This post is part of a series on what to do when you have one day in port on a Cruise. You can find more posts from this series on my page, How To Spend One Day In Port.
This is our first visit to the ABC islands, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. This small group of islands lies just off the coast of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean, and the first stop is the Bonaire cruise port.
We’ve read about Bonaire Cruisers, a business on the island that rents out golf carts. Reports are that you can go anywhere on the island with the golf cart and a map. Today we aim to test out these reports.
Bonaire and its sister island Klein Bonaire make up one of the oldest marine reserves in the world – Bonaire National Marine Park. The park includes the sea around the islands from the high water mark to sixty meters in depth. There are over 2700 hectares of coral reef and mangrove vegetation.
The park was established in 1979 and received its national park status from the Netherlands Antilles 20 years later. These protections have led to Bonaire and Kein Bonaire being some of the best waters in the area for diving. There are 86 official dive sites around the islands, the majority on the west side of the island of Bonaire.
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Booking The Golf Cart And Picking It Up At The Bonaire Cruise Port
Our cruise ship, the Celebrity Summit, is scheduled to arrive in the capital city of Bonaire Island, Kralendijk, at 2:00 pm. All the information we’ve read about Bonaire Cruisers is that you must book ahead of time. Booking months in advance is recommended; this is a trendy way to have a private excursion.
Bonaire Cruisers only rent their golf carts by the day, and the cart must be returned by 6:00 pm. So even though we will only be able to use the cart for less than 4 hours, we have to pay for the entire day.
When your ship clears customs at the Bonaire Cruise Port, you must be ready to get to the dock and sign in with the representative from the agency. Passengers on cruise ships arriving in the morning have a 2-hour window to pick up their golf cart.
For those cruise passengers coming in the afternoon, you must get your golf cart within 1 hour of your ship’s arrival. If you don’t meet these time requirements, Bonaire Cruisers will rent out your cart to the line of people hoping for “no-shows.”
We are off the ship, make the five-minute walk through the Bonaire cruise terminal, complete our registration, and are headed south by 3:00 pm in our golf cart.
Heading South Out Of Kralendijk
Bonaire is a small island with just one main road that forms an awkward figure 8 to the north and south of Kralendijk. The island’s northern end is lusher, a subjective way to phrase the vegetation. Remember, it is a desert island. This is where you find 1000 steps beach, aptly named for the number of stairs you will need to climb down and back up to the beach.
More towards the center of the island is the Bonaire Botanical Garden. At the northernmost point of the island is Washington Slagbaai National Park. This area is excellent for bird watching, but you will need a vehicle that can handle the rough terrain. Probably not one of these golf carts.
Since we only have three hours, we choose to tour the southern end of the island, which seems to us to have more to offer. We wish we had the time to do the whole island, but the adventures on the north side will have to wait for another trip.
Heading south out of town, we pass the Bonaire International Airport and Te Amo Beach in just a few quick minutes. If you plan a longer stay in Bonaire, this area has lovely ocean-view accommodations.
Once you pass the Ocean Beach Club, you’ve left civilization, and it’s just you and your golf cart buddy(ies) cruising along in your golf cart on the island’s western coast.
Notable Sites Along EEG Boulevard In Bonaire
Road Markers For Beaches
If you are in the Bonaire cruise port to snorkel, dive, or even want to go for a swim, you will need to find the road markers. Keep an eye out on the right side of the road for large stones painted bright colors. Like this one for Pink Beach. It’s good that the golf carts have a max speed of maybe 20 mph because you can easily miss these signs.
Pink Beach is popular as it is one of the most expansive beaches on the shoreline. It is an excellent location to snorkel or swim; however, it is not a place for lazing in the sun.
Because coral reefs surround the island, the beaches here tend to be made of dead coral, not the sandy beaches you typically find on an island. Remember, don’t be tempted to pick up any of the coral as a souvenir; this is not allowed.
Salt Pier, Salt Pyramids, Salt Pans, And Slave Huts
In the late 1600s, salt became a significant export for the island and is still today. First up on the golf cart tour is the salt pier, and, slightly off in the distance, the salt pyramids are sitting among the salt flats. The salt harvesting today is part of the Cargill’s vast holdings.
Initially, there were four salt pans, each producing a different grade of salt. Each pan was marked with an obelisk (one orange, one red, one white, and one blue) that could be seen by the ships outside the reef so the captain would know where to anchor to fetch the correct grade of salt.
These obelisks remain alongside the beach where the saltpans were located. In 1850, slave huts were built along the dyke to house the enslaved people working the salt. These huts are tiny, not even tall enough for an average-sized adult to stand in.
Each hut was meant to house two enslaved people. Being allowed to stay in one of these huts beat the 7-mile walk each way to the closest town.
Go ahead, step inside, and try to imagine yourself living in such conditions.
Water Activities And Bird Watching Near The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary
Water sports activities play an essential role in Bonaire’s tourist industry. In addition to snorkeling and scuba diving, Kiteboarding is a popular activity on the island. A great place to do this on your southern circle tours is at Kiteboarding Bonaire.
You don’t have to bring your gear; just rent a kite set from these fine folks and head out to the water. If you have been wanting to learn this fantastic sport, you can take lessons here.
Inland a bit from the coast, as you round the island’s south end, is the Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary. The saltwater lagoon here is filled with tiny brine shrimp, the favorite food of the Flamingo. The sanctuary is home to thousands of birds, but you are a bit far away from them on the road. This is where a pair of binoculars will come in handy.
At Misha’s Bridge, we found the only lighthouse we saw on the island. And this is the last significant site we see on the east coast, other than the beautiful ocean waves until…
Lac Bay And Sorobon Beach
We’ve been driving and sightseeing for about 2 hours when we arrive at the crossroad to Sorobon Beach on the island’s east side. This is the first beach we’ve seen with white sands leading down to the water. The locals have taken full advantage of this.
Here there is a resort, complete with bungalows and a fishing pier leading out into the beautiful calm waters. But what is vital for those just passing through is Sebastian’s Beach, with its outdoor restaurant and beach cabanas. You can see why this is a popular spot.
For the price of a bottle of water, we use the facilities, listen to the DJ spin some tunes, and relax by the beach before completing our drive back to the Bonaire cruise port.
Heading back to Kralendijk, we realize that we missed the turnoff to the Donkey Sanctuary. The sanctuary sits on Kaya IR Randolph Statius van Eps. This is a very long name for the small road that cuts through the middle of the southern part of Bonaire.
It’s common to see donkeys wandering around the scrub brush on the island. The animals were first brought to Bonaire by the Spaniards in the late 1700s and used to perform the hard labor of transporting goods. When motorized transportation reached the island, many donkeys were abandoned.
Donkeys are sturdy animals and continue to thrive on the island. But you need to visit the sanctuary if you want to get up close and personal. The refuge is home to over 700 donkeys. The keepers there provide food, water, and medical care to the wild donkeys on the island.
It is too late in the day for us to go back and try to find the sanctuary and make it back to Bonaire Cruisers by 6 pm. The road we are on, Kaminda Sorbon, takes us along Lac Bay. And it’s here in the mangroves we get our best sighting of Flamingos.
What Should You Bring On Your Bonaire Golf Cart Adventure?
You may want to bring along a snack, and you must bring water. Once you pass the Ocean Oasis Beach Club, there is no place to get food or beverages until you reach Sorobon Beach. A hat and sunglasses are also good choices.
Binoculars are good to have for viewing the wildlife on the island. Your camera (i.e., phone) and a waterproof sleeve for your phone for taking pictures on land and underwater.
Whether you will be on the island for the day or just a few hours, make sure to use your sunscreen. There is very little shade to be found, especially on the south end of Bonaire. And it’s always a good idea to bring along a small day pack.
Snorkel or dive gear. When we go to beach locations, we do carry our own equipment. I like to use a snorkel with a Dry Top Valve, less chance of drinking in sea water this way. We use half-face snorkel masks, but many people love the new full-face snorkel masks.
Or you can make a quick stop at Dive Friends Bonaire, where you can rent a mask, snorkel, and fins starting at about $15 US per day. And if you plan to dip in the beautiful blue waters, you will probably want a towel to dry off afterward.
When visiting the north side of Bonaire, bring along insect repellant; some aggressive mosquitos are here.
Back At The Bonaire Cruise Port
After dropping off our golf cart, we take the short walk back to the main street in town and head for our cruise ship. One last shot of Gumby and Pokey before with Celebrity Summit in the background winds up our own Bonaire shore excursion.
We recommend Bonaire Cruisers for a golf cart adventure when your cruise ship itinerary takes you to Bonaire. Even with a short amount of time, you won’t be disappointed.