[photo map max-width=150 align=right]Although serious scuba divers know that the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire offers marine-life nirvana, most landlubbers have never heard of it. The second largest in landmass — yet least populated and least known — of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao) is just off the coast of Venezuela, outside the hurricane belt. Bonaire consistently enjoys temperatures in the 80s and receives less than 20 inches of rainfall a year.
You won't find all-inclusive party palaces, high-rise hotels, or throngs of sun-seeking tourists here; in fact, you won’t even find a single streetlight. What you will find is a friendly, forward-thinking, eco-preservation community that is host to wonderful natural adventures topside and underwater.
Day 1: Explore the Island
Bonaire is only 24 miles long, so you can easily explore the entire island in a day by car. Kralendijk, the main town, is just a few blocks long. Visit the tourism board's visitor center for maps and information to get your bearings. Children will enjoy spotting fish along the town pier, tearing around the public playground, and investigating the small fort and museum. There's also a mall, supermarket, and restaurants.
Salt has been commercially produced on Bonaire for three centuries. At the southern end of the island, it's truly surreal to view mounds of pure sea salt, like hills of snow in the tropics.
The interior countryside (called the kunuku) is desert-like; there, you'll see cacti, birds, iguanas, wild goats, and donkeys. Heading north and inland, discover the charming, tiny town of Rincon in a valley. The oldest village on the island is home to Mangazina di Rei, an open air museum of rural history older children might enjoy.
There's a museum and a cool, reconstructed whale skeleton at the entrance to Washington Slagbaai National Park, which covers 20 percent of the island at its northern end. Scenery on the wild north coast is breathtaking, but to enjoy it, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.
Finish your day at Lac Bay Cai beach on the east coast. It's perfect for a child-friendly swim with calm, shallow waters, soft sand, and shade trees.
Day 2: Find "Nemo" and All His Friends.
All of Bonaire's waters are part of a protected marine park preserve. With more than 1,000 species to discover just steps offshore, this is the fish capital of the Caribbean.
[photo kayaking max-width=150 align=right]Grandchildren can get into the swim of things with resort-and-dive-shop programs that the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) certifies. Supplied Air Snorkeling for Youth (SASY) allows youngsters as young as 5 to snorkel in a special flotation vest with an air tank on the surface. Bubblemaker and Seal Team programs introduce 8-year-olds to scuba in pools. At the age of 10, they can move into the ocean and become Junior Open Water Divers.
Once your grandchildren become immersed in the fishy fun, they will be hooked, so set aside time each day for underwater exploration. Windsock Beach or Plaza Resort's house reef are great spots to start, and nearby uninhabited satellite island Klein (Little) Bonaire also offers superb snorkeling. Pick up a laminated fish identification chart so that you and your grandchildren can point out your discoveries to each other underwater.
Day 3: Harness the Wind
One of Bonaire's best kept secrets? It's one of the best spots on the planet to learn to windsurf. Blessed with steady trade winds, Lac Bay’s Sorobon is a windsurfing wonderland flanked by a protected bay where you can walk almost a mile without going over your waist in warm, aqua waters. There are world-class surf shops for rentals and expert instruction with full amenities on site. This spot also hosts the annual Pro Kids World Freestyle Championships where children as young as 3 participate.
[photo windsurfing max-width=150 align=left]Take advantage of coastal breezes by trying the new eco-sport of land-sailing, called "blokarting." Duo-seat blokarts are available at Landsailing Bonaire to accommodate even young children.
You can also harness the wind sailing aboard a magnificent Siamese junk called the Samur, or discover the underwater world without even getting wet in a cool glass-sided, semi-submarine sailboat called Aquaspace that was once the observatory of Jacques Cousteau.
Day 4: Commune with cool creatures
The Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire has a drive-through Safari Park with picnic areas where you can see and feed Bonaire's rescued donkeys.
The Riding Academy Club offers the unusual experience of riding horses while they swim in the sea! Half-day trips with small groups on easy-riding Paso Fino horses make it perfect for all skill-levels. There are also buddy seats available to double-ride with small children.
Children will also love the Bonaire Butterfly Farm, a wind-and-solar-powered greenhouse full of cocoons and beautiful winged wonders.
The flamingo is the national symbol of Bonaire. You can spot the long-legged, pink birds feeding in the salt ponds at the southern end of the island, and at Lake Gotomeer in the north.
Day 5: Visit Mother Nature's Marine Life Nursery
There's one last ecosystem left on the island to explore. Take a kayak or solar-boat tour through the magical mangroves where an expert guide will point out juvenile fish — like barracudas, parrotfish, tarpons, and trunkfish — beginning their life journeys. Young sea turtles and upside-down baby jellyfish are also abundant here. You might even see a baby shark or two.
Here's a map of Bonaire dive and snorkel sites.
Bonaire has lots of live webcams. You can take a look at the island scene underwater and on land.
Caribbean Wind & Sun Vacations can custom tailor a grandparents and grandchildren vacation on Bonaire.
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