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Trip Report 5 nights in Bonaire - not nearly enough.....

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Great trip to Curacao and Bonaire last month despite the incomprehensible meteorological inversion that Chicago weather in March was a bit nicer than what we had in the Caribbean. Unbelievable. Poor polar bears.

CURACAO: Didn’t intend on staying in Curacao 2 nights but we got a great tip from the guesthouse owner in Bonaire that I could book a room for 55 Euro at Kura Hulanda (in town) due to the hotel being purchased by Sandton corporation. (FYI – there’s a 9:30 pm flight CUR-BON if you arrive late into CUR and want to continue onwards) Kura Hulanda in Willemstad is like a preserved little colonial micro-village and an interesting place to stay. Rooms are scattered throughout the complex in very different buildings with colonial architecture – our Super Saver Room was just all right -- I’m not going to complain about a $70 USD room. The $400/night rooms in the main courtyard looked gorgeous. The slavery museum is on-site and is the brain-child of the resort owner, a modern-day Dutch Harrison Ford character. I had mixed feelings about the museum (I’m a professor of African American Studies) but I’ve never been to any island in the Caribbean that so explicitly acknowledges its slave trade history and thought this alone was really important. Museum is def worth checking out but bring your Deet, exhibit rooms had a lot of mosquitoes. The Kura Hulanda has a free shuttle to its luxurious sister lodge way out on the West Side (which looked gorgeous) but it leaves once a day and you’re there for 5 hrs. We elected to check out town instead since we only had a day.

Couldn’t do the architectural walking tour because it was in Dutch so we just ended up walking around. The floating market, restored mansions, un-restored colonial building that housed locals, the central open food market -- it’s an interesting scene but I was glad we only had one full day here. Meals were fairly expensive and just OK as we didn’t do much research beforehand. Loved the banana soup we tried and we’ve already cooked our own version upon returning home.

BONAIRE

Flew Divi Air CUR-BON (117/pp r/t). It’s the smallest airline (and plane) but I was told that it’s more reliable than Insel and doesn’t cancel flights.

We stayed at Calexico, a really cool guesthouse in town – it was built and finished around 8 months ago and I’d def stay here again: http://casa-calexico.com/ The owners, Audrey and Joop, were exceptionally helpful (they're a fun, cool couple who love music) and the $99/night rate included all taxes and r/t airport transfer. The modern studio had a good lay-out and was aesthetically one of the best I’ve stayed in – comfortable beds, kitchenette with fridge and gas range, and I absolutely loved the cool bathroom which reminded me of something in Dwell. (But there’s no ceiling above the bathroom and only a thin door so I was sending my bf outside in the mornings for privacy). Each studio has a little porch with a table and hammock -- we were in one of the end units and I felt it was fairly private although you will see other guests walking around. They had outdoor diving lockers and plunge sinks to rinse and store your gear – convenient and well thought-out. We ended up cooking breakfasts in our studio every morning even though we hadn't planned on doing this but the huge Dutch supermarket in town had such great stuff, we couldn’t resist buying groceries. I had considered staying at Bamboo Bali -- further from town (2 miles South) and more expensive (135/night) although their cottages look romantic and private. Audrey was more helpful than the managers at Bamboo Bali and so we went with her and we were happy with the decision. We put the $180 we saved towards dinners as dining in Bonaire wasn’t inexpensive. There’s a market within a 5 min walk, water access within 8 min, and central town with all the restaurants was probably a 10-15 min walk (I’m guessing because we were on bikes)

We rented cruiser bikes (Machos Scooter and Bike rentals) for the week – $11/day or $55/week which was half the price of the bike rentals at de Freiwheiler (sp). We weren’t sure if we’d have to rent a car (which my bf really didn’t want to do) and we definitely could’ve seen more of the island although I was very pleased with our access on bikes. We biked to restaurants and shops everyday and easily biked all the way North to the refinery at the edge of the Reserve (North of the last dive site) and all the way South past the Salt Mills and slave huts although we were told it was less windy than usual (hence easier to bike around). I haven’t been on a bike for years and biking for miles along the cliffs and along the water was stunning -- loved the desert landscape. We had our snorkel gear and we’d stop when/where we wanted, lock up our bikes, and jump in the water – the coral reefs are right off shore and there are dozens of sites to the North of town and dozens of sites to the South. The reefs are impressively healthy with abundant sea life and I’d download a dive site book next time as there are so many spots that it’s almost impossible to choose.

We went out with Audrey, her husband, and some other guests for 5 hrs on their boat to visit Little Bonaire our last day ($45/pp) and the snorkeling there was also amazingly beautiful – we saw several turtles, grouper, barracuda, along with all the other usual reef fish in just 20 minutes. Little Bonaire is an uninhabited island with a sandy beach and well worth a visit if on Bonaire.

Restaurants: Appetites was insanely good – a creative, well-executed menu that I’d appreciate having in a large city with a thriving food scene. The Peruvian place had pretty good Lomo Saltado (my fav Peruvian dish) and excellent fried Yucca. We had terrible fish at Mona Lisa, and good jamabalaya and pork tenderloin at Cactus Blue. Gio is a gelato shop that rivals what I’ve tasted in Italy -- absolutely divine and open til 10 pm -- our favorites were hazelnut, pistachio, and coconut. We heard At Sea is fantastic but you need to make reservations at the popular restaurants if you plan on eating after 7:30 pm. A lot of the restaurants are closed on Sat and Sun so plan accordingly and make reservations. Dinners were fairly expensive $80-120 for 2 ppl, often without alcohol. The food overall on Bonaire was much better than what I’ve had in Belize, the Bahamas, or Turks and Caicos. Their large Dutch supermarket totally rocks and had a tempting variety of produce, fruit, cheeses, and Dutch snacks – I’m now addicted to some caramel waffle cookie called Stroopwafel. Groceries were very reasonably priced and similar to SF, Chicago, New York, LA, or Miami.

We had a great time and Bonaire is my fav kind of island. Small with a charming feel, great snorkeling/diving but with considerable infrastructure and services and more than enough restaurants to last for more than a week without getting bored. We feel we just scratched the surface in a week and look forward to returning. Thanks so much to Fodorites for all your help with planning the trip – you guys are the best!

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