a lot to Aruba especially; the Simon Bolivar Monument, in honor of the South American independence fighter; the Second World War Monument in honor of the 34 fallen Bonairian soldiers.

Rincon is the oldest (slave) village of Bonaire and even of the Antilles, and also as a cultural center of Bonaire and marketplace, certainly worth a visit. Lac Bay is a unique surfing paradise in a location surrounded by mangrove forests. In Butterfly Garden Bonaire hundreds of butterflies from all parts of the world fly around. Bonaire has five historic church buildings, in Kralendijk the Saint Bernard Church, the Lady of Coromoto Church, the Protestant Church and the Saint Ludovicus Church; in Rincon the Protestant church.

Bonaire has eight lighthouses, some of which are centuries old and have a monumental status, the Willemstoren, the Malmok, the Seru Bentana, the Boka Spelonk, the Fort Oranje and the Punt Vierkant. In addition to the approximately 400 donkeys that are cared for in the 'Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire', another 200 live in the Washington Slagbaai National Park and a few dozen in the wild. At about ten places, on rock walls and in caves, drawings of the Arawak Indians can be seen, especially those of Boca Onima are the best preserved. Kunuku Rooi Lamoenchi is a former plantation that has been completely restored to its former glory.

Major sights

Bonaire Marine Park

Bonaire Marine Park Bonaire Marine ParkPhoto: LASZLO ILYES CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

One of Bonaire's greatest resources is under water. The coral reefs of Bonaire directly adjacent to the coast are among the most beautiful in the world and have become one of the most popular diving destinations in the world. The Caribbean sea here is crystal clear and one can often see more than 30 meters deep.


The "Brandaris" is the highest peak on Bonaire, 241 meters high. From the top you have a beautiful view of the whole island and in very clear weather you can even see the "Christoffelberg" on Curaçao and the mountains of Venezuela in the distance.


Bonaire has a number of caves that are interesting because of the beautiful petroglyphs, which date back to the time before the Spanish occupation. They were made by the native population. The drawings do not have a recognizable shape, but it is believed that they were made for a religious purpose.

Museo di Bonaire

Bonaire has a small but interesting museum: the Museo di Bonaire. The collection consists of archaeological finds including urns, a 760 year old skeleton and prehistoric utensils. Furthermore, works of art by contemporary Bonairian artists, cannonballs, antique firearms and a beautiful shell collection.

Washington-Slagbaai National Park

Washington Slagbaai National Park BonaireWashington Slagbaai National Park BonairePhoto: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

In the northwest of Bonaire is a large nature park, called Washington-Slagbaai National Park. It is one of the most beautiful spots in the Antilles and was opened to the public in 1969 as the first national park in the entire Netherlands Antilles. It is a park with a lot of natural beauty and a wide variety of landscapes, varying from beautiful bays, via large plains with flowering bulbous cacti and towering columnar cacti to beautifully overgrown hillsides.


Willemstoren Bonaire Willemstoren BonairePhoto: Public domain

At the southernmost point of Bonaire is the "Willemstoren", the oldest lighthouse of Bonaire. This lighthouse was built in 1837 and 1838 and has the shape of a Doric column. On August 24, 1838, the birthday of King William I, the lamp of the new lighthouse was lit for the first time and named after the king.

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Bakker, J. / Nederlandse Antillen en Aruba
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

Helm, R. van der / Reishandboek Bonaire

Encyclopedie van de Nederlandse Antillen
Walburg Pers

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated December 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb