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Kralendijk – Bonaire circa 1907, image courtesy of Bonaire’s image archives

Bonaire’s history is deeply rooted in its inhabitants and their culture.

The tranquil beauty of the island is reflected in the faces of her people. From the first inhabitants, the Caiquetios (a branch of the Arawak Indians) who sailed from the coast of Venezuela almost 1000 years ago, to the many cultures now living and working in Bonaire today, the island has a distinct character that is all its own.

A brief history of Bonaire.

The first Europeans came to Bonaire in 1499, when Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci arrived and claimed it for Spain. Finding little of commercial value and seeing no future for large-scale agriculture, the Spanish decided not to develop the island. Instead, they unceremoniously enslaved the Indians and moved them off to work in the plantations on the Island of Hispanolia, effectively leaving the island unpopulated.

The name Bonaire is thought to have originally come from the Caiquetio word ‘Bonay’, a name that meant low country. The early Spanish and Dutch modified its spelling to Bojnaj and also Bonaire. The French influence, while present at various times, never was strong enough to make the assumption that the name means “good air.” Regardless of how the name came about, the island remained as a lonely outpost until 1526.

Image courtesy of Bonaire’s image archives

It was in that year, 1526, that cattle were brought to the island by then governor Juan de Ampues. Some of the Caiquetios were returned to act as laborers and in a few years, the island became a center for raising other animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, horses and donkeys.  Since they were being raised more for their skins and not their meat, they required little tending and were allowed to roam and fend for themselves. The result was large herds of animals that far outnumbered the population. Today, there are a number of wild donkeys that still inhabit the Kunuku (outback), but the majority now enjoy life at the Donkey Sanctuary, where their needs are attended. Many goats can also be seen foraging in less populated areas of the island.

Bonaire’s early years were not ones of prosperity.

Her inhabitants were mostly convicts from other Spanish Colonies in South America. The only permanent settlement was the village of Rincon, located far inland where it was thought to be safe from marauding pirates. In those years, development was discouraged in favor of the richer, more productive colonies.

Image courtesy of Bonaire’s image archives

In 1633, the Dutch took possession of Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba. The largest island, Curacao, emerged as a center of the notorious slave trade. Bonaire then became a plantation island belonging to the Dutch West Indies Company. It was during those early years that the first African slaves were forced to work, cutting dyewood and cultivating maize and harvesting solar salt. Grim reminders of those days still remain in the form of slave huts and salt pans which were laboriously constructed by hand. They are an important part of the island’s heritage and have been left to stand mute testimony to Bonaire’s repressive beginning.

Until 1816, ownership of Bonaire changed hands a number of times, finally being returned that year to the Dutch as a result of the Treaty of Paris. A small fort, Fort Oranje, was built to protect the island’s main resource, salt. Salt was one commodity that Bonaire had in endless supply, although it took back breaking slave labor to produce it. In the early days of the industry, the most important use for salt was in the preservation of food, since refrigeration was still centuries away.

Maria Bahn, also known as the Windjammer

Maria Bahn, also known as the Windjammer, image courtesy of Bonaire’s image archives

By 1837, Bonaire was a thriving center of salt production.

The government, who by then controlled the industry, built four obelisks, each painted a different color, red, white, blue and orange (the colors of the Dutch Flag and the Royal House of Orange). They were erected strategically near areas of the salt lake. The idea was to signal ships where to pick up their cargoes of salt. A flag of the corresponding color was raised atop a flagpole, thus signalling the ship’s captain where to drop anchor. Three of the obelisks can still be seen today.The abolition of slavery in 1863 signaled an end to the era of exploitation of those first Bonaireans. It was almost a hundred years later that the salt industry was revitalized. Today it is a division of Cargill, Incorporated, one of the largest businesses in the world. It also was during this time that the island began to attract visitors. Tourism was born when the island government constructed the first ship’s pier in the harbor. It allowed cruise ships to tie up alongside the wharf and discharge passengers. It also made it easier to bring in goods and supplies for the island’s residents. Hotels began to spring up and cater to the early visitors who enjoyed the tranquility of Bonaire. In 1943, the construction of a modern airport south of Kralendijk made it even easier for tourists to reach the island. The history continues to be written. The people of Bonaire are part of the past and are proud of what they have accomplished on an island that was abandoned hundreds of years ago and deemed useless by the Spanish. As for the future, Bonaireans welcome progress but have made a conscious decision to take time out and step back and to look at how it will impact their island and their lives. They have learned to balance their growth with the environment.

Learn more about Bonaire’s historic lighthouses or monuments.

The Bonaire Flag

Our flag contains the colors red, white and blue, representing our respect for the Dutch Kingdom’s tricolor. At the upper end of our flag we have a yellow triangle, which is the bright light of our sun and also the beauty of our nature.  Most Bonairean flowers are yellow like Kibrahacha, Kelki gel, Brasilia, Hobada, Cucu, Sente-bibu, Angelo Watapana and many others.Below we have a blue triangle, and that is the color of our beautiful sea.  You can see the triangle as a gigantic wave or a high mountain to remind us of the great heights we have climbed. In the middle of our flag is the white area symbolizing peace, liberty and tranquility. In this white area we have a black ring with four points of the navigation-compass. That compass is what our indisputable navigators have used to travel all over the world. In that ring there is a six-pointed red star.  The color symbolizes blood, as the fighting and surviving spirit of the six traditional regions, which form together the people of Bonaire.

 

Museums on Bonaire

Museo Mangasina di Rei
Kaminda Rincon
An old restored plantation house with an indoor museum display of tools, household items and furniture.

Tanki Maraka Heritage Park
Kaminda Rincon
An open-air walking trail through the site of a U.S. military base during World War II.

Museo Bonaire
Kaya J.N.E. Craane 34
Artifacts, architecture, shells, myths, literature and history as well as works of local artists.

Museo Chich’i Tan
Kaya Milon #4, Rincon, Telephone:  786-6420
A museum showcasing local musical instruments and Bonairean artists, housed in a historic home which is over 130 years old.  Open the first Sunday of every month with live performances of local musicians, arts and crafts, and also from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.  Free entrance, but donations welcome.

Museo Real Rincon
Kaya Rincon, across from Rincon Center
Outdoor museum showing such things as cactus fences and lime ovens.

Museo Washington Park
Kaya Gilberto R.E. Herraa (entrance of park)
Shows the history and nature of Washington/Slagbaai Park

Museo Kadimo
Kaya Sofaya 13, Rincon
Historical home including artifacts, photos and even videos. To visit call George Thode at 785-0018

Museo Archivo
Extra Newspaper building, Kaya G.F. Betico Croes
Collection of works, lectures, videos, books of Bonaire history and culture. To visit, call Bòi Anton at 717-8482

Museo di Belua
Kaya G.F. Betico Croes 6
Jenny Reina created a garden of whimsical life sized dolls. There is also a shop for local crafts.

Terramar Museum
Archaeological and Historic Museum
Kaya J.N.E. Craane 24
Kralendijk
780-4327

It is recommended to call ahead first to be sure the museum you wish to visit will be open. For information on dialing a Bonaire phone number from off-island, see the Telephone page.

 

Restaurant Reviews on BonReviews:

5/5

Fine dining at Sebastian’s Restaurant!  I had two wonderful dinners recently at Sebastian’s, one out on their private pier.  In my opinion Sebastian’s is the place to go whenever visiting Bonaire.  The ambiance is lovely, the service impeccable and the food outstanding.  It is in my opinion, the best place to dine on the island […]

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5/5

Fantastic fresh fish at Chibi Chibi.  We have now eaten the fresh fish special (mahi) twice on two separate trips (November and January).  The service is impeccable, the restaurant and bathrooms are very clean, and the food is amazing.  I struggle to understand why this restaurant doesn’t have better reviews on Trip Advisor.  It truly […]

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5/5

Excellent daily specials and “to die for” ribs at Joe’s Grillhouse!  Excellent casual place. Jessica and Bart, along with the staff, make you feel welcome and comfortable. We always visit Joe’s at least twice during our yearly dive trip to Bonaire. The daily catch special is always excellent while the ribs are “fall off the bone” […]

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5/5

Delightful evening at Bon Aroma! Be sure to include Bon Aroma on your list of fine dining experiences. The ambiance is lovely, the service impeccable and the cuisine delicious. The marlin and lionfish duo with its sides was outstanding. Dessert was a delight – apple tart with vanilla ice cream and a mixed berry cobbler […]

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5/5

Best tuna ever at Sebastian’s Restaurant! We visited Bonaire 06/16 & I have to say that our visit To Sebastian’s was one of the highlights. The tuna was some of the best I’ve ever had & was done to its rare perfection. Cut with a fork & melt in your mouth!!!! Of course washed down […]

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5/5

Fast and delicious.  Nice ambience, good service, delicious food at Cuba Compagnie.

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5/5

La Cantina is absolutely the best!   Great ambience! Great service and the food was absolutely stunning!!  Chef Cook Rick and his wife Kim did it again! They created a new food experience!  You can order a la carte or take a surprise dinner and watch how your food is being prepared.  You should definitely […]

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5/5

Good taste at Bon Aroma! The elegance of this small beautifully-appointed space provides privacy between the five tables and quiet from the street while breezes flow through the open walls encouraging relaxation and conversation. My meal of braised marlin and lionfish with mango and basil sauce, a medley of fine vegetables and Italian rice, finished […]

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5/5

Pizza, pizza at Rum Runners!  My second dinner upon arrival on Bonaire is going to Rum Runners and seeing my good friend TT and ordering two spicy shrimp pizzas and taking them home. Best pizza on the island. Well eating healthy I also order their Caesars Salad no anchovies with the pizzas. Note-TT is the […]

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4/5

Latin Vibe at Cuba Compagnie!  I was invited to dinner by friends. Previously, I had been to Cuba for cocktails but dinner was a new experience. We sat outside surrounded by a lively and bustling vibe. The wait staff are very friendly and helpful. They are very busy so it takes patience and some effort […]

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5/5

Great local flavor of the island at Mi Banana. We were directed to Mi Banana to a great surprise. Friendly and personable staff and food was great. Chicken and fish dishes were our favorites up until the dessert. The three leche cake was to die for. Don’t miss the dessert.

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5/5

A great experience at BonAroma! Excellent food and presentation, reasonable prices, great service and wonderful people.  Best dining we have had on Bonaire!

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4/5

At Sea Restaurant Accommodating to Vegans and Gluten Free Folks.  First off they have my favorite…Hendricks gin, but a steady supply of fever tree tonics is a must to enjoy its smooth flavours. An enthusiastic bartender willing to earn your praises is a great start to an enjoyable evening. I asked the waitress if chef […]

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5/5

My new sushi place…Osaka Japanese Fusion Restaurant. A friend recommended this restaurant for dinner and I had a great experience. I simply love this restaurant! Friendly staff, and amazing sushi! The fish is fresh and everything is very well made. I love the Volcano and Kamikaze roll!! Next time I’m in Bonaire, that’s the place […]

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5/5

Bon Aroma is fantastic in every way! Incredible food (in top 3 on island); impeccable and warm service, intimate ambiance – BonAroma has it all. We had asparagus soup with shrimp, tuna carpaccio, lion fish and tuna duo, all perfectly prepared and presented. Well balanced menu, vegetarians will be very happy. Good wine list. Delicious and […]

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5/5

At Sea serves works of art!  We dined at At Sea twice while we were recently in Bonaire. Both times we chose the Surprise Menu, and all of the dishes were beautifully prepared and delicious. The dishes were true works of art, decorated with beautiful garnishes and great imagination. Dessert one night was an underwater […]

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4/5

Al fresco dining at Cuba Compagnie. We loved dining at Cuba. The outdoor setting is casual and comfortable. It’s a lively vibe. Service is efficient and friendly. I typically order the fresh fish. I have also enjoyed the ceviche.  Cuba is a fun spot for a group of friends.

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5/5

Best pizza at Pasa Bon Pizza! Best pizza on Bonaire.  We look forward to getting that crisp crust and hot cheesy pizza served at Pasa Bon pizza every time we go to Bonaire. Try their Lion Fish pizza….it is good !!

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5/5

Jasmine Garden is a typical Chinese restaurant, where we had a delicious dinner. We ordered the Yeung chow fried rice and the Kung pao chicken, which were served by friendly staff. During our 2 week’s holiday in Bonaire, we went there 4 times to eat. Every time we were satisfied.

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5/5

Great breakfast and lunch at Between Two Buns! Nice salads and sandwiches. Don’t forget to try the home made pies!

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4/5

Good food, friendly service, reasonable prices at Diver’s Diner Bar & Grill.  Place looks very unpretentious, but the staff is very willing to please. The food is very good and very reasonably priced.

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5/5

Pasa Bon Pizza, Not your usual pizza place Third trip to Bonaire and this is our go-to place for dinner at least two nights each trip. Cozy outdoor place. Wait staff very pleasant. Lion fish pizza is awesome. Frozen Lime and Guava dessert is yummy and refreshing. Open Wednesday through Sunday (I think). I am […]

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5/5

Best Lunch Spot!  I am a tuna sandwich aficionado. I have sampled tuna sandwiches across Bonaire. Between Two Buns serves the best by far. I love their multi-grain bread with seeds and goodness. The salad itself is chock full of flavor. They put salty briny capers in their salad adding an extra flavor blast.  Wow, […]

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4/5

Good food and good friends at Diver’s Diner Bar & Grill!  We have been return customers every time we come to Bonaire. This is trip number 7. Try the walking sticks for sure and the dipping sauce. I could go on and on. Try it out you won’t be sorry.

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5/5

Fabulous Food in a Garden Setting at Wil’s Tropical Grill!  Chef/Owner Wil delights in serving delicious food that is also artistically appealing. He is a wizard at using spices that results in food that pleases your taste buds. His wife/hostess, Sue, greets each visitor with a welcoming smile. The garden ambiance is lovely. Throughout the […]

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5/5

Good food at Between Two Buns.  As an owner at Sanddollar, this is one great restaurant for breakfast and lunch. Very friendly owner and staff. I think that I order the same thing every time, great looking deserts and salads.

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5/5

Great lunches at Donna & Georgio’s.  It’s like stepping off Bonaire’s streets and into Italy. Wonderful food and great atmosphere plus air conditioning. Daily specials and mouth watering pizzas await you…..

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4/5

Love lunch at Zen’s Bar Café!  I am always impressed with the Lunch specials. They are as appealing to the eye as to the stomach and my pocketbook.

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5/5

Between Two Buns, Love this place! When we two Canadians visit Bonaire, we plan on almost daily visits to “Between Two Buns.” The sandwiches and salads are terrific and the staff very friendly! Sure fills the bill after a morning of snorkeling!

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5/5

Food is excellent @ Donna & Georgio’s, Donna always made me feel special. Great food and always a take out service.  As an owner at Sanddollar and full kitchen facilities makes their take out food a very good place to eat in or take out. Every trip to BONAIRE requires multi stops at this restaurant. For pizza […]

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4/5

Nothing is better than Seared Tuna at the Beach!  The Kite City food truck at te’ Amo beach near the airport is not to be missed. Fresh fish prepared just right in oh-so-many ways is one of the expected pleasures of coming to the Caribbean, and Kite City does not disappoint.  The beach dining is […]

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5/5

Bistro de Paris is accommodating for vegans and vegetarians.  We love going to Bistro because we know we can eat a fabulous meal for our vegan needs. Mary makes a mean veggie salad large enough for a meal. The rice bowls, carrot bourgenon is soo tasty, the potato terrine is to die for, so rich […]

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5/5

I have been coming to Bonaire for over 20 years. Without a doubt, Donna & Giorgio’s is our favorite place to dine. A husband & wife team, Donna is the hostess with the most-est and Giorgio is the fantastico Italian chef. Our favorite thing for dinner is to tell Giorgio to make us whatever he […]

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5/5

Tipsy Seagull – Best dinner ever! We decided to have dinner Friday night at the Tipsy Seagull at the Plaza Hotel and we couldn’t have enjoyed it more! The 3 course meal was fantastic and the music was so awesome.  The servers were so friendly and attentive and the food was wonderful. We will definitely […]

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5/5

Not a Typical Pizza! I’m a pepperoni and sausage pizza guy so I was skeptical when I saw pizza topped with shrimp on the menu.  I tried it, I loved it, and I’ll go back to Blue Garden Brazilian Grill & Pizza Gourmet for more the next time we are on the island.  They offer […]

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5/5

Best food on Bonaire at Donna & Giorgio’s! We had 2 dinners and one lunch during our week in Bonaire. We loved the food, Donna, and her daughter. Everything we had was great! Be sure and call for a reservation.

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5/5

Gourmet burgers at King Kong Mobile Food Truck! Very convenient at bachelor’s beach. Great burger! Next time I will go for the Junk Yard Dog.

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5/5

Eddy’s Restaurant–Again, as an owner at Sanddollar you could not find a better place to eat. Friendly casual great food with a different variety. Family owned and run and will cook to your pleasure. Eddy is the cook, Sonia runs the front along with their children–another Sonia and Eddy!

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5/5

Hot Spot King Kong!   Bachelor Beach is er een stuk leuker en lekkerder op geworden. King Kong levert uitstekende kwaliteit. Verrassende smaken!

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4/5

Best Fries On Bonaire! I have been enjoying Bobbejan‘s weekend BBQ since 2001. Maggie and Robert run a tasty restaurant. My daughter loves the rib dinner. I enjoy the fish when it’s fresh. Their side cole slaw is garlicky and tasty. The reason I go so often is their french fries. They are the best […]

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5/5

Eddy’s is Excellent!  We love going to Eddy’s. The service is always great and the food is fresh and outstanding!

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5/5

Awesome burgers and fries at King Kong Burgers & Hotdogs!  I would eat these burgers 7 days a week if I could, but my wetsuit would not fit after awhile. They are wonderful and the area the truck is at couldn’t be better. Great job to the owner. Will be back next visit to the […]

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5/5

Sebastian’s Restaurant is an Epicureans Delight!  You have to try this seaside gourmet restaurant. The chef is known for combining foods and spices you will not taste elsewhere.

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5/5

Bobbejan’s is our first dinner upon arrival!  Upon arriving on Bonaire after food shopping my first dinner is always at Bobbejans. They have the best chicken Sate and ribs. Known as the best take out restaurant and they developed an outdoor dining area. Only opened Friday’s, Sat and Sunday’s but well worth the wait and […]

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5/5

Goat stew at Eddy’s Restaurant was the best meal on the island, so tender. The barracuda was excellent and the mojitos were special.

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5/5

King Kong Burger Food Truck. Find it on Bachelors Beach. Tuesday through Sat…I think. We have returned to these freshly made, gourmet burgers several times. The meat is fresh and tasty. Prepared when ordered and seasoned to perfection. Several special recipes to choose from. Our favorite is the French connection….so unique and tasty, paired with mosquito […]

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5/5

Sebastian’s Restaurant By the Beautiful Sea! You know the saying about saving the best for last?  Lorrie and I save Sebastian’s Restaurant for the end of our trip because we love the food selections, service, scenery, Sebastian and the friends that join us for our farewell dinner.  The restaurant offers a local menu with several nightly […]

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5/5

Service & Food  at Breeze ‘n Bites–OUTSTANDING We always make a point of eating here at least once during our trips.  Service is always friendly and the food is always tasty.

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5/5

Gio’s is an amazing place!  We go here every day we are on the island. We so love the Gelato and desserts! I think we both gained 20# in one week but well worth it! Amazingly tasty gelato! Thank You!

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4/5

Mezze is a great new spot!  They installed a makeshift wheelchair ramp so a bunch of us decided to try this new addition to the island’s many awesome restaurants. Loved the excellent lamb shank served with delicious vegetables. Started with the eggplant and fresh pita. Decent prices too. We’re heading back soon.

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5/5

Sebastian’s Restaurant is the best all around!  I’ve eaten at Sebastian’s maybe five times in the last three years and it’s always been a unique experience. From the greetings that make you feel welcome to the creative menu and exceptional food to the natural ambience of water and sky–there’s nothing to match it on Bonaire.

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5/5

Capriccio Ristorante is wonderful!  This was a nice surprise! We were greeted with a welcome drink and a wonderful basket of bread and fresh pita chips. We had scallops and pasta which was wonderful and bolognese was nothing to brag about. Staff was pleasant and welcoming. Reservations (highly recommended) were for 6pm for party of […]

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4/5

My wife and I had a wonderful meal at Ingridients, but I have to say that the waiting staff did pressure us to select items we did not want.  Don’t hesitate to eat here because the food is excellent…just be prepared to say no to serving suggestions.

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4/5

Don’t miss Mezze while on Bonaire! We visited Mezze with friends and had a delicious meal. “Mezze” like “tapas” means “small plates” and all of the apps were outstanding: hummus, falafel, tabouleh, and baba ghanous, which we lapped up with homemade pita, forks and fingers. The concept of “small” evaporated when the entrees were served, especially […]

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2/5

Pizza needs work at Blue Garden Brazilian Grill & Pizza Gourmet. The mojitos are great Service started off OK, then once I got my food, I never saw the server again, so never got any more water. The pizza needs work. The crust is about 2mm thick & is heavy & still not totally cooked. […]

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3/5

Cuba Compagnie Going Downhill We have been here a few times before. I went there tonight with my son and the service was unresponsive and when I said something I got a rude smart mouth response from management. The food is generally good. But don’t order the sodas. You get a small glass full of […]

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Upcoming Events

  1. Nos Zjilea Cultural Event

    December 23 @ 8:00 am - 1:00 pm
  2. Christmas Day Holiday

    December 25
  3. Boxing Day Holiday

    December 26
  4. New Year’s Eve–fireworks over Bonaire

    December 31, 2017 @ 8:00 pm - January 1, 2018 @ 1:00 am

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