Bonaire & Curaçao – Dutch Antilles

Bonaire is a great hurricane season escape, especially for divers and we visited there between July and November 2013 plus June, July and December 2015, so the posts have more information and photos. We were in Curaçao in September to early October 2013 and July to December 2015.

No anchoring is allowed anywhere on Bonaire. You need to either take a mooring for 10 US$ a night or go into the marina. There are 2 separate lines with 2 floating buoys to pick up. They seem very secure and are well maintained. We just took a mooring, cleared in and paid the marina for a month’s fees up front. There is no discount for long stays. Customs and Immigration are in the same building, a big creamy terracota building by the cruise ship dock. You can tie the dinghy there to the southern side of the dock. There are no charges and Customs is open 24 hours a day, Immigration 0700 to 1900.

You can take rubbish into the Harbour Village Marina (north end of the moorings) and fill up with water, diesel and gasoline there on a big dock. There is a cruiser’s burger night every Wednesday at the marina bar, with a burger for just 8 US$ and happy hour giving you 2 for 1 wine or rum free with the coke. A great evening.

Bonaire uses US$, not the guilder. There are plenty of shops and a free supermarket bus on Tuesdays and Fridays from the marina office or Karel’s Bar at 1000.

Gio’s Ice Cream Parlour is a great favourite with everyone, from early in the day until very late. We never saw it shut in fact! At Sea is a superb restaurant, with meals about 70 US$ a head including a bottle of wine. There are many lovely places to eat and drink, too many to mention.

We hired a scooter to see the island for 25 US$ a day and saw most of it during that time. The August post gives more info. Diving is the main past-time and with the reef just under the stern of the boat, it is a very cheap and easy way to dive every day if you want. Several dive shops line the shore, some with dinghy docks to tie up to when getting the tanks filled. We purchased a 21 tank fill card at Dive Friends to make life easier. Talks on the fish, photography etc are held at Buddy Dive on Sundays at 1900. A schedule of events called ‘Update’ is free around town and details all the Happy Hours, talks and events.

The only issue with Bonaire is the wind reversals. If a strong wind blows in from the west then you have to get off the moorings, go into the marina or out to sea. Warnings are given in advance if possible.

There are no Customs charges but in Curaçao either but the anchoring permit costs 10 US$ and they have no change. It would also be very useful to have the local currency in Curaçao, the guilder, as you will need to get a bus from the main anchorage in Spanish Water to Willemstad to clear in and they prefer small coins.

The entrance into Spanish Water looks narrow and shallow but if you keep in the middle you will find plenty of depth. Continue to favour the middle of the channel or slightly to the starboard side and keep clear of the reef on the port side as you leave the channel. There are 4 authorised anchoring areas, marked with big yellow buoys. You may get moved on if you anchor elsewhere. We dropped anchor in very sticky mud in the southern bay but as it was more sheltered, we did swing 360 degrees and so did everyone else, so you need to leave plenty of room.

The dinghy dock is further into the bay, next to the fishermen’s dock and Norman’s Bar. We locked ours every time as some have gone missing. The garbage bins are by the fence next to the security guard’s hut. Walking towards the roundabout, The Pier is a good bar with WiFi and hold a cruiser’s evening on Thursdays. The air-conditioned bus (big white bus not minibus) goes from the roundabout about every hour, one being at 0800, another at just after 0900. They go to the bus station in Willemstad and you walk past the floating fruit market to the corner where the big Customs building is. This is open 24 hours a day and the staff are very helpful. They are using seaclear, the new online system so you can register your visit in advance if you wish to save time.

Immigration is another 20 minute walk away, over the pontoon bridge and up the road. They open 0730 to 2100. Continue on the waterfront road, up a hill, until you come to a gatehouse by the gate to the docks. The guard will need to see your passport and give you a slip of paper for Immigration to stamp when you get there. Walk along the dockside to the huge road bridge and you will find Immigration and the Port Authority Buildings on the left, just after the bridge.

A cruiser’s net takes place every morning except Sunday, at 0745. A water boat advertises their service on it but we didn’t use it, so can’t comment on the price or quality. The water in the bay is not clear but you can dinghy to the long pontoon off the beach in the entrance channel where the water is beautifully clear. A free supermarket bus runs daily at 1000 from the dinghy dock.

We hired a car from Hertz. They picked us up from the dinghy dock and dropped us back the next day. There are lots of trips and sites to visit and the capital is very pretty too.

You need to check out and then have 24 hours to exit Curaçao’s waters. We went to Klein Curaçao the same day and stayed the night there. Well worth the visit.

On our second visit we hauled out at Curacao Marine for a week which is within 15 minutes walk of Willemstad. We also left the boat for 3 months in Seru Boca Marina in Spanish Water and she was n great condition when we returned. Christmas was excellent with many good restaurants nearby and a pampered day spent at the Jan Thiel Beach Resort, lazing on loungers and having a superb breakfast. New Year’s Eve there was a spectacular 360 degree firework show all around Spanish Water.

There are some very modern shops in Curacao, far better than Bonaire. A hire car is essential though to get to them all.

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