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Harbour Village, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

The Caribbean Divers' Paradise

Divers have a peculiar perspective on paradise. The islands of the Caribbean—vacation spots chosen for sand and sun—are to them mostly buoys, markers of valuable and various treasures beneath the sea. And of all of the underwater terrain in that part of the hemisphere, the spot that most defines the mystery of Neptune's kingdom, a world of reefs, caves and sea life, is the water that surrounds Bonaire. The sparkling jewel-toned ocean alone would beckon divers to Bonaire. Add to that a government that has for the past two decades actively promoted environmental preservation and you have one of the top diving sites on earth.

In 1971 the offshore area was designated as a marine park. Permanent moorings were established to cut down on anchor damage. Spear fishing and coral collecting were eliminated, leaving the reefs intact along with the exotic fish population. Divers and snorkelers find the underwater environment to be outstanding due to the implementation of this program.

Bonaire is shaped like a boomerang and is only 24 miles-long and three to seven miles wide, making the more than 80 dive sites and all the reefs easily accessible. Many of them are walk-ins, particularly those situated at the hotels. An average boat trip to an offshore dive site is usually 15 minutes, although some that are quite far out might take about an hour. It is possible to dive and to snorkel every day in every season. Waters are calm and the weather is a constant balmy 82 degrees year-round with a cooling trade wind of 16 mph. This section of the Caribbean in the Netherlands Antilles is 50 miles north of Venezuela and outside the hurricane belt. Although dive spots vary from 15 to 150 feet deep, visibility is typically 100 feet and the protected area reaches a depth of 200 feet.

The Bonaire government, the Department of Tourism and the Bonaire Dive Operators Association sponsor a landmark program that has served as a model for other Caribbean diving destinations. Joined also by Nikon, Inc., the camera company, and Skin Diver Magazine all divers and underwater photographers are invited to attend buoyancy control or photo buoyancy control workshops. This effort contributes to reef preservation and is offered through island dive shops.

One of the best ways to enjoy diving on Bonaire is to arrange for a dive package at Harbour Village Beach Resort, a comfortable new hotel. Great Adventures Bonaire is the on-site operator under the management of Marion Wilson, the instructor. You can rent scuba gear from the shop and swim a short distance to a coral reef to examine the colorful sea life. Great Adventures also gives instruction to non-divers, advanced classes for those wishing to improve their skills and guided tours of the area's underwater attractions.

Although the island seems geared up primarily for diving, visitors find other pleasurable things to do including boating and sailing. Harbour Village has a marina where sunfish, lasers and hobies can be rented. A 30-foot fishing boat and a crew are available to ply the Dutch Caribbean for blue marlin, dolphin, yahoo, tuna, sailfish and other game fish. Additionally, you can windsurf; water-ski; play tennis; bird watch; and hike in Washington-Slagbaai National Park, a game preserve. Bonaire is especially known for its beautiful flamingos. Two other enjoyable activities are picnicking on an offshore island called Klein Bonaire and a sunset sail on an authentic teakwood Oriental junk, the Samur. At 5 p.m. when it is still light and passengers are picked up by dinghy until 7, a time when the Caribbean sky has changed to a enigmatic inky blue, this is the happiest happy hour around the island.

Harbour Village, PO Box 312, Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles. Tel. 899-717-7500, 305-567-0822. The hotel offers a variety of diving packages. Accommodations are priced separately. www.harborvillage.com

Spring 1994