Was Bonaire discovered in 1499 by the Italian Amerigo Vespucci or was it the Spanish navigator Alonso de Ojeda? Probably we will never know whom the first European was who set foot on Bonaire. We do know for sure that Alonso de Ojeda discovered Curaçao and Aruba and so this Spaniard had a fair chance to step on land in Bonaire. In 1526 the Spaniards started their colonization which lasted for over one century.

In 1634, the Dutch captured the island of Curaçao and the two neighboring islands, Bonaire and Aruba. The Dutch started building Fort Oranje in 1639, the first stone building on Bonaire.
Bonaire became a Dutch Colony under ‘ De Vereenigde West Indischen Companie’ ( the Dutch West Indies Company ). The Dutch started the economic development of the ABCs and Curaçao became the center of these new colonies.

In Bonaire a large number of slaves were imported and salt production became the most important source of income. The Dutch also started breeding stock and planted some vegetables and corn on the island. Life was hard for the slaves on Bonaire and for the few Dutch caretakers life was uneventful and boring.

Nothing changed until 1800 when the British captured Bonaire and British and French pirates were frequent visitors. With the Treaty of Paris in 1815 Bonaire was returned to the Dutch, who set up a few government plantations and salt pans, but Bonaire had never been a profitable island for them. After the abolition of slavery in 1863, the Dutch West Indies Company stopped all their activities on Bonaire. Many Bonaireans migrated to other islands where they found work on plantations and later in the oil industry. Wives and children were left behind. However safe under Dutch protection Bonaire became a very poor island with only a few inhabitants left and no source of income. (Source: Tourist Corporation Bonaire)

In 1950, a former prisoner of war detention center was converted into a hotel. This first hotel on the island opened in 1951 and is now known as the Divi Flamingo Hotel.

The Akzo Nobel Salt Company began the construction of an 8,896 acre salt plant in 1967. Today their yearly production is over 400,000 metric tons of salt.

In 1975 the Bonaire Petroleum Corporation ( BOPEC ) was established. This is a terminal where oil is transferred from giant tankers to smaller ones, all under strict rules to protect the environment

During the 1960s Trans World Radio ( a religious broadcasting station ) and the Dutch Radio World Services ( Radio Nederland Wereldomroep ) were established on Bonaire.

The tourism industry began in May 1962, a classic Herreshoff design schooner, named Valerie Queen (70 feet) dropped its anchor in Bonaire’s anchorage. Aboard was Capt. Don Stewart who had sailed from California. He decided to stay and later he took over the management of Bonaire’s only hotel. He founded the first diving operation on Bonaire and pioneered to protect the coral reefs. Thanks to Capt. Don Stewart the island now is one of world’s most popular dive destinations. As a divers paradise the island attracts over 25,000 divers per year.

The Bonaire Marine Park, recognized worldwide as a model park protects the coral reefs around Bonaire. Tourism is slowly but surely growing on Bonaire and the island has much more to offer than just diving. Horseback riding, bird watching and sailing are only a few of the many possibilities. (Source: Tourist Corporation Bonaire)

In 1954, the Dutch Antilles ( Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St Martin, Saba and St Eustatius ) became an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1986 Aruba separated from the Dutch Antilles and became a separate entity.

The administration form of the Dutch Antilles is a parliamentary democracy whereby a governor, appointed by the Queen of the Netherlands, represents the crown. Each island has its own Lieutenant Governor. Bonaire’s resides in Kralendijk, the capital of Bonaire. Every island has its own Legislative and Executive Council and members are elected for four years by universal suffrage during a general election. The seat of the central government is in Willemstad, the capital city of Curaçao.

Bonaire Marine Park
Bonaire is world renowned for it’s magnificent coral reefs and crystal clear waters. To protect these fragile reefs, the waters around the island were declared a marine park in 1979. The
Bonaire Marine Park surrounds the island of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire, extending from the high water mark to the 200 ft depth contour. Visiting Bonaire by yacht means that you are sailing in the Bonaire Marine Park with strict rules and regulations for the express purpose of preserving the corals and the underwater life.

For diving and snorkeling Bonaire is one of the finest dive sites in the world. You can already start at the anchorage! Please don’t pump or drop anything overboard to keep it as it is. There are many five-star dive operations on the island. Bonaire is the place to become a certified diver or an experienced snorkeler.

Anchoring is forbidden everywhere, except in the crystal clear waters between the North Pier and the entrance to Harbour Village Marina. An exception is made for small boats less than 12 feet in length, which may use a stone anchor. Any other anchoring, except in case of an emergency, is an offense. You can expect to be prosecuted if you contravene the Bonaire Marine Park regulations.

Spearfishing is completely prohibited. You have to leave your speargun at customs as it’s illegal to have a speargun in your possession.

Dive tags
The admission fee for use of the Bonaire Marine Park is $ 10 per year. You must have your personal dive tag with you whenever you go diving and produce it on request. The Bonaire Marine Park highly appreciates it if snorkelers also buy a dive tag as a donation. Dive tags are for sale at any dive operation or contact the Bonaire Marine Park headquarters. Phone: 8444, VHF 77.
All divers are required to be briefed on the Bonaire Marine Park rules before their first dive. The dive operators provide orientations free of charge. You can also visit the Bonaire Marine Park website.

For more information visit the website InfoBonaire home of the Tourist Corporation Bonaire.

For more about Aruba or Curaçao.

For reservations or questions, please contact us at

About our part of
the Caribbean
The ABC Islands
Venezuela | Islas Las Aves
Other ABC websites

Excursions, Charters and Weddings
Excursion, Charters and Weddings

Other Services:
Bluewater Sailing Courses
Management Training
Business Services

Yachting Information
Yachting Guides
Other Books
Yachting Info


Return to ABC-Yachting Home Page